Last month Instagrammer extraordinaire Hannah Argyle wrote on her blog about Instagram clichés. There is so much negativity around what people perceive to be the clichés of Instagram (particularly as we come out of peony season..) that it was nice to read a sympathetic take on them. The gist of it was that clichés are clichés because they make good pictures, and as long as you’re orginial with your take on them, then the more the better.
But I’d take this even further. These clichés, or visual tropes, are in fact signposts to your target audience that you are exactly what they’re looking for. Because there isn’t just one set of clichés or tropes – every Instagram aesthetic and community has their own. Continue Reading
We all get that blank page fear – whether you’re sitting down to a planning session, writing a blog post or getting the camera out, we all know how it feels to demand creativity from ourselves and get nothing in response. As much as we try to manage it, creativity cannot be tamed; it comes and goes as it chooses.
This is why people have invented creative prompts, so that when you’re staring blankly down the lens or at your keyboard there is something to prompt your brain to start thinking creatively. Creativity loves limitations, so when you have a framework within which to think, rather than unbridled freedom, it can be easier to come up with ideas. Continue Reading
I quite often ask big open-ended questions in my Instagram captions. I love seeing how different people’s brains work, how differently we all see the world, but also how many threads of similarity bind us together. Of nothing is this more true than creative inspiration.
From the conversations I have almost daily with Insta pals, to a general mood I sense in captions and tweets, inspiration seems to be running low at the moment. Maybe it’s this summer light messing with our grids, maybe we’re all preoccupied with holidays and activities, or maybe, sadder still, it’s a general disheartening. Whatever’s causing it, I wanted to help us all get out of it.
So I posed the question on Instagram: what/who/how do you get inspired? I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the responses. They span from the digital, to the analogue, the indoor to the outdoor, and a healthy mix of fence-sitting in the middle too. If you’re stuck in the creative doldrums, then the ideas below are sure to get you out of it…
Instagram and Pinterest
Unsurprisingly top of the list, looking at other people’s work on Instagram and Pinterest came up again and again in the responses. I must admit that this is where I go for inspiration, saving Instagram pictures I like the look of (or sometimes just with a really nice book I want to check out). Although I do think, based on my own experience, that this can lead to photography that is a little derivative. That’s why I loved what kerryvillers said about Pinterest: “I like to search for surreal photography. My photos aren’t in the least bit surreal, but I find this category really inspiring nonetheless.” Looking at something different to your usual aesthetic prompts you to look at things differently and take inspiration from a shaft of light or an idea, rather than a composition you want to copy.
I also find taking part in hashtag projects can be really useful for prompting creativity. There is of course Instagram’s own #WHP (Weekend Hashtag Project – check the Instagram feed every Friday night for the theme), but others in your community may have projects too, whether it’s my #a_sill_life, sarah_louise_ferg‘s #botanicalbodyhair or lapinblu’s #fridayfacelessportrait.
Props and Books
Having a new prop or product to work with can be really helpful for sparking new ideas. Whether you spend 75p on a charity shop vase, treat yourself to coffee in a pretty cafe or decide to completely redecorate, that’s up to you. But a new shape or colour to play with can be very helpful for making you think and look differently.
Many people also love to look at artworks and photography that aren’t on a screen. Illustration and interiors books came up commonly through the comments, and seeing images blown up on paper pages rather than in tiny squares is definitely useful for examining the craft and detail that goes into them. In much the same way as writers are encouraged to read more to improve their craft, the same is true for visual creatives. To maintain a stream of creativity and a visual vocabulary, you must look and learn from others.
kerryvillers “get your arse on eBay, you’ll find loads of reasonably priced lovely furniture there”
rae_of__light” l start with an idea/theme for each space, then find colors, textures, and pieces that will work toward that idea. Materials are very important to me, and the natural and artificial lighting. And there is absolutely no shame in thrifting! Some of my Goodwill finds are on my lnstagram, as well as some from Easy.”
mesmerize_garden “I took inspiration from Greenery being colour of the year, but not directly – so colour of green (mostly leafy palms inspired wallpapers) grey, white and touch of white. Find your theme, colour scheme and start with mood board on Pinterest.”
