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A Cry From The Darkness

A self portrait that belongs to my Eternal Storm series, which explores depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

Wow, it feels like FOREVER since I finished my last piece!  This year has not been conducive to creating art.  I’ve done my best despite the circumstances which kept popping up (moving, medications, long ME flares, devoting a ton of time to the gallery show, stress from my recent battle among other things) but it’s felt like a very dry year creatively.  All I can do is my best though, and even when the ME really cramps my style, I still manage to get pieces finished… just much more slowly than I would like.

It was in this depressed feeling of “I haven’t created anything in the longest time imaginable” that today’s image was born.  When my regular creative outlets are blocked to me (by, say, solid weeks of migraines as I adjust to each new medication dosage), I become despondent and depressed.  Life slowly loses its flavor and color and if I’m not careful, I’ll sink into a pit of despair just like Artax in The Neverending Story.  Luckily, I have Geoff and my friends and family around to cheer me on and make sure I never sink too low, but much of it is outside of anyone’s control.

As I mentally pictured how I felt, this was it.  A big, ugly cloud of despair, depression, worthlessness, swirling around my head.  But this time, unlike my last self portrait which explored a similar theme, I wanted to show a bit of hope at the same time.  The cloud is surrounded, penetrated and pierced by beautiful, golden rays of light.  They stream in through the darkness, weaving through its thick blackness.  The darkness cannot survive in the light.  It will be broken up and dissipate.  And while I know this will probably not be my last battle with depression, I also know that each round will eventually be over… and once again, the light will have won.  That is the hope I cling to when the clouds cover me.

I’d like to mention my friend and very talented photographer Robert Cornelius’s Dust to Dust series as it provided some inspiration in my planning out of the darkness cloud.  Thanks, Robert!  🙂  He’s an incredible photographer and all-around cool dude, so check out his work if you’re not familiar with it!

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra - a self portrait

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait

This image belongs to my Eternal Storms series on depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.  These topics are still seen as quite taboo to discuss, something I hope to help with by portraying what living with them is like openly and honestly.  Silence and shame never helped a single illness get cured.  We need to be able to speak openly about our experiences, without judgement or fear, if we’re ever going to healed from them.

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

 

Do you have depression?  Try being a little more honest next time a trusted friend asks how you are.  You don’t have to go into excruciating detail, but try to avoid the temptation to simply answer “fine,” unless you actually are.  And if you have friends or family who you suspect or know suffer from any kind of mental ailment?  Invite them to tell you about it, ask some questions, assuring them that talking to you is safe and you will not judge them or call them crazy.  It is crucial that you answer whatever they tell you with love.  It is incredibly hard for people to open up and talk to others about these problems, so take their trust very seriously and treat it with the gentlest and greatest respect.

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for the help and support we have.  For the people dedicated to helping us win our fight.  For the people who will listen to us with only love and understanding in their hearts.  The people who give us hope.  The inner strength we are able to find when we think we’ve exhausted it all.  Those extra beams of light when we need them the most.  We need more people like this in the world.  Let’s try and all be them to each other.  The simple fact that there are people in the world who try to reach this goal is something I am very thankful for!

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I may have mentioned before that I often have the TV on while I’m editing.  It has to be the right kind of show; something I can mostly listen to and just glance at periodically, it has to be interesting without being too engaging.  I end up watching a lot of documentaries, nature, science and history shows.  I also catch a lot of shows about the paranormal; I love stretching my imagination entertaining the ideas they present whether or not I think they might actually be true.  Often these shows have a benefit beyond simply enhancing my editing time; I learn new things, I expose myself to new ideas.  And sometimes I learn about problems in the world and I want to do something to try and help fix whatever is wrong.

Details from today's images

Details from today’s images

I’ve known for some time about the terrible future the wild lions in Africa are facing.  Poaching and habitat loss have killed off about 80% of their population in the last 20 years.  Sadly, the traits humans find most beautiful about lions are also the things that make them genetically stronger, which means not only are people driving lions to the edge of extinction, but the lions which are left are weaker and less able to survive.

