Interview with Sian Pearce Gordon on Creativity
Award-winning and published photographer Sian Pearce Gordon began her creative career as a classical singer.
As a community musician, she worked at drug rehabilitation centres, prisons and deprived housing estates. She later turned her attention to choral directing, becoming the first female conductor of the world-renowned Morrison Orpheus Choir, before starting up her own choirs.
Sian has now carved a career as a commercial, fine art and portrait photographer.
What are your greatest artistic challenges and how do you overcome them?
Creativity is something that needs to be cultivated as it can easily go stagnant. I don’t just wake up in the middle of the night with inspiration (although on occasions it does happen), I have to challenge myself to invent new creations, come up with new ideas, break through the moulds already out there or that I’ve set myself and already achieved.
Finding the initial inspiration is my greatest artistic challenge, but then I force myself to sit down and listen to a piece of music and throw expressive words down on a page, and then start dreaming….
How would you describe your development as an artist (e.g. finding your own voice, seeking new opportunities, developing working relationships, etc.)
Finding your own voice is different depending on which route you’ve taken in your learning of your art form I’ve found. With music I was trained classically, methodically, technically and ‘finding my own voice’ was very difficult as I was more wrapped up in perfectionism, and conforming to the ‘norm’ than experimenting. Whilst that was very limiting, it gave me self discipline and a desire to perfect and succeed.
However, with photography I’m self-taught and to find my voice this way around has given me more freedom to experiment, less rules to have to abide by, and more scope to express myself more freely.
As far as my development as an artist has been, I’ve found the most difficult aspect is marketing myself. I’m creative, not a sales person, but to earn a living as a creative, I’ve had to force myself to network (I’m intrinsically insular in character, living in my own world if you like) and so that has been a major obstacle. However, if you don’t sell yourself (even if that’s to an Agent), you can’t pay the bills or earn your main income from being creative.
Is there a vision/project you haven’t been able to realise yet due to thing like time, money, technology etc.?
Yes, lack of money or being able to justify the time due to the need to use every minute of the day as an opportunity to ‘create’ money has limited me in being able to do a long term storyboard of images, with big cast and great outdoor lighting setup.
You can create without any money, but you can’t always execute that vision without the budget for props/people/technicians/locations etc as much as you would like. I’m currently risking my use of time into learning more Photoshop skills to enable to achieve more without the big budget.
What do you love most about what you do? What do you dislike about it?
Putting money worries aside, the part I dislike the most, I have the most amazing life. I don’t think of it as work but as a way of life. To be able to create or play as I like to think of it isn’t a chore, and I’ve had the great privilege of enjoying my life as a whole.
Yes, I’ve had to take cleaning jobs/factory work/secretarial jobs to sometimes supplement my creativity, but that was in the early days, and although I’ll never have a pension scheme, I could quite happily ‘work’ until the day I die. That money worry though is the most disliked aspect, as I find it’s either famine or feast.
You constantly have to keep pushing new doors and working on your long term goals as well as executing your immediate stress of keeping the wolf from the door. Having illnesses isn’t easy either, as you don’t get sick pay if you’re off work, but I’ve learned to budget better and spread the money out evenly. Don’t spend all that big job’s income as soon as it comes in — keep it for the rainy days!
A 100 years ago, photography was mostly practiced by those with enough money to buy a camera. In a world where most people have a camera in their pocket and where photographic equipment, software, etc., is easily accessible, how can a photographer ‘stand out from the crowd’
A very good question, and one that I’ve been battling with for the last year as everyone is now a photographer! I’m learning though that it’s realising the aspects of photography that you can do that your average person with a smartphone can’t. It’s sometimes as simple as taking more time to plan a shot, shoot at a particular time of day to catch the best light, or wait around for hours for the right person to be in the right situation at the right time.
Go above and beyond what is the norm, and for goodness sake don’t go out to copy someone else’s style — learn to find your own and follow your instincts; if you haven’t got them then maybe you’re not pushing yourself enough!
Author and entrepreneur James Altucher has pointed out that “the greatest artists reinvented themselves every five years.” Throughout your life, you’ve had a variety of careers and specialisms. In what way are they connected and how important to you is reinvention?
It’s been said that to be a full-time musician and surviving on that income alone has the same odds as winning the lottery, so I’m very grateful to say that I’ve won the lottery many times over.
I’ve managed to carve a 30 year career for myself as a ‘Creative’, and I was able to do that when I realised that it wasn’t about just being a singer, but in using what skills I’ve acquired over the years of watching famous conductors whilst singing in their choirs to help me become a Choral Director, or the techniques that I’ve been taught by experts to teach vocal workshops at hotels and businesses, or the poems I’ve studied and the way that I’ve learned to extrapolate every last drop of emotion out of a song that has enabled me to listen and to immediately be able to see a photograph in my mind.
You have to learn to adapt, to reinvent, not only to stay fresh but to be able to survive the tough times.
Before the ‘credit crunch’ I was earning large wages by teaching vocal team building workshops but then all of a sudden businesses had to watch their expenses and so team-building was first to go. If my accountant hadn’t told me to have my finger in a lot of different pies, then I wouldn’t have survived that great loss of income. That’s though when I realised that due to the credit crunch people wanted to be cheered up, so I started five of my own choirs for people to have a good ‘ole sing together. You have to roll with the punches and reinvention is crucial.
When I started to become disillusioned with the musical world I reinvented myself again by taking out a camera and teaching myself to express the same feelings through a camera that I did through my hands or voice. The same principles apply across the creative genres, you just have to be willing to take a risk and adapt.
What advice would you give to someone who was unsure about how to or what to create?
Go with your gut instinct. Don’t ask others’ advice until you’re sure what you want, then you can ask others for advice, but if you’re sure of what you want to create, then work out the best vehicle to enable you to bring that to fruition. Don’t worry about equipment — I may have a professional, expensive camera to enable me to explore further and be able to rely on it, but some of my best shots have been on my smartphone. Learn to play; learn to dream; learn to fantasise; then learn how to express that but please don’t forget that you do need to learn the technical aspects too.
For me creativity is a combination of freedom of expression and technical skills. You can dream all you want but if you don’t know how to rhyme words together for lyrics, or chord progressions for pieces, or how to shoot in manual mode for photography then you’ll be letting yourself down in the quality of creativity that you are able to produce.
What are your favourite online/digital creative tools (e.g. software, apps, etc.)?
Once you’ve a Mac you never go back! Wouldn’t be without my MacBook Pro retina display for both music and photography creativity. I use Logic Pro for creating soundtracks (a future project!) and Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop CC for photography, along with Capture One 10 for tethering for portraits. Also social media — whilst I hate the way it intrudes my life, there is no greater way for a Creative to advertise for free than on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram
Do you have any quotes or a motto that you live your life by or think about often?
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” — my mother drummed that into me, and I believe that it’s been my biggest advantage in surviving as a Creative. Where others say it’s not possible, I will keep going until I find a way. It’s pushed me hard and kept me focused.
I read every single day, but I very rarely finish a book! I don’t necessarily need to know the ending to get satisfaction from it; in fact I can imagine more if I leave it unfinished. When I have finished a book because I’ve needed to know the ending, I’ve felt deflated, as if I’ve found the meaning to life so what’s the point in living then?! I know — strange, but I think that’s what allows me to imagine and create more vividly, and have to see something through to fruition because only I can finish it.
Therefore, my favourite book is the one I’m reading at that time; at the moment that’s ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beatty, last years Man Booker prizewinner. I’m half-way through — will I finish it?
(Interview originally published at TheCreativityToolbox.com)