I'm writing this post in the wake of the devastating flood that swept through my town of Boulder, Colorado just over two weeks ago.  Like so many others, my family endured the hardship of fighting rising floodwaters only to see them consume 50% of our home.  As if this weren’t challenging enough, the City of Boulder drainage system backed up, filling our basement and part of our first level with sewage.  We spent nearly two weeks without the ability to shower, wash clothes, clean dishes, or cook food.  Although my family was shaken by the impact of the flood, I can already feel hope beginning to wash over me.  I attribute this to the love and support of our family and friends and to the resiliency of the creative human spirit.  The flood is giving me a fresh perspective and helping to crystallize several important ideas that I'd like to share today (the images associated with these ideas are merely intended to entertain and inspire).

In this fast-paced, often cynical world, each and every one of us can benefit from sincere encouragement and inspiration.  Here is an invitation: Consider being the person who provides these things both to yourself and to others.  The result will be a more harmonious world where we feel supported each time we share our work with others or take creative risks.

Creativity is not a gift for a chosen few.  It is your birthright!  Proof of this lies within the heart and mind of every child.  Just yesterday, I marveled as my daughter discovered (for more than 30 minutes) that plastic bags make incredible parachutes for dolls.  Sadly, it is only through repeated negative conditioning that we become convinced that we're not creative.  In the words of best-selling author Richard Bach, "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours."  When you don't feel innovative, consider seeking out an image that deeply inspires you and let it serve as a stepping stone to your own creation.  Viewing (and even imitating) work that you love is a great way to get your creative juices flowing.  Often, when I set out to mimic someone else's work, I wind up creating something that becomes uniquely my own.

Creativity is like a meandering river with numerous bends.  I've been creating images for 20 years and I still encounter challenges in every one.  Only though experimentation and so-called "failures" do I arrive at gratifying results.  Mistakes and “failures” are our best learning opportunities.

In the initial stages of each creative endeavor, do whatever you can to gently quiet your inner critic (which masquerades as fear-based thoughts).  We all have one and it doesn't nourish us.  The more you honor and appreciate yourself and all the uniqueness you bring to this world, the more creative and productive you'll become.  Remember that the best way to evaluate your own pictures is by how much each one makes your heart sing.

Those whose work we admire most are the ones who have transformed curiosity to passion, and passion to perspiration.  In other words, these folks have worked extremely hard at refining their craft.  While some may pick up basic mechanical skills faster than others, it is only through passion and persistence that these (or any) people become truly accomplished.

Be wary of folks who place rules around art.  Rules are limiting and have the power to eclipse the vibrant human spirit.  When you create for the pure joy of the process, you open yourself up to producing art that is a genuine expression of you.  Personally, I enjoy making images that express more how I felt about a place or event than what I actually saw.  My intention is to convey emotion.  Whether you prefer to depict the world realistically or interpretively isn't what's important; what matters is that you are true to your personal vision.

Make a habit of seeing photography as a process and allow yourself to unabashedly employ whatever tools you wish to convey your ideas.  When it comes to expressing myself, I am delighted to use any and all creative resources available, including a vast array of lenses, lights, and software.  My creative process is split between the camera and the computer.  I do everything I can to get the photo right in camera so I can use Photoshop to sculpt it into something that resonates with me.  Keep in mind that how you create art is far less important than what you create.

Consider being transparent about the creative process with your audience.  I get so excited about sharing my images with others that I can't help but explain all of the thrilling techniques I used to create them.  Don't be afraid to let the world know how much you enjoyed every stage of the creative process.

Seek out teachers that fuel the embers of your creative spirit and learn as much as you can from them.  As you feed your passion, you'll expand the scope of possibilities and the toolkit necessary to take advantage of them.  When you're feeling stuck, learning is also a marvelous way to light your way back to creativity.

The world is filled with compassionate souls who understand the healing power of creativity and beauty.  Although we often don't hear about these people in the popular media, I believe there are millions of them all around us.  I encourage each of you to let your voices be heard.

I'd like to conclude by sharing three quotes that have lightened my heart during this particularly difficult time.  I sincerely hope that they add a little spring to your step as well.

“Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
-  Howard Thurman

"The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money…or the most awards.  They simply are the ones who care the most."
-  Charles Schulz

"In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive."
- David Bayles and Ted Orland

See your creative expression as your gift to the world.  Give yourself permission to be creative.  Make time for your art.  Allow creative momentum to build inside of you.  Create art that resonates with your personal vision of the world.  And most importantly, have fun with the process!  Thank you.

Mark S. Johnson is an Adobe Photoshop luminary, a photographer, an author, and one of the most passionate instructors you will ever encounter.  Through the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, The Radiant Vista, and Boulder Digital Arts, he has lectured in front of and worked side-by-side with countless individuals, including Adobe's Chief Executive Officers, Jane Goodall, the U.S. Ambassador to Finland, and Academy Award winning director, Louie Psihoyos.  Mark’s tutorials appear on the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and Planet Photoshop websites, and his imagery and articles have been featured in Photo Techniques, Nature's Best, and After Capture magazines.  He is a contributor to Dewitt Jones’ heartwarming Healing Images campaign and a Trey Ratcliff Flatbooks author.  Watch hundreds of Mark’s inspiring and entertaining Photoshop tutorials at MSJPhotography.com.

