Creatively Thinking: Like breathing again

When you haven’t created in over a month and then you do –

it’s like you were holding your breath and didn’t realize it.

And now you’re breathing again.

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Sunday Bookends: House selling, snowstorms and rediscovering art

Last week our house went up for sale and we prepared ourselves for a long wait before someone asked for a showing, even though we were hoping for a quick sale because we have a house we want to buy closer to my husband’s new job (and the purchase is contingent on the sale of the one we currently live in). Our house is a cozy, well-lived in house perfect for our little family, but it’s also a fixer-upper, so we didn’t expect people to rush to buy it. Imagine our surprise, and panic, when someone asked for a showing two days after the house went online. We were given seven days to repair a few, minor issues we thought we’d have at least a month, if not longer, to repair. As of now, we are down to four of those days with the majority of the repairs made, but a few still needed – including cleaning out my very full bedroom closet.

Of course, just because we’ve had a request for a showing doesn’t mean the people will be interested or buy it. This could be a long process and we know that. Our challenge next week will be getting the kids and the cat and dog out of the house at the same time. We don’t have friends or family near us so we’ve decided the kids will go to the library and I’ll wait in the parking lot with the animals in the van (since I have no plan to try to shove our cat into that little carrier again. The last time was for a trip to the vet a few months ago and my skin is still healing from some of the gashes she sliced across my skin.) I’m sort of hoping this process isn’t too drawn out since I don’t relish the idea of dragging the animals and all of us out of the house each time someone wants to look and see if our house can become their house.

The contents of that very full closet in my room have left me crying almost daily as I work through it, tossing scrapbooks into containers, photos of people who are now gone or no longer speak to us falling out of them. Then there are the journals, which I no longer look at because they contain too many cans of worms I prefer not to open. A couple interesting items I did find were old sketchbooks from college that contained images I took hours and hours to create but usually didn’t finish. Art was such a stress reliever back then but now I don’t seem to have the patience for it. Maybe I’ll get some patience back during the social media break I’m doing during December.

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I remember working on this project, which is made up of thousands of tiny dots made with an ink pen (a process called stippling) as a stress reliever but also as a way to focus better during college lectures. I find I can focus on sermons and lectures better when I can doodle of have something to do with my hands. I know there is science behind that but I don’t really want to research it and explain it here, so we will address that in another blog post.

Anyhow, I was working on this piece of artwork during a sociology lecture when the professor, walking up and down the aisle, pontificating about something sociology related, stopped and suggested I should be taking notes, not working on art. But then he said “So, can you listen to me better while you’re doing that?” I said I could. He looked at it again and said “That’s quite good. Carry on.” and then continued to walk up the aisle, rambling away.

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I need to finish that picture now that I’ve found it again. It would be a nice distraction, dotting away on a piece of paper, while the stresses of life (house selling, family and friend losses) swirl around me.

I should also finish this pen and ink sketch I started of The Beatles, I think.

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Our first snowstorm of the winter looks like it may hit us today and tomorrow, complete with a couple layers of ice and then up to 12 inches of snow. It even has a name- Snowstorm Ezekiel. At this point, we are just waiting to see what it actually brings in terms of snow or ice versus what the forecasters are saying. The big blob of pink and purple has been moving toward us but I haven’t seen much outside yet.

The snow will keep us inside but that’s a good thing considering we still have quite a few repairs to make and cleaning up to do before the showing.

So, how about you? What are you all up to or what have you been up to? How is the weather where you are? Cold? Warm? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll leave you with a verse from the book of Ezekiel in honor of Storm Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 37: 9-14 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

 

 

Creatively thinking: Back when I created how I wanted to

When I was in high school and college I wrote and sketched and photographed what I wanted without much thought to how it might upset or bother someone.

I would definitely say I was much more in tune with my creative brain back then. I stayed up late creating either through drawing or writing, rarely concerned with someone seeing my work and casting judgments about it being “proper” or not.

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Find stock images by me for sale at Lightstock and Alamy.

During that stage I wrote poems like “Living Statue” but never showed them to anyone. After all, poetry wasn’t really my thing – my brother was the poet. Plus, what would people in my life think about me writing about the half-naked model in my college art class. An offside about that, I had no idea we’d be drawing half-nude models when I signed up for that class.

