Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays – Comfort Zones

big cog


It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. I’ve been unable to really blog about forward progress with the building, mostly because there hasn’t been much. We’re still waiting on the committee to approve the new colors, and until that time, a lot of stuff is on hold. That hasn’t been a hardship–which, I know, is odd–but simultaneous to all of this, we ended up with work spread out from New Orleans to Texas, which means Carl is running like a crazy person, making sure we’re doing okay. He needs to be here for the building stuff, so the committee taking forever ironically worked for us instead of against. I think all of that is going to get resolved in this next month, though. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, last spring, I applied to The Arcanum, an online photography school that used the mentor/apprentice construct to teach. The idea being that each photographer would naturally have their own path and things they were passionate about. Instead of creating a “one-size-fits-all” type of curriculum, the guys starting the school opted for a flexible program where each master/mentor/instructor can help each student hone their skills and then aim at their specific goal.

One of the school’s initial leaders is Trey Ratcliff, the first photographer to have an HDR (high dynamic range) photo hanging in the Smithsonian. If you follow that link and see his stuff, you’ll be gobsmacked by how amazing it is. Really, he’s just mind-blowingly good.

Our teacher is A. D. Wheeler, in our particular group, and he’s pretty damned phenomenal as well. We have a great group of photographers, all with varying skill sets, which makes for a terrific learning experience. I love that the Arcanum is set up so that you get a lot of feedback at every step from fellow photographers. It sets us up to learn from each other, and then, in improving in an area, we have to figure out how to be more articulate about that skill when critiquing someone else… and having to be articulate helps us refine our knowledge, which improves the skill… and so on.

Last year, for example, I went to a party at a friend’s house where she has an old car just going to seed in her back yard. I tried to get some shots of it, but there’s a lot of shade there, no matter what time of day, and I could never get anything that I felt happy with. This was about the best I could get, then:

Old car



After a couple of months in the Arcanum, I was able to go back and, even though I was rushed, get this:

Barbara's old car

The one thing that we had to do lately was meet up with others (if we could, it wasn’t a strict requirement), and go on photo walks. I balked at this idea…I’m a hermit. I’m a hermit for a lot of good reasons, starting with “I can work in my PJs” and going from there. So the idea of getting outside and with a stranger (or strangers) and taking photographs bugged the crap out of me. I didn’t like it, didn’t think it would work for me inΒ any way, and frankly, figured I’d ignore it.

Then, while we were visiting our oldest in Colorado, I was invited along a photo shoot with a fellow classmate, Kelly, and I ended up having a wonderful time. Turns out, going outside isn’t horrible! Who knew? (g)

Here’s a couple of shots I got while on a photo walk with Kelly up near Minturn, CO for the first one, and near Independence Pass for the second:

dawn through the aspens


near continental divide with snow 3



So then, armed with my new brave people skills, I agreed to go on a photo walk with 25 other people here in the Quarter. It turns out, if you go on a photo walk with 25 photographers, there’s almost always someone in your damned shot. And since many of them were new to the Quarter, they were more interested in stopping and drinking than taking photos, so I ended up not getting much. Boundaries. They’re not a bad thing. My new rule is no more than 3 or 4 people, max. But I did end up with one decent shot:




I’ve just made it through the Foundation levels (where you hone your technical skills), and now have started on the next levels (where you get really focused on areas you need to improve AND start working toward whatever your own ultimate goal is). My particular goal is to do a lot more composite work, creating fantasy-like scenes with real places (like the Quarter) and using models and such. Which means learning all about lighting and angles and things that, right now, make me crosseyed trying to understand them.

I am having a blast, though.

I almost didn’t apply. It looked scary, it felt insane to be putting myself into a position where there were going to be critiques… because you know, there are some places where they believe in tearing a person down in order to build them up. I’m too old for that shit (g), so I’m super thrilled that this place has such a positive, upbeat attitude. It’s been one ofΒ the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Ironically, the side effect? I’m writing waaaaay more now, and my creativity has shot up. I think that thinking in pictures and learning in one creative field got me out of the doldrums with the writing.

Have you ever done this? Pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? How’d that work for you?

34 thoughts on “Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays – Comfort Zones

  1. Mermaid Scribbler says:

    Toni – Your life always amazes me. You never seem too tired to try new things! I love that. The car photo is slightly surreal. Beautiful pics. Thanks for sharing all of your creative journeys and how they influence each other. As I get older, I am learning that what I used to feel were distractions are really just part of my process as a creative person. Thanks!

  2. Kieran says:

    Beautiful shots! I especially love that last one! Congrats for taking the leap and doing this course.

    For me working on creative projects outside of writing always boosts my writing process. Sometimes I think,”Am I practiving avoidance? Will this drain all the creativity out of me, leaving nothing for writing?” but that doesn’t happen.

  3. I’m with the “your life amazes me” crowd. Wow. Beautiful images. I so want to do this. I’ve always wanted to study photography. I almost went to college for it, but my parents couldn’t afford tuition, let alone a fancy camera. But now, I could do it. I may have to try this.

    Fingers crossed the color scheme gets ironed out soon. I can’t believe it’s taking this long. You guys should get some kind of patience award.

