It's like dinosaur bones, arrow heads, and other priceless artifacts. You know they exist, you've seen pictures or pressed your eager palms against the glass at museums as you stared at them in awe and wonder, but knowing they exist doesn't mean you know where to dig to find them. To me, discovering my creative niche felt like that, maybe it feels like that for you too. The good news is, since (after 9 years) I've found my sweet spot, I've noticed some trends that can be turned into a map of sorts. But the first step might be more painstaking than you'd like.
How many times have you been in a theoretical argument? You know, the paralyzing debate of if we should do this or that, and what would happen with each route. I get into this type of discussion weekly at Focus Lab, and my go-to answer is to just try it. Previous to this new personal motto, I would get stuck and not try things.
The quickest way to nowhere is to indecision; we find direction when we start moving.
The reality is we can never know all the answers, hence the fallacy of thinking we need to know what, how, when before we start. So, in short, just start - something. Anything.
Second, climb a lot of trees.
Now that you're moving, climb a tree. In doing so you'll figure out if that tree is for you. What about that tree did you like, or not like? Take that thing and find another type of tree that has it - climb that one.
When I started out in my creative journey, photography was certainly not on my list. I graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design, but I hated it. While I adored (and still do) the thought and skill that went into beautiful design, the white art-board was always overwhelming for me. During my short tenure of being a designer I faced the constant need to find and work with photography. Manipulating images within Photoshop was the highlight of my day. When I designed I gravitated towards photo manipulation and strayed away from illustration, typography, and all things web. A curiosity was born. I climbed the tree and realized I liked things related to photography.
Have you taken an assessment of what you're doing now that you love?
One project will have elements of many disciplines, but there is one that resonates with you more than the others.
Third, dig deeper.
Once I pinpointed photo manipulation made my heart sing, my next step was to learn how to take the images themselves. If you realize that type is your favorite part of a project, then your "dig deeper" is to learn how to create letterforms - all the different styles within. This is where you get really dirty. Learning, growing, investing is not for the faint of heart, and let's be honest this where many of us quit. But don't - even if it's slow - a crawl is still forward momentum.
There's depth to each path, but it takes curiosity, grit, and determination to keep digging.
This process is a cycle. Here's mine:
- Job as a designer - like photo manipulation
- Learn photography - love light
- Start photography business - love the styling of wedding details
- Hate weddings / stopped them - still love photography
- Start dabbling in commercial lifestyle photography - start playing around with styling desks
- Love styling - start styling products
- Felt limited with styling - start making elements for product shoots
- Intrigued at how much can be communicated by these elements - interested in how light can play at larger part
- Creating sets, implementing full photographic lighting and knowledge - loving it
Currently I'm in the cycle of diving deeper within sets: There's so much to learn: scale, materials, messaging. While I can get overwhelmed with what to learn next, I'll allow projects to dictate that. If you don't have a project, make one - like this personal project of 100 days of writing, or a weekly/daily challenge like #Gillustration.
This process is fueled by you, for you.
You are worth investing in yourself. So where are you in the cycle?