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“What We Do” – Chase Jarvis Brand Reel

Yes! We just wrapped up my newest brand reel – What We Do. The goal with the video was to invoke more than just the work — because we know it’s the work plus the people, AND the ideas that matter.

This one represents the last 18 months or so of jobs and personal work in more than 12 countries around the world. From sea to sky, great angles to Great White sharks, it’s a fun, quick little edit that I hope gives you a sense of What We Do. It also features a bunch of my favorite moments at my studio including cameos from chasejarvisLIVE with the likes of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Adrian Grenier, The Lumineers and Sir Mix-a-Lot, Tim Ferriss and others.

As part of my creative community, I hope you dig it. Share or shout if you do… (here’s link to your twitter account if it helps). And I humbly hope you have as much fun digesting it as we did making it.

[Music from my homies– the superfly, inimitable gentlemen of Fresh Espresso – You Can Have It.]

Action Sports Heroes as Art [Red Bull Illume Photo Contest]

chasejarvis_REdbulIllumeGeorge Karbus

Photographer: George Karbus / Athlete: Katerina Hamsikova / Location: White Sea, Arctic Circle, Russian Federation (© George Karbus/Red Bull Illume)

The popular Red Bull Illume photo contest is in its third year, and it is attracting deep talent. Photographers and their athlete subjects have combined forces to create some mind blowing imagery. Below are 13 shots that I just had to share. It’s hard to decide what’s more impressive in a many of these: the photo or the athletic performance. Early on in my career my work was almost exclusively dedicated to the world of action and adventure sports and as a result I had the pleasure of working with Red Bull on many photo shoots with many of the best athletes of the day. The folks at Red Bull have always been integral in helping showcase some of the most exciting and creative action sports photography on the planet as art.

This from Red Bull’s website:
“The Image Quest 2013 is the 3rd edition of the competition after 2007 and 2010. From tens of thousands of entries, 50 images in ten categories are selected by international judges and photo editors from renowned publications.

The overall winner will receive the new Leica S camera, while category winners will each receive a Leica X2. Other prizes will include broncolor’s new Move, their portable flash, and the latest strap system from Sun-Sniper.

At the end of August, the top 50 Red Bull Illume finalists will be invited to attend a grand ceremony in the city of Hong Kong where the winners will be unveiled. Once the winners have been announced these 50 finalist images then travel around the world as a unique and stand-alone photo exhibition. To showcase the illumination, the exhibitions always open at night-time only.”

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Photographer: Anthony Acosta / Athlete: Geoff Rowley / Location: Tehachapi, California (© Anthony Acosta/Red Bull Illume)

ChaseJarvis_TravisRice_ScottSerfas

Photographer: Scott Serfas / Athlete: Travis Rice / Location: Tordrillo Mountains, Alaska (© Scott Serfas/Red Bull Illume)

ChaseJarvis_RedBullIllume_Zakary Noyle

Photographer: Zakary Noyle / Athlete: Gabriel Medina / Location: Oahu, Hawaii (© Zakary Noyle/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: Alexandre Buisse / Athlete: Mich Kemeter / Location: Taft Point, Yosemite, California (© Alexandre Buisse/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: Alexandre Buisse / Athlete: Mich Kemeter / Location: Taft Point, Yosemite, California (© Alexandre Buisse/Red Bull Illume)

ChaseJarvis_RedBullIllume_Jeroen Nieuwhuis

Photographer: Jeroen Nieuwhuis / Athlete: Erik Journee / Location: Denekamp, Netherlands (© Jeroen Nieuwhuis/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: Morgan Maassen / Athletes: Jake Marshall, Taylor Clark, Frankie Harrer, Colt Ward, Thelen Whorrell, Nolan Rapoza, Dryden Brown / Location: Tavarua, Fiji (© Morgan Maassen/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: Jody MacDonald / Athlete: Gavin McClurg / Location: Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique (© Jody MacDonald/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: Dimitrios Kontizas / Athletes: Hubert Schober, Kedley Oliveti / Location: Zakynthos, Greece (© Dimitrios Kontizas/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: David Carlier / Athlete: Gary Edgeworth / Location: Lower Mesa Falls, Idaho (© David Carlier/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: Christian Pondella / Athlete: Will Gadd, Tim Emmett / Location: Helmcken Falls, Wells Grey Provincial Park, British Columbia (© Christian Pondella/Red Bull Illume)

Photographer: Benjamin Ginsberg / Athlete: Bobby Okvist / Location: The Wedge, Newport Beach, California (© Benjamin Ginsberg/Red Bull Illume)

Commitment to Creativity — Dreamland with Bob Burnquist is Some Next Level Shit

I had a chance to photograph Bob in Brazil couple years ago for Oakley and we couldn’t pull it together

Let’s just say this video galvanizes my regret.

