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Archive for October, 2013

Happy Katie

I am so proud of my dear friend and frequent collaborator Katie Johnson, I could just squeeze her to pieces!

Last night, the new short film from David LaChapelle was released, shot for Swedish sock makers Happy Socks.  The film stars Katie (and her real-life mother!) as a prostitute overcome with the desire to dance when she puts her Happy Socks on.  It’s a strange, wonderful little film, a bit campy and over-the-top, which I love 🙂

Katie is so brave and beautiful, and such a lovely dancer, as you can see for yourself.  As most David LaChapelle things, this isn’t exactly SFW, but it is well worth a watch!  Click the photo below to be taken where you can watch the whole thing!

 

 

So much love to my sweet Katie!  I just hope she’ll be able to make time in her new busy, famous schedule to come play with me still 🙂

Cote of Arms - Speaking of prostitutes, this is from the time when we put on vintage lingerie and pretended to be poor, broke, soiled doves from Boardwalk Empire days.

Cote of Arms – Speaking of prostitutes, this is from the time when we put on vintage lingerie and pretended to be poor, broke, soiled doves from Boardwalk Empire days.

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AN OPEN LETTER TO JACK HANNA

Dear Mr. Hanna,

The great empathy I have toward animals today I owe, in part, to you.

I grew up watching your animal shows.  They delighted and educated me, giving me insights into wondrous creatures I would not have access to otherwise.  I believe you deeply and sincerely care about all wildlife and would never knowingly support animal cruelty in any form.

So, seeing you in interview after interview defending SeaWorld in light of the revelations in CNN’s recent documentary BLACKFISH both boggles my mind and breaks my heart.

You have done so much in support of conservation and animal rights…advocating for humane conditions for factory animals, championing the idea that wild animals should be left wild and just generally bringing people a better understanding of the animal world…so I am at an utter loss to explain how you can justify and defend SeaWorld’s tactics and practices.

The orca Tilikum languishes alone every day and night in a tank equivalent to the size of a bathtub to you.  The victim of terrible abuse, he bobs motionless, having retreated as far back into his mind as he can, as that is the only option he has.

Tilikum Languishing, photo by  Colleen Gorman, via The Orca Project .  Click on the photo to read about her documentation of Tilikum’s miserable existence.

You know enough about animals — and humans, for that matter — to read this body language.  He is miserable.  And his actions which forced his solitary confinement are not only understandable, they are the direct result of the unconscionable practices of SeaWorld.

How can you defend SeaWorld when you know it began its collection of orcas by physically ripping calves away from their screaming mothers?  Mothers who could only watch the nightmare unfold before them, powerless to stop it.

How do you justify this kidnapping and cruelty for the sole purpose of building an amusement park?  Especially when you KNOW orca whale pods are matriarchal and that, in the wild, the males never leave their mothers.

These are such emotionally complex animals.  Study after study shows they demonstrate not only the use of language, but actual sentience.  You cannot reasonably expect such an intelligent, social animal to thrive in forced captivity away from its natural family structure.  And why should he have to?  For profit?

Any human enduring decades of similar physical and emotional torture would not be well-adjusted.  So it is no surprise Tilikum reacted as he did to his repeated abuse.  Given his complete isolation now, unenriched without so much as one other companion, human interaction or even a single toy, his life can only be one endless, meaningless misery.

You said in a recent interview with CNN that your motto is “touch the heart to teach the mind.”  And you said that is what SeaWorld does.  But that isn’t true.  Organizations like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds do a huge amount of touching hearts and teaching minds without kidnapping a single wild animal and forcing it to perform for our amusement.

You also mentioned that animals which are “out of sight are out of mind.”  That is true.  And that is where animal sanctuaries come in.  True sanctuaries — places for animals too injured to live in the wild, born in captivity, or otherwise unsuited for life in the wild — are invaluable, and indeed do “touch the heart to teach the mind,” while allowing animals to maintain their dignity and their sanity.

I recently visited a wolf sanctuary where all the wolves had been born in captivity.  They were given huge enclosures, always paired with several other wolves they got along with and lived very happy, enriched lives.  I have adored wolves since I was a young child.  Yet seeing them in person in this environment not only taught me new things about them, it gave me an even deeper appreciation for them… accomplished entirely without capturing any wild animals, destroying any families or forcing the animals to perform in any way.

In another part of your interview, you seemed unsure of what “happy” means in regards to whales at SeaWorld…as if “happy” is a mystical, unknowable state.  Well, if you cannot define “happy,” I can define “unhappy.”

Whales covered in scars from being attacked after they have been forced into cramped enclosures with strange whales from outside their families…they are unhappy.

Whales with flopping dorsal fins from an unbalanced diet…they are unhappy.

