Breaking Free of Photography Ruts

I noticed when I looked through my Lightroom catalog that I take an awful lot of floral images. Even as I think about my Picture Spring project, flowers, trees, plants all appear, and they look about the same. I do play with some in Photoshop, adding textures and other effects, but still, there is that rut I’m in when it comes to subjects. So, it’s time to break out of the rut and see what else I can do.

Anne McKinnell offers this tip as a way to break out of a rut: Explore other art forms. Read, listen to music, visit a museum, watch a movie or go see a play. In other words, sometimes, we have to “feed the muse.” Julia Cameron says much the same thing in her various books on creativity. She recommends weekly “artist’s dates” when we simply go somewhere or do something that feeds the soul.

Both McKinnell and Bethany of {Beth}-adilly Photography recommend studying other artists’ work as well. We can pull out those photography books sitting on our shelves and pour over them. As we do this, we can make lists of the subjects that they work with, the lighting, the post-processing techniques, and other treatments. It is a form of feeding our muse.

The Artist's Way: 25th Anniversary Edition by [Cameron, Julia]

Another Digital Photography School author, Mike Newton, recommends getting out of our comfort zones—physically. He suggests going somewhere completely new. I am a “nature” photographer, and my friend Mary would say that I do floral photography very well. But sometimes I get bored with the same old-same old. (Perhaps I need to take the advise of a poet and figure out thirteen ways to photography a flower as he did writing about a crow!) I do not do street photography very well, and I don’t do a lot of architectural photography even though I love the textures and shapes and designs of old buildings. Changing locations, going somewhere completely new, can force us to be more creative in our photography.

In addition, Newton suggests learning a new technique or style. Related to this is learning a new piece of equipment, something I wrote about earlier this week.

Laura Sullivan says that we can put the camera away for a bit. Taking a break from something allows the brain to rest a bit. It also forces us to see the world. Contemplative photography practices like those suggested by Kim Manley Ort in her book Adventures in Seeing help develop the eye as well. I know that since I started a contemplative photography practice, I see the world differently and notice more even when I don’t have the camera with me.

adventures in seeing book

Valerie Jardin offers some additional suggestions:  join a photography club or meetup group. See what others are photographing and how they work. She also recommends experimenting with new equipment. I confess that I rarely use the camera on my smart phone. And I sometimes forget I have that phone and camera with me the majority of the time. “Phone-ography” is very different from photography with a DSLR or even some of the advanced point-and-shoot cameras. You can also rent equipment to try for quite reasonable rates. And another suggestion she makes is to create a photography bucket list of things you want to photograph as well as to create a list of things you’ve never tried to photograph.

The writers for SmugMug offer the suggestion of shooting a theme: the color yellow, for example; or feet, or hands. My friend Mary does something similar. Last year, she used leaves as her theme, and this year she is using textures of trees. I’m working on the theme of “by the waters.”

I have a couple of books that I use sometimes when I need inspiration to get out of my rut. One that I recommend is The Photographer’s Play Book by Jason Fulford. If you want photographic examples of the exercises and suggestions, don’t look for them. It’s all text. The point is for you the photographer to interpret the exercise in your own way. Sometimes, our imaginations just need a swift kick to get us motivated.

Every artist, whether a painter, sculptor, musician, or writer goes through these dry spells and ruts. Most of the time, it passes. Finding other ways to express creativity helps as well. I find that when I’m in the groove with photography, my writing falls into a rut; when the writing inspiration strikes, then photography dims. Another tip is to show up for the work. Sometimes, just having a camera near by is enough.


It’s Friday!

I think I will wrap up this week with a “Currently” entry. I use the Happy Planner for my day-to-day planning and scheduling. I have other planners and journals as well—one for school to keep track of lessons, meetings, classes, and the like; another for a more detailed bullet journal; and a third to keep track of my steps toward business. I like the Happy Planner that I’m using because it has a “Currently” list at the beginning of each month.

So, CURRENTLY, I am. . .

