My Story Never Wait To Pursue Your Dreams
Deep down inside, are you an artist? Do you always strive to create something amazing with your photography, but feel you’re missing that “spark” to push things forward? If so, then I was definitely in your shoes.
Let me explain.
I remember back in 2010 when I was just starting out in photography. Life was good, and I didn’t have any expectations of my photos. I quickly learned the basics like exposure, focusing, and lighting, but I found myself thirsty for more. I asked, “what can make my photos amazing?” Immediately I thought of composition (not gear), so I searched the internet for the best sources of learning composition.
This was easier said than done.
I found tons of information on the rule of thirds, leading lines, filling the frame, etc. The basic stuff that everyone is teaching. I applied these rules with such precision that I found all of my compositions were looking the same, and not improving at all. In fact, my compositions looked exactly like everyone else’s.
What was I to do next??
Well, I was always really inspired by master paintings, and the work of Leonardo da Vinci. How did he create his compositions? Surely he didn’t use the rule of thirds, did he?
I continued my search, learning about Gestalt psychology and the golden ratio. I didn’t understand either of them because no one could really explain how it related to photography. That’s when I ran across a video of Myron Barnstone teaching the golden section, and relating it to a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
I was amazed! Finally the connection had been made!
The more I dug around, the more I realized I had to learn from this man (Myron). I had an up-and-coming wedding company with my friend here in Hawaii, but that didn’t phase the great sense of urgency I had to move to the East Coast and learn from Myron. I could tell his health was getting worse in his videos, so I knew I didn’t have much time.
My friend and I cancelled the weddings we had on the books, and dissolved our wedding company by the end of 2012. I saved up money working in the print center at OfficeMax, sold/ditched a bunch of personal stuff, then moved all the way to Whitehall, PA in May of 2013.
>>Fast forward into September of that year (2013), and I had started my 365 project (this blog) for composition, and how the rule of thirds was making photographers and artists hit a plateau. I was also attending the Barnstone drawing classes, and working at FedEx Office part-time for $13 an hour. I drove a beater, $1000 car, and did photo sessions in my free time. Even though on the outside it looked like life was not as amazing as it could be, and my job completely sucked, I was still loving the decision I had made to pursue my dreams.
I was learning composition, which we’ve all heard of, but I was also learning design techniques. What was this new term? I went to school for graphic design and took several art classes, but they never taught me “design techniques” like Myron offered. I was so amazed by what he was teaching, and the more I learned, the more I saw things differently. Paintings and photos were showing me things that I’d never seen before. My jaw was dropping lower and lower, knowing that modern and contemporary photographers and painters were using these techniques, but keeping them secret.
The composition and techniques were a lot to take in, but I didn’t let that stop me! I kept practicing, and the techniques slowly became more comfortable to apply…in photography and drawing. Of course, having Myron critique some of my photos helped things as well.
>>More time passed, and I was able to finish two semesters before Myron had to close the studios. Wow! I almost missed my window of opportunity! So bittersweet too. I am so grateful I was able to study with him, and meet him while I had the chance.
Our relationship didn’t end there, because I was fortunate enough to record his amazing final interview. I drove down to his place in Maryland (February, 2015) to set things up in his living room. While I was there for the interview, we shared some laughs, stories, a shot of alcohol (rum I think), and had a nice meal with his amazing daughter, Cat. Such great people!
A year and a half later, Myron passed away. It was gut wrenching for myself and the art community because he was like a grandfather to most of us. Mentoring with Myron is something that changed my life forever. I continue to work with Cat, and her team, to carry on Myron’s Legacy through his videos.
The goal of my journey remains the same…to open the eyes of those serious artists who have slammed face first into a plateau, and provide them with the tools they need to reach the master level.
So, here we are.
I am so excited and appreciative of the knowledge that I’ve learned, and I hope to provoke that same excitement inside of you! This is my full-time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of all of you. Thank you so much!
Behind the scenes interview for the creative process.
Web Clippings & Publications
Please click on the image below to see some web clippings and publications.
If You're Bored Things People Never Knew About Me
I’ve always been a small town boy. Protective of my mother, never having my father in the picture, and fighting/loving my three sisters (kid fights…we all love each other very much now). Aside from all of this I use to want to be a film director just like Stanley Kubrick.
My huge life goal (when I was in my 20’s) was to write, direct, and make the music for my own movie. I was making music on the side with a Playstation 2 game called “Music Generator 2,” but nothing serious. Once this goal of filmmaking was deeply rooted in my mind I purchased a Hi8 video camera around 1998 (with the help of my sister Justi).
When I had the camera in my hand, the juices started flowing. I started taking artistic shots with my friend Eric…we called them “Kubrick shots” because we would try to make them as cinematic as possible. With the camera in my hand I also started to notice all of the meaningless movies out there. I confidently said to my 20 year old self “I can write a better movie than this!”
