How obstacles, risks and occasional suffering can unlock creativity

Throughout Adobe Max 2014, I got the chance to hear a plethora of inspirational designers, illustrators, photographers, film makers and more share t­heir stories and offer some advice to an audience full of aspirational listeners. One of the key takeaways from the conference for me was that struggles can often lead to success. In fact, sometimes those obstacles you face, the suffering you experience and the risks you take to overcome them can be the key to eventually unlocking creativity.

It was a thread that wove its way through all of the talks I attended, starting with the incredible travel photographer Ami Vitale. It's not a new notion, of course, but I thought that learning about the personal struggles of leading creatives that have become so successful that thousands will flock to hear them speak is wonderfully inspirational and motivational.

Photographer Ami Vitale took to the stage at Adobe Max's day two keynote, and recalled her experience of climbing a mountain in Kashmir with pilgrims that had no shoes. Ami had all the gear she would need for the hike and the cold night ahead, but her porter stole it, leaving her with just the clothes she was wearing and her camera. “I really thought about turning around, because I knew that there would be a certain amount of suffering up there,” she said. “But actually, the fact that he left was the best thing that could have happened.”

Despite having very little, the pilgrims shared their blankets with her and gave her food. “It made the experience so much better. Why? Because suddenly I had empathy for what they went through to get up there,” Ami explained. “A little pain and a little suffering creates empathy, and empathy is the key to great pictures, great stories, everything. It's the wellspring of creativity.”

Later in her talk, Ami went back to that philosophy about pain and suffering, suggesting that it makes you grow and get better experiences. “Get into that fear zone and keep learning new tools because it makes story telling better.”

Ami was followed by equally talented illustrator Jason Seiler (above), who explained how his experience in moving from traditional to digital was a huge struggle for him, but that it made him the artist he is today. “When you work traditionally, there are a lot of obstacles you have to get past,” he explained. “Painting digitally allows me to skip a lot of those things and allows me to pull it together in a way that, if I did it traditionally, I couldn't do it in the amount of time that I had. It's very important to me that, if I work digitally or traditionally, it looks the same.”

But that didn't come naturally to Jason: “It took me a long time to get to that point, but the way I developed it was basically understanding that to be an artist, you have to struggle – there's a struggle all the time.”

“The struggle when you're an artist is one of the most important things as far as giving you your own unique voice and style,” Jason added. “Without that struggle, especially when you work digitally without a struggle – I notice a lot of digital artwork just looks the same – and for me it's very, very important that I separate that, and it's the struggle.”

One of Jason's favourite and most memorable projects was his illustration of the Pope for a Time magazine cover.

Jason went on to share an example, too. He highlighted that Jack White of The White Stripes fame chooses to use a guitar that he has to struggle and fight to get the sound that he wants rather than an expensive one. “That's the same thing for me artistically. I do that digitally by setting my settings in a way where I'm not abusing the computer. I use one layer, change my settings to 100% opacity and 100% flow.”

The final speaker I'll mention is Lee Hirsch, a filmmaker responsible for the BULLY project that Adobe has become involved with. Lee also spoke about his struggles, particularly when starting out with his award-winning documentary Almandla.

“I've struggled a lot throughout my career, I struggled to reinvent myself,” Lee said, explaining that he's been put in a rut by others so many times, with people assuming that he only does one thing.

“Do great work,” he advised the audience. “Do the work that you love, do work that you believe in. Even if it's a commercial thing that pays the bills to get you to that next job, because you never know when that next thing is going to give you a chance to shine.”

“There were unbelievable rejections, heartbreaks and disappointments all along the way,” Lee added, explaining that Almandla! took him ten years to make. “I started it when I was 19 years old. Along the way I went bankrupt, I had basically two nervous breakdowns, I was so broke I couldn't leave South Africa, my parents absolutely lost faith in me, because it took so long I couldn't raise the money.”

“We kept struggling and struggling but I believed in my heart that I had this amazing film and I couldn't get it realised,” Lee continued. “We worked and worked and worked but got rejected by Sundance, but then the next year we got accepted by Sundance and we ended up winning Sundance and went on to have this amazing life.”

Find out more about what happened at Adobe Max 2014 in our top 12 Adobe Max announcements article here.


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