Guest Blog: Photographer & Creative Entrepreneur Nick Onken

What it Takes to Master Your Creativity
It’s been a minute since my last post here, and I thought, “What piece of value can I pass on to you from what I’ve learned since then?” The funny thing is, reading through that post from 8 years ago, it all still rings true today, including the things that must be maintained throughout your career.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned since this article, is that true mastery is coming out of the sophomore dip. The truth is business is up and down. Learning how to master not only your craft but the mental game of uncertainty is a must in this business.

Not only have I learned the most from the firsthand experiences of my life and career, but also through one of my personal passion projects, my podcast: NIONradio (Pronounced “NE-ON”). This project spawned from being interviewed on my good friend Lewis Howes’ School Of Greatness podcast.

I wanted to create a project that allowed me to photograph and interview some of my favorite top level creatives, and that I did. My goal has been to do portraits of all my guests along with an in depth interview on their creative world from creative process, to making money with their art, to the mindsets they’ve adopted to create success.

I’ve always been inspired by photographs and deep conversations, and this was the platform for me to do that. Photography in general has been my gateway into being able to learn from some of the most talented amazing people such as Usher, Donna Karan, Daniel Arsham, and many more. I’ve also been able to interview some of my favorite photographers such as Christopher Makos, Art Streiber and Jeff Lipsky. Funnily enough, it can be intimidating to photograph photographers whose work you admire.

Photographing and interviewing people have helped me learn about creativity and life from them. Here are are three nuggets I’ve learned along the way in this creative journey.

  1. Personal projects lead to paid work: A common theme from the photographers I’ve interviewed such as Jeff Lipsky, Joey L, and Jeremy Cowart was exactly this. All their personal projects have led to getting commercial work they’ve wanted.
  2. Relationships are KEY: Not only is having great work important to back you up, but having the right relationships and a great network is the key to success. Having great relationships takes a lot of personal social development in communication skills. A few great guests on this topic have been Vienna Pharaon, Jordan Harbinger, Jared Kleinert, and Vanessa Van Edwards. In my interview with Andy Warhol’s photographer, Christopher Makos, he talks about your network being your net worth.
  3. Evolve or Evaporate: This is the biggest piece of advice that stood out when I interviewed Usher. As creatives, in order to have a long lasting career, we must evolve, grow, try new things, and constantly re-invent, or else we evaporate. The greatest artists of all time have kept evolving throughout the years.

At the end of the day, it’s about constantly creating. What you’re deciding to put in front of your camera is more important than the gear itself. Oddly enough, I haven’t even upgraded to the top of the line cameras (I’m a Canon guy). The technology has reached a threshold where the quality is so good, it’s more just bells and whistles. I’ve always been a believer that you use the right tools to get the job done.

I’ll leave you with this:

Keep making better work and showing more people. That’s the name of the game.

You can see more from Nick at, and keep up with him on his podcast, NION Radio, and Instagram.

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