My partner and I had the opportunity to take some time off of our regular lives this summer and move to a quiet little town in his home state of North Carolina, I have never spent long periods of time in the South, and with our upcoming marriage this seemed like an ideal situation to learn more about his family and culture. The chance to get back to nature and slow down my life was promising. I would also have plenty of time to dedicate to my ongoing documentary developing negatives and contact sheets in the nearby community darkroom.
This sabbatical, if you will, happens to coincide with my participation in the three month long Creative Capital professional development program. It was only necessary for me to be physically present in NJ for two meetings, an ideal situation for me. The rest of the work in the program is done remotely through webinars, online courses, Skype, and good old fashioned book learning. This program coupled perfectly with my time in North Carolina and has been eye opening. I have been able to think clearly without the distractions of daily life that usually surround me. I have taken a step back and given myself the opportunity to consider how I want to reorganize my home, office, and studio to make them more efficient. By decluttering my life and living simply for a few months in North Carolina, I have gained amazing perspective into what is and isn’t working for me. Being able remove all the things and ideas that are not propelling me forward has created more time for the people and activities I truly enjoy.
I am no stranger to traveling for extended periods of time. After college I spent a year teaching English in Japan with the JET Program. As a teacher in Japan, I saw a distinction between the way Japanese and American high school students prioritize and engage in activities. In Japan, schoolwork comes first. After schoolwork, students are expected pick one activity: a sport, hobby, or school club, and become the best they possibly can at that one thing. My upbringing in the American school system was a stark contrast. I was encouraged to be “well rounded” by having decent grades, play different sports all year round, and have hobbies all while working a part time job. Somewhere along the way this became overwhelming and the idea of striving for perfection with keen concentration was lost. Both high school experiences had a profound affect on my future self, as I now search for the balance between being well rounded and an expert in my field.
The Creative Capital program is helping me find this balance by showing me the tools necessary to stay on track with my artwork and finances at the same time. As an artist in today’s world I need to be well rounded enough to manage and run a small business, network, grant write, pitch ideas, and manage finances all while staying focused and becoming an expert in my field of photography. The guidance of Creative Capital has proven to be the missing link to pulling all of these aspects of my life together in harmony.
As the blended learning program winds down and ends next week, my time in small town North Carolina is coming to an end as well. When I move back up north to New Jersey I will be flung into the anxiety driven, fast paced lifestyle of a working artist. I get tense thinking about the transition. I used to work numerous jobs to support my art and budding photography business (www.smallforestphotography.com). When I return to New Jersey it will not only be a physical jump back into my old home, but I will metaphorically be taking one of the biggest leaps of my life. My only job will be self-employment with Small Forest Photography. It will truly be the time that I have to sink or swim. I will put the knowledge and tools acquired from the Creative Capital program into action not only with funding and completing my documentary, but in running my own freelance photography business.
I began my photography business as a way to support my artwork while I was working an office job that I despised. When I quit my day job my business wasn’t fully operational so I took on assisting jobs and retail work to make ends meet. Now the company is looking towards its 5th anniversary this March and I have to make the leap. Understanding the cost of living with the Real Cost Budgeting Tool has been invaluable in the effort to make my life work for me. It is one of the greatest pieces of paper that anyone has ever handed me. I was able to rework my entire business structure based on that tool and now feel very confident in my pricing. I have a been able to build a more sustainable business plan to implement upon my return to New Jersey. The most basic part of the plan is to march forward without fear. I still have some time left in North Carolina, and if I use my time wisely I will be able to meet my goals of working for myself while sustaining my art practice.
Colleen Gutwein is a documentary photographer working in Newark, NJ. She is currently developing “The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project”