I went to a smaller state school and had no idea they were progressive enough to allow such things. Imagine my pleasant surprise at being given the chance to sketch the human body, but also imagine my complete embarrassment at being asked to stare at that human body for an hour class. Luckily my art teacher wasn’t progressive enough to provide a completely nude model. Ha! I might have passed out during class.

Over the years my poor brain took a beating from the judgments of others and I, sadly, let those judgments affect how I created. Even sadder is that sometimes I still do. Echoing in my head are voices of the past scolding me for creating the way I wanted to, squelching what I really want to say or show.

To this day, I find myself thinking: “Who will be offended by this?” “What Christian will call me out and tell me I’m not Godly enough?” or “Who will remind me (again) they only hire photographers who pose their color-coordinated dressed family with perfect backdrops?”

Luckily I find myself doubting what I create a little less than I used to, hoping I can someday get back to the early days of not caring what others think, knowing there will be some who like what I create and some who don’t and accepting that I can’t make everyone happy.

How about you? Have you found your creativity has become more stifled or more open the older you’ve become?

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Find stock images by me for sale at Lightstock and Alamy.

Creatively Thinking: Too much social media kills creativity

I’ve decided the more I’m off social media, the more creative I can be, which is why it looks like another social media detox is coming up in the next week or so and it may last 30-days like I did earlier this year.

Actually, saving my creativity isn’t the only reason for dropping off social media – saving my sanity is more important at this point. In May I actually deleted my Facebook account, except for a ghost account to keep my blog page on there. Ignoring my better judgment, I went back on at the end of the summer and I can’t see that it has improved my life much at all.

When I slip into a depression slump I find myself scrolling through social media too much and when I scroll through social media too much I don’t do things I need to do or really want to do, like write my book or write a blog post or take photographs or – blah – clean the house. I just end up a depressed, moody slug sitting in front of my computer. I also end up angry, bitter and frightened for my childrens’ future.

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This past spring I did a social media detox and that’s when I started writing ‘A Story to Tell’ and decided to publish it as a weekly serial on here and then as a Kindle book. The success for me was simply how writing the story, and sharing it on my blog, was a distraction from social media, “news”, and from some challenging relationships in my life.

When I go on social media, I end up so wrapped up in the nonsense I read that I neglect the parts of my life that actually bring me joy — especially the more creative parts.

 

Social media is an addiction for many people. If you think it isn’t for you, do what I did last December and focus on how often you reach for your phone or computer to log into social media each day. Notice how many times you log into social media when you’re bored, lonely, procrastinating or avoiding real life (or certain people). I bet it’s more than you think because I know it was for me.

Another important aspect of learning how social media affects you is to notice how you feel after you sign off social media, or a news site.  Do you feel happier? I’m going to guess the majority of us can’t say that we feel anymore enlightened, elated, or hopeful about life after we’ve scrolled through a social media site. On the contrary, we probably feel like the world is on fire.

For creatives, it’s important to ask yourself if social media supports or hinders your creative flow. I’ve personally found that excessive social media use rarely supports creativity. In fact, for me, the constant digital noise I once engaged in silenced creativity altogether.

How can you think of new ideas, or use your imagination, when someone, or something, is constantly in your ear telling you what you think and who you are? More than once in the last two years, I have read about the need for all of us to seek more solitude and shut out the noise of the world around us.

Silence can facilitate daydreaming and daydreaming supports and strengthens our imagination. Imagination leads to creativity and then creativity leads to joy for even the most left-brained person out there. Creativity isn’t always about the arts . Creativity is also important for technical thinkers out there who need time create plans for projects or lists for completing whatever it is that helps them feel more organized. For many of us, organization helps us feel more grounded. Not having the time to create that organization because we are distracted by social media can leave us feeling discombobulated. 

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I have asked myself why there were so many great writers hundreds of years ago and less of them today? I have a feeling it is because hundreds of years ago the only thing people had time to do when the sun went down was think and daydream.

It’s not that social media is all evil. It connects us with new people, new ideas, and different worlds. It helps us reach people in a way we never could before. The evil part of social media is that we have allowed it, and what is shared on it, to distract us to the point that we have pushed aside activities that could actually further our society. Social media has no power over us that we don’t give it and many of us (me included) have given it awhole lot of power, let me tell you.