There are approximately 20,000 wild lions left in the world now.  This is a drop in the bucket from 450,000 about 30 years ago.  If nothing changes, lions could become extinct within the next decade.

Can you imagine a world without lions?  The fragile ecosystem which would be thrown into chaos by their loss?  A world where children would grow up never seeing the majestic animals?  Where lions would seem as unreal to them as dinosaurs?  Telling your child that yes, these animals all once roamed the land, but now they are gone forever.

And it is because of humans that lions are teetering on the edge of this chasm.

If people are the cause of their destruction, we have a moral obligation to try and save them.  As my close, personal friend Rustin Cohle would say, we have a debt to pay.

As is my usual first course of action, I decided to address the problem with photography.  As I began building the concept in my head, I realized it would fit in well with DreamWorld.  While most of the land is beautiful and verdant, there are less lush areas and also touches of actual evil.

It was at this time that I came across Travis Weinand.  Travis is a multi-talented transplant from Philadelphia; he models, of course, acts, sings and plays bass in his really great heavy metal band Burden (seriously, I genuinely like their music!  Give it a listen!) illustrates and paints beautiful images, he’s been a tattoo artist and has been competing in the last several seasons of American Ninja Warrior.  Travis has promised to show me how to make my voice sound evil like I’m singing in a metal band and I’m going to show him how to levitate… in a photo at least 🙂  ANW isn’t something I’d seen much of; I quickly discovered it’s really physically demanding; here’s a short video from Travis to impress your socks off:

Travis’s physical strength, size (he’s 6′ 5″, so anybody seeing us walking together must have gotten a chuckle since I am all of 4′ 11″) and blond hair made him feel like a perfect lion-man.  I decided to make a mane headdress, something more symbolic of a mane rather than something that was trying to perfectly replicate what a lion’s mane looked like.  I had some really lovely blue and brown metallic yarn that I’d gotten on sale and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with, which seemed like a good place to start.  Since Travis has brilliantly blue eyes, I decided to work some blue into the mane; this was a metaphoric mane, I decided I could bend the color rules a little.

Various amounts of blue yarn and other colors braided together

Various amounts of blue yarn and other colors braided together

It happened that, of course, I got sick again while I was getting ready for the shoot – I think I’ve told you guys this but apparently my body has decided that it’s going to have a cold every 2-3 weeks until I have sinus surgery to stop its evil plan.  My surgery is November 4th (wish me luck!) and I am so eager to have it done with.  I’m really looking forward to a time when I can go more than a few weeks without getting sick on top of already being chronically sick.

That has, of course, been very draining, but knitting is one of those activities that you can do (if you’re making up your own pattern anyway) without engaging very much of your brain.  It’s also quite soothing, the repetitive motions over and over again, and once I got through the really feverish first couple days of the cold it was a relief to have something I could work on and feel a little bit productive about.  So a lot of braiding and arm-knitting happened while I was well enough to be bored but not well enough to do much of anything else.  Above, you see the braided loops I made with varying amounts of a brighter blue yarn worked into the rest.

The under-mane

The under-mane, loops attached

Lion’s manes are typically darker close to the skin with the hair lightening as it gets longer.  I made the “under-mane” from the original blue and brown yard that had started the whole idea, arm-knitting a general idea of the shape I wanted.  I hand-tacked some of the braided pieces around the bottom to hang down decoratively.

The... main... mane

The… main… mane

The, uh, main mane was also arm-knitted, into a similar shape, but fuller and more expanded toward the bottom.  I love this brand of yarn.  I want to arm-knit everything right now.  It has such a beautifully organic look when it’s finished, even if you’re making it up as you go!