Whales who have their teeth drilled out by hand without any anesthetic…they are unhappy.

Whales forced to perform just to survive…they are unhappy.

“Whatever happy is,” you said.  If these whales were your children or grandchildren, would you be satisfied with your failure to define “happy?”

Perhaps the only happiness in this situation is that death finds SeaWorld’s whales much earlier than their wild counterparts.  Wild orcas can live for a hundred years.  SeaWorld’s whales die many, many decades sooner.  And given the conditions they must endure, I do not doubt they are glad to receive that early release.

Mr. Hanna, you know these whales are intelligent and emotional.  You know they are mistreated and miserable.  You know that they have never harmed a human in the wild.  And you know this is not conservation…it is capitalism.

Please restore my faith in you and all that you have taught me through the years.

Please do the right thing and stop defending this blatant, horrific abuse.

Sincerely,
Sarah Allegra

Orca

Orca – an old photo of mine, but one which suited this blog perfectly.

 

If you, dear reader, are as enraged and sorrowful as I am, here are some things you can do to help:

Watch Blackfish and spread the word about the atrocities being covered up by Sea World.

Sign the following petitions:

Ban Imprisonment of Orca Whales at SeaWorld

Release Tilikum To A Seapen

End the SeaWorld Captive Breeding Program

Urge Macy’s To Cancel SeaWorld Float In Thanksgiving Day Parade

Free Lolita, the Captive Whale

Marine Mammals Don’t Belong In Tanks

Dolphins Don’t Belong In Dolphinariums

Support the following organizations:

Life Force Foundation

Orca Network

Whale and Dolphin Conservation

World Society for the Protection of Animals

Voice of the Orcas

Blue Voice

Born Free

Thank you all for your help in righting these wrongs!

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Perhaps he had traveled.  Now she would, too…  He’d been missing too long for things to be wholly right.  Nothing knew of him in the yard.  Nothing in the house.  All of it forgetting, slowly, slowly, she could feel it, and one could only last so long separated from the essence.

A quest waited in those circumstances, always.

The traveler was almost there.  If this one knew nothing, she would ask the next.  And the next one.  One of them would know…. She stood broadside in the gravel and turned her head and asked her question.

Asked if it had seen her boy.  Her essence.  Her soul.

But if the traveler understood, it showed no sign.

I recently finished reading for the first time The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which my wonderful neighbor Donna gave me.  I loved it; it’s beautifully written, evocative, expertly tackles some tough story elements and leaves a mark on your heart.  I’m going to talk a bit more about the book, what I thought and how this self portrait fits in, but there will be some small spoilers.  Consider this your warning 🙂

* * * * *

Well now.  Let’s get started!  Edgar Sawtelle is set in a rural, mid-western small town.  The Sawtelles have been breeding dogs for generations, but instead of breeding for typical canine traits they breed for cognitive thought, creating what Edgar’s father likes to call the next dog.

There is a strong, intentional undercurrent of Hamlet woven into the story, which wouldn’t seem to mesh well with a tale about dog breeders, but it comes together beautifully.

The heart of the story is the relationship between Edgar and his closest dog, Almondine.  As a reader, you come to know and love her just as deeply as Edgar does.  Edgar is born mute, and thus often struggles communicating with people.  But with dogs, you don’t need words.  Almondine and Edgar understand each other perfectly.

When, as in Hamlet, Edgar is banished from his home for a time, circumstances prevent him from taking Almondine with him; a problem which bothers him much more than just being banished.  He longs to go back and get her, but he is prevented from it, and he misses her even more than his mother.  But Almondine is a Sawtelle dog.  She sets out to find Edgar herself.

After I’d finished the book and was reading reviews and commentaries online about it, I realized just how closely Edgar’s story mirrors Hamlet’s.  Each main character in Edgar Sawtelle is a counterpart to someone in Hamlet.  Edgar, of course, is Hamlet, his mother Trudy is queen Gertrude, his uncle Claude is Claudius, etc.  And I finally realized that Almondine is Ophelia.

Edgar and Almondine love each other deeply.  They are soulmates, not of a romantic kind, but simply two halves of one whole.  Of course, Ophelia is a tragic figure, and just like her Shakespearean counterpart, when she finally takes matters into her own hands (or paws) she dies because of it.

Yet all is not lost.  Edgar and Almondine reunite, and when she sees him for the first time she says, “You didn’t have to come back.  I would have found you.”  And she would have.  She would have walked to the ends of the earth to find him, and even death couldn’t keep her from accomplishing her goal.  Her strength and tenacity amaze me.  She would never, ever have stopped looking for him.  I find her and their relationship so beautiful and moving, I cried on more than one occasion.