I don’t have any proof that inventions and innovations have decreased since the Internet and social media took over the world, and the exact opposite may be true in some fields, but I wonder if cures for cancer, or solutions to climate change, would have been found already if half of us weren’t scrolling social media; watching the circuses that are our congresses and parliaments; judging our neighbors; tsk-tsking the family member or acquaintance  in the middle of a divorce who has decided to write about it on social media; comparing ourselves to every other mother, writer, photographer, human being on the planet; and trying to change ourselves to fit some imaginary ‘normal’ in society.

Think about all the positive changes we could have made, not only in our own personal lives but in the world in general, if we weren’t staring at cat memes on our phones all day long. I have a feeling Satan knows that and has enjoyed dangling stupidity in front of us so we wander off the path we should have been taking all along.

All of this to say, I need another social media detox and you probably need it too. During my break last year and earlier this year, I offered some tips how to “survive” (or rather thrive) when you leave social media (even if only for 30-days); what I had time to do once I set social media aside; and how I felt when I logged back into Facebook after such a long break.

I know some of my blog readers aren’t even on social media (God bless you!) and some were on and promptly logged back off again. What’s your experience with social media? Do you find it stifles your creativity or productivity? How do you handle that? Are you better than me at balancing social media with your real life? If so, I’d love some pointers about how you do it. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. The last time I wrote about social media (Facebook for most of us), I had some really fun and insightful comments. 

 

 

Advice for shooting photos in low light

Since I live in the north and our winter months are often cold and dark, the key word being dark, I’ve learned to adapt to shooting in low light so I can photograph my family even when we are stuck inside during the depressing winter months.

Over the years I took a couple of classes on Clickin’ Moms, searched the YouTube archives and scoured the internet for articles to learn how to do improve my low light photographs, something that has proven to be beneficial for freelance assignments, in addition to personal photos.

I thought I’d share a couple of low light tips here, after being inspired by YouTuber Peter McKinnon. Remember, these are all simply tips, and not a list of “rules.” Your photography is your own.

1) Shoot manual.

If you don’t know how to operate your camera manually, I suggest you take a class, or simply look online, and learn how to do so, because being able to adjust settings manually is key to capturing low light images. Knowing how to adjust your camera manually allows you to adjust your aperture, your ISO and your shutter speed, setting it where it is needed to capture your subject, no matter the lighting situation. Most importantly, learning how to operate your camera manually (which is the “M” stop on your camera dial) gives you unfettered control of your photography.

As a self-declared control freak, this fact is a welcome one for me. It’s one of the few times in my life I feel like I have been given control over something and at times I find myself wild with power – adjusting settings like a convict running through the streets after they have just been released from prison. Okay, that was a horrible analogy, but you know what I mean. I like to have control over my photography because when I do I have freedom to create the images I see in my mind.

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2) Open wide that aperture.

The wider the aperture, the more light is let into the camera, which is basic photography knowledge. Widening the aperture is one of the best ways to grab amazing bokeh during brighter lighting situations, but in lower light, it’s the best way to capture a scene without it being underexposed. Using your light meter in the camera can help you to determine if your scene is too dark or too bright. Your aperture is adjusted by your “f-stop”, if you’re new to this photography stuff.

3) Increase your shutter speed.

If you’re finding you are getting a lot of blur in your low-light images, because the wide aperture is narrowing your depth of field, you’ll need to increase your shutter speed to help capture movement. This is especially helpful for parents photographing their children. Increasing your shutter speed, however, will, of course, make your scene a little darker.

You may ask how you can increase your shutter speed if your aperture is open so wide and the answer to that is your ISO, which you will need to increase to help brighten a darker scene.

4) Increase your ISO.

Your ISO is like your film speed, if you were using a film camera, but you’re most likely not because this is 2018 and everyone has a digital camera at this point.

If you want to get a brighter scene in a low light situation, you’ll need to raise the ISO, which can cause some grain, or noise, in your image, but grain isn’t always a bad thing. Grain can add character, or a more documentary feel to the image. And if you don’t like grain, hopefully, you are using a camera that either handles noise well or lets you shoot in RAW, which brings me to the next tip: shoot in RAW.

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5) Shoot in RAW.

While the goal should always be to get it right in the camera, there are going to be times the situation doesn’t allow for perfect lighting,, or the right settings. And for those times there is the RAW setting and luckily most advanced digital cameras today have a RAW setting.

For more information about what RAW means in relation to photography, check out this link.

