Skip to main content

How to Get Started

Lesson 2 from: The Art and Business of Conceptual Portraiture

Jennifer Thoreson

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

2. How to Get Started

Lesson Info

How to Get Started

So this is really if you break it way down and boil it way down it's, why are you making the work? What is the work about and how are you going to make it that's? Three questions? So when you look at translating, translating is the hard part right? The hardest part coming up with what it's about that's hard too, but once you figure that out translating it is the hard part so you could translate it like an apple which when you bite into the apple you the whole thing tastes the same right? It's you get it at the very beginning that's the flavor and the whole thing tastes the same or you can have it as an onion where you're peeling back the skin at first and you can't taste it yet and you peel back a little more and a little more and eventually it you get the flavor of the fruit of the onion so it comes out the meaning of your image. The meaning of your work comes out and players rather than one bite all at once so that translation can be a lot more complex. It could be a lot more meaning...

ful when you add spice to it when you add layers to it we're gonna talk about a lot how to do that coming up here to so breaking down you're you're kind of approach the artistic diagnosis if you're thinking about translation, what does the work look like? So you're diagnosing this thing like you would if you went to the doctor's office and you say these are my symptoms one, two, three, four and five and the doctor may say okay, well, we know it's not this we can cancel this out. It's not this is not this, it could be this, and I think it might be this that's what happens pretty much when you go to the doctor, right? It's the same thing when you're trying to diagnose what the heck the work is going to look like, okay, so I know it's not going to be bright blue, the color I know it's not going to be this I know it's not going to be, um still life and you just get rid of all the stuff it isn't it's like doing the joke about the statue of david michelangelo statue like you just ship all the way, all the stuff that doesn't look like david, right? That's, what you're doing and at the end, you know, when you got rid of all the stuff, isn't you've got a pretty good idea of what it is then you start, but it takes a while to do that, and that is work it's work and a lot of people don't want to put the effort and to get to that point they don't want to peel back the onion they want the apple thing microwave me a meal I'm done then you don't get the reward at the end what does it look like? Where did it come from and what does that mean? Those three questions? I don't know if you're gonna just beat up to death because that's what it is so what does it look like? Okay, we'll talk about physical attributes of the work strictly physical attributes of it the palate, the color palette that's pretty important thing there's a lot of information in just the palate we'll look at some photographs later and talk about that, um organization, composition and order so my photographs and I finally learned it took me years to learn this about myself, but I like things that are really still and balanced and calculated um I'm not I don't respond to the environment I calculate the environment I manipulate the environment and you could see that in the photographs when you look at the final work it's very still and staged unstable versus someone who's doing documentary photography where you could see that it's sam two decided decisive moment there's no decisive moment in my work the way you use light does your light actually mean something do you have a lighting style? Is that going to help add meaning or layers to your onion? Um, shape and form so I find I like pretty still background a still scene and a lot of movement in the shape of the body. A lot of action on the body. Um, figure body language and what's the body actually doing what? What is that human being emoting to the viewer movement, not only movement of the body, but movement of the photograph. When you travel around and look at it, do you look at it in a circle? Do you stare at one spot? How does it work for the viewer? And then how much to control do you have as the photographer again? Are you are you reacting to something and pushing the button? Or are you orchestrating this whole thing that alone? That is what the thing is gonna look like if you can figure that out, then you're one step closer to the top of the mountain. I look back it just life on mars, playing clarinet. I was a great lyrical player, I was really good at that stuff, but I was a terrible technical player hated all the fast stuff and I wouldn't do it, I wouldn't practice anything that was technical, so you know, I was really good at performing something emotional something that felt made you feel something made you want to cry when you heard it you know reading and dark and melancholy but all the flattery stuff you know but I look at my work and it's the same way it's the same if you could just look back on yourself and figure out where you're coming from its amazing things will start to reveal themselves take all that into account and think about it was a big funnel and you throw it all in there and look at it as like a big pot of something that you're making to eat and then boil it down to the end where you get that really flavorful liquid right that's the good stuff that flavorful liquid is going to be your body of work but you've got to throw it all in there first and see what it all tastes like together you know let yourself see it narrow the focus down though in the end and you got something now that sounds easy but it's not it's a lot of work think about bookending yourself one of my favorite musical artists image and heave uh when she makes when she makes it a song she'll say okay I'm gonna write this in the key of f minor I'm gonna use this lyric thes five instruments this melody and that's that's going to be that I'm not gonna let myself stray from that space and when you think at first he would think that that was sounds kind of limiting but know what happens when you book in yourself into that little spaces it's like an explosion in a smaller space rather than have an explosion in a big space where you hardly see it right? So bookending yourself and saying I'm going to use this pallet I'm going to photograph this whole body of work in this house is which I didn't testament I don't know let myself go anywhere else and amazing things happened and I saw that house in a different way because I forced myself to I had to and so my creativity in that space I was making a big explosion in that little house so think about that too can really help develop your own photographic language we're going to get into this even more later but if you think about a language I mean there in your own vocabulary the way you speak the words that you use all the time are unique to you you have a way of talking you have a way of communicating verbally, right? Do you have a way of communicating visually that's as effective that's as you as your verbal language? Visual language is more powerful than verbal language and having your own specific visual language is the most powerful thing you khun dio as a conceptual photographer or the conceptual artist and it takes years to develop and so it is a matter of throwing all that stuff in the hat and boiling it down to the delicious liquid in the end. So for me yeah is your definition of language photographed languages same thing is developing a style kind of yeah so language yes, physically it will manifest in a style but it also manifests in in symbols and cues in the way that you use color that kind of stuff so yeah style but also symbolism and objects and things like that yeah, so it's a marriage of both of those ideas so to me it's ninety percent approach and ten percent execution the approaches the important part that's the part that makes it good that's the part that makes it different and you but I think especially in photography I found that most people concentrate on that last ten percent getting really good at the execution part and yes, you need that you have to have it, but if you don't do the ninety percent of work up into that point, then what is the point of having a technically perfect photograph of something that no one wants to look at right to me it's inspired idea plus relentless energy and I mean to the point where you can't take one more step plus strong technique you have to have that that's where conceptual art was kind of born so I think about it this way. Photographic body training. Okay, let's, keep it real for a minute. We can spend twenty years learning how to operate the camera, how to make it perfect exposure, how to get everything just so. And in the end, in the world of conceptual work, especially it's, like being potty trained like congratulations, you're potty trained at age thirty five, and I know that seems like it's making light of the situation. But it's, the truth, just being able to make a beautiful exposure have every light under the sun, every reflector, every lens, every gadget you could possibly imagine it's not going to make the work more meaningful. It will not. It makes it more beautiful, but that's. Not enough. You're just at that point you're potty trained. Now you have to learn how to walk and how to think and how to conceptualize important, meaningful ideas. But you can't get through life if you're not party trained, right? So you've gotta have it it's important?

