The secret to becoming an overnight success

Architectural marketing feels dirty. Admit it. You’ve wanted to be an architect since you were 12 years old. Somewhere in a scrapbook, or a drawer in your parents house is a floor plan for your dream home scratched out with a Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil on blue lined, three hole punched notebook paper. That house was for you! It never occurred to you that one day you would have to persuade someone to actually pay you to do what you love doing.

Several years ago I spent a week at The Maine Media Workshops, one of the world’s best places to be immersed in all things photographic. I wanted to be a better portrait photographer and participated in a workshop led by Joyce Tenneson whose remarkable book, Wise Women, is not only a stunning collection of photographs, it is an international best seller. I was certain that I was going to learn Joyce’s secret to becoming a successful artist; to find out the magic shortcut to fame, wealth, and artistic self actualization.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Joyce had achieved her mastery and her success through a lifetime of really hard work. Yes, she taught me more about light and photographing people in one week than I had learned in a lifetime of do-it-yourself photography. But the most powerful lessons were those of vision, discipline, overcoming adversity and most of all, execution.

Joyce Tenneson at Maine Media Workshops, July 2006

At the time I hated her for it. I wanted to find the secret passage; the shortcut to the Promised Land. And she had the nerve to tell me that there is no shortcut. My grieving now over, I finally appreciate the great gift she gave me and everyone else in that workshop. There is only one photograph hanging in my office: a penetrating signed self portrait that Joyce slipped away and made during that week. It is my constant reminder that the War of Art is never ending and like life is our true calling.

I had gone to Maine hoping to find the ultimate creative alternative to the hard work of architectural practice. Surely there must be something better than the constant battle for survival that architects face every day!  Thanks to Joyce I returned home a better photographer. More important, I returned as a wiser person.

The hard work of marketing architectural services is not dirty at all, it is like breathing. It provides oxygen to the lungs of our essential creativity. I finally understood that winning architectural commissions is not a distraction from doing the work; it is an essential part of the creative process.

NB: If you want to see the self portrait look here.