December and January. The two months where most commercial artists hunker down, update websites and portfolios with new work, and hash out marketing plans for the new year. But aside from the administrative work and holiday food excess, I find this time to be energizing. Scratch that. I MAKE it energizing because I know how stir crazy I get when I’m not creating or at the least thinking about creating. I get cranky. I pace around the house. I eat too much popcorn. And given the pandemic, there’s been a LOT of downtime in 2020. Like, easily enough for five years.
On the flip side, when things are busy with paying gigs, finding time to explore personal work may not be as easy. With the average lifespan of a one or two-day job taking a month or longer—from treatment and bid through production and post—setting aside creative time can be an effort. More so if it requires collaborating with fellow awesome artists and their work schedules.
In late November, when things were starting to wind down with my last shoot, I made it a priority to take stock of my portfolio, concept new takes on what’s already been seen and done, explore colour palettes and produce some new work. The beauty of creating art for yourself is there are no parameters, no clients. It’s literally playtime. Just buckle down, enjoy the process and see what happens.
I did the same last spring. Not from a I-gotta-be-productive-during-lockdown perspective but because I had lost all desire to create new work after my husband passed away. It was demoralizing; it made me question things about my life, my career and my path forward. So when I was finally able to fire up my creative engine again—after much needed therapy to deal with my loss—it felt like I had just exhaled for the first time in months. It made me feel alive again. And I’ll be honest, it also made me very anxious. As I’m sure some of you can relate, when you haven’t worked on your craft for some time you feel rusty. Your ideas may seem half-baked; you may fail in executing said ideas over and over and over again. I definitely experienced all of that. But I knew going in, this was my safe space to reconnect with my voice; to redefine who I am as an artist and to strengthen my point of view. And I kept at it until I had a small body of work I was proud to share.
That process of ideation, planning and execution made me feel like I was back to work during a time when productions were shutdown. As a one-woman team during my first COVID shoot, I had to cover everything—props, food/liquid, lighting, etc.—which wasn’t totally unfamiliar as I’ve done it before for some editorial shoots. But it definitely felt more limiting because I couldn’t just pop into stores last minute. So as word spread of a possible shutdown in L.A., my hyper planning skills went into hyper speed and I beefed up enough equipment and props for a three-week shoot.
Little did I know that legwork would come in handy eight months later. This time around, I was in a different headspace. There were no cobwebs to brush off, no doubts about my capabilities. I was simply hungry to make something new for me and to also collaborate with other creatives. Thankfully, I have a great vibe with my Toronto-based food/prop stylist, Nicole Billark, who was equally excited and ready to crank out some new work before the holidays.
We planned out two shoots: one seasonal and one focused on coffee. After some Zoom calls to discuss potential ideas, Nicole took the helm for food/props on our holiday shoot while I dove into concepts for our colour-blocked coffee shoot. We headed back to Album Studios (where we worked on the first Pepperidge Farm shoot) and the mood was so chill. There was no pressure to bang out a strict shoot schedule. If the shot worked, it worked. If it didn’t, move on. And some work did die which was fine (quality over quantity, always). After it was all said and done, we ended up with some cool content that feels true to our vision and reflects who we are as creatives.
As artists, we have an innate need to create. To share our work—an extension of our being—with the world. But it’s important to not get caught up in creating art for others approval. Instead, for self-preservation’s sake, we need to create for ourselves, opinions be damned. Of course, social media does not help. Its daily bombardment of digestible bites for the masses can creep into one’s psyche and affect one’s self-regard. Those are not the standards to go by. This is not about likes or follows or any of that bullshit. Your voice, your point of view, is just that—yours. Create because you have been given the talent to do so. Create to push your craft further. Create so you can breathe.