The Pivot: Changing Direction in my Creative Life

Life seems to roll from one change to another. Some we initiate after careful thought and some is cast upon us with little warning.  Either way, it’s often difficult to let go of ‘what is’ to make room for ‘what will be’.  I found this true as I put into motion yet another pivot in my creative life.  I moved from creating and selling jewelry as a metalsmith back to my ‘first love’, photography.  I think it was with hesitation in one way because I did initiate it and had doubt.  And easier in another because I was heading back to something familiar.

Photography and the printing process was my choice for artistic expression from my late teens through my mid 40’s.  Back then, it was B&W/infrared film, darkroom printing, and hand coloring with Marshal Oils that intrigued me.  All these are now called ‘Alternative Processes’.  I bought my first enlarger in my late 20’s and used a small pantry as my darkroom. The process was slow, mindful and it was ‘hands on’. With a full time career and on my own with two children, spare time was a minimum but somehow I managed to squeeze in classes, workshops, camera clubs, and much experimenting.  When the world turned digital, I felt my creative bubble burst …. change was cast upon me.  

Work for the 80's and 90's
Work from the 80's and 90's

All the photography club talk had become about new expensive digital cameras, the features, and manipulating photographs on the computer.  It had little to offer regarding the  ‘hands on’ aspect that I was still enjoying, unless you consider typing and moving a mouse for hours.  So much of my workday as an engineer was spent doing exactly that and I just didn’t want more in my creative space. I rallied up for a bit and set out to learn about the new digital format with photoshop classes, website design, etc but never could bring myself to invest in a digital camera.  At the same time, darkroom chemicals and paper were becoming more and more difficult to acquire.  So, I put down the electronic mouse and began to freely explore in hopes to discover a completely new direction for my creative energy that would fill that hands-on void.

Well, the next five or six years were like a playful marathon of sampling.  It was oil painting, printmaking, culinary (chocolate, pastry, bread), drawing, art history, and the list goes on. The ‘free play’ was fun and as soon as it didn’t feel like my next dedicated direction, I let it go. And then I took a 4 week introduction to metalsmith class at Metalwerx in Waltham and that was it, hooked!

 The tangible aspect of this medium was exactly what I needed.  Using a flaming torch, hammers of every kind, files, pliers, and oh so many more.  And to top it off, endless specific and ‘ancient’ techniques to explore. I dove in quickly with more workshops, open studio, books, videos, and of course the Tucson Gem show.  I couldn’t get enough and gradually set up quite a nice home studio of my own with all the shiny new hammers, large investment tools, as well as all the little ones.    

'Soar and Dream' Sterling Silver Tea Strainer

In my early 50’s at the time, I starting heading towards my plan to sell my creations with the goal of having a little business once I retire at age 60.  I started selling at a local cooperative and then from my home during studio tour.  I tried out Etsy and set up a website.  It was a wonderful way to get a feel for how my plan might play out.  What did I learn?  Well, so many good things, I had many exciting moments, deep satisfaction when a piece was completed, and even more when it found its person and headed out into the world to be enjoyed.  In fact, the back of my hang tag said ‘Enjoy!’ … but I also learned that metalsmith work was hard on my hands and body, there were dust and fumes, which seemed to linger in my window-deprived studio. I started to resent polishing and re-polishing my finished pieces, the dirty nails, and the amount of set-up time needed for a work session. Had this passion run its course?

 With this question surfacing, I needed to take a closer look. Was it time to apply more effort to that ‘first love’ …. Photography?  The path that leads to the pivot seems a mix of stumbling onto the the next step and working to trail-blaze the path on which to step.  Now retired, I took some time to look around and in doing so I fell upon the process of Scanography, which is now where I’m building a body of photographic work. It seemed the path unfolded one step after another. 

 First, I actually had a high resolution negative scanner stored on a shelf in my basement. Purchased close to 20 years earlier, I had used it at that time for its intended purpose. Would it still work?  Would there be software available for it?  I took it out and eagerly began the process of getting it to up and running.  Much to my delight, after a good cleaning, I was able to get it going.  It was ‘a sign’ like a trail marker confirming I was on the right path.  A few basic flower scans later and I knew I needed to explore this process further.

In short-time, I fell in love with collecting botanicals from my gardens and composing the still-life on the scanner glass. It was reminiscent of the early photography years of spending time setting up a studio shot and pressing the shutter only a few times.  It was a slow process then with a medium format camera, maybe bellows, and film. The scanner process is slow too and I like that. Arranging and rearranging the composition with a preview on the computer screen, I will tweak it for hours reaching in with tweezers and nudging the elements into place … and then, when it’s just how I envisioned, I capture it digitally with a slow scan.

Studio Remodel ... Metalsmith to Photography
(See my 'About' page for a video of the finished remodel)
Pivoting in the creative life is part of the journey. Sometimes it’s a small move within the same discipline, other times is a completely new direction. I find that so may things I’ve learned along the way get repurposed into the new direction in one way or another.  That said it was hard to let go of metalsmith work after 13 years of building and growing those skills. It helped to commit to rearranging my studio, selling off some large equipment, and making room for the new direction to unfold.  I still have more purging to do …. I had some personal projects in the works and I thought I’d finish them off first … but I haven’t touch them. Right now I’m happy spending my time post-processing last year’s botanical scans in Photoshop as I look forward to creating new ones when the spring blooms burst!  Onward …. 
When one of your little treasures pivots with you - Eroded Shell :)



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