Reading: I just finished Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering. It is the fifth in the Drew Farthering detective series. I enjoyed it, and it kept me guessing until I could stand it no longer, and I peeked at the end. Even though I discovered the solution to the mystery, there was one twist I didn’t expect.

I’m also reading several books on business planning: The Right Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee; The Creative Entrepreneur by Lisa Sonoma Bean, in particular. I’m also reading parts of The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon by Julia Cameron and others, as well as two books by Eric Maisel: Life Purpose Boot Camp and Become a Creativity Coach Now! These books are informing my decisions regarding my becoming my own boss.

And of course, there are a few Regency romances in the mix—too many to name.

Planning: Sometimes I think the question is what am I NOT planning? Of course there is the business planning (more later). But the big thing I am planning for May is a dinner to honor Sherry and my son Aaron with close friends and family who were unable to attend their wedding. I may be an introvert at heart, but I do enjoy being with family (for small doses!).

Watching: I am not a Netflix or Hulu binge watcher (unless my older son is home), but I have several shows that I do watch routinely when I can: Elementary, a modern take on the Sherlock Holmes character; NCIS, NCIS LA, and NCIS New Orleans; Bull, and  Dancing with the Stars. I have just started watching Grey’s Anatomy this season, and it is becoming a regular. Criminal Minds is also on my list. I will be glad when the mystery of who is framing Spenser Reed is completely solved. (Wednesday night’s episode went a LONG way in answering the question!) I’m not sure I like the dark turn that Spenser Reed’s character is taking. I liked the boyish, naïve Reed!

Drinking: Blenheim’s Hot Ginger Ale. It is made right here in South Carolina, and it is the best. After drinking this ginger ale, all other ginger ales taste like a “drink of water,” as my father would say about things that were wet but relatively tasteless. During the last couple of weeks, I’ve had bronchitis and sinusitis, and Blenheim’s was one of the few things I could taste.

Loving: I have a rather eclectic taste in music, but lately, I am really loving the music of the duo Marion Hill. They are featured on some commercial singing their song “Down.” I like the jazz feel to their music. I made a Marion Hill channel on Pandora.

There isn’t a category for this, but I am enjoying playing the piano again, but I am having to do some serious practice! I have been asked to play for a wedding in December. I figure if I start learning the music now, by December, I will be comfortable with it. I am so proud of my Betsy Ross spinet made in the 1930s by the Lester Piano Company, now out of business. When I received it as a gift from some dear friends who attend my church, I had it tuned. The tuner was amazed that it was in such good condition! There are a few worn pads, which cause some “clicking.” But you know, it gives the piano some character. (You can see the keyboard in the banner image above!)

I would love to know what is currently in your lives!


Monday is for

Sharing art—at least this Monday is all about sharing art. I’ve been recovering from full-on wedding mode. While being the mother of the groom may not have the same “trials and tribulations” as being mother of the bride (I wouldn’t know; I’m a MOB, mother of boys), there are all kinds of stresses—getting the right dress and shoes (sheesh! My sister and sister-in-law are tyrants when it comes to the right shoes! They didn’t like my “comfortable” choice) and planning the rehearsal dinner. Never mind that the rehearsal and wedding fall right in the middle of the April mod at Remington College, where I teach part-time. Add to the stress, the director of education for the Columbia Campus asked me to sub in three days a week for the first two weeks! And then, on top of everything else, I get hit with bronchitis and sinusitis.  Everything came to a screeching halt. Imagine the sound of train wheels on railroad tracks as the engineer and brakeman try to stop the train “on a dime.”

Creating and making art has been the last thing on my mind.

But, I am in create mode, sort of (still trying to get through the day without coughing). I made some images last week of the spring wild flowers (aka weeds), and on Sunday, I worked on transforming them with Photoshop using textures, overlays, and other techniques. Ever since Kim Klassen introduced me to using textures, I have been in love with the way they can enhance the mood or even transform the mood. And then came Denise Love of Two L’il Owls (beautiful textures and other design elements) and Sebastian Michaels’s Photoshop Artistry class (I keep repeating the first two modules over and over; I still have worked through the one on vectors!), and a host of other photographic artists. I keep learning more and more tools to use.

