The Power of Creativity with Andrea Scher
On living in Berkley and how that inspires her work and her art, the power of creativity and how that is influenced by the wonderful walks that she is able to take, and how she carves out times of stillness for herself.
Today our guest is Andrea Scher. Andrea is an artist, an online workshop teacher and a big believer in the transformative power of creativity. Through her e-courses: Mondo Beyondo, Superhero Photo, Cultivating Wonder and more, Andrea inspires people to live authentic, colourful, and creative lives. She is best known of the award winning blog Superhero Journal and The Creative Superheroes Podcast where she has a huge and loyal following. Andrea is passionate about the sweet spot where creativity and personal growth intersect. She’s also the co-author of the book, Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart.
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Andrea, I’m thrilled to have you on the show today.
Thank you for having me.
Tell us about where you live. Would you be able to describe your area in three words?
Progressive, beautiful, quirky. This is Berkeley so I could call it quirky.
Tell us why you feel that those words fit Berkeley so well.
Progressive in the sense that this is the heart of UC Berkeley, Summer of Love, and all that Bay Area. It tends to attract people who I think, historically, didn’t feel they belonged and they were really welcomed into this area with a celebration and reverence for difference. The quirky part is the weirdoes tended to come here. I think it is less weird now. I love how diverse, colourful, and interesting this place is.
How does it inspire the work that you do in the world?
There’s a lot of art here. There’s a lot of like-minded spirits so I feel really at home here. It’s interesting it shows up just even when I meet parents. At the preschool, for example, that we used to go to, there were only 13 families in that preschool. One taught slam poetry at UC Berkeley, one is a kinetic sculpture artist that does these incredible wave sculptures that look like sea creatures, another one had this incredible documentary film in the Oscars that year. It was just this incredible collection of artists, thinkers and people who are doing things still a little bit differently. It’s this interesting microcosm and it is one of the reasons why we all pay so much to live here. It’s such a quality of life for me in particular to be surrounded by so many interesting ideas. It’s not like this is the very best place in the world and other places aren’t extremely interesting and wonderful. I just happen to really feel aligned with this part of the world. I grew up in Northern California so it makes sense that this is where I feel at home.
That makes total sense to me as someone who is living in London and who is from London. I’ve lived elsewhere but I’ve returned home, and it feels the right place to be at this stage in my life and my business. Where would you live if you didn’t live where you live today and why?
I was just talking about how expensive it is to live here in the Bay Area. I’d probably live somewhere a lot cheaper so that I could try to buy a house one day. When I imagine an alternate universe where maybe I don’t have children, I didn’t get married and I just went this whole other track, I can see doing that urban digital nomad thing where I live in Ubud, Bali for a number of months. Then I’ll go to Europe and I’ll live there for a while and really get to indulge the adventurer in me. That would probably be part of it.
Speaking of adventure and wondering, what is a great local walk and why is it inspiring for you, if it is inspiring at all? Why should someone do it if they’re visiting the neighbourhood?
If you’re visiting the Bay Area, you’re probably going to go to San Francisco. One of my favourite places to do a photo walk is in the Mission because there are so much cool street art. There are incredible alleys. One is called Balmy Alley and it’s covered in murals. There are walls that have so many layers of political posters and Shepard Fairey-style posters and stuff. There’s this rich Latino history there that’s really steeped in that neighbourhood. There are also a lot of artists that gathered there. The neighbourhood has been gentrifying and changing a lot over the last couple of decades, but it’s still really a fun place to walk and people watch. When I go to a city, even my own city, San Francisco, I love to feel like a tourist. I love to just sit at a café and just watch people and maybe get up the nerve to even ask them if I can take their photo.
It’s exactly the stuff that I like to do when I’m in a new city and certainly in my hometown also. That’s what’s great sometimes about these bigger urban settings, because there’s always something new to discover even though you may feel you know every nook and cranny of the place.
I miss the pre-cellphone era when I used to take public transport and all this stuff would unfold on public transportation, all this incredible story and all these characters and people would interact. Now, everyone is just looking down at their phone. It’s quiet and nothing’s happening. In the past, it was menagerie of the weirdoes and I loved it. I would record snippets of conversation in my journal. I would try to eavesdrop. I was like a little anthropologist.
It’s true, we’ve lost something, I think. The mobile technology that many of us live with is amazing. It was designed to enhance the way we live and work and so often it does, but these moments of possibility and connection can go if we’re not careful. Speaking of mobile phones, people watching, and checking out the city, I hear that you have a new e-course coming out soon, which sounds like it’s just exactly what I need and what other people might need to a listing right now. Do tell us about it.