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66 Comments

  1. Great post and inspiration! We’re praying for y’all’s speedy recovery to normality. Love the fall foliage shot, I’m going to try one of those!

  2. What an uplifting post. Many thanks for making my day that wee bit better.

  3. wow, I really love your work. So creative..

  4. wow, I really love your work. So creative..

  5. Love your work, Mark. Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing and for the reminder to just go do more of what I love. I’m also local to your area, sorry to hear you were affected by the floods.

  6. Beautiful work and such an inspiring message. Thank you!

  7. Amazing art ,very beautiful, thanks for sharing.

  8. (…) “the best way to evaluate your own pictures is by how much each one makes your heart sing”. Beautifully said Mark. Thanks for sharing your beautiful work. I am sorry to hear about the flood, it must have been a horrible experience and I hope you and your family will recover soon. Love.

  9. Thanks Mark, I needed this today. I have always enjoyed your style of teaching and your creativity. May God continue to bless you and yours.

  10. Wow. Thanks for this post. The words and the images are magnificent. Just what I needed to hear this morning. I’m trying to see beyond those inner demons and make that leap – I’ve been trying to convince myself of that all morning (and for the past 6 months..) This was a gentle, postivie prod. Thank you.

  11. WOW, love this Mark…well said, thanks for being an inspiration to us all!

  12. Love your work and your teaching style, One of the great AH-HA!!! moments of my photographic life was the first time that I saw an HDR image which I had created come up on my computer screen in a workshop with you and Charles Needle in Nova Scotia. Your Photoshop Workbench series is both remarkable for your willingness to share freely with your subscribers and for its excellence as a learning tool. Warmest regards and best wishes for a full recovery from the impacts of the flood.

  13. Mark, You have been a fantastic source for both instruction and inspiration. Thanks for both!

  14. Mark, you never fail to Awe and Inspire… ’tis a wonderful gift ye have Lad.

  15. Per usual, Mark, you lift others up simply by being your truest self…lovely work and lovely words.

  16. Mark,
    You have always been a great source of inspiration; from when I met you in the Grand Tetons to this very day. Thanks for you uplifting, positive attitude that you offer us on a daily basis. Good luck with your recovery and hope to see you when I am in Boulder.
    Regards – Bob

  17. Mark, I have no idea how I first came into contact with your work, but I’m absolutely hooked. The composites you show on this page are incredible. I taught mixed media workshops for many years and made an effort to persuade attendees that ‘everyone is creative’ too.

  18. Mark, Thanks so much for your inspiration in your images, tutorials, books, etc. You are truly blessed. Hope all goes well with the flood recovery!

  19. Mark, thank you so much for such a well written article. You have been a great inspiration to me for several years. Your teaching style is so “real”. Thank you for sharing your great talent with us all. Best of luck to you and your family at this difficult time. Being from the hurricane area of Louisiana, I have seen how much devastation rising water can cause. The sun will shine again and things will dry out.

  20. You’re right Mark, it’s important for folks (especially us creative types) to say we are good at something. From that point forward one can feel confidence building and in turn, one is driven towards true personalized and honest expression. I’m working on 3 time lapse films currently and my client gives me 100% creative freedom. I’m blessed. And good luck to you and your family as you recover…I’ve been through 3 earthquakes here in LA and two of them caused enough damage for a lifetime…

    • I had no idea you’ve been through so much, Michael. When you learn the authentic story behind every human, you discover that we’re all pretty much the same. Everyone has suffered and struggled. Only through compassion, support, and hard work can we rise out of the ashes and lead an even more genuine, meaningful life.

  21. Stunning work Mark!

  22. Inspiring images and powerful words. Thanks Mark. I love your work.

  23. Mark…you never cease to amaze me. Always unique and inspiring.

  24. Mark, What a beautifully written article. Inspiring. I am going to print it up and pin it to my bulletin board, so I can reread it when my mind is feeling bad about my creativity.

  25. Mark, I loved your post and you awesome images. As a lifelong designer and creative director I’ve
    I really love the conceptual thinking behind your images. They are true inspirations. Keep up the good work. I am praying for you and all of the people in Colorado who have suffered so much. Thanks for sharing.
    Jonathan

  26. Mark your post really inspired me this morning. Its a wet day here in Blighty and Ive got a cold and not feeling at all creative, but hearing how you can maintain your creative vision after such a devasting event in your life, has really raised my spirits. And I will remember to ‘have fun in the process’! Thank you

  27. Hi Mark,
    Been thinking about you a lot and glad things seem to be on the ascension. You guys really took a beat down.

    I like the highway/foliage shot. We’re headed down to Taos on Saturday and looking forward to immersing myself in fall colors. After my long layoff I’m starting to get my camera greased up again.

    Hang in there, buddy.

  28. Sorry to hear about your home, but love your attitude.

    Your work is very intriguing. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Mark,
    Your post indeed provided inspiration. Sorry to hear you were affected by the floods. I had been wondering about you and couple other photographers I know in CO.
    Kim

  30. Excellent blog! You are so right. So many times we think we have to listen to what other people think of us.

  31. Awesome, so inspirational….i had to read it twice and shared it to my daughter who is in university.

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