5 Ways to Inspire Yourself

"The Fire Summoner"

Inspiration is such a strange and sometimes elusive creature, but only if you let it be ... Well that's not exactly true. Getting inspired is always going to be strange - having thoughts materialize into your head out of nowhere is just magical, but it doesn't always have to be elusive. Sure, sometimes we all seem to hit a slump and fall deep into an inspiration dark age. It can be so infuriating when you have the desire to create but no idea what the crap to make or where to start. Luckily for you I have a few handy tips on how to jump start a bit of creative thinking that might just lead to your new favorite work of art!

The Fire Summoner before and after Photoshop GIF


At some point thus far into your artistic journey (no matter how long you've been creating whatever it is you create), odds are you've made something you're proud of. (Let's hope so at least.) You've most likely made lots of images, but there are bound to be a few that really tickle your fancy - images that you especially loved creating, you love the finished piece, and if you're lucky your audience loves it too. Clearly you did something right there. So go check out your own work for inspiration. WHAT? Yes.

Really analyze what it is about the work you're most proud of that you enjoyed doing. Try bringing up three or four of your favorite images on screen next to each other and seeing what similarities they have - perhaps there is a pattern as to why you like them so much. Even if your images are all drastically different, there's bound to be factors that unite them in some way. Maybe even go so far as to take some notes on the different techniques and tricks you'd like to explore further. It could be anything from, "use a really warm color palette again," "try to recreate that sort of back lighting," or, "use that type of location to tell a different story." If you channel all of your favorite attributes from your successes into one image, it's bound to be something pretty special!


The lightning and fire summoners

Perhaps there is an old picture that you could revisit in a different way. That's exactly what I did to create "The Fire Summoner." I thought it might be fun to make a counterpart for an image I had already created, and guess what? I was right; it totally was fun. Not all images need or want to be followed up on; some will ask to stand on their own. "The Storm Summoner," however, has always been one of my favorites. (Although to be honest, most of my images are my "favorites." I only like to create images that I like, so I tend to be rather fond of allll my pieces. And no I don't think it's pompous to really love your own work. Otherwise why make it!? Sorry, got a little carried away there. What was I talking about?.....)

I've always enjoyed how "The Storm Summoner" kinda looks a tad comic-book-esque or like something from a super hero movie. I decided to run with the look and feel of it and create another "summoner" to go with it! Knowing me, in a few months you might see another "summoner" pop up on the internet. This is exactly how my Dust to Dust series came to be. I just really enjoyed the smoke technique I employed to create the first image so I made another ... and another ... and, well now I have a whole collection! 


The Fire Summoner before and after Photoshop

Once again this is precisely what I did to create "The Fire Summoner" and something I've done many times before (with other outtakes from this very same shoot). The picture that I used for "The Storm Summoner" is actually the frame I captured directly before the one I used for this new fire-y creation. I figured if I was going to create another image in a similar style, why not start with a completely similar lighting set up? (Aka the exact same lighting from the exact same shoot.) If you check out this post you can actually see all of the different images that I've created using outtakes from one shoot.

Photoshop layers GIF for The Fire Summoner

Perhaps this tip applies to my work a bit more than some other artists, since I'm such a compositing spaz. Some shoots are clearly taken to look a certain way or be a certain character and that's all they ever need to be. However, there could very well be an outtake from when you were just setting up or testing the lighting that you never even considered could be used in a new and interesting edit! Maybe it was a chilly location shoot and your model has their coat on to stay warm until the last minute and you snapped a few photos to get your exposure and framing right. There might be a pensive look on their face as they wait for "showtime," and this could be made into a piece of art all its own, completely different from whatever character is being hidden under that coat.


My entire life I've considered myself "an artist." I've always been drawing, filming, shooting, and creating things with my imagination, so I'm no rookie to painting. In fact every single one of the images in my portfolio contains a whole butt-ton of digital painting. However, I realized that I basically never digitally paint a major element from scratch in my pictures. I normally just use the digital painting to accentuate lighting and details that are already there. Mostly it's just my own fancy dodge and burn technique. While working on "The Fire Summoner" I was trying to add in actual pictures of flames like I've done in the past, but it just wasn't working like I wanted it to. I had this vision in my head of swirling magical fire seemingly pouring out of my fingertips. I realized that the only way to get it to look exactly like I was imagining it would be to just paint it in myself! (DISCLAIMER: If you watch the speed edit ... I mean when you watch it, you'll notice I don't really spend much time fussing with fire images. I cut it all out of the video for time's sake. You're welcome.) 

flaming hand digital painting Photoshop

Obviously not everyone will have the skills to just paint things out of nowhere, but I'm sure you have some skills that you might not have thought to tap into for photo inspiration. Think about things you've always enjoyed doing but never incorporated into your photography tool belt. Maybe you were always an A+ student in shop class but haven't touched a saw in years. Well, consider building something for your next shoot. Perhaps in your youth you used to love cutting up magazines and making intricate collages with cool picture clippings ... well maybe try cutting up pictures and pasting them all over your model's face for something totally outside the box and interesting. (Actually don't do that. It's a good idea and I'm totally gonna do it ... ) Basically what I'm saying is try to think of new ways to apply old skills to your work and you'll be surprised what you can come up with! 


Remember way back in the good old days, you know ... when you were reading the first tip in this post? Well, I hope you do remember back that far because there is another way you can use that technique to inspire yourself even more! Again I ask that you activate go-go-gadget-critical-eyes on your portfolio. Look at all the pieces and especially those that are your very favorites. If you can recall, I asked you to figure out all the techniques you seem to do over and over again, all the things in common that are essentially the attributes that make up your "style." Ok good, now throw all that away and do the total opposite!! I know it sounds crazy, but I find that challenging yourself to try things you normally wouldn't do is an amazing way to learn and grow as an artist. Even if you create something and end up hating it, it's not like you have to show it to anyone. Chalk it up to an educational exercise and move onto something more in your wheelhouse. 

Notice the general warm saturated darkness look?

I tried this inspiration jumpstarting technique myself and ended up with a piece I'm quite proud of. I was looking over my work as a whole and realized that almost all of my work was very dark/vignetted/saturated and usually had a warm-ish color palette. So I said to my self, "Hey self, why not have a go at creating a very bright image with a cold feel to it?" I really ran with the whole bright white cold theme and ended up creating my picture called "The White Queen" that is now a valued addition to my otherwise rather dark portfolio. I never would have created something like this if I didn't challenge myself to shoot outside of my comfort box.  


Well friends I hope this was helpful and that your brain is buzzing with new ideas for future works of art. Inspiration can come from almost anywhere, but I think oftentimes we forget that we can inspire our own damn selves! You are all a wealth of creativity; you just have to challenge yourselves a little to tap into all the little nooks and crannies of your fantastical brains.

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