Shooting RAW allows you to adjust your image in post-processing without causing damage to the quality, since RAW is simply the digital information for the photo, not the actual image. When a JPEG image is edited, repeatedly, for example, it degrades the image to the point of ruining it.

When you photograph in RAW you can take an underexposed image like this, for example,

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and raise the exposure in post edit to end up with a final image like this:

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without losing too much quality. If a great deal of noise remains you can use the luminance slider in Lightroom, which Peter discusses in the video below.

There are definitely more tips out there for low light photography than I am mentioning here, but the biggest hope is that by having a few tools under your belt to shoot in low light, you won’t shy away from doing so and will feel free to capture moments in your life no matter the lighting situation.

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To see Peter McKinnon’s tips on low light check out his video, below…

Any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments. If I don’t know the answer we can look for it together!

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For more photography tips or simple rambling about photography, rural life or motherhood, be sure to subscribe to my blog on the right sidebar. You can also find my photography at http://www.instagram.com/lisahoweler

Quieting the creative voices of others so you can hear your own

I fell into one of those Youtube spirals the other night (like one does) and I caught an interview from last year with Ellen and Bradley Cooper. Ellen asks Bradley if he is on social media at all, although she admits she already knows he isn’t. When he says “No, I’m not.” she feigns shock and says “Oh my gosh. What do you even do with yourself?”
He laughs, shrugs and mumbles something about being able to waste a lot of time on the internet without social media. But really, a better answer, since he was there to talk about a movie he was filming, would have been, “I create.”
“A Star is Born” comes out this week and Bradley both stars in it and directed it. If he had been sitting around wasting his life on social media, getting distracted by the drama and ridiculousness that can be found on it, he might never have made the movie or made the music for it along with Lady Gaga and Luke Nelson.
Lady-Gaga-and-Bradley-Cooper-in-A-Star-is-Born-2018-670x335Imagine all the books and paintings and songs we would never have heard if social media had existed earlier than it had. Yes, there are good things about social media for a creative. We can share our creations and our art to a wider audience and immediately. But what we lose in that immediate interaction is taking the time to really develop and plan our craft before we throw it to the world. What we lose is the time to actually create because we are distracted by looking at either the work of others or the drama of others.
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We are squelching our inner voice because we can’t hear it over the shouts and creations of others. We are comparing and contrasting and then going back to our creative work, thinking we can’t create as well as the others we’ve seen. Or maybe we think can do the same, but end up disappointing because we never give ourselves time to really develop the skills we need to create, as well as, or better than, those we admire.
Bradley Cooper worked with a voice coach, musicians and others for almost a year and a half,l before creating what many are calling a masterpiece. He had a vision and he put the work in to complete and present that vision.
If he had wasted his time on the distraction that comes with social media, he may have never reached his goal of creating something he is extremely proud of.
Though I don’t know what Bradley Cooper’s personal reasons for not being on social media are I do think abstaining from it strengthens his creative voice. It’s something other creative people, or anyone with a goal they want to reach, should try as well.

Summer playing, sad pet stories and art

So far this summer there has been too much playing and not enough cleaning.

The laundry has taken over the laundry room; there are dirty dishes trying to crawl out of our sink; the neighbors invited us to swim but Little Miss just fell asleep on my lap, covered in paint; Legos are strewn across the living room floor, the aftermath of a battle between me and the adventuresome, trouble maker cat named Pixel; and there is still salt on the floor, gritty like sand, after Little Miss dumped the salt shaker when I wasn’t watching.

If all that wasn’t enough our 18 year old cat Smokey is slowly dying under the dining room table and probably won’t make it through the week.

This has been a year marred by pet loss after losing our 13-year old Chihuahua Jack Russell mix, Copper, in February. We knew Smokey would be next and actually we thought she’d pass before Copper because of her advanced age.

We are a family of old animals. Two years ago our 19 year old all black cat passed away a couple of months after Little Miss was born. At my parents the cat I had from junior high until long after I was married wandered off and disappeared at the age of 16.

The cat I rescued from a relative’s house shortly before marrying was at least 17 years old when she died, while living with my parents who ended up with her since we couldn’t have pets at our apartment in that first year of marriage.

And yet another cat – Leonardo – died just a couple of years ago at around 13 or 14.

Ah, Leonardo.