I started reading books about movie making and how to write a movie. The best one’s being Lajos Egres’ “The Art of Dramatic Writing” and Viki King’s “How to Write a Movie in 21 days.” Both are great books, and helped me write 3 movie scripts; Chance, Alligator Food, and Infant Kindness. Most of them are really dramatic though, thanks to Lajos Egres.
So, I have these three scripts, a video camera, inspiration, but zero actors. Eric and my other friends helped me make silly little skits, but nothing very cinematic. My scripts were meant for the big screen and not my Hi8 camera. Strike one.
My scripts had to be read by agents to be considered for the big screen. I bought a book with tons of addresses of the best Hollywood agents (this was before the internet was big and everyone still had dial-up). All I had to do was send out Query letters to them to introduce them to my script…this is where I struck out again. Half of the letters came back to me because the address was no longer valid, and the others came back declined. That pretty much ruined my hopes of becoming a writer of movies. Strike two.
Vegas Baby, Vegas!
When visiting Las Vegas for my 25th birthday, I saw a movie being filmed in the Downtown area. A dumb movie (Space Jam 2), but a movie none-the-less. It got me thinking, “maybe I can move to Vegas, get a job on a film production crew, then pass along my script to someone in the business.”
This was good enough motivation for me, so a year later in 2003 I moved to Las Vegas with a truck load of junk. The bad thing is though, I struck out there too. I joined a casting agency at first, to try and be an extra in upcoming movies. I wasn’t an actor and I’m terrified of public speaking (who isn’t), so that didn’t really work out for me. Not to mention the hiring was really inconsistent. I had to bag the script writing…for good.
The Music Scene
As the writing eventually fizzled out, I focused more and more on music. My artist name for music is Seven d’ Six because I use to sign my initials “TG” and it always looked like “76,” so it stuck with me. I ended up finishing a triple CD (on iTunes) that I had been working on with a music program called “Fruity Loops.” In the meantime I was working as a golf caddy, then driving a limo on the strip. I also took a few College courses to finish my Graphic Design degree.
Near the end of my time in Vegas, after 6 years, I finally started to connect with the music scene. I was playing live shows in little bars, taco shops, and music festivals. It was pretty awesome, but you can’t pay the bills with a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.
When the economy crashed in 2009, that marked the end of my stay in Las Vegas. I finished school and got my degree thankfully, but I recently broke up with my girlfriend of 2.5 years, and I had to foreclose my home that I had built from the ground up. Life was changing rapidly…a clean slate in a way. This inspired me to take some of the money I had saved and travel the world.
In 2010, I did a month long trip with good ol’ pal Eric to 9 different cities in Europe (Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice, Vernazza, Thun, Bern, Paris). It was an epic adventure in which I captured with my very first DSLR (Canon EOS 7D). I didn’t know how to use it…I had it on bracketing and auto the whole time so I could pic the best image from the three. I also shot in JPEG to save room on the memory card…most of them turned out, but I wish I had known composition and design before the trip.
After an amazing experience at the Louvre and all around Paris, I started to really get interested in Leonardo da Vinci and his work. I had always liked his paintings and drawings in my younger years, but I bought a couple of books about him to read as the European journey ended.
I made my way back to Idaho where my family was living. After a couple more weeks stay, I moved to Hawaii to live with my sister. I had money saved, so I wasn’t too concerned with finding a job at first and was less stressed about knowing anyone because I had family with me.
To keep the music thing going I reached out to musicians on the island and sought out open mic opportunities. I played three songs at an open mic one night and that was enough for me. The scene in Honolulu was nothing like that found in Las Vegas. Plus, to make any money from the music scene, I had to stay out late in the bars, pubs, and clubs. This was not for me because Vegas had burnt it out of me. So how would I make money?
The Graphic Design Dilemma
To fill in the void of monetary intake, I put out a Craigslist ad for graphic design (CL is huge in Hawaii). I was able to get a job where I helped a game creator design her children’s game board, cards, and logo. It was an ok experience to start with because I was making money and didn’t really have to answer to anyone…no time card to punch; day-in and day-out.
Doing graphic design for this woman, I call her the “Hibiscus Lady” was a terrible, horrible, spirit-crushing experience in the end. She micromanaged every click and by the end of the job I had decided that graphic design was not the road for me to take. This upset me to tears because it was what I went to school for. It is all I really knew.
By this time I was not playing live music anymore, I wasn’t taking graphic design jobs anymore. What now? I still had photography, and that’s what I focused on. I started a 365 project, met new friends, and grew as a conceptual fine art photographer.
The Fabulous Corporate World
How did I make money? Well, I gave in to the corporate world and got a job at OfficeMax making $10 an hour. This was chump change considering everything in Hawaii was way more expensive than the mainland.
I was working in the print center, so I was able to apply some graphic design skills, but it was mostly for the mom n’ pop shops that cared nothing about quality. They didn’t want to hire me past the typical design with an Arial font logo and a grainy photo.
All of these hopes of being able to live as a working artist were being crushed left and right, and were being squandered by the menial soul-draining tasks at the corporate job. Life was pretty ho-hum for me…despite the fact of living in a tropical paradise.