This is some next level shit, Bob.. The intro is humble. The middle is stunning. And gotta say from experience that the helicopter stuff after the 6 min mark is supremely impressive.

This is what it means to be committed.

You?

The Big Dogs Are Wobbling Like Drunkards [Time for Us Small Dogs to Sharpen Our Knives]

If you’re looking for your next creative breakthrough or if you’re in a job you hate and looking to make a change, this video from Dan Wieden of legendary Wieden + Kennedy agency in Portland is a worthy 15 min of your time. The intro is slow (a Portland love fest…) so skip in a few min if you’re watching the clock.

Here’s what’s in this video that I like:

– dan is a really likeable guy
– dan’s speech echoes my belief that creativity is the new literacy
– dan eloquently voices the idea that constraints & failures lead to creativity
– small is beautiful
– mistakes are the building blocks of knowledge

Take a look at some of the agency’s work over the years.

NEW Update from GoPro. Shoot, edit, and go social with photos + videos

Apparently as a followup to my well-timed and very handy video I put out this week (check it), my favorite camera manufacturer today announced the launch of a new app. It’s getting really slick my friendz. While you could control the Hero3 cameras with earlier version of the app (view – start -stop – etc) the newest version of the app allows you the same ability to control the camera, but you can now remotely view the images and videos on the camera and–here’s the kicker — edit + share them from the app for iphone, android, and windows phones.

ChaseJarvis_GoPro
From today’s TechCrunch article: “The app is simple enough. It connects to GoPro cams through a WiFi signal, giving owners a large set of available tools. The cameras can be viewed and controlled from a smartphone or tablet, for one –this includes adjusting the dozens of available settings on each little guy. Owners can also view, manage and download content from the camera to their phone. From there, it can be shared like any other media. Upload the action to Geocities or FriendFeed like you would any other picture.”

This update illustrates why I opened this post with “my favorite camera manufacturer”. It’s not because they are overwhelmingly the best. Sure I love them. Not sure I could make my living with just a GoPro, but truth be told it’s really what they stand for and where they’re going that make me love them the most. Like I told the New York Times a while back — it’s 5 years past due when Nikon and Canon should have had this sort of reliable technology built in small packages to allow creative photographers to shoot, edit, and share their work in new and novel ways.

Dear Canon and Nikon,
I know I’ve been telling you this stuff for 5+ years. I’m sure other pros and consultants and bean-counters have too. So why is this so hard?

ASIDE: given that you are reading this post, you’ll probably want to know how I pack my GoPro’s to travel everywhere I go. Here’s a quick post and a short vid.

AND here’s their cutsy little promo vid illustrating the emotional bits…

How to Shoot [photograph] Fireworks

Happy Birthday USA!
Quick and Dirty Tips for Shooting Fireworks:

[If you want an in-depth step by step check out the video above from creativeLIVE]

1. Use a Tripod
You’ll want to make sure your camera is stable and secure. Check out some support systems here.

2. Remote Release
Invest in a remote release device. You can also use the timer shutter release function – but a remote release is the best option.

3. ISO
Shoot a low ISO. I recommend 100.

4. Focal Length
Timing is key with fireworks. You’re going to have to anticipate where the action is happening before it happens. This can be tricky if you’re shooting with a longer focal length and trying to stay tight. A wider focal length makes this easier, but experiment a bit. Zoom in and see if you get lucky. If you shoot wide, you can always go back and crop for the desired effect as well.

5. Aperture
Fireworks are BRIGHT. You dont need a really fast lens and the general consensus is that somewhere between f/8 to f/16 will work.

6. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is going to be the most important aspect of your fireworks capture. A long exposure is what you’re going to want to go for. Shooting “bulb” with a remote release is the best technique. Hit the shutter as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished. This could be a few seconds. At the same time,
don’t keep your shutter open too long. Remember: Fireworks are BRIGHT. Just because its dark doesnt mean that you wont completely blow out your photos if you keep the shutter open too long.

