The Long Lens blog: Photography with added snaps, art and culture

The photography site for sore eyes. Featuring: Art, photography, performance and theatre. With extra writing because I'm also a writer.

Top 10 best tips for being brilliant (for artists, writers, photographers and creatives)

[First draft of Top 10 best tips for artists. This may be be edited/added to/refined]

File new call-outs, commissions and competitions by deadline date
How many times have you missed a deadline for a brilliant call-out? You know, the one  which you had a brilliant idea for and which definitely beaten off the 2,000 other applicants.

We’ve all done it. Seen a great competition… and then forgotten all about it.

So this is what you do: Save the pdfs, links and any relevant materials in a competitions file and name the folder within by the DEADLINE date. That way all you have to do is look in the folder to see what deadlines are looming and what you can apply for. Simples.

Don’t do projects on your family. It’s too easy
This one came about specifically in reference to photography. Martin Parr, the celebrated quirky ironic British snapper, said it to huge audience and a photography symposium I attended somewhere in north London (sometime around 2009, I think).

It is his belief that if you want to challenge yourself with new projects, photographing your own family was not the way to do it. Being heavily involved in stressful street photography, where it often takes more courage to take images of strangers than you carry with you on any particular day, I was in huge agreement with Parr when he said this. The words have stayed with me ever since. Yes, I take photos of my family – but they are snaps shots, not projects.

Think like a professional, be a professional
Again referring to photography, this is a rally cry to those of you who walk around sheepishly at events or along streets, too afraid to step into people’s personal space or interrupt a gathering. If you want to get a good photograph, this approach will not work.

In most situations – hardcore street photography apart – people are welcoming to being photographed. I’m thinking at events, parades, in holiday resorts or tourist destinations. Unless they’re eating in a restaurant, you’re unlikely to upset anybody by stepping into a view taking a few photos, smiling and stepping back. If people are doing something like eating or sunbathing, you can always ask or gesture before trying to take a photograph and wait for them to nod, smile – or say no.

But it’s best all round if you THINK LIKE A PROFESSIONAL. Stand tall, walk proud, use your camera like a weapon. If the people you are photographing – or those who are watching you photograph – think you are a professional, they will not stop you doing your job. Furthermore, if you can adopt this mindset, you will take pressure off your self (from feeling self-conscious) and be able to concentrate and taking better images. And that’s the most important thing.

Get cheap public liability insurance with an a-n membership.
I was getting quotes of between £70 and £200 for public liability insurance lasting ONE day from all sorts of specialist companies. When I found someone offering closer to £45 they were not able to match the £5million cover my commission demanded.

Then someone recommended I join the Artists Information company A-N  ( For £36 per year they offer, among other things, £5m public liability insurance for a WHOLE YEAR. This is a no brainer.

Don’t pay council tax if you’re a full-time student
I paif a full year’s worth of council tax (about £1,200) while studying a photography MA at Bolton University. It was only after I had completed the MA, and was on a press trip in the French Alps, that a fellow journalist told me full-time students are exempt from council tax. I was a bit gutted – until I contacted the council. The asked for a university certificate stating I was full-time and then gave me a full refund. It was the most lucrative press trip I have ever been on. Free trip and £1,200 cheque in the post. I can’t tell you how happy I was.

There are a few provisos to this – like everyone in the house where you live needs to be a full-time student. But if you live alone, or with kids under 18, then you will qualify.

Go to events
No matter how good your work is, or what you have done in the past, no one will remember you. So, when it comes to getting work, you won’t be the name that pops into someone’s head first if you#ve done nothing meaningful in the past five minutes. People can’t remember stuff, least of all who they might want to work with on a project if they’ve not just been talking to them at some event or other over the last few days (five minutes was probably exagerating a bit).

Sometimes known as networking, I call it showing your face. And it’s not just showing your face. If you’re an artist it is hugely important that you support other artists, even if it means you going home seething that they got the commission or are doing the work that you had wanted to.

And most of important of all is the act of talking to people, where you pick up bits of information, advice and future work. You won’t get any work watching EastEnders. And I wouldn’t give you any work if you watched EastEnders anyway.

Know what other artists are doing
This will sometimes involve going to galleries and exhibition but more usually will mean reading. Magazines or websites dedicated to specific genres or art types are crucial to you as an artist, particularly to stimulate thought about your own practice. It’ll also generate ideas for new work. It may leave you jealous that someone has achieved something you were attempting yourself. But you can’t expect to produce contemporary informed work, if you are uninformed yourself.

Don’t give up
Drive is an attribute. Persistence is a necessity. Or you any other twee inspirational quotes to motivate you do work.

Take a break (Part I)
When you’re up against it – either a deadline or just with mountains of work – trying to just wade through it can be slow and painful. Try working for twenty minutes, then taking a five or ten minute break. Repeat this as much as you need to . You’ll get twice as much done in those twenty minutes than you would in 30 minutes of struggle.

Take a break (Part II)
Exercise. Vigorously. Particularly effective in early mornings, a hard bike ride, run or gym session can set you up mentally for a prolifically creative day or high workload output. In my experience I can get more work done in two hours after a 60km bike ride than I would sitting at my computer for seven hours. There are lots of theoretical (and sometimes scientific) explanations of why exercise benefits creativity but it works. Exercise has a huge influence on the brain and on your mentality. It’s invaluable for work and a positive state of mind.

Don’t be too hard on yourself
I’ve written about self doubt as an artist previously. We self doubt, it happens. But try not to struggle with it. Get on with your work. Maintain an overall positive outlook about what you do, even if a current and ongoing project isn’t going well. And be safe in the knowledge that those other, serene-looking artists you know are also flapping about beneath the water as much as you are. No project is smooth, no outcome faultless.

Don’t believe these top 10 best of lists
They are written only because the get a lot of hits and generate traffic to websites. This piece of advice is actually number 12 on this list.

Gary Cooke_2/8/15

This is me as an artist



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This entry was posted on November 17, 2016 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .
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