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Developing “The Creative Habit” as a Path to Mastery

[by Tom Kennedy]

Recently, I have been re-reading one of my favorite books on creativity, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, by the amazingly talented dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp. I originally purchased the book shortly after it was published in 2003 when I was looking to strengthen my own creativity while guiding the multimedia team for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 10.37.47 PMThroughout the book, Ms. Tharp uses the story of her own career to illustrate her belief that creativity is not something extraordinary that’s’ only attainable by a select few, but rather the fruit of careful cultivation of certain lifelong habits that can be applied to every situation requiring a creative response.

The book details the flow of creative effort from “walking into a white room” (the author’s equivalent of a blank canvas, or a yet untaken image) to a finished production. At each chapter’s conclusion, Ms. Tharp presents a series of exercises intended to reinforce the main point of the chapter and help you develop and use habits or “rituals” to set a base for your creative work.

Along the way, she offers a continuous stream of insights such as the need to be relentless in practicing with discipline and purpose. Her advice: “Analyze your own skill set. See where you’re strong and where you need dramatic improvement, and then practice those skills first. It’s harder than it sounds, but it is the only way to improve.”

In addition, she asks the reader to produce a “creative autobiography” by answering a set of questions intended to help shape a deeper understanding of the creative impulses that drive them, as well as to identify what obstacles may be in the way of realizing the most successful release of creativity.

At the end of this chapter, she presents her own answers to the questions. I was particularly struck by her answer to Question 32; “What is your idea of mastery?” Ms. Tharp offers this succinct response: “Having the experience to know what you want to do, the vision to see how to do it, the courage to work with what you’ve been given, and the skill to execute the first impulse-all so you can take bigger chances.”   Talk about being clear about the essence of our work as creators!

Going on to elaborate, she writes, “More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project where I believe my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I’m saying ‘Okay, let’s begin, now I’m ready.’ Of course you’re never 100% ready, but that’s part of mastery too. It masks the insecurities and gaps in technique and let’s you believe you are capable of anything.”

This book will help you get on that path.

Tom Kennedy is an independent consultant coaching and mentoring individual photographers, while also working with various organizations to train individuals and teams on multimedia story creation, production, publication and distribution strategies for digital platforms, and enhancing creativity. He also regularly teaches at Universities and multimedia conferences. He has created, directed, and edited visual journalism projects that have earned Pulitzer Prizes, as well as EMMY, Peabody, and Edward R. Murrow awards.  He can be reached at

By Tom Kennedy | Posted: December 19th, 2014 | No comments

Inspiration for Any Season

[by Jenna Close]

I’m a big collector of photography books and films that focus on the topics of industry & environment, travel, and climate change. They are a great source of inspiration for me, especially at the end of every year as I begin my habitual project planning and day-dreaming. Here are a few top favorites:

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 11.09.19 PMEdward Burtynsky: Water
I love all of Edward Burtynsky’s work, and his new-ish (2013) book Water is both beautifully rendered and timely. He focuses on “nature transformed through industry”, so if you’re interested in that topic his website is chock full of various artfully executed projects on oil, mining, flooding, etc.


Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 11.09.39 PMPete McBride: The Colorado River Flowing Through Conflict (book) and Chasing Water (film)
Pete McBride has spent years documenting the Colorado River and the issues surrounding it. What started as a short assignment for National Geographic turned into a personal project that is impressive in both its quality and expansive coverage.

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 11.10.26 PMBenjamin Drummond & Sara Joy Steele: Facing Climate Change
This photography/videography team has a very interesting body of work that focuses on telling the story of climate change through local people. Their four lovely short films focus on the Pacific Northwest. The rest of their portfolio is worth checking out too, as they have had some very interesting assignments around the world as a result of their work with nonprofits and scientists.

Jenna Close will cross at least one item off her “big project bucket list” in 2015. But first (and somewhat more difficult)…Christmas shopping.

By Jenna Close | Posted: December 18th, 2014 | No comments
Get Connected

Go play. Go to a play.