I felt so moved by the characters, I knew I had to do something photographically with it or I’d just burst.  I wanted to portray Almondine, but also nod toward her Ophelia roots.  I chose a dress that has a timeless feel to it, and is a bit more practical; something I’d imagine a dog might choose if they suddenly found themselves a person.  I went minimal on makeup and adornments, except for the clutch of flowers, since there is such a strong tie between them and Ophelia.  I wanted the photo to be about Almondine’s love and strength, so I chose to take a close-up shot and really concentrate on expressing emotion.

The tear was something I’ve been wanting to try for a while.   At some point during one of my crafting sessions, I noticed that the little blogs of hot glue that form while it’s hot and waiting for you to use it looked quite a lot like tears, so then I tried intentionally making a few.  It ended up being quite quick and easy, and looked very natural, even in person.

The colors and editing choices I made are a very slight nod to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, one of my very favorite movies.  Yes, I know, it’s a terribly controversial film which people either loath or adore, but I am firmly in the adoration camp.  It also has themes of love transcending death, and as I edited, I kept seeing flashes of the film in my mind and hearing its music playing, so I finally just went that direction.  Once I did, I realized it fit perfectly and I should have trusted myself on that right away 🙂

A screen capture of Rachel Weisz in The Fountain.

There’s something really special about self portraits.  There’s a level of therapy and catharsis I have not found in any other form of art.  I highly recommend it 🙂  Click on the image to see it larger!

I Will Find You

I Will Find You

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To give credit where it’s due, I have to say that I originally got the idea to shoot my grandmother for DreamWorld from Ashley Lebedev’s beautiful portrait of her grandmother.  It immediately struck a chord with me, and I began brainstorming concepts for my grandmother right away.

My Gramma is a really cool lady. She’s led a fascinating life and has been a inspiration to me of being a strong, spiritual, independent, loving woman. She taught kindergarten for 30+ years (and is endlessly patient and cheerful, as you would expect), is well read and recently got her first Iphone. I have such fond memories growing up with her, and I am so glad to have her in my life! I wanted this photo to celebrate her, and all that she is to me… or at least all that I can cram into one photo 🙂

My grandfather tragically died quite suddenly of a heart attack when I was 17. He was the love of her life… and really, the love of everyone who he came into contact with. He was a truly remarkable man, and I will tell you more about him one day when I finally get the photo honoring his memory shot in a way that I’m satisfied with. But for now we can say that he was extraordinary, and everyone was shaken by his loss, most of all my grandmother. I can only imagine how incredibly difficult and painful that must have been.

But Gramma handled it with such grace and strength, I was deeply impressed, even at my young age. She delivered a celebratory and wonderful eulogy at his memorial which left everyone smiling through their tears. And since then, though we all miss him greatly, his memory has been kept alive in a spirit of appreciation and love.

After my grandfather’s death, Gramma became even more involved with her church and eventually became a deaconess! For many years she helped lead a support group for those who had lost loved ones, something she could draw on her own experiences of her path to healing and let others know that it was possible to get through, no matter how dark it looked at the time.

So when I sat down to figure out what I wanted her photo to be like, I tried to distill Gramma’s essence into a single image. I saw her as a gentle leader, always leading by example, indescribably warm and accepting, looking for the best in people, and of course someone who is quite spiritual as well. It seemed like a shepherdess would be the best way to portray all of these qualities. I especially wanted to play up her radiating light in a world that is often dark, so I began to think of ways I could show that as well. A crown of light, I eventually decided, would be just perfect.

So, now to build a crown of light. After Googling a lot, I discovered electroluminescent (EL) wire! It’s wire that comes in a wide range of sizes and colors and every bit of it glows. It’s not just a string of LEDs in a plastic tube, this stuff actually produces solid light all on its own with a handy little battery pack. Perfect! I ordered some and eagerly waited for it to arrive.

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I wanted to give it a little bit of an art nouveau flavor, since that’s one of my favorite visual styles.  I started building a light wire frame, enforcing it as I went.

DSC_0488

After I had the frame fairly sturdy, I started adding in nouveau-like swirls with the EL wire.  You can see one of my Mucha books under the crown for inspiration as I went along.

DSC_0493

Ok!  It was a little rough, but the general shape was there and it definitely glowed!

DSC_0495

At that point I strung along some very small, light, and also battery-powered LEDs, which I would encase in a small flower.  You can see one here covered with a flower while the rest are bare.

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The finished crown!  I knew I’d be doing some adjusting of it once I actually saw it on Gramma’s head, so I didn’t worry about making it 100% perfect right then, but the bones were all laid.  Now there was the problem of finding a lamb….

