Using Photography to Escape Darkness with Cynthia Shepard
Dear Wonderful, Creative You:
This is part of an interview series on members of the Mindful Art Studio community who have used art as self-care. You can find all the interviews in this series:
I’m hoping that you will find inspiration in these amazing stories and motivation to charge up your own art practice.
AMY: What are your earliest memories of art making, and creating as a child? What’s the first time you remember feeling inspired?
CYNTHIA: The first project I remember feeling inspired on was in grade school. The teacher gave each of us a piece of burlap, a large needle and several colors of yarn. My grandmother had tried to interest me in counted cross-stitch, but I liked the idea of being able to make a picture just by drawing and stitching an outline. I made a very colorful butterfly.
AMY: What were the messages that you got as a child about art?
CYNTHIA: My aunt took a lot of pictures and even had a darkroom in her basement. When I was about four, she gave me an 8″x10″ of a picture she had taken of me, which got me interested in taking pictures.
I got my first camera while I was still in grade school – an instamatic. I didn’t think of it as art, but just a way to keep memories. I considered my older brother an artist because he could draw and played music by ear.
The person who most encouraged me to explore creativity was my fifth grade teacher, who introduced me to writing poetry and even trying my hand at writing a play.
AMY: What are your favorite ways to express yourself creatively? What kind of art do you make?
CYNTHIA: I take photos and do edits of them. I was very late in moving from film to digital, and find it easiest to just work with the camera on my phone. After an excursion this spring, I discovered the editing capabilities of the Gallery app on my phone and have really enjoyed playing with that.
AMY: If you’ve ever gone through a period of feeling blocked, or that you don’t have “permission” to make art, how did you find the courage to create again?
CYNTHIA: I used to do some creative writing, but found that I felt I needed to make a story go somewhere, which didn’t do good things for the writing.
What allowed me to start experimenting with creativity again after that was driving my mom to her cloth doll club. The leader encouraged me to try a couple of challenges, even though I didn’t sew. I had the fun of working with fabric and embellishments without sewing. For one challenge I also had to make up a short biography for the doll using the name the doll was given as a point of inspiration. My dolls were much more primitive than those of the club members, but I got encouragement from them, and that was important.
[bctt tweet=”Taking photos and editing them has become part of the way I cope with depression. – Cynthia Shepard #artheals” username=”amymaricle”]
Let me help you along on your self-care journey. Grab your spot in my e-course, the Guide to Creative Self-Care, for FREE and you will:
- Assess your current self-care strategy
- Dispel myths that are getting in the way of you taking care of YOU
- Set up an art studio at home, even if you think you have no space
- Doodle away your stress
- Discover how to use expressive art techniques to find more calm through mindful art techniques
AMY: What role does art play in your life? How is art self-care for you? Does it help you express, cope or understand your world? Can you explain your process and how you use it?
CYNTHIA: Taking photos and editing them has become a part of the way I cope with depression. It gives me something to focus on so I don’t spend so much time dwelling on negative thoughts.
Sometimes I just come across something that I want to take a picture of, but generally I pick a place that I want to go, then look for what interests me. I take many pictures. I do end up deleting some, but only after I’ve tried and failed to edit them in a way that appeals to me.
Some days I will just shoot, and leave editing and playing for another time. On days where I need more distraction, I will keep playing with edits until I have a version of each picture from that day. I try to vary the effects I use, although there are some I tend to like better than others.
AMY: Are there ever art pieces that scare you? Pieces that you don’t want to complete because they feel too dark, weird, stupid, or “not you?”
CYNTHIA: I wouldn’t say that they scare me so much as I just don’t like them so well. At one point in my life I was more fond of dark colors, but that’s no longer the case. Now I prefer brighter colors, so I tend to either undo steps or start over if an edit is getting darker than I like.
AMY: What inspires your art? Who are some of the artists/places/situations that inspire you?
CYNTHIA: I love nature, especially hills or mountains, water in any form, animals (although I don’t have much success in photographing them), and plants, particularly flowers. I don’t know how much they inspire what I create, but I am most fond of the impressionists.
Cynthia Shepard is an artist who hails from Spokane, Washington. She had her undergraduate degree in Norwegian and Global Studies, was in the Navy eight years, and has her masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. You can find more of her artwork on Google:
Cynthia’s outlook on creativity is encouraging and I can identify with this type of photography. I love her use of editing and colour.
I know, her use of color and contrast is so intriguing, right? I love the way she gets some things to be abstract and take on a new beauty. I also love the idea of focusing one’s attention on the beauty around her through the camera and using this as a way to focus on beauty and light and feel better. This is a great mindfulness technique that is accessible to many of us. Thanks so much for taking the time to read, Maggie!
wonderful & inspiring sharing, Thank you both!
Aw, I’m so pleased that you took the time to read and comment. I love building up Cynthia and her work. What an inspiration. Thank you!
What a great interview, Amy and Cynthia! I love that Cynthia uses her phone’s camera as an artist’s “tool”, one that most of us have on us at all times! How liberating and exciting, right?!
Funny, I used my phone’s editing capabilities a LOT over the course of 2 years, thoroughly thrilled with the process of “abstracting” images I’d taken (mostly in Nature) …. until I dropped that phone in the toilet LOL, it died, and I replaced it with a cheaper version that doesn’t have the same editing features! I really do miss the process …. BUT, good news, I realized I had really learned a lot about observing the world, honing in on interesting images, and teasing out their abstract nature … I really think it helped my “artist’s eyes” to see more, and it’s transferred over to the way I paint now. So, thanks Cynthia for the inspiration, and for sharing your process and fabulous art with us. Fantastic!!!
Thank you so much for reading with such an open heart. I’m so happy to hear the mindful presence in the moment that you’ve been able to cultivate through photography.
All the best,