leaelmphotography “I get inspired by paintings, old photographs, other people’s writing, literature, books. Mostly I find creativity when I see a photo or a painting or read a text that connects with me through time. Something I relate to, even if it was captured, made or written a long time ago. It makes me look for stories that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of seeking. I love Atget’s photographs when he traced the streets of Paris that meant something to him, I love the stillness and silence of Hammershoi’s paintings because I carry that silence in me too and I love Nemirovsky, Woolf and Austen, all those women that came before me to show me the way.”
beckyocole “For me inspiration comes from a great novel, nature, Vogue, old black and white movies, journaling.”
simpsonsisters “Much of my inspiration has come from the places in which I have lived; the elements within them, experiences enjoyed or endured, the smells and textures I associate with them and the objects I brought with me. Furniture that was in my childhood bedroom and is still with me today, pottery made and given to me in South Africa, buxus and hydrangeas from Belgium and a growing interest in simplicity and design from Sweden”
As much as looking and playing provided inspiration, so too did doing just the opposite – heading outside and not thinking about creativity at all. Whether it’s lonely walks in the wild, or heading into the city to see friends, leaving the desk or studio seems to really crank up the creativity. Sometimes it’s to let the mind wander off in uncurbed tangents, or for others it’s to get a complete distraction and recharge the brain. Or maybe it’s a bit of both – either way, fresh air and a moving body seems to do wonders.
sarahdshotts “My favourite source of inspiration is micro-adventures. Something that breaks up my routine and lets me explore. A morning walk, trip to the library, afternoon in a museum, or even something like trying a new recipe or creative project that’s just for fun.”
songofthestitch “Completely agree with those who said being outside is key for inspiration – taking a long walk is great for clearing my head and allowing my ideas to fall into place. Plus I am far more likely to see things that I want to photograph! I find that my head can get so saturated with ‘inspiration’ from different sources that I need to step away for a few hours!”
hasang89 “For me inspiration comes from nature (sunset/milkyway/flowers and so on) also a short story books (childhood books) and from a good memories with good people. I love to get inspiration from the pictures of other countries, cultures and people.”
acornandauger “Ethical clothing, nature walks (or strolls/picnics through fields woodlands) food foraging, cloud watching (finding shapes and pictures) the idea of travelling. Nothing beats the natural and wider world.”
ukyankeelife “I get inspired by taking myself out of my little home office cocoon & plunging into new places & experiences. Sometimes its hard to overcome the inertia but it is always worth it!”
damselinlondon “My inspiration comes from those days and moments when I get myself out of the house, even if just for a wander around London.”
Letting It Percolate
Of course, there will always be those who sit on the fence (!). For these girls, it is a combination of all of the above that come together for their inspiration. They need to take in one form of inspiration, and then let it simmer and percolate while doing something else before taking action.
katbluejay “I tend to look to Pinterest, my fave instagrammers and podcasts. I then, crucially, take a step back and go outside/spend time in nature/live life. The combination tends to work for me, I need that step back to let things marinate!”
vitavihandmade “I get inspiration from botanical illustrations, interior design magazines, walks in the nature but most of all from meetings with friends”
siobhanwatts “I find being in nature about the best source of inspiration there is, but I love to curl up with a book or magazine filled with beautiful recipes and interiors.”
What do you think? Your challenge is to pick a couple of these tips and use them to inspire your own creativity – don’t forget to tag me in your posts so I can see and share them 😊
Community seems to be everywhere right now. In every Twitter chat, Instagram caption and online conversation, the importance of online community is on everybody’s lips. At this year’s Blogtacular, community was a running theme throughout the talks, all the way to the ‘My Tribes Loves My Vibe’ goodie bags.
I, for one, believe wholeheartedy in the importance of online community for those of us pursuing a creative life. Whether you’re a designer-maker, creative entrepreneur, digital influencer or just a human, it is an essential part of the way we live and do business now.
The nature of work has changed more in the last two years than it has in the last fifty. No longer do we have to work in traditional roles, nor, crucially, in one place. Remote and home working in digital roles are increasingly becoming the norm, and women in particular are going further, taking control of their earning power and building businesses and careers on their terms, based around the internet.
As part of this expansion of traditional work, it becomes more vital to surround ourselves with people that get what we do. Our traditional support structures, like family and friends, may not altogether support our choices and decisions, or they might not understand fully what you do, its value and how the money comes out the other end. Either way, digital entrepreneurship can be a lonely place
Surrounding yourself with people who get it, who you don’t have to explain your business to for half an hour, who respect and believe in you as a peer, is a lifeline. More than before, they are the ones who can tell you everything will be ok, and you’ll believe it because you know they understand you.