There’s that old adage, “The best camera is the one that you have with you,” and we’re all carrying our phones. I don’t even know if I use my phone. I call it my camera by accident but it’s actually my phone because I use it as a camera more than I do a phone. It actually functions better as a camera than it does as a phone most of the time. Given that we have this in our hands all the time, these are the devices, these are the tools that we’re using, so how can we meet the most of that? How can we use them better? I just got inspired to upgrade to an iPhone 7 Plus, which is off the charts amazing as far as this camera goes. The class is really not geared toward that phone specifically. It’s really just about my philosophy of shooting in general and how we can translate that into any phone that you have including the camera phone.
I think people come to these classes thinking, “I want to learn how to use all the modes. There’s some special trick that I don’t know about.” I will be teaching those things but it’s actually more about, “Where do you put your body when you’re photographing something? Do you always just have the camera right in front of you at eye level? Are you standing on chairs and tables? Are you lying down on the ground? Are you getting really close to your subject as opposed to just taking the photo from the first moment that you saw? Do you think about where your body goes?” That kind of thing I think is much more important in transforming the way you take photos.
I think that’s definitely been one of the tricks that I’ve adapted that’s really truly helped my photography. I can’t wait to learn some more tips and tricks from you, from Capture Summer when it comes out very soon. What you just said has made think about the wonder and beauty that is all around us when we look for it. These devices that we’ve got on us at all times, in many cases at least, can be fantastic tools to just reconnect with our creativity, to spark ideas, to view the city or view our neighbourhood through different lens, to see things differently. That’s something that is really, really inspiring to me. I’m really, really excited to see how the course unfolds. Tell me what wonder means to you.
I think the classical definition of wonder is a kind of awe and there might be a little bit of fear in it actually too. When we’re in full wonder, looking at Niagara Falls, but I’ve never been there, but I just imagine, there’s this power. It’s almost like a little bit of fear response of this magical thing in nature that’s larger than life. There’s that kind. There’s also just seeing the magic of the world and it’s often in natural world that we’re noticing this. The wonder could be noticing the tiny beads of dew on the grass in the morning that look like glitter the way that they’re shining in the sun and that could be a moment of wonder. Or you’re putting your garbage out at night and you glanced up at the sky and you’re like, “Look how many stars there are. I forgot to look at the stars.” I think it’s also about presence and just waking up to what’s already there. There’s so much to appreciate and be in a state of wonder if we’re really awake and paying attention.
That’s really beautiful and a great, great reminder for us all to just look for the light and look for the beauty that’s all around us. We’re often missing it because in our daily lives, we’re in a hurry to get from here to there.
In fact, one of my favourite things to do is to walk a normal path that I always walk every day that’s totally boring; my walk from here to the little supermarket ten minutes up the street and just go very ordinary residential walk. The challenge I love is I hold my camera, which reminds me to look and then I ask myself, “What is beautiful or interesting that I haven’t noticed before?” Just carrying that question keeps me alert and awake and I always find something really beautiful.
It’s a very mindful thing too, isn’t it? Because in that moment, you’re fully engaged with seeing what is there to be discovered.
Yeah, exactly. Last night, I was doing that and I noticed there was this lime tree that had all this ordinary sized limes and there was one gigantic lime that was as big as a child’s head probably. I don’t know that I would have noticed it had I not been looking for something a little bit magical.
I know you’re a big fan of the magic hour. Will you tell our listeners what that is and confirm my suspicion that it’s your favourite time of day. Is it your favourite time of day?
It is my favourite time of day. I try to book all of my portrait sessions for that particular hour. It’s the hour before sunset when the light is much lower in the sky, the shadows are long, and there’s this warm diffused light going on. Everything looks magical in this light. A fire hydrant can look, “Oh my God, it’s so pretty,” or definitely somebody’s face. When you have, say, noon light and it’s over head, there are these hard shadows that show up on people’s faces that are not very flattering. In this dreamy magic hour light, it’s very soft and people just look prettier. It’s amazing.
It’s true. I should know because you shot my latest website photos and we had such a blast on our shoot. The photographs are spectacular. The light was great. The company was great. Definitely, definitely, I recommend that anyone listening go and check out your photography portfolio and get in touch with you.
It didn’t hurt that we were in Bali even when there were rice fields right outside.
It did not hurt, that’s true. It was pretty spectacular and hot for a photoshoot. The results were good. One question I’ve got for you is about whether you’ve ever been really burned out and what happened, if you’re happy to share that with us.