IMG_20130710_233542

Google again came to my rescue by connecting me with Terry from Task Farms.  Terry is just a sweetheart of a man.  He runs the farm just out of the pure pleasure of it and has lots of sheep and goats.  None of the animals end up on anyone’s dinner plate, which made it an even more perfect place to shoot!  I ended up getting several photos taken that day, but you’ll hear more about the farm in detail when I get the rest of the images worked up.  As it happened, he had an adorable and very silly little lamb named Too Cute who was just perfect.  Task Farms is out near Palmdale, which is a bit of a drive from here, so Katie, Brooke, Meredith (who wanted to take behind-the-scenes photos) and I all drove out together.   I had Katie put on the costume Gramma would be wearing, chose a neutral location and let Katie be Gramma’s stand-in.

Thanks to Meredith Lynn for coming along and taking great behind-the-scenes photos like these!

Thanks to Meredith for coming along and taking great behind-the-scenes photos like these!

Once I had the photos of Too Cute, I set up a shoot with Gramma, which was delightful.  She is a natural model, and I found out during this that she had been a live model for art classes while she was in college!  What a fun fact to know about her 🙂

So what do these photos convey to me?  They show my grandmother being the strong, gentle, and completely loving woman that she is.  She is a ray of light in darkness, someone who always lifts you up, cares for you and supports you.  She has been one of the most supportive people in my life when it comes to my art, always encouraging me and loving what I do… and I sincerely think it’s not just because she’s my grandmother and she has to like whatever I do, but because she genuinely believes in me and loves what I do.

So please meet my grandmother, Lucea, a truly wonderful and remarkable woman who I am so thankful to have in my life, and to have had the chance to photograph her!

The Shepherdess

The Shepherdess

The Shepherdess - detail

The Shepherdess – detail

The Shepherdess - detail

The Shepherdess – detail

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I was contacted recently by a lovely woman named Jennifer Brea, who told me about the documentary she was making.  A documentary called Canary In A Coal Mine, which is all about ME.  She was getting ready to launch a Kickstarter to fund the project, and asked if I would be willing to donate printing rights as part of the rewards offered.  Of course I said yes 🙂

The campaign only began four days ago, and they are already almost to their base goal of $50,000.  In FOUR DAYS!  Clearly there are a lot of other people who want to see this documentary being made just as much as I do!  If they surpass their initial goal, it will only make the film better and better, so please do consider donating to their very, very worthy cause.  And you can get prints of mine as part of your reward for doing your good deed!

The series of prints in an special run on pearl paper, which gives them all a delicate, magical sheen.  I’d been toying with the idea of pearl paper for some time, and this seemed like the perfect setting to break them out, to make the reward prints even better!

Please visit the Canary In A Coal Mine page, spread the word, and donate whatever is possible for you!  I am really proud to be able to help this project in whatever way I can… it’s going to do so much good for so many who are suffering.  Check out their very moving preview below, and thank you to everyone who has or will contribute to it!

 

 

Martyrs To A Name - a semi self portrait with Aly Darling.

Martyrs To A Name – a semi self portrait with Aly Darling, about the harm caused when the US officially changed the name of our disease from “myalgic encephalomyelitis” to “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

 

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**Before I get into the meat of this post, I am happy to announce that I will soon start holding mythic photography workshops!  We’ll go over techniques for drawing the magical and awe-inspiring out of the ordinary.  Email me at sarah@sarahallegra.com if you’re interested and I’ll keep you up to date!**

Closeups of both finished photos.

Closeups of both finished photos.

Oh my… this is one of those posts where I have so much to say I can hardly figure out where to start!

I think pretty much everyone reading this will already be familiar with my DreamWorld series, right?  The series portraying the characters and landscape of the world we visit in our sleep?   I have become quite obsessed with it, even though the photos usually demand so much more preparation and work than other photos do.  There is something incredibly therapeutic and wonderful about imagining an entire world and breathing life into it one photo at a time.

The very first character I imagined for DreamWorld was its queen (who we will meet in the future) and eventually I thought that if there is a queen, there probably should be a King  too.  And while I imagine that the queen is really the one in charge, the King is the ultimate father figure.  Warm, approachable, unfailingly kind and wise, but still powerful and majestic.  It’s a lot to ask of one person, and I mulled over who could play him for a long time.

While I contemplated that, I thought about what the King’s costume should be like.  I wanted it to be book-inspired, both literally and metaphorically.  Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s writings have had such a big influence on my life, and on this series in particular, I wanted the King to be an homage to them and their works.  So books, paper and writing would be the main themes of the costume… and as usual, I had no idea how I was going to pull it together.