Our online communities are also our new office mates, the ones we bounce ideas off and the ones who club together to achieve something big. My Instagram Pod mates are a shining light in my day, sharing ideas on creativity and composition, suggesting tweaks to images and giving suggestions to boost each other’s performance. We also moan about our unfair ‘boss’ (the algorithm), having a little whine at the imaginary water cooler and swapping ideas on how we can impress him.
Our community also becomes a ready source of collaborations, whether these result in products between makers or simply finding information and opinions for blog posts. Your community is your free focus group, ready to provide insights and tips to help you grow in a meaningful way. And, just like tradiotnal professional networking, your online community can help get you sales and clients that grow your business in the way you want.
So how do you leverage this community?
Create support networks
Instagram Comment Pods get a bad name, and if done badly they can be pretty gross and have a negative effect. There are services that match people together, but in my experience this does not a happy pod make. I’m a member of two ‘organic’ pods, all full of creative ladies whose days I enjoy to see. I started a pod of the people whose posts I loved to see and who were my Instagram friends.
My advice for setting up a pod is to start with the intention of chatting. With my Happy Podders (shout out), we all were feeling a little adrift and uninspired, so the creative communication was a key motivator in founding the group. When inviting your online besties, make clear that it’s not just a comment pod, it’s a place to share and chat.
If Insta isn’t your thing, you can join community support networks elsewhere. Facebook groups are having a bit of a surge in the creative world as they are annoyingly convenient, and there are plenty of excellent existing ones you can join. Similarly, Twitter chats can be a great way to connect with your tribe, particularly as many in our industry (#blogtacular, #theinstachat, #ethicalhour) are aimed at solving creative dilemmas and talking shop.
Engage and interact
You can be in all the support networks you like, but they won’t work unless you talk to people! If the idea of that gives you the heebie jeebies, then you might find this post on Instagramming for Introverts a good starting point to get your confidence up. The good news is that the online creative community are without exception a supportive and positive bunch
You won’t reap the benefits of community, nor build up your community, without being an active member. If you’re not sure of what to say, ask questions – ask something that’s been bothering you, ask what others a struggling with, ask what kind of flower they used in a photo. Questions are an excellent way to get a conversation started, and also to keep one going – just like real life awkward meetings. Answer the questions that you’re knowledgeable about too, and rapport will quickly grow.
In order for a community to thrive, it has to have valuable members. An online community where everyone just self-promotes instead of genuinely engaging will be a very short-lived one. There are two clichés to keep in mind here: give as much as you get, and do unto to others as you would have done to you. If someone comments on or interacts with your content, comment back on theirs in a genuine way. Join in conversations (people don’t mind) and answer other people’s questions.
Being a valuable community member will lead to more genuine and meaningful relationships, and therefore a more genuine and meaningful business.
If you’d like to learn all about building a community, you can get my free ebook, How to Build Your Online Community here. It has everything I know from the professional marketing world and the blogosphere, plus it’s super pretty. You just need to sign up to my Monthly Mail to get it free.
Remember those little personality quizzes that would do the rounds via email or MySpace back in the early 2000s? There would be ‘do you prefer dogs or cats?’ (dogs, of course), ‘what’s your favourite musical instrument?’ (better say guitar to look cool), and ‘are you an introvert or an extravert?’ This one was a little different. I always put extravert, because introvert meant loners and shy people, which wasn’t what I wanted to be. But I knew I wasn’t really an extravert either.
Any mention of ‘self care’ gets a bit of an eye roll from me, to be honest. Aside from the odd bubble bath it’s never something I’ve gone in for, using stress and Lucozade to get me sleeplessly through deadlines, exams and web builds. While I understand its importance for the chronically ill, the ‘hashtagification of self care’, as I’ve seen it referred to, makes me avoid it like the plague. To me it feels like something for teenage girls with the time to bankrupt themselves in Lush, who have yet to feel the impossible weight of deadlines.
Regular checkers of my Instagram will no doubt be familiar with my windowsills. They are a semi regular backdrop, and one of only a handful of places in my house that are photogenic enough to be used in my photo-taking. I think windowsills are a great photo setting, and here I’ll share my styling tips.