This is a long-winded introduction to the reveal of the creations from Sunday’s work.  Monday is for sharing art.


I love the various graphic elements that come from the Graphics Fairy website. Many of them are free, and the monthly subscription is reasonable, less than $10.00 a month. The downloads are incredible. And the downloads from Ephemera’s Vintage Garden are so beautiful. In the top image, I used a cabinet card cover that was intended to be used as a junk journal cover, layered it with a photograph of a trumpet vine growing in the crepe myrtle tree in the backyard, a postcard from a collection of ephemera and design elements from Denice Love and Two Lil Owls in a bundle put out by Design Cuts, and some textures to blend everything together.

In the second image, I did a web search for a vintage postcard that had a vertical orientation rather than a traditional horizontal one, and I didn’t find what I was looking for. I did find a page of script that I liked. I used the script as an overlay over the image of the wildflower (I don’t know what it is), used a soft brush to mask out the script over the flower, applied a Denise Love texture and a custom gradient to unify the elements.

One of my business goals is to create products from my photography to sell, and I am practicing and working on the artistic elements. Another goal is develop a series of images for a gallery showing.  I think I am on the way. There is a lot of learning to be done.

Today, think about how you can share your creative pursuits. You don’t have to be a photographer, an artist, a writer, a musician to be creative. Your everyday life is “art.” When you cook and substitute allspice for the nutmeg the recipe calls for, put those fresh flowers you bought from Publix in a vase, arrange that rocking chair your mother made in just the right spot at just the right angle, you are being creative. And more importantly, share your creations with others.


Words and Wednesdays

I’ve had an “itch” to write recently—well, more than recently. I’ve been writing since I was in high school. I remember giving my high school English teacher a short story I had written. She liked it. My college English profs told me that I thought—and wrote—well. One even asked me in front of the class how I had learned to write. I was between my junior and senior year in high school taking a second-year college level British lit course from Beowulf to the beginning of the nineteenth century, using the ubiquitous Norton Anthology of British Literature, Volume 1, with the famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I on the cover.

I don’t know when I fell in love with words, with reading. Mama says it was from birth. She read to me and to my sister all the time, often falling asleep herself before I did. She grew desperate and tried everything to read me to sleep: the “begats” from the Bible, dictionary definitions, and even encyclopedias. I would wake her to “finish the story.” The love of words has never worn off.

I am in a writer’s group on Facebook, and one of our regular rhythms is Wednesday Words That Work. I think about the words that work. I am not a good memorizer, but I remember things that I have read and heard that resonate with me:  Tennyson’s short poem “The Eagle,” “He clasps the crag with crooked hands. . . . “; the scene at the end of Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes” when the lovers slip through the quiet halls of the castle as if in a dream; the “unquiet slumbers” of Cathy and Heathcliff at the end of Wuthering Heights; even the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice and the reminder that every young lady needs a husband (not much has changed in the last two hundred years!) I could probably go on for a long time remembering the words that worked for me.

The words that work for me are those that I visualize. As a teacher, I have taken all kinds of learning styles inventories, and the results are remarkably similar: I am a visual learner. It is not surprising, then, that I am also drawn to photography and other visual arts. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but a phrase or two of well-chosen words can inspire a thousand pictures as well. While I devour Regency romances by the dozens (finishing one this afternoon, probably), I will forget about these novels quite quickly. The novels and books I remember are the ones that use words to create vivid pictures and scenes as I read.

As I write, I think about the poetry, too, that has been inspired by art. (There is a fancy name for that kind of literature): Browning’s “My Last Duchess” ( which may or may not have been inspired by real people or real paintings—with Browning, who knows?); “Musee des Beaux Arts,” and quite a few others.

icarus.jpg (80610 bytes)

Pictures, words, images.  Stay tuned for more about an online course I am writing.

