Creativity and Constraints: Overcoming Creative Blocks

May 06, 2015  •  2 Comments

As I've begun to emerge from the darkness that the winter and my mom's passing has brought on, I wanted to also begin to use this space to talk a bit about creative practice. It's one thing to talk about the inspiration that a work comes from, but I think it's equally as helpful to talk about the practice of being creative. 

Having a regular creative practice is a tough one for a lot of us. I used to believe that I wasn't creative. I could creatively come up with every excuse under the sun as to why I couldn't be creative: I didn't have the access I needed to cool locations, I didn't have the right gear, I didn't have the necessary wardrobe, et al. ad nauseam.

The problem was that when I would finally sit down to create, I would begin chasing my tail with that excuse spiral and end up with nothing to show for my efforts.

This went on for years, and my creative output was spastic and all over the map. I had no idea how to express myself, harness my voice as an artist, or to have any kind of regular artistic practice. The result was a lot of effort with no real body of work to show for it.

Then several years ago I happened to catch Brooke Shaden's Fine Art Portraits on CreativeLive. In the kindest way possible, she shattered all of my notions on creativity and made me realize that my excuses we all, well, bullshit. She creates amazing images on next-to-no budget by being imaginative, tenacious and constantly exercising her imagination like a muscle.

Without my excuses I was left with very little to explain away my lack of creative output. Interestingly, I found that fear is often at the root of all of our excuses. And it has some very important things to tell you. But that is, quite literally, another blog post (which you can find here.)

Fear will throw all kinds of hurdles in your way. It will tell you that you don't have what you need or what it takes to create what you want. Or worse: maybe it tells you that you don't have a right to create what you want to. That's a tough one. But when fear flies in your face like that, it's time to answer fear and say "Maybe you're right. But I'm going to try anyway."

So when I came up against a creative block that said I didn't have any cool locations to shoot in, I said, "Maybe that's true. But I'm going to shoot against a blank wall and see what I can create."

When another block told me my costume wardrobe wasn't what it needed to be I simply answered, "That might be a valid concern. But I have a single white dress that I can use over and over again."

I didn't have a large kit with fancy lights? Well, I can use a window.

The toughest one was around feeling like I had no right to really express myself. So I quietly created in secret; and despite near-panic at times, I very timidly began to share my work in a few safe spaces.

Each time you push through a block, it becomes easier to get through it the next time.

Then a funny thing began to happen. After a while, the constraints were no longer reasons not to create. Suddenly they became vast spaces within which to explore.

Let me explain: when I decided to use a single white dress as a costume, suddenly it was one less thing to worry about. The white dress has so many levels of symbology to play with, that the possibilities became immense. Eventually I began to throw a few more into the mix.

When I chose to use a blank wall as my setting, I realized that I could create an entire emotional world through the use of a prop or two, a pose and an expression.

I even decided to limit my color palette to see what I could do with black, white, red and flesh tone.

The fear that my voice wasn't valid became a reason for me to continue to create and share - so it could be a beacon to others who begin to feeland find their own permission to speak, share and create.

Eventually an entire body of work emerged.

As contrary as it may seem, I was actually able to turn the limitations into freedom. (Every now and then I go wild and use a red dress instead of white. Woo!)

Create an endless number of innovative fine art images, even with limited resources.

All it takes is a tiny space and a dress to make photographic magic happen.

Now it's much easier to invite ideas in because I don't shut them down immediately, or have to traverse as many hurdles. It also makes a regular artistic practice less stressful because I have a basic creative workflow (yes, I'm a bit of a systems person), and I usually know exactly how I will accomplish each shot before I even set up my camera.

So I'd be curious to hear from you: have you found that you get in your own way creatively? What are some of the excuses or fears that come up for you, and are there any ways that you've been able to eliminate them?

Tell me in the comments below!

Did that Post Hit the Spot? Sign Up for More!

* indicates required
Email Format


Jen Kiaba Photography
Thank you very much Keith! =)
Keith Ferris(non-registered)
Excellent post Jen. You're not only an amazing photographic artist, but you're also a great writer! Keep it up.
No comments posted.

January February March (1) April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January (1) February March April (1) May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December