I adore Vivienne McMaster.
Besides being an incredibly talented photographer and writer, she also has one of the best hearts you’ll ever find. She is brave and real and tells the truth about her life. She is full of color + joy. She is pure pleasure.
We first met when she moved to the Bay Area several summers ago. She answered my ad to share an art studio and I adored her from the moment I met her. I still miss our lovely photo walks and studio chats. Lucky for me, we swirl in the same circles and I get to see her a couple times a year.
It is an honor to feature her today as a creative superhero!
What is your superpower?
One of my superpowers is the ability to spread whimsy and wonder.
For the most part, we tend to need to keep our whimsy contained. I wish we all felt wildly free to skip down a sidewalk or just stop and stare at a ray of light in awe for 5 minutes, but we have busy lives and often need to be much more ‘serious’ than we might want to.
I feel pretty grateful that in my work I get to invite people to join in creative adventures with me and to bring on the whimsy. It isn’t wimpy to be whimsical. It is a beautiful innate way of being that kids have and my superpower is helping people see that they can access that wonder anytime, at any age.
What are your obsessions? and how do they make their way into your creative work?
My Nia dance class. Each week I show up in a room full of strangers that absolutely feel like community. We all let our guards down and let our inner wild-and-free dancer selves out. It completely seeps into my creative work in the way I view community and especially the place I go to both when I turn the camera on myself or towards someone else. Embodying what Nia taught me, to be present in my body and that beautiful place of freedom I can find in both that dance class and taking self-portraits. Where I am totally in control of the experience, but simply knowing I am in control allows me to relax into the experience and just show up.
Creative Awakenings. Helping people discover that they are a photographer or an artist. I truly love working with people who don’t yet believe they are creative and taking them on a playful photo adventure (be it online or in person). I love seeing when people are proud of themselves and that absolutely drives my creative work.
Rainbows. This has become a new obsession as they keep on appearing. We’re knee deep in the rainy grey of winter here in Vancouver right now and it is so easy to forget the wonders of rain. This past weekend I was walking with a friend in the rain and all of a sudden we turned a corner and there was not only a rainbow but it was also a very brief break in the clouds that brought in the most beautiful golden light that was contrasting with the blues of the unlit street. It was like turning the corner into a magical world, into wonderland. It was a beautiful reminder that whimsy awaits us just around the corner and that absolutely makes its way into my photo adventures. Photography itself feels like a tool to keep open to wonder!
What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?
This has been a big lesson along the way. There are parts of my identity and self that I keep protected, keep offline. For a long time I felt like I had to share everything to ‘be myself’ but I’ve learned that it isn’t about spilling all the beans, its about letting your self be seen in your work. For me that ended up being about letting my playful silly side be more seen.
Ride the Wave
Being a creative entrepreneur is a lot of showing up for yourself, for showing up in fear and vulnerability and it can be a mighty tender experience. You’ve got to stick with the lows as well as the highs. The lows will make your business even stronger as long as you don’t close up and run away when they happen.
Small is indeed Beautiful
I’ve learned that growing my business at the pace it is going is perfect for me. That having smaller class sizes allows me to really connect with the participants, which is so important to me. I’ve learned that my business is growing at exactly the right pace and while we all tend to want to something to ‘take off’ and be really successful, there is so much that is beautiful about a truly small business.
Create a Support Network
One of the best things I learned was that you don’t have to go it alone. It makes all the difference to find one or two people who have a business that are different but who are at a similar stage in their creative business journey.
You’ve got to show up for yourself
It hasn’t been a strength of mine in the past to really show up for myself, so in a way this creative path is a total gift but a total challenge. Its not completely a place of ease. Parts of them are bliss, like taking photos, portraits or self-portraits, creating classes and teaching them. But the act of putting it out there, of promoting them, of making it all happen don’t come easily to me. I’ve got to show up in my own life and make it happen!
Tell us about a time when you had to practice courage.
The story of how I found photography is a good example of this.
A few years ago I was robbed twice in one week and had to come face to face with the person breaking in. While I was unharmed physically, I felt my sense of safety shattered to pieces. It actually wasn’t in the robbery where I felt like I had to practice courage, but in the aftermath of it. Every day after that I had to show up feeling more vulnerable than I had ever felt before. I had to sit with my fear.
I did that daily, letting it do what it needed to do be that looking out the window 50 times before bed or double checking the lock repetitively. I let these obsessive fears have a place in my life for a while. I felt like I needed to rebuild that feeling of safety, even if it took looking out the window 20 times a night to make sure there was no one there.
Slowly the wall of self-protection was rebuilt and the obsessive need to guard my safety relaxed until I didn’t need to peek out the window or check the locks any more. I’ve never had to show up in my own fear and deepest vulnerability like that, day after day.
As soon as I felt as though I made it through to the other side and I began to heal, I felt something incredible happen. I picked up a camera and discovered my love for photography. Having no interest in it what so ever before then, it really felt like it was a gift from the universe for getting through it and not running away from it.
What are a few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?
That I live in a truly tiny one room apartment (like, really tiny).
That I almost always do a silly dance when I take a self-portrait
That I have a neon pink velour cape in my closet (okay, maybe they would)
That I’m rather obsessed with eating Kale almost daily
That I’m an introverted Leo
That I love running
What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?
Really early in my education (like grade 2) I started to believe that I wasn’t smart. I was totally traumatized when kindergarten art and group work turned to tests, quizzes, desks in rows and ‘right answers’. I just never felt like I could play the game and that my brain just didn’t work the same way other people’s did. I really did believe that for most of my education. People would tell me I was wise but I didn’t believe I was smart.
But I don’t believe that anymore. In fact it makes a lot more sense with the work I do now as I always was smart just not within ways that were expected in traditional education.
Not believing I was academically smart has somehow lead me to a creative line of work where I do believe in myself and am committed to helping other people see their own creative wisdom.
What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.
One of my favourite mantra is ‘Playfulness is an anti-dote to fear’. That the best way to get past fear is to diffuse it with some playfulness. I use that trick on myself all the time.
The other day I was totally being attacked by my own self-doubt gremlins. Feeling like I didn’t have something unique to say and I was quite honestly getting tired of hearing that negativity in my head and the way it made me felt. So I took charge and attacked the gremlins with two playful techniques. I put on my ipod with some music that chills me out and grabbed my camera and went for a walk. It truly didn’t take much more than walking one block before I felt so much better. There is some growing I want to do in my creative work and it is indeed scary, so I like to take my own advice when the fear gremlins attack and get playful, make a silly face into the camera. Scare ‘em away by making myself laugh. Fear and laughter can’t exist together, can they!
Vivienne McMaster is a photographer with a big heart and a spirit of playfulness. She is part whimsical, part urban, and definitely quirky. She teaches a wide variety of photography and video based e-courses and believes that self-portraiture and creative exploration can save our lives. She shares colorful visual stories over at her website.