In the meantime, please enjoy this new-to-me blog, Words and Images by Cynthia which combines words and images. I have gotten lost in Cynthia’s writing and photography. I found her through another interesting and inspiring website, The Creativity Portal.


A Year of Living the Dare—the Second Quarter Begins

It’s April already.  It’s the second Saturday in April, in fact. Last Saturday, I was getting ready for Aaron’s wedding, eating breakfast in a hotel in Greer, anticipating the afternoon.


(Handsome couple. Photo credit to Grady, the proud father of the groom)

Three weeks ago, I entered into a new season of living the dare, or perhaps living the dare. As a member of a “mastermind group” of women who desire to create a business for themselves, I began dreaming again of answering a call that I’ve felt for some years—to take control of my living, to step out on faith, to envision the life and work I want to do.

I have to be honest: taking dares, even the ones I give myself, is scary. What’s even scarier than taking the dare, is owning that dare. And now that I have accepted the dare, I am in the process of defining the dare.

So. . . . I’ve written before that one of my goals is to create a “space” for photographers, women especially, to gather to practice the art and craft of photography, to share the images we receive and make, and perhaps, most importantly, to realize that private dream of being an artist, of living the creative life. For me, photography is often a contemplative practice, of way of orienting me to the world around me, to see what is here right now. Looking through the lens of the camera (my Canon 7D, aka “the big girl camera”) reminds me to notice things. I’ve also written before that more often than not, when I don’t have the camera with me, I see photographs to receive and make.


There’s another element, though, that pulls me. The little girl who wanted someone to tell her that she could be an artist if she wanted to keeps calling to me. I know that day was a long time ago in that third grade classroom at Dutch Fork Elementary (the old one that burned in 1976 or so), but I still feel the weight of the criticism and the implication that I was not, nor would be, an artist. I want others to know that we are all born with creativity and artistry in us. I may never draw realistic horses the way my third-grade friend could, but I can still create.


I am not sure where my creative business planning may take me this year, but I am exploring and thinking. I am creating space and time for this. And who knows to what this dare will lead?


Me and My Big Ideas

I’m afraid I have not been keeping up with my 365 turned 52 project very well. Some weeks I’m lucky if I look at the camera, much less pick up it and press the shutter button. It’s all good, though. I won’t beat myself up.

Have you seen the magazine Bella Grace? It’s a quarterly magazine published by Stampington, and it is gorgeous with a capital G. The articles are wonderful and often uplifting and inspiring. The photography is beautiful. I try to pick one up when I go to Michael’s. I bought issue 11, the spring edition, this week, and I’ve read about a third of it. There are some “journaling” pages to accompany some of the articles, too, and these pages are thought-provoking.

And article caught my eye: “30 Days of Smiles” by Ginny Kubitz Moyer. She wrote about how she sent uplifting emails to her mother as a birthday gift since her mother was in the process of downsizing her life. The emails contained pictures or graphics or links to videos that she thought her mother would enjoy. Her mother said that she saved each email it a separate folder and often returned to those emails when she needed a lift.

Lately, Facebook has been depressing me. Honestly, I am tired of political dissension and disagreements. I am tired of negativity. I am tired of the divisiveness that I see more and more often. Even movies are causing arguments (have you seen the discussions surrounding the movie The Shack?)

I am thinking that perhaps I need to think of at least one uplifting thing each day for the next thirty days and post it to Facebook or something—if nothing more than to say that I refuse to be pulled under by the negative things that surround me. That could be my April focus (it will be April before I know it, really. It’s already the midpoint of March!.

Here is one thing that made me smile this week. We’ve had some interesting weather—snow, rain, wind, clouds, COLD, freeze warning (it was 19 degrees this morning!). The other evening, the clouds were gathering in the eastern sky, and the sun was still shining in the western sky. The light was interesting. Of course, I picked up the camera and dashed out in the backyard to receive some images of that magical light. It made me smile.

Evening light

Beautiful light. . . . Yes, it makes me smile.