7. Framing
Get to your location a bit early. What’s in the foreground and background? Try to figure our where the fireworks are being set up and where they will end up in they sky. You will have to aim before the fireworks go off. If you are really on it – ask the folks coordinating the display for some advance information. This will be a big help. Consider your lens selection before the show start. Are you going to shoot horizontal or vertical? Dont forget how you’ve framed it up because when you’re in the dark, you might spend a lot of time looking directly at the fireworks display rather than through the viewfinder.

8. “No flash photography”
A flash will do nothing but crush your photos and leave you with smoke…turn it off or leave it at home.

Have a great Fourth of July and share some of these photos in the comments section for Thursday morning!

Super Camera — Arri Alexa is the Pro’s Best Friend [plus how I shot the Samsung video ]

You may recall a few weeks back I released a video of the behind-the-scenes action for a cool gig I was asked to create for Samsung around their Series 9 Color Premium monitors. It was a dream job in a lot of ways. For one, I got to literally photograph a re-creation of my dreams; for two, on jobs like that I get the opportunity to rub elbows with the best crew —cinematographers, editors, filmers, sound technicians, art directors, stylists, producers and beyond — PLUS the best gear too.

When I laid out the earlier blog post detailing everything about my Samsung shoot I took a question from a guy named “Ben” off the ol’ innernets:

“Great cinematic look in your Samsung behind-the-scenes vid, Chase. What camera did you shoot it with?”

So I thought I would take this opportunity to a)highlight our primary cine camera on this shoot– the Arri Alexa; b)introduce my fav DP, Chris Bell, who shot that camera on my Samsung job (and a lot of my other stuff); and c) refresh that Samsung video in case you missed it the first go round.

So in reverse order, here’s the Samsung vid shot primarily with the Arri Alexa (below). And then – in addition to our video review (above) I asked him to share some more knowledge & opinion and he breaks it down quite nicely… all of which you’ll find after the Samsung vid here. Thanks Chris!

First of all, Chris, thanks for slaying it for me on the Samsung gig. Second, thanks for the quick interview – really appreciate the time discussing the Arri Alexa. When did you first pick up the Arri Alexa and what were you using previously that it replaced?

The Alexa replaced a lot of cameras. My background is as a film shooter (16-35 mm). And we had various cameras to get a particular look. Panasonic had various cameras. The HBX200. There were cameras like the Canon 5D and even the Red One. I had a shop full of cameras and each was there to satisfy a specific client’s need. Alexa came along and, in a way, became the swiss army knife of cameras. It replaced a lot of those cameras. Everyone [clients] wanted the big chip look. Everyone wanted the shallow depth of field look. For one reason or another the cameras that I mentioned could not satisfy all parts of the workflow in a consistent way. Red was a raw camera – which is nice, but it needs tons of post production attention. That’s a challenge. And no one wanted to shoot tape anymore.

arri alexa chase jarvis blogThe Alexa came along and answered a lot of producers, editors and cinematographers desires – all at the same time. It does a great job emulating film…and film is still state of the art in many ways. It is still the benchmark that cinematographers use to compare against. The Alexa was really the first to mimic the dyanamic range of film. It appeals to so many because it has a look clients love – that filmic “look”.

Prior to the Alexa someone in the workflow — the cinematographer, the editor or the producer, had to compromise on something. These other cameras, while amazing in some way, had very limtited range. They had lots of compression issues and color source issues. They had very challenging workflow issues. Then the Alexa comes along and all of a sudden – the cinematographer is happy, the producer and editor are happy. That it shoots files that are ready to edit right out of the camera –and require no conversion–makes workflow a snap.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 2And it’s super simple in lots of other ways too…It has great time coding for instance. These are little things. But on big productions – on the big budget work that demands reliability, it is the little things that add up for the professional. And ultimately, this camera can be relied upon. It’s been used on major Hollywood productions like Skyfall and Life of Pi. It’s increasingly found on the set for TV commercials worldwide. It’s being used for wildlife docs. For me, I work on a lot of different types of productions – from commercials to sport, to big brands like Microsoft and Samsung–and beyond, and it always does me right. In short, I think that Arri has done a magnificent job listening to its users when developing the product.