  4. Lola says:

    Those photos are wonderful. That old car looks like steampunk exploded on it. :p

    Comfort zone to me is false comfort. It’s giving up and giving in. It’s a non-moving, static, no growth kind of place to be. It may look and feel like safety but I think it’s a unconscious trick to keep me from moving forward and being the best I can be. I’ve been on a quest to figure out what direction I should take. I haven’t figured it out yet.

  5. Posting before reading others’ comments.

    I’m a teacher and I firmly believ in learning something I’ve never done before. I took a few singing lessons in late 2011 after a lifetime believing I had no vocal range. Turns out I can sing.

    I like to try new things to remind me what it is like to be a child in my class, learning something for the first time and how necessary it is that it be broken into simple steps. Sadly curriculum/syllabus/the dumb list from the government of what I must teach doesn’t allow for true consolidation of learning. And neither does 36 seven-year-olds (over 80% of whom are learning in theoir second language as their home language) in one class. No we don’t have assistants. They cost money.

    So I challenge myself to feel what they feel to bring a roundness to their lessoning. I suck at it.

    But hey, I’m learning new stuff, which is cool because I believe in lifelong learning because it’s my fountain of youth.

  6. Thank you, everyone! I’ve been gone all day to see my parents–loved reading your comments. LOL on the surreal… yeah, it feels surreal some times, but I get bored easily, so this keeps me fresh.

  7. I love all of them! Always enjoy when you post a new photograph to FB. The cafe reminds me of the famous Edward Hopper diner pic. Can’t recall the title. But anyway, you are so talented and I agree that creativity expands when we move out of our comfort zone and try something new.

  8. KerryK says:

    I think the use of light is the critical factor in most photos. I know you will enjoy expanding your talent. You might go to goggle images and key in Elena Shumilova and her use of everyday settings and natural light. She blows me away and I tell myself if she can do it so can I. I wish I could find a program like yours it would be a huge help to have a mentor and would make the learning easier and fun.

  9. Eileen A-W says:

    Your pictures are amazing!! I’m jealous as I would love to be in a class like that. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. Kelly S says:

    I love the Independence Pass photo, but they are all beautiful! May the timing work out just right with the committee & Carl for the painting. Upside is that the longer they stall the longer you get to enjoy the original paint choices.

  11. Micki says:

    Amazing! I especially loved the before/after pictures. Saw the before, thought, “Oh, decrepit stuff is really popular right now” and started musing about the abandoned house photos I’ve been seeing lately. Then I saw the After pic, and was blown away by the completely different direction you’d taken. My goodness!

    I’ll go into the slightly uncomfortable zone, but I have a tough time pushing myself into the absolutely-terrified zone — and the sad thing is, it doesn’t take very much to terrify me. I’m not talking skydiving, but things like showing other people my work. Gotta get over that . . . .

  12. Susanne says:

    Hi Toni,

    I’ve always loved your photos of New Orleans which you’ve posted on your blog. And these new photos are fabulous, so fabulous that I just want to look at them and not pay attention to your question about putting yourself out of our comfort zone πŸ™‚

  13. I’m sitting here wondering if I can be Toni when I grow up!

    I do push myself out of my comfort zone, at almost every opportunity. Sometimes it works in my favor, sometimes not.

    The hard part is finding opportunities that aren’t going to make it impossible for me to pay the monthly orthodontics bill!

    Who’s idea was it to have four kids? Oh yeah, nobodies. More than half of them were surprises in one way or another. But do they ALL have to need braces, universe? Cause I could have used a break here…

  14. Lois says:

    Love the pictures.
    I took a class this spring in wax stencil/silk dyeing. I was totally out of my comfort zone. By the end it was wonderful and so freeing – I felt like I was in kindergarten! And it made me want to do other creative things.
    I think if we don’t stretch the boundries of our comfort zones they keep drawing in, getting tighter and more limiting. Too bad I find some of that with aging as well – like my night vision isn’t what it was so driving at night now takes effort and planning instead of the ease I used to have.

  15. Mermaid Scribbler says:

    The photo of the car seems like it goes along with the book you are collaborating on with Crusie. I know that she does collage. Have you ever considered taking some photos as inspiration for your book? If you made it public when the book is published, it would be a cool extra feature for readers, too. Just a thought.

  16. toni says:

    Eileen — anyone can apply to the Arcanum. They’ve got room for very-beginners, all the way up. They’re adding new teachers (who can then go to the pool of applicants and pick the students they feel fit their particular discipline). And what’s really lovely about the whole thing is that as the student grows through the levels and gets better technically, if they want to watch critiques or videos from other disciplines, that’s encouraged. When they move into the second big Sphere of the school, the teacher will look at the student’s ultimate goals and help them join up with a different master, if that’s what’s needed. Or share them. It’s really a phenomenal way to learn, and it’s not terribly expensive. Nowhere nearly as expensive as tutorials online or degrees. In fact, I’ve paid less for an entire month’s interactions in the class than I have for single individual video tutorials online, and have gotten so much more out of it, because I get feedback.

    I can’t say enough good things about it. Really. Give it a try. πŸ˜‰

  17. Carol says:

    Just got home to see your post. Wow, just wow. Especially, love your first old car photo and the diner shot.

  18. Carol says:

    oops, typed in the wrong email address sorry, really, it’s me not that other email address I typed by accident.

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