Would you like to start a movement on Facebook to crowd out the negative? If I can remember, I’ll use the hashtag #30daysofsmiles to designate my part. It may be become a habit. I think the rules will be simple: post anything that makes you smile—photograph, a graphic, a joke (Chris Copeland will surely have a pun or two), a video—anything that is uplifting to the spirit.


21 Days

“They” say that it takes twenty-one days for an action or practice to become a habit. “They” also say that if you repeat something to yourself three times you can memorize it, but that didn’t necessarily work for me when I had to learn Latin! Still, repetition helps to instill habits.

I have been working through Sebastian Michael’s Photoshop Artistry class for a couple of years now. I love his approach, and I have learned a lot about using parts of Photoshop that I wouldn’t have learned on my own. Every so often, I have to go back into the class for refreshers—how to blend textures, how to create different effects, and so forth. I haven’t gotten the knack of using brushes and vectors for effect yet, but perhaps one day I will.

So, today, when Sebastian sent his newsletter with information about new postings on his Quill and Camera website, I began reading. And there was the mention of his twenty-one day course “21 Days to Creative Abundance.” I need some abundance in my life right about now. I think it’s the winter doldrums or something, even the spring is blooming all over the place down here in South Carolina.

I am just getting started with the class. I am looking forward to it. There are some habits that I need to change and develop, especially when it comes to creative work.

Today’s assignment had three or four parts, depending on how you look at it. The first is to get a journal. I keep blank composition books all the time. I get them from the dollar store, from Walmart, or any other place I can find them on sale. They aren’t pretty, but I can fix that! I have a ton of patterned scrapbook paper and Mod Podge. Instant pretty covers! The second assignment is all about the goals for my artistic and creative work. What do I want to accomplish?

This year, I some work in January to make a plan for one year, five years, ten years, life time. That is hard for me, and I need a way to keep the goals front and center so that I don’t forget them. After all, it’s no good making goals unless there is a plan to follow through.

These are my goals—again—in front of me:

1. To engage in photography regularly, whether it’s every day or not. My realistic goal is to engage in some kind of photographic experience every week. To me, that means either making images with the camera or working with images in Lightroom and Photoshop to create something “artistic.”

2. To write regularly. I already “do” morning pages, daily writings in my personal journal, but I want to expand that idea to focus on creative writing or at least writing more creatively.

3. To publish blog entries regularly. I guess that could go along with number 2 above, but I tend to write for the blog when I feel like it. I may need to go in and do a total revamp of the blog to figure out what it is supposed to “be.” But that’s another thing altogether.

4. To have a gallery show of my photographic art. Lately, I have been doing “stuff” with my images. For Christmas, I gave my father- and mother-in-law a photograph of the old barn that still stands on their house place. I had doctored it up in Photoshop. Then I mounted it on a 13 by 12 piece of board that I had stained. I gave my children the same thing! Last week, I attempted to do a photo transfer on a canvas.  My goal is to get my images off the computer and into the world. I suppose I should start looking for some kind of venue for the show.

5. Along with number 4, to get some photographs in the State Fair in October.

Sebastian said in the video for today, that telling others about goals forces accountability. So, by writing these words where people will read them, I suppose I am asking that you all, the readers, be my accountability partners, to hold me accountable for following through on some, if not all, of the goals I have in mind for this year.

So, for the next twenty-one days, between now and March 21, I will be working toward creating the habits that will help me achieve these goals in my creative and artistic life.


Style? What’s that?!

Back when I thought I could make a living with photography, everything I read, from books to blogs to Facebook posts encouraged me to “find my style.” You know, I’m still trying to find my style. Sometimes, I think I know, and then. . . . well, something happens that changes me, and I’m off somewhere else.

I know what I like. I like to wear soft, stretchy pants, like leggings with long, loose-fitting tops. I like long “peasant” skirts and gypsy blouses. I like colors in jewel tones. I like costume jewelry.