While I was working my mind-numbing job at OfficeMax, I was putting ads on Craigslist for an assistant to help with my photography. This is when I met my friend Mychal, who soon became a very talented videographer. We hung out, I taught him a few tricks on the Canon 7D (he had just bought one too) and he ended up creating the interview from above.
We soon realized that we both hated our jobs and knew if we were going to make any kind of money on the island it would have to be in the wedding industry. Eventually we put our heads together and created our wedding company “Fairytale Weddings Hawaii.” It was a new, positive venture, and we knew we could offer something more creative to the market.
The business trickled in Bride-zillas here and there, but nothing too consistent. Our prices were very low to start with, so that didn’t help us quit the day jobs we hated any sooner. Life continued to move forward though.
I continued to work at OfficeMax, do little weddings, and partake in my 365 photography project. All photo creations aside, I was seeking more. My photography was starting to plateau during the 365 project because it was too demanding day-to-day. It helped me by pushing me to take photos and think about the process more and more, but I wanted to put my time into more creative imagery. This is when I quit the 365 (around day 285). Strike three, but the game continued.
A Shift In Momentum
Upon my quitting the 365 photo project I started to research composition. Always loving the classical paintings, I ran into a few key words; golden section, phi ratio, and figure-ground relationship. The words “golden section” and “phi ratio” led me to discover the teachings of Myron Barnstone. The word “figure-ground relationship” led me to discover Gestalt psychology. Both created a new path in my artistic journey.
As I watched Myron’s videos I knew that he wouldn’t be teaching for long. He was already 80 and in his videos he had a pretty bad cough. This got me to thinking, “I need to study with this man. I need to drop what I’m doing and move…now!”
This is when I told Mychal, my friend and business partner, that we should cancel the wedding we booked a year out. I explained to him that it was a long way out and I really felt that I needed to train with Myron while I still could. Thankfully he was feeling the same. His girlfriend was getting island fever and they were discussing moving back to Portland.
Not even a week later we had canceled the wedding and gone our own way. We dissolved the up and coming wedding company, and he moved back to Portland soon after. I sold and ditched what I could, packed what I had left and flew to the East Coast…landing in Allentown, Pennsylvania on May 26th, 2013.
The Pursuit of Composition and Design
Within three days I was able to find a room to rent for $485 a month, which was a five minute drive from the Barnstone studios. I called up Myron, met with him in the studio and he gave me a jaw dropping tour. He even sat me down in the classroom, started up his slideshow, and demonstrated his analyzed Toulouse-Lautrec drawing of a horseman. It was an unreal experience!
I signed up for the Drawing One classes and enjoyed the challenge of drawing and learning. It was as if I were living in his DVD series. I would show up to class early and chat with Myron and showed him some photos I had designed from a previous photo shoot. He never really approved, but that pushed me to try harder.
I had watched his DVD series over, and over, and over, but I was still able to learn some key points that could only be revealed by persistent questioning. See, I use to used a grid with lines connecting to many points, but he said that I had it all wrong. He said to worry about the basic armature and the major area divisions. This was an eye opener and I share this within the blog, among many other discoveries.
The Fabulous Corporate World - Part II
Short after I settled into the new living space and the drawing class, I started applying for graphic design jobs. Yes, I hated it, but this was what my resume claimed I could do sufficiently well. I ended up getting a job at another mind-numbing corporate job at FedEx Office. Sure, I could apply my graphic design skills, but by this time I was completely burnt out of customer service. But hey, I made $12.50 an hour…that’s something right?
I stuck it out at FedEx, tried hard at my assignments, enjoyed the laughs from Myron, and did what I could to avoid my land lady. I appreciated her kindness and the room she offered, but she was a smoker and I couldn’t stand the smell. I had to keep my door closed at all times, otherwise the stench would seep into my clothes. Her little pug was not very charming either. It snorted, sniffled, pooped, and peed whenever and wherever it wanted. I don’t need much to live, but a certain amount of cleanliness is a must. Alas, I endured the many times I stepped in puddles and piles with hopes of a better living arrangement.
While I was working at FedEx, I started my 365 project called “Canon of Design.” I researched and planned for six months before I moved to the East Coast. After the launch I would work day and night on it. After working at FedEx I would come home, chug a cup (or two) of coffee, and stay up until 2am. Sleep, work, repeat.
Aloha to a New Life
The brutal Winter storms pushed me back to the perfect weather of Hawaii. Eight months of saving and I had enough money to move back. I sold and purged needless stuff, packed my bags and sought out a new journey. I continue to live in Waikiki, Hawaii and the success of the 365 blog, videos, and books have allowed me to live as a working artist; something I never thought would be possible.
I’m forever thankful for everyone who has supported me along the way. Looking back I realize that each pitfall I ran into was a step that brought me closer to the life I wanted to live. The game never ends, no matter how many strikes…you just keep learning, adjusting, and playing.
I hope this inspires you to stay positive and never giving up on your art. Thank you for reading my artistic journey thus far. Much love!