Feature Article 2018

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Inspiration and the Midwest: Being Creative in The Age of Social Media

Being a creative person in the world spans from many horizons. Some people find themselves with a childlike sense of wonder throughout their entire lives, others believe they were put here to be an artist. Whether that be a writer, a painter, a musician, a photographer, a videographer, or any other form of creative expression, these are all different forms of art.

Portage Magazine accepts hundreds of works of poetry and prose every year, but this year we decided to incorporate a new style of art. While we are a literary magazine, a platform for showcasing poets and writers alike, creative expression comes in many other forms; art comes in many other forms. In an effort to bring new and exciting work to Portage Magazine, it is my honor to feature three new creators from three different genres: Sam Theis, a musician, Drew Desollar, a videographer, and Jack Kloft, a photographer. All three of these individuals use their muses to create music that listeners can lose themselves in, captivating videos, and stunning photos. Theis, Desollar, and Kloft all still fit one of the main criteria that Portage Magazine specifies as a ‘must’ to be able to submit work. All three of them are from the Midwest, and all three use their surroundings and everyday life experiences to create their work, much like many of the writers and poets that publish work in Portage.

I had the pleasure of talking with all three of these guys, asking them questions about their work and what it’s like to be a creator in the Midwest. The following is a collection of dialogue that ensued.

So, tell me what inspired you to be a creator?

Sam (Musician): I think the first time I knew I wanted to be involved with music was when I was in elementary school. I went to a Catholic school and during church, there was always a guitarist or pianist playing. I was always interested in what they were doing, and I asked the guitarist to start teaching me to play. So, in fourth grade, I picked up a guitar and haven’t stopped playing and producing music since.

Drew (Videographer): I got inspired to be a videographer when I found YouTube. I had always loved making videos when I was younger but never actually started editing them until I was 15 and my mom won a GoPro at some banquet. She ended up giving it to me, so I could try to make some videos of us on the river, but I ended up falling in love with filmmaking again soon after. I bought my second GoPro before a trip and started watching tutorials on editing and filmmaking. Then, I found Instagrammers who did it for a living. After two years of messing around with the GoPro, I decided this is what I want to do with my life and started to pursue it as a career and got a job with a production company based out of Arizona.

Jack (Photographer): I became a photographer because while growing up I always found cameras mind-boggling. I could never understand the process of a photograph, so I began to shoot at the age of 15.

PM: Awesome, it’s definitely cool that you’ve all found inspiration from such different places. I think back in the day you probably didn’t think that you’d want to dedicate your life to these things, but I’m sure you’re not mad now that that’s how it turned out.

Anyways, how long have you been in the Midwest and where are you all from?

Sam: I have lived in the Midwest all 25 years of my life. I am originally from Dubuque, Iowa and have been living in Iowa City, Iowa for the last five years.

Drew: I’m originally from Arizona but moved to Chicago when I was nine and then Iowa when I was 12. So, I’ve been here for about 10 years.

Jack: I was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa. I am currently studying design and photography at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.

That leads me to my next question: Do you feel that the Midwest has provided a lot of inspiration for your work? If not, how do you deal with the struggle of being in the Midwest and trying to draw inspiration from other places?

Sam: I think it absolutely has. Seeing live music is what inspires me the most and Iowa City has a great music scene right now. The Midwest, in general, has a lot of great musical things going on right now, you just have to find them. Obviously, cities like Chicago and the Twin Cities are always pumping out live shows, but as far as smaller Midwest cities go, there’s still a lot going on. At the same time, I’m always being inspired by other music that’s not Midwest-based, but I don’t think the location I’m in has been a setback. I’ve mostly been producing rap style beats lately and I feel like I could be in any location and still do the same thing.

Drew: In general, I don’t find the Midwest very inspiring for filmmaking but living in Dubuque was an exception. There are actually a lot of scenic spots and once you figure out how to utilize them it gets easier to create using what it has to offer. I mainly draw my inspiration from travel accounts and was motivated even further when I took a school trip to Greece and fell in love with the world and capturing it. It’s hard to stay motivated living in the Midwest but I keep thinking of the future and take every opportunity I have to leave it and create somewhere new.

Jack: I can’t speak for the Midwest in general, but I will describe my residency here in Dubuque as decent. There are obviously much more beautiful places that I think I would draw more inspiration from, but there is beauty everywhere, and sometimes the simplistic aspects around me influence my photography. Another way I draw inspiration is through social media. Following extremely talented photographers and designers always gives me something to reach for.

PM: I think the toughest thing with the Internet these days is seeing people traveling to some of the most unique places on the planet or doing something that you wish you could be doing. But, one thing I personally have taken from all of this is that you need to remember why you decided to do what you’re doing. We so easily get lost in all the mumbo jumbo of social media, but at the end of the day you do your art for you, not for social media.

Okay, one last question for you guys. What advice do you have for young people aspiring to pursue similar career paths as you?

Sam: I’ve met a lot of musicians that feel that living in the Midwest is a setback because they’re not in Nashville or LA or a big music city. That type of mindset needs to be deleted. I think it’s important for upcoming musicians to make as many musical friends/connections as possible in the area that they reside, and to be content in the area in which they live. Also, utilizing the Internet is important. It’s a huge outlet for getting your music out there and meeting other musicians/producers and seeking advice or feedback from others.

Drew: My advice for videographers from the Midwest is to push the boundaries of what you can capture and make the most out of the beauty it has to offer. Take any chance you have to leave the Midwest to experience life outside of it to fuel your passion even further. The world is bigger than the farms that surround us.

Jack: If I could give a piece of advice to aspiring photographers in the Midwest, I would say creative ideas and concepts don’t always have to come from your surrounding geography. There are always ways to execute your emotion through photography no matter where you are.

PM: All very good answers. Thanks, guys, for sitting down with me. I can’t wait to see more of all of your work.


There is a quote by Confucius that goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The biggest takeaway from this should be that whether you are in the Midwest or one of the Seven Wonders of the World, there is always something that one can draw inspiration from. Whether your art is writing, painting, music, photography, videography, or any other form of creative expression, always remember that something as simple as the noise the wind makes as it flies by your window can be your inspiration.

Once again, thank you to Sam, Drew, and Jack. We have featured some of their work below. Feel free to explore and let us know what you think!


Sam Theis plays the guitar for a song called Far Away. Listen to it here.


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Jack Kloft does amazing portrait photography. You can see more of his work featured in our 2018 edition of Portage Magazine here.


Watch a beautiful video by Drew Desollar below.