The Key to Always Growing as an Artist

The Key to Always Growing as an Artist

As professional artists, at some point in our careers we will feel as if we reach a plateau in our work and are not growing. In this article learn the ways you can continue to grow and reach your greatest potential and work past that creative rut. 

In life, one of the most desirable things is to feel as if we are growing and making progress. Especially when working in the art world.

"Life is like walking the wrong way on a moving sidewalk, walk and you stay put, stand still you go backwards. To get ahead, you have to hustle. " - Farrelly Brothers

Working as an artist, is very similar to life. If you stay still and become a one trick pony, eventually that trick will die down, so it is crucial that your work keeps moving forward and improving, otherwise you will fall behind. I'm sure we all have been there; sitting around in the slow seasons, uninspired, and feeling seldom about where your work is going. What was once a passion, now seems like a chore, and it becomes less exciting because we're not growing. Growth is often a fundamental factor in determining one's personal success, and success in the art industry. In this article I explore the top ways I have found to be ahead of the game and that helped me to create work that I have always dreamed of. 

Don't Be Afraid to Look Back

We all started somewhere, and we all sucked at some point, but when we look at our current portfolio, it may seem hard to grasp how far we have come since the beginning. So do not be afraid to dig through the archives and compare your work from a few years ago to your work now. I assure you that you have grown a lot more than you think. This is one of the biggest things I do to keep my inspiration going.

My 2014 versus 2018 progress. It has been quite the wild ride.

Never Be Complacent With Your Work

One of the biggest thing that stunts someones growth, is complacency with their work. In the world of social media, when a certain style is trending, it is easy to jump on the band wagon and shoot that style. It might work for a while, and it seems like you are getting likes, but at the end of the day, your work becomes formulaic and can feel as if you are simply doing the same thing over and over. But if you think about it, is your work really growing and improving as much as it could be? Not really. Likes can be deceiving and cause our work to hit a plateau in our originality because our photos become focused on shooting to please an audience, and not ourselves.

Shoot for Yourself

When you do photography for a living, it is so easy to get caught up in the needs of clients and the needs of your online audience, but it's equally as important to address your personal growth and do shoots for yourself. Even if you are fortunate enough to be booked solid with client work, it is crucial to make time to book shoots that suit your vision, not the vision of someone else. Try to shoot personal work as often as possible. For me, I try to shoot at least two to three times a month, just for the sake of honing my skills. The key when doing personal projects, is to just have fun with it. Try anything you want without any limitations, try out new lighting techniques, new poses, and new editing styles, without the pressure of having harsh and sometimes limiting expectations from doing client work. The work I post on my social media and website is almost predominantly from personal shoots. On these shoots, I hand pick the models, I make the concept, and ultimately have full creative control and freedom over the outcome. With this mentality, I am able to attract new clients based on the style that I present them with. Without allocating the proper time to doing personal work, you will eventually get stuck in a rut of people pleasing and that will stunt the creative evolution in your images. 

This set is from a recent test shoot I put together with some friends. This was done in my 8x8 living room studio.

Always Be Learning

One of the best ways to grow is by taking action. Watching YouTube videos is great, but those tips only become practical, once you go out and use them. It is essential that you do work that is out of your comfort zone, pushing you to find creative solutions to the problems at hand. Anything great comes with a considerable amount of persistent work. You will not move forward if you are not constantly pushing to improve and wanting to do better. Just the act of creating something for the sake of creating something and constantly practicing will inevitably lead to making better pictures each time you shoot. Sometimes a shoot will be a failure, but what's important is your next shoot and getting over that hump of failure.

Assist Other Photographers

A more practical way of maximizing your growth and being an active student, is by assisting other photographers on their shoots. You will learn more on one shoot, than watching hours of videos and tutorials. When you are an assistant, it takes off the pressure of having to deliver, and it allows you to just soak it all in and discover new ways of doing things. For the first three years in my career when I wanted to get into events, I assisted a local event photographer and shot over fifty events with him. From assisting him, I learned first hand how to be a better business owner and my event photos drastically improved. To this day I still seek any opportunity to assist in any way I can, wether that be holding a light stand or setting up backgrounds, I always walk away inspired and eager to keep getting better. If you are not able to assist, find someone that you look up to online or in person that will constantly push you out of your comfort zone.

This was from a film shoot I did for a documentary for my school. The team consisted of me as the director and an assistant to make the vision come to life.

Stay Inspired

It is easier said then done, but to maintain steady growth, it is pivotal to constantly stay inspired and exposed to other artists' work. For me, one my biggest inspiration when it comes to photography and business, is Clay Cook. Anytime I look at his work, it inspires me to go out and try new things and to follow my dreams. 

I hope these tips were useful in helping you get over that plateau and help you reach your greatest potential. If you have any ways that help you keep growing and inspired, share them in the comments below!

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1 Comment

Julian Ray's picture

Great article Eli. Your tip about helping other photographers can be especially useful both in learning and staying inspired. Thanks for sharing.