We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.

 –Charles Schaefer

I don’t know about you, but I am a “saver” of subjects for future photography – for “someday.” They are saved with the intention of creating images that have not quite emerged from the “idea bin.” So, they and I wait for that to happen. This waiting results in an accumulation of dried flowers, seed pods, petals, leaves, shells and much more. To be clear, I’m not exactly sure where that shell collection is, but I know it exists. All these things wait for inspiration and execution. They wait for me to make a move, and often they wait a long time.

That said, there comes a time when some things have got to go. The problem with that for me is that it is hard to let go of things I have saved for a “someday” reason. (My sister asked me why I keep so many dried flowers when I can always get more. Well, because they’re uniquely curled and amazing, that’s why.) With regard to my overwhelming collection of dried stuff, I find it difficult to get rid of any of it until I have done something with it. In other words, I often wait to be inspired and motivated to execute whatever idea comes to mind.

Keeping it Simple. Starting Fresh.


Then, I learned of Mary Jo Hoffman (@maryjohoffman on Instagram), a former aeronautical engineer, now artist and photographer. I learned of her project, “STILL.” Every single day for over a decade she has made a photograph of nature, and the project continues. Her new book, STILL: The Art of Noticing, includes 275 images from this ongoing project. The project and the resulting images are beyond wonderful. Mary Jo’s commitment to creating one photo every single day, no matter the circumstances, is beyond admirable. Early on she decided that a black background did not work for her, so the images created utilize a white background and are shot primarily using available light. They are exquisite and filled with beauty no matter the subject. Part of the promotional material for this book and project (and its impact) says that it encourages viewers to pause and contemplate one thing at a time, to be still, if only for a moment. If you’re looking to be inspired and “sparked” on many levels, I highly recommend following Mary Jo on Instagram and her blog and getting a copy of her book. In part, she is the reason for my mini project of “creative culling.”

Hydrangea for Culling


Now that a spark had been ignited, what could I do? First, I have no intention of making the creative culling a daily practice, though I recognize that it would be most helpful on many levels. Rather, I’m choosing to clear out a small chunk of clutter from my gatherings. Second, what parameters should I set? What rules or boundaries will I lay out for this first wave? I get to decide (and so do you). One of the first things I chose was to start and stick with the square format – shooting square in camera, not cropping later. Then, I had to think a bit. Ultimately, I gave myself just a few parameters, which offered me a level of flexibility. It started with the commitment to the square format. Then, it moved to “Square and Story (of some kind). I found that this slowed me down too much, so I modified the parameters to: Square, Dried and/or Fresh, and In and Around My Home. These three things gave me the flexibility I needed to move forward, move some subjects out of the way, get creative and not be too “boxed in.” As much as I admire the work and commitment of the STILL project, it’s not where my mind or life is at the moment.

Hydrangea Construct

Hydrangea Deconstruct


One thing I knew I needed for this project was for my own muse to be jolted into paying even more attention to what has been in front of me for a long time – my dried collection. Because I have limited space to store it neatly and behind closed doors or drawers, my collection just keeps growing. I keep adding to it and rearranging the stuff into an eclectic display. I must admit that I do have more than a few drawers filled with plastic containers of more stuff. I don’t think of that much due to the “out of sight, out of mind” perspective. Still, I realized it was time for another wave of intentional culling and creating. Of course, I do recognize that I am just making room for the next wave of wabi-sabi. Embracing the old and new, and watching the transformations make me happy. Therefore, I accept the cycles for what they are – opportunities to observe, to wait, and to be inspired to create … when the time is right. I knew for this wave I needed to work with one subject at a time.

I began with the baptisia seed pods from my neighbor’s garden that I gathered last year. I worked those pods and seeds according to my parameters. Once I felt I was done, I separated the seeds from the pods. Instead of simply tossing them all in the trash, I saved a few pods and all the seeds. I will sow them in the sunshine side of my front garden with hopes that they will come forth next spring and bear beautiful purple blooms. If they don’t, I’m okay with that. I am hopeful, but I know where to find more if I am so inclined to attempt cultivating my own crop.

Baptisia Beginnings

Baptisia Seed Shower

Next, I played with some hydrangeas – first the live ones growing on the back side of my patio fence. Then, I pulled petals and stems from my dried collection (not all of them, but a lot). I worked them for a while. When I felt I was done with them – mostly plucked bare and offering no future décor potential, those petals and stems have also made it to the compost bag. I actually had to pluck and crumble and make a mess of those petals and stems so that the only place they could go was out the door. The mess is gone. (Confession: I did keep some of the petals – just in case another round of inspiration rises before this wave of culling is over.

A few more subjects were on the table and made their way into this very mini project: tiny, dried maple leaves, tulips (stems, leaves, petals) and some allium from my neighbor’s garden. I gathered all of what I had floating around in the various displays so that I could be truly done with each subject. (Shame on me, the more I looked, the more I found.) There were lots of tulip remains. While making my selections for what to include in the cull, I considered what I had the most of or what had been waiting the longest (exception, the allium) and what was in clear view. By no means have I removed enough stuff to provide a clean slate or space for future models, but there is a bit more room. It is noticeable to me and feels good.

Hydrangea Dried Petals