What is your favorite piece of completed work (–ahem besides our Samsung video–) using the Alexa, that you could show off with?
Here are two:
12th Ave Iron Film:
National TV Spot for Acer

What’s the best thing about the Alexa from a usage standpoint?
The best thing is that its a camera that makes a beautiful image without compromise – for anyone involved with the workflow. It’s a swiss army knife that works on any type job. ESPN shooters are buying Alexa. The networks love it because the files are immediately edit-ready. It’s SO easy to use. And it has become a standard. I figured I’d get a three year usage (digital has a short shelf life), but I’ll get at least five years out of this camera. Arri has these very long product cycles. That’s very important. It means I can go on a shoot and no matter who’s shooting – we are all shooting the same quality image. This is super important from the business standpoint. We need to have time to recoup investment – b/c its not a cheap camera [$90,000]. My criticism of digital is that it all turns over too fast. It’s getting silly. Every six months there is a new “must have” camera.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 3How does the average joe get to play with one of these bad boys? Or do they…
The average Joe could go to the Arri website – there is a simulator. They update it every time there is a software update. You can learn the menu system online. If you want to see it in person – call local rental houses and ask if there is a good time to come in and look at the camera and play with it. They might be up for that to get a new customer. Some rental houses have workshops too. You could go to the trade shows. There are lots of ways to do it without dropping the $90,000 cold turkey. Most rental houses are open to educating people.

What’s coming next in this class of camera in your opinion? How can it get even better?

Moore’s law is always in effect. Digital imaging tech is moving very quickly – there is going to be a day where there is a base camera with ISO 5000 and it will shoot 5000fps and it will cost $5000. On your very high end – everyone is going to continue to attempt to emulate the benchmark: motion film. Dynamic range, how they handle highlights, lights and dark and how accurately they are able to reproduce color space. These are the Model T’s of digital cameras. There is a big revolution coming with color and contrast. We’re getting away from a lot of the compromise. Heavy compression, limited colorspace, limited dynamic range. Manufacturers are hearing it and producing new cameras. But I really wish they would slow down a bit and not reinvent the wheel every nine months. Having a standard is important too. It’s rather dizzying.

Thanks Chris! More details on the Arri Alexa here via the Arri Group.

Let’s Have Dinner & Talk About Death [Kickstarter of the Week]

I didn’t talk about it much, but over the past month I lost two close family members in 48 hours. My grandmother passed away on Mother’s Day and my wife Kate’s grandmother passed away 2 days later. Neither was expected. As you might imagine, it was a crushing week (and following month) for our family. And now not a day goes by that I don’t think about them. More importantly, I’ve had a real chance to reflect on their lives — for which I wouldn’t change a thing — AND their deaths…for which I would change a lot.

In the USA in particular — but in many of the countries I’m familiar with — we don’t do well with death. We don’t talk about it enough, we don’t like to think about it and, consequently, as a culture we don’t do well with arguably the most important part of our lives…the final chapter. Did you know that 75% of people say that they would prefer to die at home, but only 25% end up doing so? Did you know that end of life expense is the number one reason for bankruptcy in the US? This is not dignity. This is terrible.

And that is the point of this kickstarter campaign by my dear friend Michael Hebb. We’ve done loads of collaborations together, like SongsForEatingAndDrinking, where we’ve hosted the likes of Macklemore and Pearl Jam guys and many others. I know the power of conversation around a meal – and have experienced the power of action rising up from the table. If anyone can start the movement to talk about death that will change our current approach, it’s Hebb. Michael, plus the University of Washington’s Masters of Communication Learning program, an interactive firm CIVILIZATION, Engage with Grace and some of the nation’s leading health and wellness organizations are working to fully launch their www.deathoverdinner.org, a project which will hope to jumpstart the national dialogue on how we End our Lives.

I encourage you all to join me in supporting it here. Much thanks and love.

What I’ve Learned in The Trenches– MY 5 Step Guide to Street + Snapshot Photography

A couple years ago, you may recall, during a month-long artist-in-residency at the Ace Hotel in NYC I took the opportunity to celebrate the snapshot — quintessential street photography — and I called the exhibit Dasein: Invitation to Hang. [‘Dasein’ is a German word used by philosophers to refer to raw human experience or the fundamental mode of “being there.” I found that when applied to photography, the snapshot was the ultimate photographic expression of us simply, authentically being in the world / caught on film. ] The exhibit featured an ever-changing wall of snapshots, both my own and selections chosen from nearly 15,000 submissions across the globe.