While all that was happening in my head, I learned that Peter S. Beagle would be in town as part of his world-wide “The Last Unicorn” movie screenings tour (which I HIGHLY recommend!).  I suddenly pictured Peter as the King, and once I’d done that, I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it.  He was absolutely perfect.  He is the King.  Every single time I’ve met him, he has exuded such warmth, wisdom and kindness that I wished I could adopt him as an uncle.  And given my recent partnership with his publisher, Conlan Press, I thought it would be the mutually beneficial to everyone.   I’m very happy that Connor, Peter’s publisher and manager, agreed and was able to loan me Peter for a few hours while they were in Los Angeles.

So, casting was settled, but that left me only about three weeks to build every prop and costume I’d be using.  Which was not nearly enough time.  I’d begun working on the King’s magic book before I even got a yes and had already spent over 30 hours just building it.  It was going to be an ugly three weeks, but very, very worth it, so I launched into creation mode.

You really have to see the book in person to understand why it took so long to make.  At this stage, it's just many, many subtle layers of paint.

You really have to see the book in person to understand why it took so long to make. At this stage, it’s just many, many subtle layers of paint.

Peter would be wearing long robes that would transition into paper scrolls at his feet, along with a crown made from folded paper.  His collar and cuffs were lace made from tissue paper, with crinkled paper accents.  A buckle portraying a tree of life would hold the robes closed, and the part I was perhaps most excited about was the collar of paper birds taking flight.  That was the end goal… how I’d get there, let alone in three weeks, I had no idea.  But I started with what I knew, making the tunic under his robe, and the fabric part of the robe itself.

sketches

Initial sketches

The tunic and robe themselves were pretty easy, standard pieces of DreamWorld wear, so they came together quickly.  The robe was made mostly from cotton muslin, since it’s inexpensive and takes tea-dying well (which I suspected would be in its future).   The yoke was made from the most beautiful metallic gold jacquard-type fabric (I purchased it as a remnant, so I’m not sure exactly what it is, other than gorgeous).  The first introduction of paper into the robe came by using long sheets of corrugated cardboard in the place of pin-tucked fabric.  I broke a needle on my sewing machine trying to get it on before finally locating my super-heavy-duty-heavier-than-duck-and-denim-together needle, which held up.

The robe with cardboard "pintucking."

The robe with cardboard “pin-tucking.”

I’ve never felt especially adept at sculpting, but I knew I was going to have to do at least some for the King, so I got some silicone clay which could be baked in an oven and a couple molds.  One mold featured different female faces on it, while another had branches, leaves and birds.  Leaves I though I could probably get away with on my own, but with the time I had, I didn’t want to have to try messing with making a beautiful face on my own.  Plus, the molds were on a 40% off sale, so I took it as a sign.  Most of the sculpting ended up on the cover of the book, which became quite symbolic all on its own, incorporating elements of Joseph Campbell, Peter Beagle and myself.

sarahallegra.com

Beginning to sculpt. You can see the shell of the unpainted book in the upper left-hand corner too.

The King’s costume incorporated keys and locks in numerous places, a metaphor for how Peter and Joseph Campbell’s writing had unlocked so much wisdom for me.  Around the large keyhole (obtained from a wonderful architectural salvage yard) I sculpted two pieces which could look like either paths or (bull’s) horns, nods to “The Last Unicorn” and the hero’s journey.  I made my own little cloven-hoof stamp by carving the end of an eraser and covered the “paths” with a smattering of hoof prints.  Between the paths/horns was a woman’s face with long white hair and a horn coming out of her forehead; an obvious reference to “The Last Unicorn,” but also to my own own identification with the story.

For added symbolism and a little more depth, I also crafted two small anatomical hearts, alluding to the “Two Hearts” story Peter wrote as a novella sequel to”The Last Unicorn.”  Though you could never accuse “The Last Unicorn” of being shallow, “Two Hearts” adds such richness and depth to it that I feel it’s really just a continuation of the same story and not two separate ones.

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

After the sculpting and baking came many coats of paint.

Painted pieces, along with a key I ended up not using for this photo (but which will be used eventually).

Painted pieces, along with a key I ended up not using for this photo (but which will be used eventually).

The keyhole and clay pieces were glued to the book cover and that prop, at least, was done!

At some point during the three weeks I was making all this, I pictured Peter with two ladies in waiting.  At first, I dismissed the idea since I already had more than enough work to do, but, to my annoyance, once I pictured it that way, I knew it would be lacking without them.  Damn.  I sighed and added two more costumes to my to-do list while I emailed frequent models Dedeker, Aly and Katie to see if they were available.  Unfortunately, Aly’s work schedule prevented her from joining us, but I was glad to have Katie and Dedeker along!

