How I Create: Q&A with Photographer Vivienne McMaster
Every month in our interview series we take a peek into a different person’s creative process. We learn what inspires and fuels their beautiful work and how they navigate the obstacles that can potentially hinder their creative practice. Plus, we get tips that can be applied to our own creativity.
This month we’re honored to share our interview with Vivienne McMaster, a Vancouver-based photographer with a big heart and a spirit of playfulness. McMaster leads workshops and online classes that invite individuals to tell their stories using photography.
Her prime tool is self-portraiture. After experiencing a rough patch in her own life, it was photography, and self-portraiture in particular, that helped her heal and find her way back to herself.
McMaster believes that self-portraiture and creative exploration can save our lives.
Her own self-portraits are breathtaking, inspiring and truly one-of-a-kind. McMaster’s work empowers individuals to build a closer and more compassionate relationship with ourselves using the camera and our ever-expansive creativity.
1. Do you incorporate creativity-boosting activities into your daily routine? If so, what activities do you do?
One of my favorite daily creativity boosting activities is to go for photo walks. This is usually a simple walk around the block (or even when running errands). It invites me to slow down and be open to noticing something that might spark my interest and draw me to pull out the camera.
What happens is that something always catches my eye, some little bit of beauty…because it is always out there waiting to be found. There is always some inspiration awaiting us. I especially love this as a way to spark ourselves into creative energy, because if we approach it with playfulness, it’s a great way to trick ourselves into shifting into that right brain creative energy. Plus, it makes just being out and about in the world a creative experience!
2. What are your inspirations for your work?
Storytelling and inviting ourselves into the living, breathing, in-motion story of our own lives is at the core of what inspires my work. I feel like a lot of my inspiration happens really experientially and I get so inspired by wandering (on those photo walks), exploring and not knowing what today’s inspiration might be.
Some days it might be the whimsical way my skirt cuff is moving in the wind or a water droplet on a flower petal. I definitely am drawn to bits of beauty and things that make me slow down and take notice.
Oh, and light. Light is probably one of my biggest inspirations: The patterns it leaves on the ground; the way it falls in rays through tree branches onto my sidewalk at the end of the day; the magic of light flare; and mostly it is the ever-changing cycle of it.
[W]e can’t go back and take that photograph or savor that moment later because the light will then be different. That’s what I mean by the in-motion story of our lives, noticing and savoring the world around us and our place in it, in the moment!
Also, a big inspiration of mine is love and cultivating self-love. A part of my inspiration to take self-portraits is from my own work around healing body image and rewriting.
My relationship to my own self-image using the camera as my tool and I love helping other people discover that their camera can be a tool for that!
3. There are many culprits that can crush creativity, such as distractions, self-doubt and fear of failure. What tends to stand in the way of your creativity?
These are undeniable realities and I’m so well acquainted with all of them! Sometimes they will take hold of me and wrap me up in their untrue stories for months. Other times I can clearly acknowledge that it is fear voicing itself and ask it to trust me and then to trust myself.
Self-doubt and fear of failure are the big ones for me. Each and every time I launch an e-course, they are there with me, whispering in my ear. It has been powerful over these last two years of running a creative business to get better acquainted with them and notice that they are coming up when I’m actually being vulnerable or taking risks and that they are kind of a natural part of the process.
This fall I had a BIG stretch where I was encompassed by self-doubt and fear. I felt like I should just give up, that I should quit (which I don’t want to at all, so I knew it was kind of bizarre to feel that)…[W]hat followed those few months was a new stretch of my creative work where I am learning to step more into my own potential and dream big.
In retrospect it was so clear why I had those feelings, as I was birthing a new stage.
I think the key is to not let it get completely in your way (or to let yourself get in your own way to that degree). The more we can practice getting past these stretches and living through them without giving up, the more able we are to handle it the next time.
4. How do you overcome these obstacles?
One of the ways I try to get through these obstacles and self-doubt is to talk to friends who believe me. Sometimes we just need to get out of the cycle of our own thoughts and hear a different perspective.
I also love to try to keep creating when I’m coming up against self-doubt and fear. I have a mantra I like to say: “Playfulness is an antidote to fear.” If I can tap into that playfulness of just taking photos with no expectations, it can often help me shift through the fear or self-doubt I’m feeling.
5. What are some of your favorite resources on creativity?
I often find myself so drawn to resources about mediums that I don’t actually do myself, like painting and art journaling. I think because there is so much commonality between different creative mediums, often it is just about finding the tool that feels like home to us.
Right now I am loving the books Daring Adventures in Paint by Mati Rose McDonough and Brave Intuitive Painting by Flora Bowley and reading about their experiences stepping up to the canvas to paint. I love getting art books out from the library to get inspired.
As a photographer, one of the best resources over the years has actually been Flickr. Not only is it full of inspiring images, but whenever I have a question I can’t solve, the Flickr help forums and group discussions are so full of amazing resources.
6. What is your favorite way to get your creative juices flowing?
Playfulness and exploration are the keys for me. I have a range of really simple photo activities that I do regularly to get me sparked and into that right brain energy. Things like shooting without looking through the viewfinder or shooting from the ground get me out of a state of left-brain perfection seeking and into trusting the wild and wonderful beauty that is the world through a camera lens.
7. What’s your advice for readers on cultivating creativity?
Experiment! It took me a long time to figure out what my creative medium was. The process of going to art retreats and painting workshops was so worth it in the path to find the creative medium that felt like it was the one that I could create most freely in.
I think finding ways to make it part of our everyday life is really priceless — whether that is having a sketchbook handy to draw when you notice something intriguing or jot down notes.
With photography it is just so good to have your camera (or iPhone) with you as you wander the world and make space to take a photo or two as you walk to get groceries or sit in your yard, making it part of your everyday experience of being in the world!
I feel like whatever our medium (or the process of finding it), I like to remember that there is always creative energy or inspiration out there asking to be witnessed. Sometimes it’s really about finding the right tools to get us to slow down and engage with it.
8. Anything else you’d like readers to know about creativity?
As I mentioned, it took me a long time to find photography, and it really happened when I least expected it. For a long time before then, I felt really frustrated that each creative medium I tried just didn’t feel right. So I really encourage people to keep exploring, keep dabbling in different mediums and keep making space for it in your life!
You can find McMaster’s powerful colorful visual stories at her website www.beyourownbeloved.com.
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). How I Create: Q&A with Photographer Vivienne McMaster. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 27, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-i-create-qa-with-photographer-vivienne-mcmaster/