At the core of the work what I found was my own sense of street photography – regardless of whether it was on the street, on a train, or backstage with the band. Point being that street photograhy – the art of the snapshot if you will – is about the moment. It’s about choosing to take the photograph. It’s about mood, and –quite often–it is about talking to strangers.

I was reflecting on that project this morning and wanted to share a bullet point list of things I learned that could be easily applied to anyone’s work.

chase jarvis dasein1. The Law vs Respect. When it comes to street photography, there is the law, and then there is etiquette. The laws permit us to take pictures of anyone in a public space [for which thousands of paparazzi thank the gods every day], even taking pictures of private property from a public space is fair game. But let’s face it. Do you really want to be ‘that guy’? Etiquette is an entirely different matter. And note that while it’s ok to take the photo – USING or displaying the photo later is an entirely different manner protected by laws, permissions, likeness, etc. But that’s another post.

2. Discrete but not creepy. While some photographers live by the “If you see a good picture, you take it” rule. I do not because I’ve decided that my role in life is to evoke the messages and emotions and thoughts that I want to evoke – not to simply document. This isn’t for everyone, but here’s how it translates into my work… I am discrete but not creepy. I often connect with my subjects. Your style will vary. Aside from the rare times I shoot candidly, my general mode of being is two fold. I either (a) quietly and quickly snap the photo; or (b) I say “hey, can I take your picture?!” with the camera pressed to my face OR simply a wave to get someone’s attention with the camera snugged up to my face. I click the shutter when they look up.

3. It’s all about the aftermath. Nine times outta ten when using the above techniques, my snapshot subjects either don’t know I’ve shot a photo or don’t care. But here’s the critical point IMHO – if they do care, or even if they lock on to you, take proactive action. Introduce yourself and say thank you. It’s almost entirely about the interaction AFTER you shoot the photo. And this is where non experienced photographers blow it. Sure it takes vision to get the shot – no questions there. But in keeping the shot and keeping your integrity as an artist operating in a grey space…. It’s 10% being before 80% after…. People will either warm up or blow you off and it’s your job to read them. How do you get good at reading this? Experience. You will quickly be able to read if someone is aloof and doesn’t care that you’ve snapped their photo, or if you’ve ticked somebody off. Moreover, connecting with subjects after the fact is often an amazingly insightful part of the process. I’ve heard amazing stories, been inspired, been awakened, and felt more human after talking with unknown photo subjects on hundreds of occasions.

4. When things go south. Rarely, after engaging with someone in number 3 above, the unknowing subject will react negatively. In that case, cut your losses. I always prefer to be a good human than to be unpleasant. On just a handful of occasions in my entire career (I can think of 2 in this sitting…) has anyone asked me to delete a snapshot of them. In this case – despite it being my right to have ‘taken’ the photo (NOTE – ok to ‘take’ the photo in a public space but not ok to later USE or display the photo by law without proper permissions…), I have–during both those rare occasions–deleted it with a smile and a shrug as I showed it to them.

chase jarvis gasmask bong nyc dasein

5. Some recommended don’ts…
–I don’t photograph the homeless or downtrodden without their permission or even better only after a long conversation where it becomes clear that a photograph is on the up-and-up.
–I don’t photograph young kids in the street that I don’t know without first connecting (eyes, nod, hand wave, etc) with their parent or guardian. Just don’t do it. Otherwise, you’re creepy.
–Don’t try to use snapshots commercially. Ever. You will get caught and you will be breaking laws.
–Don’t take your gigantic camera on the streets. It will wreck your chances at getting good imagery. If a Dslr is all you have, take a small, short lens and that’s it. Even better, consider being discrete with a point and shoot – or my favorite – the new mirrorless camera platforms. There are lots of reviews and stories about those here on my blog. Feel free to search for them.

Above all, IMHO use common sense and common courtesy as your guide. Sure – get sneeky, get gangster, get ‘the shot’, but you can do it without being a nut job. Plenty of other photographers have done amazing projects in the streets that are in your face, against people’s will and without warrant. My suggestion? Leave that to somebody else and focus on the pictures that you want to make through respect and hard work. You’ll thank me later.

[Here are some of my favorites from my NYC project. Got a street photography tale to share? Sound off below. Success stories and disasters both welcomed. Will try to get to any questions if you’ve got em.]

