Meet Nick Onken, a photographer, podcast host, and creative entrepreneur devoted to inspiring the world to create their moments and create their life.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?
Above all else, I’m a photographer and that’s my medium of choice. I was born in Seattle and always encouraged to pursue the arts, which first translated into Graphic Design, which I did for 5 years before discovering photography. After convincing a non-profit design client of mine to split the expenses on a trip to Africa, my love of photography was born, or at least, first developed. Once I learned that people would pay me to travel the world I couldn’t look back.
One of my first big jobs was shooting for Nike. I then connected with Adam Braun, the founder of Pencils of Promise, which opened a gateway of philanthropy and an awesome network. The creative journey has been an up and down one. It’s a lot of hard work to make a living as an artist, and I feel grateful to do so. People pay me good money to travel the world and meet amazing people.
Walk us through a day in your life.
Every day is different, but after working out, maybe at Overthrow Boxing Club, and enjoying a protein shake, I get my morning work started. This ranges from tackling emails, to prepping shoots, to doing outreach and designing things. Some days it’s doing a podcast episode or interview or small shoot. In any case, I try to keep dedicate my time to making art and developing relationships. Around 6, I’m ready to get out, and typically go to dinner with friends or to a fun event.
What do you love most about photography? What’s your favorite assignment to date?
I love crafting art within one frame, telling a story by capturing a moment in time. I love photographing people from all walks of life because that gives everybody something to relate to. Thus far, the most meaningful assignment has been Pencils of Promise, a charity that builds schools for kids in Laos, Guatemala, and Ghana. Creating work that helps make an impact in the world is special. Being on the ground in those countries with the kids in the schools is priceless. It also inspired me to start my own fundraiser to build a school.
Talk to us about your podcast, what inspired you to start this?
I started my podcast for a few reasons, but one of the main ones was to get my self out of my comfort zone by being heard by a lot of people as I’ve always had a hard time with public speaking. My friend, Lewis Howes, interviewed me on his podcast, which gave me the idea to start my own. The podcast is about creative entrepreneurship and the lifestyle that surrounds that. It’s about my philosophy of living—life out of the pillars of creativity, health & wellness, personal growth, relationships, philanthropy, and entrepreneurship. I’ve interviewed people like Usher, Scooter Braun, Donna Karan, Daniel Arsham and many more to distill their secrets to living a successfully creative life. You can check it out here.
As an artist, how do you define success? How have you and your work grown?
Success to me is defined as living a balanced pie chart of the life pillars I mentioned above. Rich in relationships, creativity, health, and financial security to be able to create life you want. I don’t see being a billionaire as success, even though it would be nice. Money is a vehicle to do things and live the experiences we want.
My photography has matured and evolved from shooting trending young talent in a lifestyle context to portraiture of people with deeper stories, people who are making an impact in the world. My work has also expanded into interviewing and painting in addition to photography.
Being a creative entrepreneur can be a hard and lonely path at times. How do you realize your full creative potential?
Great question. Luckily, I have people that come into the office, so it’s not always lonely. I try to get out and do meetings that propel the business forward as much as possible, but I’m a pretty social human, and sometimes a bit more than I should be in terms of getting work done. The ups and downs make it easy to fall into a rut or a funk, so I’ve implemented a lot of practices such as meditation, exercise, healthy eating, and other things to help navigate those waters. I’ve actually done a podcast on this. At the end of the day, it’s constantly putting one foot forward and creating something every day even if it sucks.
What advice would you give other photographers and artist who are getting their feet wet?Make better work and show more people! It all boils down to that. You have to love it for the craft and for because you love creating because making a living as an artist isn’t easy. The mental game is the biggest game you’ll play in this career.
All photos courtesy of Nick Onken.