Making something from nothing

Senior Natalie Ulm creates a website for her art and discusses creative process


Lily Riopelle

Senior Natalie Ulm talks about website, creative processes and more

Michelle Tutor, Managing Editor

Vines curl around corners of walls that dawn 70s rock and Picasso posters galore; the four corners of senior Natalie Ulm’s room is where most of her ideas turn to words and images. This is aided by a cup of black coffee and her sleeping cat, Raisin, that both sit at her side. Due to school being online, Ulm said she found time to create and publish her website called something real., an amalgamation of a few of her art pieces. 

“This whole quarantine is probably good for writing because I can sit here all day and think about what things mean, and that’s both good and bad,” Ulm said. “I’m poking fun at myself [with the headline ‘poetry, photography, and a lifestyle that probably shouldn’t be emulated’] with a little bit of seriousness behind it. Here’s what I want you to see, but don’t copy it. It’s not fun. Creativity is very innate but I’m really lucky to have gone to the elementary, middle and high schools that I did which had amazing English, music and art teachers that always did a little extra work on me.”

Ulm has used a variety of mediums to channel her creativity throughout the years, including photography, songwriting, singing, poetry and creating art using charcoal, watercolor and pen sketches.  

“I remember always sort of seeing things as something to make something else out of,” Ulm said. If you have that sort of brain that wants everything to mean something, that will kind of come out in anything you do, as long as you choose to do it. So even when I’m just taking senior photos it does make the elements of that come a lot more naturally just because I want them to.” 

In the past, Ulm has submitted pieces to exhibitions and competitions alike. She has won FSPA poetry and photography contests and had two photography pieces displayed in exhibitions at the Tampa Museum of Art. 

I already had the photo [the second time] so half of it was blue and half was red [tint] showing a young African American boy with a stoic face, the prompt was about what people see wrong in America and I had to write a short essay about the piece,” Ulm said. I wrote about what it must be like to be the picture of something that’s not who you are in regards to how America treats the young black man as a menace, but it’s something you don’t want to be but also something you do want to be because people seem to believe it anyway. So no, I’m not black, no I have no idea what it’s like to face systematic anything, but I do know what it’s like to feel like what people think you are is false, so I kind of took that way personally. 

Ulm takes part in a multistep, extensive process when writing poetry and taking photos. She said when writing, she uses a sentence and branches that off into a concept described in stanzas; for photography, she’ll “see something little as [she] drive[s] by somewhere and think about it for a couple days, then figure it’d be cool if [she] did this element or that with it.” 

It’s taking something that most people wouldn’t care about, noticing it, and building your own thing out of it, making something from nothing,” Ulm said. “I also take really, really big concepts and apply them to something little or I can take really little concepts such as posting pictures and wanting and taking attention and make that into a whole societal thing. If you have the kind of weird brain that’s going to do that, you’ll do it unintentionally.” 

Ulm considers editing and polishing her word choices to be her favorite moment while creating.  

“Usually after I write something, to check the flow of it, because I’m really I’m not trained, I read it out loud to take out extra little words that don’t need to be there,” Ulm said. “There’s always a time where I’m starting to read it really fast, it’s usually the sentence that I started with [to branch out]. Whenever I write, there is sort of a turning sentence where I start applying the beginning to the end and there’s that switch of words that make people consider their own life while they read.” 

As a source of inspiration, Ulm said she looked to her childhood and teen years as well as wrongdoings both large and small she noticed around her. 

“I think it’s mostly stuff I look at and I go ‘that’s not fair,’” Ulm said. That’s why I mostly write about myself, because obviously I see that in myself all the time, maybe everybody does but, in the world, and in anybody too. That thing [poetry piece] I wrote about Preslie [Price], I wrote that because somebody was treating her in a way that was wrong to me. So that’s how it starts usually. I do a lot of duality; I think I tend to notice injustice. I’ve had to learn so many times that something really can be good and bad and so like in things where I do think ‘this is wrong’, I try to find something good and [vice versa]. But it’s still very sad whenever something can be the wrong way. I think the complicated way, having the kind of brain that goes ‘why, why?’ all the time.” 

Recently, Ulm tried her hand once more in songwriting. 