[Here are some of my favorites from my NYC project. Got a street photography tale to share? Sound off below. Success stories and disasters both welcomed. Will try to get to any questions if you’ve got em.]

Falcon Chasing A Downhill Mountain Biker — Behind-the-Scenes on the Photoshoot That Captured It

Been shooting some freeride mountain biking lately and was poking around the web when I stumbled on this yesterday…behind the scenes on how this crew filmed a peregrine falcon chasing (and grabbing at) professional downhill mountain biker Gee Atherton over bumps, jumps and at insane speeds.

Love the The Earth Unplugged crew’s approach and patience, plus the ingenuity that thy used in a)the concept; and b)the filming techiques. #muchrespect

I’m not a gear guy, but wondering if you caught the equipment they were using? None of this would have been possible just 5 years ago, or it certainly would have cost 50x what this probably cost to make today.

Here’s the finished product:

Indie Filmers + Photogs Continue to Step Up — Cascada Kayak Film Is Worth Your Attention

The banal and boring quickly get lost as noise among the infinite video and photo uploads that occur across the interwebs on the daily. To rise above and be seen, you need to step your shit up, big time.

The peeps over at NRS Films and Forge are on a serious streak of producing killer, award-winning films of their paddling adventures. “Is this a vacation?” they ask themselves? Watch the video and tell me this is anything but passion-pursuit disguised as hard work. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’ll spend the day in the rainy jungle getting eaten alive by a blood-thirsty insect population and subjecting myself to countless viruses — all for the hell of it.” You’ve got to have a damn good reason to put yourself in that place. For Erik Boomer, Tyler Bradt, Galen Volckhausen and the rest of these dudes, the reason is pretty simple.

I spent an hour last night devouring this stuff… Here’s some more of their work to complement:

From Forge:
Cold
WildWater

From NRS Films
Of Souls + Water
Walk on Water

TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE. Building a Creative Career + Life with Renowned Author Chris Guillebeau on #cjLIVE [REWATCH]]

Are you ready to have that lightbulb moment? Yes? Then stop reading and hit PLAY on the vid above.

My guest in last week’s cjLIVE was none other than the globe trotting, “self employed for life” hacker Chris Guillebeau. In addition to being all those things plus the founder of the World Domination Summit (most amazing name ever for a creative conference…) he is a best-selling author of The $100 Startup as well as The Art of Non-Comformity. This show lit up the internet with responses to Chris’s explanation of the ACTUAL TACTICS that he has employed to help him achieve amazing success. Watch the above to hear:

_Why “Follow your passion,” sounds great – but that anything worth doing takes sacrifices.
_How to evaluate your life and quit your day job – and still feed your family.
_How Chris figured out how to travel to 193 countries by age 35. He is the first ever to accomplish this. [a few dignitaries have done it, but nobody of Chris’ ripe age has ever pulled it off].
_This is all closer than you really think possible – once you get over the things that scare you

Over the years, through his remarkable books and friendship, Chris has given me an insane amount of clarity and some hefty doses of inspiration. Take your life back.

In addition to traveling and writing, Chris founded and organizes the World Domination Summit, an annual gathering of creatives held in Portland Oregon that runs the gamut from intellectual meet-ups and keynote speakers to hammock races and bollywood dancing. Sorry, ALL 3000 TICKETS are completely sold out, but that what happens when there are enough people who share your passions. (Note: I’m honored to be one of the keynote speakers for 2013.)

Here is Chris at last year’s WDS introducing a panel to discuss The $100 Startup and their own microbusinesses.

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How To Reboot, Refresh & Refocus Your Creativity — The Fine Art of the Sabbatical

Photo by Chase Jarvis.

Many of us have …ahem…fantasies about shutting down the laptop and closing up the studio for an extended period to go try something different. Pick up horseback riding. Learn a new language. Fly a plane. We all know our creative souls need it, but making the move is frightening. A couple months ago my writer friend Ben dropped in to share his thoughts on strategic renewal and scheduling breaks throughout the work day. His post about doing more by doing less was a hit with many of you. Well he’s back, and he’s talking about breaks again. Big breaks. Weeks, months, even…um…a year. Read on to find out how a sabbatical may help you keep that love feeling fresh. Take it away, Ben.

Thanks, Chase.