I think I have been burned out in the last year. Because I do such great work and I love what I do, it felt like, “What’s happening to me?” This was last Fall mostly. I just felt very lost. I just didn’t have any desire to do much of anything. I was like, “I don’t know what kind of course I want to teach, nothing’s really exciting me. I don’t know if I want to share on social media anymore.” I want to turn everything off. It’s just really in this place that scared me a little bit because it went on for way too long.
I really had to ask myself some interesting questions. One of the questions I asked myself was, “If your job just didn’t exist anymore, just evaporated, and you had to come up with a new thing to do that had nothing to do with this old thing, what would it be?” I love this as a thought experiment. I thought, “Maybe I would make raw chocolate and I’d become a raw chocolatier or maybe I would go to school for this other thing.” It was so fun actually to just imagine and I was like, “I always wanted to be a rabbi but that requires way too much studying. I think I’m too old for that.” It was just so fun to be at that alternate universe fantasy, “Who would I be if I wasn’t doing this?” I think we get very attached to our identity, in what we do, and we wrap our value around that. I think these periods of so-called burnout can be very interesting if we’re bringing curiosity to that conversation, “What if you just completely scrap it and did something new, then what?”
I’m trying to think if I’ve had any special insights or answers in that time other than I had energy for two things. There were two things that were going to make me zero money upfront and maybe money one day. The first one was I just want to start a podcast. I just want to talk to lovely people and be curious about them and connect and bring a really intimate conversation to people about something that matters to me. I did do that and it’s been amazing. I love my podcast. I’m still like, “Why am I doing this podcast? It’s really costing me money. It’s not really making me money at the moment.” But I love it and I trust that it’s taking me exactly where I need to go.
The other thing was there’s a part of me that just wants to hole up, not be visible on social media, not be visible as a teacher, but just make art and paint and make things in the quiet of my house. That part of me wanted some air-time, so I created a book proposal that’s out right now. It’s actually being presented to a publisher this week and we can all cross our fingers about that. I indulge some parts of myself that weren’t getting the attention that they wanted. I just try to shake it up and be curious about what I wanted to come through next.
I’ve just learned that I need to trust my intuition. I need to trust where my energy is actually moving. Where does my curiosity actually live? What do I really want to be learning? What do I really want to be creating? Not live in this world of, “This is what’s practical. This is a good opportunity.” Whenever I hear myself say to myself, “This is a really good opportunity, Andrea,” that means that I don’t want to do it. It’s not in my flow and it’s never ended up being a good opportunity. It’s usually ended being a waste of time.
You’re a mom of two young boys. You’re running your business. You’ve got lots of commitments and a busy life. How do you carve out moments of stillness in your day and reflection?
I’m lucky because I work for myself. I work from home. I can do a meditation or a walk, pretty much at any point during my day. I often do need those breaks from the screen and I’ll do that. I also started doing this thing called The Miracle Morning, where I would wake up an hour before I would normally wake up and very intentionally use that hour for self-care practices like some yoga, journaling, maybe reading something inspiring or meditating, whatever I wanted just to cobble together in that hour all the lovely things that I want to do more of but I don’t seem to find the time. I recommend that. It’s a little sanctuary of time that you build into your day.
I noticed being a mom of these two little dudes, if I got up at 5:00 and did that hour before they woke up, I was so much more resourced and happy and could welcome them into a space that was totally different in the morning. They would walk into the living room where I’d lit candles, I had said my little prayers or have done my meditation, maybe had music playing, the heat was on and they walk in, “What’s happened in here?” It would change the energy of our morning. There was less rushing and less shouting and all that stuff.
Andrea, you’ve just mentioned there’s some really fantastic self-care experiments people might want to play with for both themselves and for their families. How does resting make you feel and doing nothing?
I’m not very good at that. I even have a hard time just doing a sitting meditation without some voice guiding me or doing some yoga or stretching in my stillness. I’m not particularly good at that. I guess what I do cultivate is what Martha Beck calls wordlessness. In this really wonderful book that I’ve been reading of hers, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, she talks about Wayfinders. They’re the people like us in the community where we move intuitively, we are probably creative, we are often healers. There’s this type and she calls them the Wayfinders. We need to practice wordlessness. That could show up as meditation or it could show up as being on a run, drawing or painting. There’s a lot of ways to get to wordlessness. I just don’t get there by resting or sitting. I need to be a little bit more active.
When I ask people that question, everyone has discomfort around it I think. Especially today in this really busy fast world, it feels almost like an indulgence to sit and do nothing and allow our thoughts to roam. It can be a frightening thing also.
