Harnessing That Childlike Belief in the Possibility of Magic
I often get asked where I get my ideas. Where do I find my creativity? The truth is I have never considered myself to be overly creative and consider myself more of a realist when it comes to my art. My work is imaginative, but I want it to be realistic and look as if what you are seeing is reality, or at very least if we threw out our adult logic, it could be reality.
Creativity as an adult, like anything else you want to excel at, takes practice. Like most of us, I grew up being taught logic, good sense, and reality. The intentions were good, of course, and I wouldn’t say I was pushed to grow up too fast or anything like that. However, to be a responsible adult these things are important to learn. But as we learn these things it tends to replace creativity, imagination and make believe.
Children naturally hold so much creativity. Perhaps this is what draws me to them the most in my work. They are everything we should be in life, open-minded, full of dreams, and to their core they still believe in magic. Even in their most serious of moods their little minds hold an almost quiet wisdom that, if you sit long enough to listen, they might share it with you. However, at some point along the way in our childhood, logic overcomes imagination and seemingly overnight the magic just stops. I read a quote not long ago that said, “A creative adult is a child that survived.” Wow, what a thought! As adults, we stop believing that most things are possible and reality finds a comfortable spot in our brains. But what if we could find a way to harness that childlike belief in the possibility of magic?
I remember watching a magic show on television when I was young. David Copperfield was the magician and, among many things at the end of his show, he levitated and then flew above the audience. I remember the next day lying belly down on one of the swings in our back yard and whooshing around like I could fly. There was no need to close my eyes to imagine I was flying. Though I was less than 2 feet from the ground, the swing disappeared and I could envision the clouds around me and the world far below. That moment was real to the 7-year-old me. I still do this today. Not the swinging part, but the vision part.
During a photo shoot, I am already seeing a completed version of the image in my minds eye. I don’t see the grey seamless that I do composite shoots on. I see beyond what’s in front me and am already building an image in my mind before the session is complete. There was a time that this was not the case and when I struggled creatively. I had to teach myself how to dream again, or I should say, my kids had to teach me. When I had my first child almost 8 years ago my photography took a shift toward families. As my daughter began to grow and pretend, my work shifted to focus mostly on the magic and imagination of childhood.
Before I was a mom, I spent some time in Romania working in orphanages. These kids faced so many struggles at a young ages. Some ran away from hard family situations and some were simply abandoned. Their stories were endless. Those kids had a sense of hardening on their outer shell and we worked to do as much as we could to allow them to be kids while we were with them. I remember feeling a sense of mourning for the untimely loss of imagination and innocence. It saddened me so much so that I told myself that I’d do my best to restore that for them if I could. Creativity, imagination, and make-believe are all so fragile. Once it fades, it takes work to get it back, whether you are forced to grow up too fast or you made it well into your teen years before it faded.
Becoming a mom, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect and nurture the magic that lived in my children. So, as my 3-year-old ran into my room one day talking about the lion that was in our house about to eat us, a vision came to life. I found myself remembering what it felt like for make believe and dream up things again. If I could somehow harness that feeling for them, I would want to do it as long as possible. That was where my creative compositing began. I turned her imagination into a reality in the form of a composite image. Having kids of my own has helped me tap into my own creativity again. Having done this myself, I truly believe that anyone can tap into that side of their brain and learn to be more creative.
There is a chance you are sitting there currently doubting your ability to be creative. You’re sitting there using your adult good sense and logic to fight that magic exists. Because, at one point or another, someone told you something wasn’t possible. But the truth is that our childlike creativity is still locked in there. Have you ever gotten to the end roll of wrapping paper and felt an uncontrollable urge to whack your kids or spouse with it because you pictured it as a light saber or sword? Even if that answer is no, you just created that image in your own mind and it made you smile thinking about yourself doing that.
The other day I went to my friend Maria’s house where she just put in new hardwood floors. She welcomed me in and then like a polite adult would, she offered me something to drink. I accepted a glass of water and do you know what she did? Maria got a small running start and, in her socks, slid across the shiny new floors “Risky Business” style. I mentioned how childlike it was of her and she turned a little red in the face though I assured her it was refreshing to see and I thought it was wonderful. Why don’t we do this more often? Simply let go and enjoy the childlike side that clearly wants to get out now and then.
Creativity is a bunch of what ifs. What if those wood floors were actually a frozen lake? What if there was a lion in my home? What would that look like? How would it make you feel? If you start to think about “what if”, a story will start to form and creativity is sparked.
As I mentioned, adult creativity takes work and practice and a little bit of letting go of good sense. Here are some ways that I have found helpful when sparking creativity.
Do another type of art that’s not photography. I often make my own head pieces and props. I was also a pencil artist before I did any other art, so on occasion I like to pick up my sketch pad and pencil. I also have enjoyed listening to other creative artists and writers speak about their creative process. You never know where a different medium will lead you or how it will take life in your photography.
Plan a shoot that is 100% for you. Every detail down to the styling and editing is everything you want it to be. No one else gets a say. Simply do it because you love it. Even if it’s a complete flop, the act of creating something with no pressure opens the doors to fresh new creativity
Think about what inspires you and submerge yourself in that. Find a local museum and go look at the art. Go to a concert, or even go sit on a quiet mountain top. Look at a small object around you right now. Forget about what it really is and challenge yourself to think about what it could be or what it could do. What if….?
Practice your tools. If you know what you are capable of in Photoshop for example, then you know how to problem solve and create without limitations. Simply start! I often say, “You can’t drive a parked car.” You must start the car and push the gas to move forward. You might not know where it will take you, but at least you started. Pick up your camera and simply get out and shoot.
I don’t just apply my creativity to my composite work, but also to my “simpler” fine art images. This allows me to take my image to that next level to becoming more than a portrait, but truly a unique piece of art for my clients. Because of this I have found myself in a niche that I truly love that allows me to make a living creating fine art for people who value what I do.
Shannon Squires is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is turning heads in the industry with her creative, stylized portraits and her stunning post-production creativity on her line of fine art photographs. Shannon will be teaching, “The Art of Fine Art Children Portraits” at the Texas School of Professional Photography in April 2022.