Turning my attention back to Peter’s robes, I used more of the corrugated cardboard t make wide cuffs.  I’d found some beautifully-dyed, crinkly paper, a little thicker than tissue paper, but not by much.  I had some in orange and some in purple, and I used the purple paper to edge the cuffs.  The inside of the cuffs was lined with an untold amount of tissue paper, cut to various widths and run through a paper punch on one side to create a look like lace.  I alternated white tissue paper with some beautiful, metallic silver tissue paper.  The white tissue paper went through the punch well, but the silver paper would utterly clog the punch up after 3-4 presses, no matter how few or how many pieces I put through at a time.  I even tried running it through at the same time as some nice, heavy cardstock, but the paper press just laughed at my attempts and clogged again.  In the end, I used less of the silver paper than I had planned, but was left with more of my sanity intact, so I thought it was a fair trade.

cuffs

Tissue papers, purple crinkle paper and the cuffs coming together.

I used the orange crinkle paper to make a lapel and more of it was used as a belt.  I’d wanted to give the robes a feeling of embroidery, so I used some metallic gold paint to create swirling, organic, art nouveau-like designs on the pin-tucking.

robe

Speaking of the belt, I wanted to have another Campbell reference, so I decided to use one of the most commonly recognized mythology symbols, the tree of life, on the buckle, quite literally bringing everything together.  The backing was made out of clay and painted with several layers of gold, green and bronze paints.  Some pretty green rafia made up the tree itself.  The untwisted ends made very convincing leaves, and the twisted ends made wonderful roots.  In the middle was another keyhole, continuing the motif.

Tree of life buckle.

Tree of life buckle above the paper belt.

Around this time, I started wondering how I would turn the robe ends into paper scrolls.  I spent several nights not sleeping while I contemplated it, and eventually came up with the following.  I sewed six long panels of muslin, each about two feet wide, and of varying lengths.  The sides were sewn with wire in them, and I covered both sides of the panels with torn-up paper mache.  The paper mache was made from countless pieces of tissue paper I had tea-dyed from a barely noticeable off-white to a dark cream.  I used the lightest pieces at the top and let it gradually darken toward the bottom.  I washed the panels with layers of thinned-out white glue (many, MANY thanks to my wonderful neighbor Donna for giving me a huge vat of glue!) until they were suitably stiff.  Applying paper, painting and letting them dry between took the better part of a week.  By the time they were done, it was nearly time to shoot and I didn’t know what I’d do if they didn’t work.  I breathlessly tried rolling one of them up… and it stayed.  It looked like paper!  It looked like a scroll!  I was so relieved!

I attached the panels to the end of the robe with some heavy-duty safety pins and hot glue, then added another layer of tea-dyed tissue paper, creating a gradual transition from a little below the belt of the robe with just a touch of paper, all the way to the bottom of the scrolls where it was thick paper.

scrolls

I’d had a very clear vision of how I wanted the King’s crown to look, formed primarily from folded paper, dotted with keys and old quill nibs, which I found a whole bunch of on Ebay!  While it wasn’t really hard to make, it did take a lot of trial and error.  I am not much for origami, so I ended up just cutting out different shapes and experimenting with what produced the best results.  I used a cream-colored cardstock for this, quite a relief to work with after the filmy, fragile tissue paper.

Trying out different objects as stencils.

Trying out different objects as stencils.

The crown ended up being my favorite part of the whole costume.  Geoff kindly took some BTS photos of me working on it.  The medallion in the middle of it was something I found in the jewelry-making section of the craft store, and it added the perfect finishing touch with the purple gem in the middle of it.

Making the crown.

Making the crown.

Around this time I realized I also needed to make a staff for the King.  I had actually found such a good stick while I was hiking one day that I brought it home, not even having a plan for it, just knowing it would be good for something, eventually.  I spray painted the stick bronze and gold, and used several thin washes of acrylic paint in green and gold tones on a glass Christmas tree ornament (which I have a large stock of for a future project).  A very, very thin spritz with some dazzlingly-silver spray paint finished off the ornament, which I flipped upside down and anchored to the stick with a big old blob of hot glue.  I had wanted to incorporate some more flowers into the costume anyway, and having a cluster of them under the ornament hid the transition beautifully.  A key under the ornament and flowers finished it off!

staff

Things get a little blurry as I think back on the days right before the shoot, and I honestly don’t remember the exact order of events anymore.  But in the last couple days, I sewed some easy, empire-waisted gray chiffon dresses for the girls, with long, matching chiffon sashes.  The dresses were decorated at the bustline with a fan-shaped piece of folded cardstock, tissue paper lace and flowers.

The big project for the girls, which bled over into the last of the King’s costume, were the paper birds.  Those damn, damn paper birds.  I printed untold sheets of cream and white cardstock with chains of birds (which I’d laid together in Photoshop) which then had to be cut out by hand, one by one.  I was so sick of seeing the pile of papers waiting to be cut out by the time I was done.  Days and days of cutting out birds.  So, so many birds of different sizes, shapes, angles and colors.

birds

Sheets of cardstock with birds cut out, a pile of cut birds, the king’s collar being assembled.