I think I did feel a little resistance when you said it. Napping, for example, has always felt a little bit like a failure to me. I judge myself if I need to nap, which I know is silly. I think I get a little depressed once I wake up from the nap. I feel a little disoriented and a little depressed. I’m not sure what that’s about. I’m a huge fan of going to those wordless places. I think for me the super highway to wordlessness is through creative practices. In particular, painting, I think that was my first love and biggest creative love actually.
How often do you make time in your week for that passion?
It’s probably once a week right now. I just pull out watercolours. I just move paint around and maybe I’ll just watercolour a thank you card for a friend or something like that. It’s not something I’m trying to do perfectly. It’s really about process.
One of the big things that I think you taught me last year on your fantastic, Waking up in Bali retreat with Juna Mustad, was letting go of the attachment to the art being good and just enjoying the experience of dabbing ink and watercolour and splotches and daubs and strokes here and there everywhere on the page was such an enjoyable thing. I had been a creative kid. I loved arts and crafts activities. Somewhere along the line, it fell by the wayside because I was not good enough. It was such a revelation and a pleasure to rediscover the enjoyment of making art even though I don’t do anything with it and often it’s not anything beautiful to look at, but I really love taking the ink, putting my big fat paintbrush in that ink pot and just seeing the shapes that it makes on this wet page. It’s a wonderful thing, I love it.
I’m so glad. That makes me so happy. I really resent the fact that culturally we’ve done that to people. We’ve shut down their creativity and made them think that being an artist is something special that other people don’t have. It’s actually our birthright to create. We’re makers. We make things. We all have different media that we’re most attracted to, it may not be painting for you, but we all create and we all make things. I love being part of one of the voices of, “This can be fun and easy. Let’s make this really accessible.”
I grew up with my parents and they owned art galleries. They were in fancy art world and I just freaking hated it because I was like, “I don’t care if this art is interesting or if this art is important.” I want art to be beautiful. I didn’t go to art school because I heard that they didn’t like beauty in art. There’s a way that beautiful wasn’t interesting or important. Once I caught wind of, “There’s this other thing going on in art school that’s very academic.” It is not my style. I think there’s a place for that. It works for a lot of people but for me it was like, “No. This has to be very democratic.” I just want everyone to be able to enjoy it. It’s part of living a beautiful life.
You said it so perfectly. I couldn’t agree more. Andrea, the last question that I ask all of our guests is: What are you curious about right now and why?
I think I’m curious about self-love right now because I had some big breakthroughs around it during my time in Bali this year. It’s the second time I’ve been to Bali and taught this workshop that you were part of last year, like you mentioned. Bali is one of those magical mystical places. Bali can smack you down and be like, “We want you to have some healing around this particular thing,” and you’re like, “What? No, thank you. This feels very uncomfortable.” That’s what happened to me for the last couple of years.
It was a lot about body shame. A lot about my self-worth being wrapped up in being perfect, which was a very old wound for me. I was like, “I thought I handled this? Why does this keep coming up when I go to Bali?” I think it’s because there’s deeper layers of that that need healing. Even saying self-love makes me cringe a little bit. I have resistance to it.
I made some major headway during my time there. I’ve been really holding this question for myself, “What does self-love look like and feel like? How does this inform everything that I do?” For example, one of the messages that I got when I was in Bali, we did this beautiful visualisation with Juna. I met one of my guides. It was this incredible experience and it was totally out there. He talked to me. He showed me things and told me things. I just cried the whole time. It’s really amazing.
One of the things that I heard from my higher self or spirit, whatever you want to say, is ground in love. Ground in love before everything you do. Ground in love before you pick up your kids. Ground in love before you get on a coaching call, everything. I’ve been doing that. I do this specific meditation for that. I light sage and I wave it around my house and I say blessings.
My question is, “How does grounding in love impact the choices that I make as far as what I do for my work, what class I teach or if I write a book, do a podcast?” The big question that I was describing about my confusion around my work in the last year and, “How does it impact how much money I make?” All of it. I’m really curious about, “What if I just grounded in love and came from that place as much as possible? How does that affect everything in my life?” That’s the question I’m holding right now.
What a fantastic question, really powerful answers are on their way to you, I believe.
I hope so. I’ll keep you posted.
Keep me posted and come back and tell us if there are any juicy revelations that you think would help others in the world, any of those guys and gals who are listening at home right now. Come back and tell us what you discover. Andrea, it’s been such a treat to have you on the Urban Curiosity podcast today. Where can people find out more about your work and your photography?
Thank you so much. I look forward to hearing from you again soon.