Awakening the Spark

As a photographer, I spend most of my days in the glow of my monitor, where it’s easy to get overwhelmed by resistance.

Can I really do what I love for a living? That seems too good to be true. Why doesn’t Style Me Pretty want to feature my latest wedding on their blog? Is it because I’m not a legit artist? Why don’t I have more Facebook likes? How do I measure up to the competition? 

These are some of the thoughts that sneak their way into my head while I’m listening to Spotify and processing photos. So, when I saw a promotion for an online course called Awakening the Spark at The Define School, I felt like I ran head first into fate. The four-week ongoing class is taught by Michelle Gardella, a photographer who takes my breath away with her free-spirited nature and honesty.

Here’s a brief description of the course:

In this four-week class, you will reawaken your fire and get your groove back in a major way. You will tune in to your own authentic spark, and listen. Plus, you will have a fully-stocked “keep-that-ocean-of-mojo-in-your-heart” tool box.

I was lucky enough to be gifted with the class by my amazing husband. The course ended a couple of weeks ago, but I am still feeling its impact. Rather than focusing solely on photography, Michelle covered topics like the power of intuition and gratitude, letting go of approval seeking motivators (ahem, Facebook, blog comments, etc.), overcoming resistance, the power of potential, and defining authentic success.

The class made me realize that — despite previously feeling the need to constantly compare myself to others —there is no other me. That might sound totally cheesy, but I don’t care. I looked at areas in my life where I could benefit letting go. I became more mindful.

I relaxed my breathing. I guess I should rewind a bit here. I’ve been going to yoga classes weekly since I quit my job back in April to pursue photography full-time. It has always been one of my favorite parts of the week, but I was never truly giving it my all. For instance, when the instructor asked everyone to chant “om,” I would mouth “om” (convincingly) because I was too embarrassed I’d sound stupid. I did the same thing in chorus during grade school, mouthing the words to my favorite holiday songs instead of fully embracing my potential sing-a-long skills.

This course has made me want to shout “om” from the rooftops.

Another example? I learned to let go and stop thinking so darn much. One of our assignments was simple: “Dance.” Me, dance? I’m the girl who avoided prom and lacks a single ounce of rhythm. If you pull me out onto the dance floor, I freeze with fear and can’t wait until the song stops. This class taught me not to care about what people think and to just be me.

During the week of our “dance” assignment, I was shooting a wedding reception and watching a circle form on the dance floor. One guest would spin a bottle in the middle of the circle and whoever the bottle pointed to would have to go into the center and show off their moves. There were at least thirty guests circled around the bottle, which ended up pointing to me in slow motion after a few turns. Instead of turning beet-red and running in fear, I plunged into the middle of the circle and did a Footloose-inspired jig. Of course I soon shuffled away while shrieking, but I did it.

I let go for a few seconds and let my vulnerability show.

So, how does all of this relate to photography? It took me the past few weeks to really understand how these assignments would affect my photo sessions. Instead of being too shy to give a couple a suggestion for a photo that might be a little out there, now I jump right in. Rather than comparing myself to photographers who might have intimidated me in the past, now I’m embracing the community of talent by forming relationships with people. And yes, they are people just like you and me.

I think the class affected my personal life the most. I’m pretty sure my husband can attest that I’m now pretty easy-going when a potential crisis comes up. Oh, our basement is pooling with water? Time to dust off the Shop-Vac!

Just to give you a sense of comparison, if our basement had water seep in before, my response would be something like “Ohmahgah, is our entire house going to flood? Is our basement going to turn into a moldy mess? Am I going to get electrocuted if I go down there? What if a hurricane comes? Ahhhh!” I’m paraphrasing, but I’m not far off.

I feel relaxed and confident now. I know who I am as an artist when before I felt awkward even calling myself an “artist” without joking around and pronouncing it “ahhh-teeeeeest.”

I can’t wait to keep creating.

Michelle asked us to share our thoughts by filling an art journal with doodles, feelings, and watercolor paintings. I hadn’t painted with a set of watercolors since my early college days when an instructor told me I “painted too heavily” to ever really succeed with watercolors. I was nervous to start up, but now my travel set rarely leaves my side. I even made some prints of my new work and I’m selling them in my Etsy shop.

I’m also looking to change some things up with my branding. I loved my logo (designed by my talented hubs) when my website redesign launched a few months back. Now I’d like to add painterly elements to bring even more authenticity to my aesthetic and brand. This will be a work in progress over the next few months, but I’m excited to open up and share more of myself with you guys through my logo, marketing, and website.

If you’re still reading, I’d like to share some images and illustrations I made during the Awakening the Spark course. Thanks to Michelle and my classmates for the inspiration. I feel very grateful that we’ve been connecting often even though the class ended weeks ago ♥

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  1. Jennie {Love 'n Fresh Flowers}

    I absolutely LOVE this post!!! You are amazing! And truly an artist! I’ve known that even if you didn’t. 🙂 Your photography is incredible and now your paintings are blowing my mind! Bust a move, sister!!


    • Shannon Collins

      Aw, thank you Jennie! You are such a talent, so kind words from you make me a blushy little thing. Insert me busting a move for you here ______.



  2. Jess

    Wow. Just wow. This post has left me speechless. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Thank you, Shannon… so so much for this… for you. xo


    • shannon

      Thanks Jess! One day when I’m established and worthy of Define’s awesomeness, I’d love to apply to teach there. Thanks for the lovely experience <3


  3. Monica

    Shannon, I still love, love, love that image of your grandmothers? fish necklace over the photo album. Thank you for sharing.


  4. Pingback: Defining Personal Success | youwannatalkjive

  5. Jennifer Marcuson

    so beautiful! I took this class last summer, and I too felt such a major shift in myself afterwards. your paintings and photography are wonderful. Thank you for sharing this! xoxoxo


  6. kerry

    This is so beautiful. Love all of your drawing/paintings and the way you see the world through your photography. I am just finishing up the class and am so thankful for changes I have made myself. Thank you for sharing!


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