The cat I named after watching Romeo and Juliet (the one starring Leonardo DiCaprio) the week he arrived on my parent’s deck after being dropped off and after Mom said “don’t name that cat! If you name him you’ll think we’re keeping him and we are not keeping him.” I was home from college for the weekend and I said “hey, there, Leonardo. You look like a Leonardo.”

Mom said, “I will not stand out there and call Leonardo for him to come for dinner.”

But she did.

For the next 13 years.

“Leonardo!” I still giggle at the thought of her out there yelling that name she said she would never yell out over the valley and fields below their house on the hill.

For many of those years, until she passed away at 93, my grandmother was the only one Leonardo would let pet him.

He never did let me pet him.

Smokey has tolerated me for years, mainly accepting me only when I started leaving her my leftover milk from my morning cereal. She’s a milk addict. Her affection became even more pronounced when I was pregnant with my son. I was in my phone the day she rubbed her head all over me and I asked Mom what she thought that was about.

“You’re probably lactating.”

And once again her love for me came back to some form of milk.

In the back yard, there is a newly amputated stump of a bush that refused to bloom this spring, for the first time in 14 years. It’s the same bush our puppy once hid his toys under. My melancholy side thinks of its’ death as simply another sign of sadness, another ending.

My hopeful side, which often cowers under the melancholy pessimism, tries its’ best to see it as the closing of one chapter and the start of a new, exciting one.

So even as sadness looms in our midst with the impending passing of our octogenarian kitty, we have been playing and squeezing every last bit out of summer, almost forgetting we have two and a half months left of it.

We’ve been at parks and pools and apparently, I’ve been embracing the idea of letting children learn by doing because I’ve had to wash a lot of paint off my children in the last two weeks.

My art friend Maria came one day, carrying with her a painting she is working on for her sister. She set her easel and paints up on our front porch, igniting an artistic interest in the 2-year old and then that spread to the 10 year old and before we knew it we had an impromptu summer art class happening on the front porch.

The painting continued even after Maria packed up her art and her son (I am picturing him being slide into an art case, but really he’s ten so she just ushered him away from his best friend, my son, and into her car) and headed home.

Most of the night consisted of “stop that! That’s my paint!” Until finally I carried the 2-year old inside and away from her older brother so he had the space to create how he wanted to for once. I know siblings should share but even 10-year olds need a little quiet time to think and process.

That impromptu paint party progressed to the purchase of more canvases and paint and even a field easel.

I’m hoping it inspires more art instead of fading into the background, but even if it does, at least the supplies will be there when the creative flame sparks again.

Tell Me More About . . . Mina Mimbu, artist and photographer

What a thrill for me to feature Mina Mimbu this week! Her work is captivating and catapults the viewer into another world. 

Mina was born and raised in Japan until 14, then moved to beautiful New Zealand.  She has two boys, two and one, who are often the subjects of her work.

“They’ve been keeping me very busy!” she says.

Thank you to Mina for participating!

How did you become interested in photography?
I always loved photography since I was young, but I started taking it seriously after my first boy was born. Like most of ‘momtographers,’ I wanted to document my children growing up.

What’s in your camera bag?
I don’t carry a camera bag! I really wish I could, but I have to carry a large nappy (diaper for Americans) bag instead! My favorite gear is my Sony a7r2, 24-70 mm F2.8 and 85 mm f1.4, which I use most of the time to shoot my children. I have to carry a heavy bag and hold my kids so I love mirrorless cameras because they are really small and light weight.

How do you come up with the amazing images you create? What inspires you?
Children are my biggest inspiration. I believe they see a world differently than us adults.
I think the world to them is much bigger, brighter and more colorful, and full of wonder and excitement. I want to see it, capture it, and create an art of how they are seeing the world. I want people to see the world of childhood through my images. I hope my photographs make people feel something.I hope they make people wonder and dream.

What advice do you have for other photographers or digital artists?
Enjoy shooting! There are no rules in art. Experiment! I used to get caught up with reaches and followers and likes on social media and it was affecting my confidence. But then I realized I am not shooting for numbers. I shoot because that’s what I love doing. I am grateful for social media as I have had amazing opportunities and made wonderful friendships. But it isn’t everything. Don’t equate the value of yourself with how many reaches and likes you have. Just keep enjoying shooting!!!

 

Learn more about Mina and her work on her Facebook page, Instagram and website.