My second love is soccer. I play it, I coach it and I follow it. (And for those of you who didn’t know it, Chase went to college on a soccer scholarship and loves the game too…) As a US citizen, I am a passionate supporter of the US National Team, which is currently in the middle of qualifications for the 2014 World Cup. Anyone who gives a damn about US soccer will know the name Landon Donovan. Easily one of our nation’s best players ever, Landon announced last December that he was taking a 4-month break from the sport following the title-winning Championship match for his MLS club team, the LA Galaxy.

In the middle of World Cup Qualifiers and at the top of his game, our nation’s best player decides to take a sabbatical. “What the F?” said half the US soccer nation, instantly polarized. On the one side were the haters who called the act the epitome of selfishness and narcism. On the other, less-populated side were those who got it. Dude needed a break. He’s burnt out. He’s been the poster boy of the entire sport in the States for as long as he’s been representing the country on the field. Let him surf. Or snorkel. Or learn tennis. Or whatever it is he needs to do.

I thought about this for another hot minute. My Father is a professor at a University. I learned the meaning of the word “passion” by watching him devote his life to his students and to his discipline. But I don’t remember anyone calling him “passionless” for taking a sabbatical. So given Donovan’s moves, learning from my Dad, and some conversation with Chase, I’ve asked the “when do you know you need a break?” question. This is not the definitive list, but it’s a start to some answers:

_All your work starts to look the same
_You dread getting out of bed in the morning [not just once in a while, but routinely]
_You haven’t had an original, “eureka”-moment idea in weeks
_You spend a good portion of your waking day fantasizing about travel, learning a new skill or craft, or marking a bucket list item off the list
_You truthfully answer “nothing much” to the frequently-asked question “what have you been up to lately?”
_You feel like your passion for something is waning
_The things in your routine that used to be easy and fun seem hard and annoying

But don’t feel like you’re alone in these feelings or “getting soft”. History is full of amazing creatives who take time off… Up high on the list are:

Daniel Day-Lewis. Master of the Sabbatical. Photo from Wikipedia.

Daniel Day-Lewis — arguable the greatest actor of our time — routinely takes breaks for as long as 5 years between his [award-winning] roles. In fact, it’s been rumored that he is planning another 5 year break to focus on family and learning “rural skills” like stonemasonry. Director Terrence Malick famously took a 20-year sabbatical between the critically-acclaimed “Badlands” (1978) and the thought-provoking “Thin Red Line” (1998).

Alternatively, check out this TED talk below by renowned NYC designer Stefan Sagmeister, who closes his studio doors once every seven years to take a full year extended break from work.

And then there are some companies that support this…. Greeting card giant Hallmark — which employs a staff of over 700 writers, illustrators and designers — owns a 180,000 square foot “innovation facility” where staff can pursue myriad artistic endeavors, from stitching and woodworking to ceramics and leather tooling. Hallmark’s renewal program sends employees to the innovation facility for up to four months at a time to learn a new skill or craft and get a much needed break from the computer screen. The company also owns a farmhouse retreat on 172 acres, which it uses for similar employee getaway purposes. This sort of forced creative renewal keeps workers inspired and prevents burn-out and creative drought.

Not all employers are as cool as Hallmark. And we’re not all university professors who get a year off every 7. Some of you are wondering how you can afford to take extended time off from your work. If you are currently ‘stuck’ in a corporate job and looking for a way to take a strategic job pause without losing your job, take a look at YourSabbatical.com. The company helps employees put together convincing proposals to negotiate a career break with the bosses. If you’re short on ideas for ways to spend your sabbatical, the site put together a top 100 list. Some of the gems include:

_Circuit Iceland by car
_Tackle Kilimanjaro [Chase would attest to this being a having climbed Kili in January]
_Travel without an itinerary
_Trap and track puma in Argentina’s pampas grass
_Raft the Zambezi with your dad
…and you get the picture…

The company draws an important distinction between a vacation and a sabbatical. The former, for example, is often not goal-oriented and pays little mind to enhancing one’s life or career. The sabbatical, on the other hand, is designed to restore creative juices, enable the attainment of personal goals and achieve greater career success.

It’s a daunting step to take. Unknowns and what-ifs abound. Great security probably lays with the status quo. But status quo is creeping death to the creative. So take a moment and ask yourself if you’re creative side would benefit from a planned sabbatical. Then start planning.

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