(And look out for the new hashtag alert at the bottom of the post!).
But first of all, why windowsills?
There are many reasons why windowsills make a good backdrop, the first one being that almost everyone has them (or at least access to one). Not only does this make them cheap and easy to use, but also relatable – whether you are selling products or a lifestyle, everyone can relate to a windowsill, right?
On top of that they have strong lines to base your composition around, they are neutrally coloured to fit any Instagram palette or style, and they come with a ready source of natural light. What’s not to love?
How to style yo’ ‘sill
One of the benefits of using your windowsill is that the human eye recognises and gets it, so you don’t have to worry about things looking weird or out of proportion by standing them up like you would in a flat lay. The viewer’s eye will recognise the the familiar windowsill and compensate for it.
That means that unlike with traditional flat lays, you can afford to use items like clocks, picture frames and candles standing up rather than laying them flat. Using height adds interest and depth to your composition, helps to sell your subjects and creates a relatable and engaging image.
One of the best things about windowsills is that they’re flooded with light. One of the worst things is that at certain times they are flooded with too much light. So tip one is to shoot when the sun is on the other side of the house – this creates a lovely soft light and reduces the shadows.
Another way to use light is to stand back from the sill and include part of the wall. This creates a lovely contrast, whites out any nasty views and is good for especially tall subjects like flowers. You also get some nice squared angles. See the example below – you can’t see the horrible roof outside the window, there’s a nice contrast of dark and light and the square angles of the window complement the delicate flowers.
I’m willing to bet that 99.9% of windowsills are rectangular. While those straight lines are a godsend for lining up your composition, if your subject is a book, or a print, or absolutely anything else made up of straight lines, it all ends up looking a little angular. And not in a good way.
My toppest tip for sill style is to bring in curves – cups, bowls, pots, pine cones, pebbles, even your hand. Circles soften the composition, create a visual contrast and make the whole image so much more interesting.
Working your windowsill is all about working the angles, as they are by no means perfect spaces. Maybe it’s the line of cars outside, maybe it’s the hideous plastic roof right below it, or maybe it’s the view of other people’s satellite dishes (these are all things that are true in my case, by the way) – there will always be something to ruin your perfect shot.
This is where you use your props to your advantage. Strategically place them to cover up the big white van, or use a book to cover up the flaking paint work. Use your focus tools to blur the background (you can do this on your smartphone) or shoot from slightly lower than you usually would so that all you can see is sky.
Take the two pictures below from the Tea Journey – the first image uses books to the lift the subject higher, and a print to block out the cars parked outside. the second image is clearly shot from below, avoiding the ugly roofs and sheds, must using a cushion as a feature in the composition to soften the upward effect.
If you’re shooting straight down onto the sill, think about your floor. Use a rug to pretty it up or let the composition spill over onto the floor to add more interest. If you have a radiator issue, drape a blanket over it or prop cushions along the offending area to cover it up (although sometimes judicious use of brightness and contrast in editing can solve radiator woes).
In the shot below the curtain, and my washing basket(!) are included, while the napkin falls off the edge of the sill. This adds depth and more interesting shapes and textures.
If you’ve been inspired by this to go dust off your windowsills and scatter some petals, I’d love to see your work! I’ve started a new pun-a-rific hashtag for us to share our windowsill works of art: #a_sill_life. There’s also a Windowsill Styling board on my Pinterest you can check out for inspiration (and give this pinning a newbie a follow 😉).
Tag your Instagram images with #a_sill_life so we can all see and comment, plus I’ll do features on my feed too!
I’d love to know your thoughts on this post – and if there are any other Instagram tips you’d particularly like to know 🙂
Each month I pick one easy thing we can do to simplify our homes, diets and lives. This month, it’s planning for the life you want.
This month’s Monthly Simplify was something I decided quite last minute, but it makes perfect sense with where I am in my life and what I’m working on this month. Most of you will have seen on Instagram or on here that I had a pretty dark March – I was experiencing a lot of stress and negativity at work, my mind was so chaotic and I felt completely out of control.
You may not know but in my day job I’m a Marketing Manager for a global children’s brand. I work on content, branding, social, web, but a lot of my time is taken up with project management. What I’ve struggled with recently is how out of sync with my own consumer habits and beliefs my job is. I’m all about shopping small, supporting local makers and using our powers as consumers to fund a varied and wholesome marketplace. Filling the coffers of corporations doesn’t sit well with me morally, nor does it light my motivational fires.