Image result for costume jewelry 1950s(not my photograph)

I like shawls and capes rather than close-fitting coats. I guess one way to describe this “fashion” style would be Bohemian, or perhaps even “hippie.”

NO.36      Purple Cotton Tiered Peasant Skirt: (Not my photograph)

I like old things—cameos, pearls.

(Not my photograph)

I like orchids.


Photographically—uh, that’s another story. I can’t quite decide what my style is there.

Yesterday, I downloaded and skimmed through a free ebook by Denise Love, who designs textures and Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets for 2 Lil Owls. I love her textures and use them often in my photography. She said something that made me step back and think. She wrote that when she started in photography she joined groups and went on photo walks and trips with them, and she tried various styles and subjects. She learned what she liked regarding what she enjoyed shooting and what she didn’t. As I drove to deliver a saxophone to my son and back, a 275-miles round trip, I thought about that one statement. She learned what she enjoyed photographing and what she didn’t. I thought about that myself.

Here’s what I know: I don’t enjoy photographing weddings and “events,” even though I do it. I enjoy photographing children at play, but not for portraits. I enjoy photographing “nature”—flowers, trees, acorns on the ground, the birds at the feeders outside the window. I enjoy photographing water and whatever happens to be just beneath the surface under the clear water. I see textures and colors and shapes through the lens, and I want to capture those details (even though I am truly a “big picture,” global thinker. My eyes are drawn to old things—old, dilapidated houses, barns, buildings, peeling paint, rust, faded colors. I enjoy walking through cemeteries—old ones with weathered and worn tombstones carved with all manner of funerary art.


When I’m processing photographs, I enjoy applying textures and “manipulating” images to create a new vision or a new story. I like “vintage” and “old-fashioned” things. I want to learn more about this aspect of photography as well, creating “digital” art through photography and post-processing.


I don’t know what to call my style, though. I don’t have a name. What I do know is that my style is fluid; it changes, evolves. And maybe that’s the way it should be.


Thurdays Are for Thanksgiving

There are so many people who recommend keeping gratitude journals—simple lists of things for which we are grateful. Studies have shown that people who are grateful are happier and less stressed; have better relationships with family, friends, and colleagues; and are healthier.

This week, I’ll keep it brief. I am grateful that the holidays are over! I did enjoy the various activities this year much more than last year, but I am glad to slow down. I am thankful for family time, for seeing nieces, nephews, and their children. I am thankful for the delicious food (I ate too much). And I am thankful for the birth of Jesus even though that birth also leads to death and ultimately the resurrection.

I am grateful for the quietness of this week. I am enjoying the time to walk around the ponds, to enjoy the beauty of creation.



Pictures and Words

When I was new to scrapbooking, I followed Ali Edwards’s blog. Her philosophy of scrapbooking is “pictures and words.” Together both tell the story of our lives. I no longer scrapbook in a formal kind of way although I may start again. What I have found, though, is the importance of letting photographs and images convey stories. And I’m rediscovering my love of poetry.

Last week, I was walking around the ponds with the camera. It’s winter here in South Carolina (even though the temperatures are not very winterish). But I was out in the coolness, bundled in my son’s Marine Corps sweatshirt, looking at whatever caught my eye. And this cedar caught my eye.untitled-16

And as I looked at the cedar, and then later at the image, Robert Frost came to mind:

Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

Remember that poem Johnny quoted in The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton? I read that book way back when I was in seventh or eighth grade. The poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” has stayed with me for more than forty years (yes, I’ve been out of high school for almost 41 years!).  The gold tips of the cedar reminded me that this gold will subside into green as the cedar needles continue to grow. Perhaps if I were to go back to that same tree on the other side of the pond, take a picture of the same branch, those gold tips would be green now. Time passes; youth become adulthood. . . .

The gold of autumn, too, has subsided. I’m waiting for my grandmother’s camellia to bloom in the next month or so. I’m still waiting for the sasanqua camellia to bloom as well. I think I saw some golden buds on the bushes last week. . . . .

This week, look for the gold. And look for the beauty.