My favorite part of creative life is the mess of it. The experimenting, the thinking out loud, the times when brilliant ideas don’t manage to pan out in reality. When things come easy I just don’t have as much fun, and I certainly don’t feel as proud of my accomplishments as I do when I go through a dozen tries before I get something right.
In all the work I do with people encouraging them to embrace the ugly parts of creative work, there’s one phrase I end up saying over and over again: Perfection is boring; Pinterest is fiction.
And yet, sharing what we make is integral to our creative life. We have to show people what we’ve made if they’re to buy it, or hire us, or take our classes or read our blogs. Which means we have to suck it up if we feel scared that people will judge us harshly for what we show. We have to show it anyway.
Which is why, a year or so ago, I stopped styling my photos. I mean, if they’re product photos, of course I style them. But in this age of Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and those ancient blogs we still love so much, we post photos all the time. I post photos as a way of staying in touch with friends and family, and I also post photos to stay in touch with clients and customers, and to reach new clients and customers.
And I love it. I love sharing photos online. They not only provide a snapshot of what I’m making at the moment, they also invite a story. Every time, a story. Stories I tell my far-flung friends and family, and stories that connect me and my work with the people I rely on to make a living.
So I post lots of photos. And because I post lots of them, they need to be no big deal. If they’re a big deal, it would mean the normal making I do every day is a big deal. And I can’t have it be a big deal, or I’d die under the pressure of having it all be awesome all the time. And it’s not awesome all the time, because most of the time it’s messy. And I love messy, as I said.
If I worry about how good any given photo is, if I fret over the lighting or composition, I end up losing the story for the mechanics. And it’s the story that’s most important. A perfect Pinterest-worthy photo is a lovely thing to look at, but it usually hides the mess. Which means it hides the interesting parts of making. Which means it’s boring.
So I post crappy photos most of the time. Sometimes I really nail a great photo on the first go, but usually I just take a few with little preparation, pick the best one, and spend my time telling the story. I tell the story of the first batch of soap I made (which totally came out awesome, by the way). I tell the story of an edging I was putting on a shawl I crocheted, but it was totally the wrong colour. I tell the story of teaching aids I made for a class I taught. Or of of my first try sewing a dress. Or of that time I destroyed a Pyrex measuring cup because I forgot the rules of physics.
It’s easy to get lost in a Pinterest-ready way of thinking. It’s easy to assume that other people only like looking at perfect pictures. But if we take a sec to think about it, we know that’s not true, because we know how drawn we are to the stories behind imperfect pictures.
The next time you share a snapshot of what you’re making or what you’ve made, try making it a quick-and-dirty one, and spend the time you would have spent styling and editing your photo telling a story instead.
Let me know what happens, eh? (I have a hunch a good story will come out of it.)