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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Dusbabek

Ode to an inspirational creative partnership

Inspire: to fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially something creative.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel creatively sluggish, it’s usually because I’m not inspired at that moment. I don’t really subscribe to the notion that artist’s languish about until the mood to create arrives. I rather believe that once I start the work, the inspiration follows. But sometimes the ideas in my head stay there unless another person takes the baton and adds her/his talent to help bring my project to life. This is the beauty of creative partnerships and, not coincidentally, the secondary meaning of the word inspire which is to “breathe in.” A creative/creative partnership then is literally the thing that fills your proverbial artist lungs with air.

Alison, one of my favorite people to photograph. This was for a custom cycle shoot we worked together on. Bonus: her winged eyeliner is just the best.

You’ve heard about painters and photographers and their muses, right? Well, let me tell you about mine. I met Alison seven years ago, before I even knew to take my camera out of auto mode. I was shooting a series for a local clothing boutique and needed a hair and makeup artist for three models, each with different styling, over the course of several months. Alison was recommended to me by the boutique owner, Carol. So I gave her a call.

We spent about three hours on that phone call, as I rambled on about my lofty goals for this project as a (newb) photographer while Alison listened intently, occasionally interjecting a kind “Oh, wow” with a confident, contralto voice tinged with a hint of gravel. Bless her heart, she must have thought me mad at the time, but she graciously gave me the space to share my thoughts, a trait I would experience over and over again through the years.

She agreed to do the hair and makeup artistry for the first model of the series at no cost, so I could judge if we would be a good collaborative fit. I would handle all the wardrobe styling, sets and locations plus the photography. We agreed to meet on the day of the shoot, slightly ahead of the model’s arrival. I was excited, as I felt very grown up—I had a “team” of sorts, just like the big dog photographers in New York and Los Angeles. I can say that now in amusement at my naivete. But at the time I was filled with blind enthusiasm for this series of shoots and I wanted to nail all the images, although I had no idea what I was doing.

I met her at the boutique. She sported a retro vibe with dark curls and deep red lips and sported tattoos. She exuded such genuine warmth, I couldn’t help but feel…inspired, uplifted. She moved through the model’s hair and makeup with an ease and skill that was breathtaking. And when our model emerged from the dressing room in the first wardrobe piece, I got teary because Alison had realized in actual fact what I had had in my head mere hours ago. It was exhilarating.

The shoot went very well, even as a newb pretending I knew something about posing, direction, lighting and the million, million details that go into a shoot. But, God be praised, I managed to get some very fine shots that I still love to this day. We finished the boutique project which I felt was a great success and the images are now framed and still hang in the boutique.

There’s absolutely no question that without Alison’s hair and makeup genius, those images would have been more “meh” than “wow” and I would never have had the zeal to move onto the next phase of my photography path, had she not realized my ideas as brilliantly as she had.

Shortly thereafter, Alison became my own hair guru, no small task, as I’ve moved through many iterations of hair over the years. When I sit in her chair, she always asks: “What are we doing today?” Many times, I wave my hand and say, “I don’t care. Something fun. Go crazy.” I mean, how much trust goes into a statement like that, especially when the person to whom you’re saying it stands over your head with a razor? But she’s never steered me wrong and I always love my hair and all its colors, so it’s another type of successful creative collaboration.

One of my favorite images of Alison shot at dusk in the summertime. To me, it captures the light she has inside as well as the gorgeous evening light.

We’ve worked together many times by now, as she does a fair amount of hair and makeup for my clients ahead of their sessions. My clients adore her, I adore her, and she brings a soothing yet upbeat energy with her wherever she goes. She’s truly one of my favorite people to be around and I consider myself blessed to have her as my creative spirit sister.

More than anything, her vast experiences as a mom, wife, singer in a band, stylist, daughter and all her other roles, give her a spectrum of understanding on how to tease out the very best in those with whom she works. I’ve never seen her angry or impatient, she never rushes anyone (including me or my clients) and she only ever has good things to say about people. But she has one gift in particular that is utterly unique to her: she INSPIRES me. She makes me WANT to be creative. She fuels my creativity with her own and I love her for that. It’s a rare, rare gift that she shares freely with me and which I treasure.

If you experience periods of depletion or lack of drive to accomplish creative goals, consider reaching out to someone. Maybe there’s someone you admire who has great ideas about everything. Take her out for a glass of wine and listen to her stories. Maybe there’s a local artist who has an unique aesthetic. Ask him out for coffee and pick his brain about what his process is like. At the very least, you’ll come away with fresh thoughts that may catapult you into new work. Best scenario is to find a creative with whom you can join forces. It doesn’t always work out, of course, but when it does, it’s the most elevating experience.

Alison's hair and makeup artistry. The image works well because all the styling elements support and enhance it.

I think it’s because creatives are a little different in temperament, a little weird in how they see and interact with the world, that they have a great desire to connect with other creatives. They have a language that I swear to you only other creatives can understand and they’re childlike in their wonder, and oddly out of place in many situations. When I try to explain my ideas to non-creatives, their eyes glaze over. And I don’t blame them for that-- I’m speaking in a foreign language to them.

Alan Alda says, “Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative place where no one has ever been.” And be sure to have your own Alison who inspires you to do just that.

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