So I feel March was my time to experience and process all that angst, but from April I really deal with it. I don’t have to put up with a life I don’t like, and I’m starting to plan for the alternative future. In my Hello to Spring post, I spoke about new starts, although I later realised that it sounded a lot like a pregnancy announcement was imminent! To clarify, I’m not having a baby. Not a human baby, at least.
But I am growing an idea inside me. Through Simple & Season I’ve quietly taken on a little consultancy work with start ups and creative businesses, and that has given me back a little of my raison d’etre. This month I’m working on my business plan with a view to launching full services and courses soon (note that I’m not putting a date on it..😬). You will see a little of this trickle through to the blog with newsletters (to help me out with this skip to the end of the post) and some more creative marketing content.
The reason I’m writing this longer-than-expected post is because I don’t think I was alone in my March blues. From those I’ve spoken to I feel there was a lot of dissatisfaction and chaos around, so I thought I’d pull together some of the things I’m doing to get back on track in the hope that you can too…
Do a personality test
I am a huge advocate of the 16 Personalities Myers-Briggs test, and always re-take it when I’m going through a period of flux. Myers-Briggs personality types tell you what drives you, how you work, how you interact with the world and generally why you are the way that you are. This Being Boss podcast explains it much better than me.
16 Personalities is great because the post-test insights are so spot on and useful that when you’re reading you just think ‘even I couldn’t have written a better description of myself’. This process, for me at least, is invaluable for confirming that your gut instinct about your life is correct, or confirming that you’re already on the right track, or even opening up something that you’d never considered about your life. It’s a great point at which to start your change and quieten the noise.
Plus, there’s something satisfyingly reminiscent of teen magazines about doing a personality test, right?
I’ve never been really into podcasts as I’m much more of a reader than a listener. However a few things coincided (Sara Tasker launching Hashtag Authentic and me starting to listen to podcasts to get through the working day) that has opened them up to me. I am far from a font of all knowledge on this, but I started listening to Jen Carrington’s Make It Happen for the stories of inspirational ladies who have done what I want to do, then Jen got me on to Being Boss, which is not only super inspiring but full of really great advice for creative entrepeneurs.
Get your sh*t together
Part of my bad March was just being completely chaotic and disorganised. Blog deadlines were whizzing by me, emails were going unanswered and I had no idea where I was. I don’t think I opened my paper planner for the whole month (because it’s just so far away from the sofa).
I downloaded Asana to organise my blog tasks after we trialled it at work and I felt the weight lift off my shoulders and a let out the most almighty sigh of relief. I separated all my projects, and created boards for all the things I had to do in each project. Seeing it laid out like that helped me to process and prioritise it, and now I have my daily tasks to focus on it stops me freaking out about everything else. I love lists SO MUCH, and Asana is all about the lists (and ticking stuff off).
Use your network
As I mentioned earlier, hearing that other people were having similar feelings to me in my Instagram circle was really reassuring to me. There’s a reason I used the word ‘network’ here and not ‘friends’. I love my friends dearly, but, and this might just be a me thing, I don’t feel I can talk to them about this stuff yet. They are too close to me, they’ve lived through all my phases, they know my history. I feel like we couldn’t have an objective conversation about it.
My network of Instagram friends, on other hand, don’t know the historic me. They know the me I’m trying to be, and they aren’t bogged down with who was at 17, or even last year. The conversation is more neutral, more practical, not so emotive. These conversations help things feel real and do-able, not just something I’m shooting the breeze about.
Plus, your network of people you idly chat to on social media are all like minded people in similar situations. They may know someone at a magazine you want to write for, or be going to a cool craft workshop, or may have some tips about getting paid. People love to share knowledge and to give a helping hand, so give them the opportunity!
Thank you for sticking with me on this – writing it has been cathartic, and I hope it helps you to think about the life you want if you too had a black March.
As mentioned above, I’d love your help to form an email newsletter. What sort of thing would you find useful and/or enjoyable to receive from me? Would you like a monthly challenge, how to’s, resources, or something completely different..?! I’d really appreciate your feedback in making it the best it can be.
If you’d like to hire me for creative marketing consultancy and coaching, email me for pre-launch rates 😉
I’m feeling the love right now, I hope you are too x