“I used to try to write songs when I was little, but I never really tried again, and people always told me to because I sing too,” Ulm said. I sent the words to Katie [Vincent] and I asked if she could think of some piano chords that match and she changed the melody a little and sent it back with the piano and herself singing it and it was awesome. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who’s trying to do things that they don’t already do, a lot of people just  stick with what they do know or  what they’re comfortable with and then I try it and people go ‘what can’t you do?’ And I want to say, ‘you can do it too’.”  

 On Instagram, Ulm uploaded a body positivity post that referenced her weight loss. According to Ulm, if people would share things “they love and things that they’re good at, it would be so much more fun to look at Instagram.” 

“It doesn’t have to be art. When guys post cool football videos and stuff, that is so much more fun to look at, it’s so much easier to celebrate because that’s what photos and videos are supposed to be shared for. When I posted that big paragraph about my body or whatever, never once was did I say, ‘I feel so much better now’ because I don’t, that would be a lie. I was saying I felt this [negativity stemmed] because of you guys [society] and girls were commenting ‘yes yes yes,’ I saw that as them thinking ‘me too.’ It is frustrating to know [girls feel that and don’t say it]. It’s frustrating to know that people think these things too and they just were waiting for someone to say it because I’m just waiting for someone to say it too, but nobody thought to.” 

Ulm decided to attend USF at the Saint Petersburg campus to pursue a degree in Literature with a minor in Political Science. 

“I’m excited but as anxious as I am, I tell myself it’s going to be OK,” Ulm said. “I have to do something with meaning, not as in I have to do something with words, but whatever you don’t mean to love is what you are really good [inadvertently]. I would like to work for a magazine or newspaper or myself. I want to live in a lot of different places, I want to see a lot of things. I’ll even probably take photos for a while. For at least the next four years, I want to learn about books. That’s what I want because everything I’ve known in the short time is the place where you get the most stuff and that’s what books are. If you love books, you love meaning and you love stories and that’s what I want this to be. I want to keep learning about finding things in things that other people don’t see. That’s what I want to do in life. I almost thought about minoring in Philosophy but [decided on] Political Science.” 

Ulm, a singer in chorus all throughout high school and first year member in the Pink Panthers acapella group, credited her involvement in Pink Panthers for helping her see past perfectionism.   

“I will probably try again [to write a song], it’s just harder because it’s more formulative and it means verses, chorus, bridge, so it is newer, but I would like to do that,” Ulm said. “I love music and being in a group because it was people coming together to do the same thing. I have such a tendency to either be excelling out of the park or not at all, no middle. I started that website, it’s not hard to make, you can just go back and change things as you’re making it but  I deleted it and started over 20 something times because I [thought] have to do it right. It’s the most toxic form of perfectionism because if you really have a perfection issue you can’t even do anything. I had to learn that from acapella, you have to finish the song even when it sounds bad, you can’t just declare something wrong, keep working on it every single day when it still doesn’t sound right and keep going. That’s what people like Katie Vincent and Artemis Xenick know because of taking piano and that’s just how they are as people. I throw the towel in, it’s bad, doom button bad. I’ve really learned not to do that because everything that we make ends up being very beautiful, but I can’t even picture it until it’s done.” 

 Ulm said she considered moving past fixation a leap of faith.  

“It’s a lot of trusting that the things that have always been will always be and the things that people didn’t give you are the things that can’t get taken away you know, I know I’m doing my part right or I know I’m doing my part wrong, I’m still I’m still doing it and so is everybody else no matter what,” Ulm said. “It’s just how I keep on saying little stuff matters, it also doesn’t, it is to the extent that it does situationally. Acapellas taught me that nothing is 100% good or bad. I’ve gotten a lot better about it because those people are hard workers for that.” 

Ulm perceives the factor that relates readers with her works is youth.  

“I feel like my [works] is really easy for people to understand, at least the stuff I put on Instagram and on the blog,” Ulm said.  It’s easy for people to understand because we’re all the same age, that’s the thing where it’s coming from. I think it’s a cry of youth a little bit, not ‘I hate being a kid’ but no one’s listenin. And I think that is a feeling so strong. We all just do feel small a little bit but that’s the thing people are really drawn to is relatability and that’s what they relate to, especially girls. I think the things I create have enough originality to be mine, but enough relatability to affect other people too.”