[by Carolyn Potts]

The holiday season can be a great time to catch up on inspirational reading. I’ve a list of perennial favorites I recommend to my clients when they’re looking for books that provide a big return on their time investment.

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 11.21.07 PMHigh on that list is Julia Cameron’s best-selling book on creativity, The Artist’s Way. Cameron suggests that your Inner Artist loves to play and you need to provide it with regular play dates.

All artists need to have space and time where new experiences can generate new ideas–ideas that are safe from critical judgement so that they can fully blossom.  She calls that process “Going on an Artist’s Date.”  When you actively commit to doing something outside of your usual routine  and engage in an by activity that suspends time and creates wonder (you know…play), sparks can be ignited that will fire up your own creative process.

One way you can play is by seeing a play. If you don’t usually attend live theater, now might be a good time to get some theatrical inspiration. It’s a great “artist’s date.” There is so much to delight in watching live theater. Not only because of the great performances but because so many of your senses are engaged in live theater; the sights, the sounds–and even smells–occurring in real time allow you to be more fully present and engaged than watching a film or TV.

The connection between photographers and actors is also interesting.  Noted director, Peter Sellars says: “Theater gives you the chance to stop the flow of time.”  Photographers obviously know something about stopping time. Actors and photographers both have an instinctual understanding of the importance of stopping time so we can more deeply reflect on what is happening around us and its true meaning.

I heard that quote last night while listening to NPR. It was during , a great segment from Paul Kennedy’s program IDEAS. This episode was about Sellars’ productions of Shakespeare, who, he says, has created a world for us that is a “giant web of imagination.” It’s a broadcast well worth listening to–especially for anyone who’s curious about a director whose productions are often filled with a “profound humanity.”

You never know what career-enhancing creative gifts might also come from “playing.” Over twenty years ago, when Chicago photographer, Sandro Miller, was photographing Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf theater company, he and actor John Malkovich became friends and shared a creative synergy. Last month, Sandro’s exhibition Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich opened to a packed house at Catherine Eldelman Gallery in Chicago. For those who know the history of photography and for those who know Sandro’s journey, don’t miss it. It’s up through January 2015.

Now go play.

Carolyn Potts, photography marketing consultant, speaker and former photo rep, shows seasoned & proactive photographers how to get more work. When not working with her clients, she loves experiencing the surprises that come from both artists dates and live theater. Connect with her at and and Google+.

By Carolyn Potts | Posted: December 17th, 2014 | No comments

May Your New Year Have A Freak-y New Perspective

[by Charles Gupton]

Are you able to say the words “I don’t know” when you really don’t know the answer to something you think you should? Until you’re able to admit what you don’t know, it’s virtually impossible to be open to learning what you need to know.


© Charles Gupton

In the early chapters of their newest book, Think Like A Freak, authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, posit that even the smartest people have a tendency towards confirming their biases – or what they already believe – rather than being open to new information that would give a broader view of reality.

It’s tempting to gravitate towards the most obvious or nearest solution when we try to solve a problem. Instead, I believe it is especially incumbent upon creative professionals to keep an open-minded approach when solving challenges. The very essence of creativity is the ability to see possibilities based on imagination, experience, and unprejudiced thinking.

As you’re well aware, the newest tools and technology are not going to give you a cutting edge for very long. Your only lasting competitive edge lies in your thinking, in your ability to see and solve a challenge from a vantage point unique to you.

Think Like A Freak does an excellent job of presenting case studies and antidotes to reinforce the habits of “different” reasoning such as thinking like a child would (with fewer biases and dogma attached) and understanding what others really want (don’t listen to what they say; watch what they do).

If you want to shift your mind into a new position, to see the world from a fresh “freaking” perspective, this title is a good place to start.

Based in Raleigh, N.C., Charles uncovers stories that resonate, then tells them in three-minute films to engage clients for business on the web. You can connect with him at: | |



By Charles Gupton | Posted: December 16th, 2014 | No comments

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