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP


Bonus Materials with Purchase

Book Proposal Sample.pdf
Critical Mass - Digital Book.pdf
Curriculum Vitae Example.pdf
Keynote PDF Segment 1.pdf
Keynote PDF Segment 2.pdf
Keynote PDF Segment 3.pdf

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

"Thinking about art is not making art." In this inspiring and informative workshop, Jennifer helps you put thought into action - through meaningful self-reflection, exploration and by taking her through her own processes. Through exercises and examples, she explains how to pull out a thread of an idea and develop it into a conceptual project that is informed and invigorated by personal experience, preference, interests, and so much more. Her workshop not only feeds the creative soul, but offers earnest information on taking first steps toward publishing and showing fine-art. Jen so beautifully shares her talent and her love of teaching - I first "met" her on Creative Live and have had the joy of being mentored by her in-person as well. This workshop is a very close second to spending time with her one-on-one. Thank you, CL, for bringing her back!

kalei harmon

I love Jennifer, she's one of my cL favorites! She is such a soulful photographer and her art just resonates with me in so many ways. While she was creating her conceptual piece with the mother and child, my eyes welled up because it was such a profound experience to witness. I appreciate that she has a graduate degree in art and is able to refer to others in the field who are leading the way. She is so genuine and I'm grateful for her willingness to bare her soul to us through her art and process. I've learned so much by watching how she interacts with models and communicates efficiently and gently to get AMAZING poses. Definitely worth the buy if you're looking for inspiration from an artist who creates images which evoke emotion and communicate a message, not just trying to make "great photos." I can't wait to learn about the business side of it all!


I am so grateful for this class; it is just what I have been looking for to help me go beyond my "photographic potty training". By leading us through her own creative process, Jennifer Thoreson invites us to think about why we do what we do and to make our work more meaningful and authentic, creating our unique visual vocabulary. Moreover, she provides detailed info on submitting work to galleries and publications, contests, printing editions, preparing an exhibition and pricing. In her calm, unpretentious manner, Jennifer demystified art without trivializing it and I finally saw light at the end of a rather long tunnel.

Student Work