Obviously, many of the birds went to making the King’s bird-and-lace collar, but the majority ended up going to the two maiden’s headdresses and arm pieces.  I loved the symbolism of the birds; they were taking off from Peter’s throat (where words take flight as well), they landed and traveled down the girls’ heads, as they take the stories and information in, then they make their way down the girls’ arms to their hands as they put the lessons they have learned to work.  Just remembering it all gives me a headache, but I really loved how it turned out, even though it was nearly midnight the night before the shoot when I glued the last string of birds together, was finally done and went to bed.

Calantha helped whenever she could.

Calantha helped whenever she could.

The morning of the shoot came after not nearly enough sleep, and I knew it was going to be a very long, grueling day, but I was very excited!  Donna and John, my neighbors, had very kindly allowed me to use their dining room to shoot in, which gave me more room to move around.  I started hanging curtains and getting the set constructed while I groggily drank my tea.  Everyone helped me get the set ready, which I was very grateful for; I couldn’t have done it all on my own!  Then my lights decided they didn’t feel like working, and I had to troubleshoot that as it got closer and closer to the time of the shoot… it was quite stressful, but it all came together just in time!

Thank you, Dedeker for these adorable furbaby pics :)

Thank you, Dedeker, for these adorable furbaby pics 🙂  They are a friendly lot!

Connor pulled up and dropped off Peter and his assistant Cat, who was helping them with the tour, and then I had a most surreal moment when Peter Beagle, one of my two very favorite writers, author of “The Last Unicorn,” a story that has profoundly influenced my life, was standing in my living room.  He was just as warm and wonderful as all the other times I’d spoken to him, and he showed excellent taste in admiring Calantha and asking what kind of dog she is.

I caught Connor snuggling Maynard and made him stand there until I got a photo of it.

I caught Connor snuggling Maynard and made him stand there until I got a photo of it.

Peter told me he’d been instructed by Connor to be regal and majestic, which I agreed with, but also highlighted the King’s warmth and kindness.  Peter said, “So I should be regal and majestic, yet warm and approachable?”  I said yes, and he just said, “Got it,” and then he was all that, all at once.  I helped him get into his costume (with the help of Katie, Dedeker and Cat, it was really a several-person task).  I shot a few different setups; since this was not going to be a chance I’d have again, I wanted to cover all my bases.  And everything fit everyone, and it all worked and came together beautifully, and I knew that the last weeks had been more than worth it.  Katie very thoughtfully took some behind-the-scenes photos once her part in the shoot was over, which I’m so happy to have!

Thanks, Katie!  :)

Thanks, Katie! 🙂

Mei Mei photobomb

Mei Mei photobomb

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

My imagination hero.

My imagination hero and me.

After the shoot was over, we all helped Peter out of his costume and then I got to just chat with him and Cat and the girls until Connor got back from the errands he’d been running in preparation for the screening that night.  It was my first time meeting Cat; she was utterly delightful and I was honored to have them lounging in my living room.  Again I was overcome with the surreality of the situation.  Connor got back shortly, and we parted ways for the time being.  We’d all meet up again that night for the screening in Newport Beach.  The shoot was successfully checked on my list!

I have to say, though all my shoots are done on a budget, this was the most expensive one yet.  A lot of the expenses were things like the paper punch and a self-healing cutting mat (for all the damn birds) that I’ll be able to use again.  All in all, I think I spent between $100-$150; an amount that felt absolutely extravagant to me!  The total time I spent on this is really incalculable.  A couple hundred hours on pre-production, but I spent a good six weeks editing it… it’s easy to say that I spent hundreds and hundreds more on post-production.  There were many times I was cursing myself and why couldn’t I just take nice, pretty photos that edit up in an afternoon (not to mention don’t require hundreds of paper birds) but even in those moments I knew it would be worth it… and it was.  🙂

Katie was giving me a ride into Hollywood on her way home, so Geoff and I could meet up and travel in one car, so she helped me dismantle the set.  We got some lunch since we were ravenous after such an exciting morning and she left me with Geoff while she went home for a bit before also heading down to Newport Beach.

I was exhausted, but also completely wound up.  I attempted a nap in Geoff’s office, but it was pretty pointless.  It was going to be a long night though, so I thought I’d better try anyway.  With anxiety over the shoot done, I could now concentrate on being anxious about that evening.  Connor had specifically asked me to come to the Newport Beach showing and bring my portfolio with me so that he could introduce me to Peter’s fans as one of their new featured artists who will be working with them.  Gulp.

Connor under the marquee.

Connor under the marquee.

