As winter started to wind down, I thought we really had it made as a family. We’d avoided a lot of the nasty sicknesses, and as a house with immune deficiencies, that’s a big deal. I didn’t go to the hospital. Then, we slipped into the neverending sickness. Thankfully, none of them were especially dangerous, but it did force me into much needed rest and much time cuddled up on the couch, wrapped in blankets.

Between bugs, I accompanied my parents on an amusing outing to buy underwear. I ventured off alone for a few minutes and saw this book propped up on a display. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney. I snapped a photo, and upon returning home requested it from the library. The next day, I popped in and picked it up.

In the Company of Women book cover

Reading about these various creative women and entrepreneurs has been really fascinating. As you might expect from a collection of creative individuals, the answers to their interviews are varied and rather scattered across the board. The two big threads I’ve seen I really agree with.

The favorite thing people love about their workspaces is the natural light. If you haven’t been into the office to see it, the light is the first thing people mention when they come in (besides my wall-sized crazy purple desk!). I have two full walls of just windows.

The thing people want more of is real connection with people through relationships.

When I saw this particular quote that was answering the question, “What does success mean to you?” it resonated with me and my business.

photograph of quote in book
“As long as my work continues to foster joy, celebration, community, generosity, and simplicity, I’m on the road to success.” -Dana Tanamachi

How many times have you seen me use these exact words? These are all really important values to me. These things aren’t a trend, aren’t going to leave, and regardless of direction of my creative endeavors, these qualities are marks of what I hope my life and my work is. This is what I want to leave behind.

This has led me to reflect a bit on myself as a creative maker, artist, and entrepreneur.

Wedding and portrait photographer Nikki Dukes with lemon slices over her eyes

A few years ago, I felt like God was helping me understand the value of my work as an artist. Sometimes it’s easy to negate the value of my work because it’s not a necessity. But God made the world through both a balance of creativity and order. I think that is one reason why I love photography. It is consistently both artistic and technical, orderly.

Sometimes the urge to create is so strong in me, I must do it right away. This is often messy, disorderly, and lacks much finesse. This is when my family endures a strange dinner or snack because I was reckless in the kitchen. I often veer off the course of recipes. Sometimes I’ve painted sloppy messes. Redecorated a chair with scraps from the basement. I’ve hacked a plant to scraps in the name of pruning. Or sidewalk-chalked alongside my children, deep in the dusty process.

Sometimes the urge for order is so strong in me, I must have it right away. Counters empty. Toys hidden, each piece with its set. Dust disappearing. Schedules organized. Routines established. And inbox emptied of all it can be.

But when they are together, it’s beautiful. The creativity sparks and maintains joy. It takes my breath away. It wasn’t just the messy process I needed, it was the combination that made something worth keeping.

The dinner gets eaten. The chalk gets washed away. The chair got covered in food stains (and frankly was kind of a neon shade) and it’s sitting on Craigslist right now. Construction paper paintings are recycled.

But the photographs taken with purpose. The crafted words written. The visions brought to life. Those get to stay, at least for a season. Those have both creativity and order, and hopefully reflect well the Creator.

Often at photography conferences we’re encouraged to do personal projects and allow ourselves creative freedom, not just creating what our clients want to have (or think they want to have). This year, I set a goal for myself that wasn’t just personal photography. I don’t want to keep only that part of my life fresh and creatively invigorated. I’d rather allow the whole creative being that I’ve been made to be to flourish through creative endeavors of many kinds.

My goal is that by the end of the year I have completed 5 projects that express my heart in mediums I enjoy: photography, sun printing, poetry, writing, and painting.

“As long as my work continues to foster joy, celebration, community, generosity, and simplicity, I’m on the road to success.” -Dana Tanamachi

"Live a Quiet Life, Work With Your Hands" chalkboard-style graphic

close-up photograph of hand holding, near a table with scones and tea, highlighting the woman's engagement ring

Over a glass of lemonade, I tell each couple who sits with me in my sunny office the two reasons why I encourage couples to have an engagement session. Having portraits taken during this special season prior to marriage is both practical and a gift.

Exterior shot of The London Tea Room, through the window a couple is laughing

Painted heart with crown on a textured wall near Tower Grove Park

First of all, it gives the couple an opportunity to get to know me with a camera and what that experience is like. It can be daunting to have someone following you all day with a camera on your wedding day. This gives us a chance to grow more comfortable together so you can better enjoy your wedding day. And on the flip side, I get to know you better and how you photograph. I learn things like if you blink a lot, or if you giggle with the attention. I can learn that you need a lot of direction or you naturally fall into poses. These things help your wedding day go more smoothly since we’ve had a low-stress chance to practice together.

Tea, cream, and biscuits at a tea shop in St. Louis

Aerial view of a biscuit with jam and butter on a white plate

Secondly, I get to photograph you in a special part of your life, with special details that you’ll want to look back upon with fondness. I help you plan a date or location that holds meaning to you and helps tell your story. Some couples have recreated first dates or favorites. Some check things off their bucket list. And others aim for something more simple.

A man, sitting at a table in a cafe, smiles at his fiancee

Well-dressed man smirks while his partner leans closely during a date

I’ve accompanied people on boat rides, watched people make brownies and throw popcorn, and taken others for hikes. I love the variety of the couples I photograph!

African American woman smiles at her fiancée

Couple poses for indoor engagement portrait in Tower Grove Park area of South Saint Louis

I love the chance to make sure that during this busy time of planning a big event and planning a future, often with finding a new apartment or house and sometimes a big move, you get at least one awesome date. You can look into each other’s eyes, laugh, and hold hands. You get to connect over something that is uniquely you, and — BONUS! — then you get record of it for keeps.

Black couple conversing over tea and biscuits in front of a window

Curls falling into the face of a young woman laughing

Recently, just a week before their wedding, when things could have felt busy and overwhelming, Justin and Rachel said “Pause!” and enjoyed breakfast together. Rachel had just moved back to town and the wedding was just about to happen, but I joined them at The London Tea Room where they enjoyed tea and breakfast. They said that cream was so good it was worth the splurge!

White teapot with cream pitcher

A woman pours tea for her fiancé

Black and white photograph of a woman holding a tea cup, wearing an engagement ring

Couple embracing through a window with reflection of urban scene