By Elizabeth Gadd 

Creative ruts.

We all experience them. (If you don’t… you’re probably not human and I need to know your secret. Seriously.)

Some ruts last only a few days. Some are much longer and more intense. I often experience a 2-3 month hiatus in my work every year, usually during the late winter to early spring months. I suppose it makes sense in a way, when everything’s dark and rainy (in Vancouver, at least) for days on end. It can easily affect one’s mood, which can bleed into the creative process as well. With 90% of my work being self-portraits, it can be a rather draining process to get in front of the camera when I’m especially feeling down and out of sorts (also, changing outfits and modeling in the cold rain and snow gets a little wearisome at times!). This being said, every time I HAVE pushed myself to get out there and create (even if I end up hating the photos), in all honesty I’ve never regretted trying – not once. I have to remind myself of this often.

Sometimes, though, a creative rut doesn’t have to be a nuisance. If you can’t fight your way out of it, step back and look at it differently… it can be a strange gift in a hidden form. Lately, when my yearly photography hiatus hits, I’ve taken to accepting it as a time to step back and reflect on life not through a camera lens. Sometimes this means slowing down and taking time to re-evaluate what’s important. Sometimes it means trying something new and scary to put life back into perspective. Last year, when I got stuck in the rut, I left all my camera gear behind and went on a 900km solo walk across Spain with just a sleeping bag and toothbrush. It was an experience where I felt more present in every moment than I ever have in my lifetime before, and came back refreshed with a mind absolutely reeling and ready to pour its emotions back into creative activity. This year when I got stuck in the rut, I spent more time focusing on relationships with family and friends, a lot of time spent listening and learning of everyone’s different thought processes and realizing how unique and of value each person is. I’ve felt the creative energy coming back, but oddly I couldn’t figure out how to photograph it yet… so I’ve been writing down my thoughts and letting them simmer, knowing it’ll come out in my art eventually this year.

Last year, when I got stuck in the rut, I left all my camera gear behind and went on a 900km solo walk across Spain with just a sleeping bag and toothbrush. It was an experience where I felt more present in every moment than I ever have in my lifetime before, and came back refreshed with a mind absolutely reeling and ready to pour its emotions back into creative activity. This year when I got stuck in the rut, I spent more time focusing on relationships with family and friends, a lot of time spent listening and learning of everyone’s different thought processes and realizing how unique and of value each person is. I’ve felt the creative energy coming back, but oddly I couldn’t figure out how to photograph it yet… so I’ve been writing down my thoughts and letting them simmer, knowing it’ll come out in my art eventually this year.

When smoky skies and rain collides. Photo by Elizabeth Gadd Photography.
Coming out of that creative rut. “When smoky skies and rain collides.” Photo by Elizabeth Gadd Photography.

This year’s process of getting out of that “rut” has been longer than any before. If I’m completely honest, although I’ve been shooting plenty for clients and memories sake, I haven’t actually taken one single “Lizzy Gadd style” photo yet in this year of 2017 (yikes!). Until now. Last month some weird guy named Dave tossed a message my way, which contained an invitation to be a contributor for a community called OFFBEAT… I said yes. And just like that, as if a lifeline was thrown into the rut, something snapped in my mind and I was suddenly grasping for my camera with a new feeling that had been missing for the last several months – motivation. I knew the creative energy was returning, I could feel it coming… I just needed that reason to snap back into it.

Or did I?

I heard someone say recently to another person in a dark creative rut: “Put it in your work.” Those words hit me hard. And yet, they’re so obvious. I had my reason all along, my reason to snap back into creating: The reason is me. I am here, my thoughts, my emotions, excitement, sadness, guilt, peace, all of it. It’s very real, it’s very me. And here I often am, lying defeated in the rut and wondering why I can’t summon the energy to continually create epic, mind-blowing images, when all along I could be creating something just as important by gently pouring my feelings into my work. It doesn’t have to be amazing. It doesn’t have to have thousands of views and likes and comments. It doesn’t even have to be shown to anyone else.

It’s just me, it’s just us – a glimpse into our souls, plain and simple, and extravagant as they are.

To this day I’m still learning a balance. Do I acknowledge lower feelings of being “stuck” and still push forward and create within them? Or do I step back and find a new perspective, even if it means taking a break and trying something new? I don’t know, I think I’m realizing there is no wrong answer. But I do know a creative rut doesn’t have to be a rut. It’s an opportunity.

What will you do with it?


Elizabeth Gadd originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!