Geoff and I (and Katie, in her own car) battled the traffic from Los Angeles to Newport Beach and made it just in the nick of time.  I really wasn’t sure what “introducing” me meant, so I had lots of possible meanings to be worried about.  I was heartened when I got to the theater and was greeted as long-lost friends by Connor and Cat (Peter was somewhere else) and then entered the theater to find a bunch of my family there, which I was not expecting!  It was so sweet of them all to come out and support me.

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There was a great Q&A session before the movie started.  There were raffles, giveaways, and the mayor of Newport Beach showed up to present Peter with a plaque.  It was really quite an event; I would heartily recommend it, of course to any fan, but just to anyone in general 🙂

The mayor giving Peter his plaque.

The mayor giving Peter his plaque; thanks to my grandmother for taking this photo!

Just before the show started, Connor had some of the vendors who had come with their Unicorn wares stand up and pointed them out, and at the very end of all that, he had me stand up and introduced me to everyone, saying I’d be there after the show with my art.  Whew.  One hurdle down.

Then we all got to watch the movie itself in a theater, which no fans my age and younger have ever been able to do.  It was pretty amazing.  I cried, and not just because of what an emotional day I was having.  Seriously, if you get the chance to see it, GO.

After the movie, Peter was around to sign books, take photos with people and talk to them like they’re actual human beings and not just cattle being herded through a chute.  Cat and Connor set me up behind one of the tables where the wares were spread out, and I set out my portfolio and my cards.  Geoff and Katie both really stepped up and stayed the entire night with me.  It was so good having them both there with me since I’m so intensely uncomfortable a) in crowds, b) around strangers, and c) having attention drawn to me and people looking at me.  Hopefully this is something I will get more used to.  It was great having the two of them there to distract me and make me feel less alone.

Wearing Geoff's jacket over my pretty dress - it got quite cold!

Wearing Geoff’s jacket over my pretty dress – it got quite cold!

Peter was true to his word and stayed until every single fan who wanted to had a chance to say hello and have their book/DVD/whatever signed, then all the theater workers still there got their turn.  I’d told my mom I would have him sign a book for her (“The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche And Other Odd Acquaintances,” which contains “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros,” the favorite short story of my mom’s, mine, Cat’s and Peter’s) and Katie and I wanted our own photos with him to cap the day off right.

Getting mom's book signed.

Getting mom’s book signed.

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Katie, Peter and me!

And then it was all over!  Months of mental planning, weeks of physical planning, all the crunching and sleepless nights and hard work… it was done.  I was relieved and disappointed, and also knew that it was going to be one of the highlights of my entire career, no matter what else happens.

We didn’t leave Newport Beach until 1:30am, and it was closer to 3 by the time I got home and went to bed.  Luckily I was so exhausted it overcame my nerves and I didn’t have too much trouble getting to sleep.  I knew the next day was going to be ugly, and it was.  You can’t throw that much work and lack of sleep at ME.  Not to mention the very long, emotional day it had been and how late I’d been up.  ME doesn’t let you get away with that kind of shit.  I planned on feeling pretty terrible, and I did.  But it was underscored by a feeling of deep satisfaction, and even more, an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything that had happened.  I was a bit emotionally fragile by then, and I burst into tears more than once that day, just out of sheer joy and thankfulness.

I am so grateful that I get to partner with Conlan and Peter.  I am so thankful they not only agreed to let me do my photo, but were enthusiastic about it.  I am blown away by what amazing people everyone at Conlan, my friends, models, family and husband are.  They have all been so immensely supportive of me and my art and my journey…especially Geoff as I ignored him night after night in my struggle to complete everything.  I am very lucky to have wonderful neighbors who will let me conduct an entire photo shoot in their home at the drop of a hat,  Everyone who reads this, who emails me, who comments on photos, who encourages me to create, thank you all.

But most of all, thank you to Peter.  Not just for creating the measuring stick by which all other fantasy will always be compared.  Not only for ripping our hearts out with his words, and returning them back to us more whole and healed.  And not just for being willing to play the King, but for being the King.  Peter simply is all those qualities that make me love the King so much.  And I got to capture it forever in two photos in my favorite, most meaningful series.  That is unbelievably wonderful to me.  Thank you for all of it.

And with that, I present to you the DreamWorld King.  Detail shots are below each main image.  Click on them to see them larger!

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Aerie

Aerie

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

A very quick, thankful, somewhat tear-stained selfie the day after the shoot, wearing my beautiful horn from Firefly Path, which is going to be my every day wear now.  Click here to visit their Facebook page to get your own horn!

A very quick, thankful, somewhat tear-stained selfie the day after the shoot, wearing my beautiful horn from Firefly Path, which is going to be my every day wear now. Click here to visit their Facebook page to get your own horn!

Thank you to every single person who helped make this day happen.  I will never forget it.  🙂

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