Ruffs

Ruffs

Lion manes are often majestically full right over the center of their chests, so I quickly knit up a couple filler-pieces to give extra fullness to Travis’ mane.  You’ll notice that one is a little bigger than the other.  The official reason is because it’s natural for there to be a slight asymmetry to any kind of animal markings or fur.  The real reason is because I’d run out of yarn and didn’t have money to go buy another skein.  Plus, I didn’t think it would really show in the final images, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

The beginning of a mock-up

The beginning of a mock-up

I’m including this photo because for one, Aly gave me the unicorn-on-a-stick toy so I wanted her to see it is being used and loved, and also because it just really looks ridiculous 🙂  I needed to build up a shape that was going to let me see how the mane would actually be hanging and my regular foam head wouldn’t nearly do the job.  Not only because it’s far too short and becomes unstable if I pile it high on a lot of other objects (I know this from experience) but I needed the mane to spread out so I could really see it.  So this is the unicorn-on-a-stick sandwiched between the end of my bed and the blue dresser at the end of my bed, wrapped up with a very fluffy pink bathrobe which is so long that I use it as a blanket.  In the next photo you’ll see another bathrobe draped over the unicorn’s head to give it more a human-head shape.  There’s a method to all the madness.

And if anyone is wondering, the cardboard box is there for the cats (mostly Maynard) to lay in and the big pile in the background is my Costume/Fabric/Backdrop Pile.  I’m working on a better way to store it all.  There are only so many hours in a day.

First draping

First draping

I’d been planning to braid the mane into Travis’ actual hair, which is cut in a very cool undercut style which makes me think of Jimmy from Boardwalk Empire.  I seem to be leaving a hole in the middle of the mane; that’s on purpose to allow for Travis’ hair.  You can see the under-mane some and I’d started adding extra braided bits which just hung down.

Finsihed!

Finished!

And here it is all done!  Braided loops, hanging braids, front ruffs; it’s all there.  It’s probably hard to picture how it will eventually look, but don’t worry, you’ll see very soon 🙂

I had come across some boulders in one of my walks (my doctor’s suggestion of a safe exercise for me right now, which makes me sad when I think about all the yoga, Pilates and ballet I used to do.  I like to do the walks in nature since that makes it much more interesting and enjoyable).

The plants around it, which had been brilliantly green in spring were now brown and dying, so it felt like the perfect setting for my Last Lion, as I am calling this new DreamWorld character.

I imagine that the Last Lion had a vast kingdom once where his people thrived.  During the Yellow King’s grab for power, his people and land suffered greatly when they stood up against the Yellow King.  They are fighters.  And though the Yellow King is now banished, he did real harm to the land and its people before he left.

They are fighters.  They have been greatly wounded and they could vanish forever and be a mere memory in DreamWorld as the lions could be in our world… but I think they’ll prevail.  They have not been beaten yet.

And if you would like to help our world’s lions, look into the Big Cat Initiative.  They have a really solid plan of how to get the lions back on their feet while still keeping the farmers and cattle in the region safe, promoting harmony between them.  Another very quick, simple yet effective way is to add your name to any or all of the petitions below, all working toward protecting lions from extinction:

http://www.change.org/p/save-african-lions-from-extinction-by-listing-them-as-an-endangered-species

http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/node/92726/

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-lions-from-extinction/

Harmony between man and nature.  It’s such a common theme in DreamWorld, and one we need more of in this world.

Please enjoy the Last Lion images below and consider signing a couple petitions and joining the Big Cat Initiative!

Lost Pride

Lost Pride © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

 

Dying Trophies © Sarah Allegra

Dying Trophies © Sarah Allegra

 

Dying Trophies detail © Sarah Allegra

Dying Trophies detail © Sarah Allegra

 

You can look forward to seeing more of Travis soon!  I’m very excited about using his incredible physicality strategically in images; he can do things for real which I’d normally have to rely on Photoshop for.  Should be fun!  Thanks, Travis!  And thanks to all my readers 🙂

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I’ve talked to you guys about Rectify beforeRectify, Sundance Channel’s dreamy, introspective show about Daniel Holden who  was convicted of a crime when he was 18 and spent the last 19 years on death row.  New DNA evidence has emerged which frees him from prison, but he is not exonerated.  He is sent back into the lion’s den of Paulie, Georgia, a fictional small town where everyone has been steeped in this crime for the past two decades and everyone has an opinion on Daniel’s guilt or innocence.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

It is an absolutely brilliant show.  I’ve met a lot of other fans online and they are truly some of the most rabid, enthusiastic people you could imagine.  Much of this is due to how original Rectify is.  It moves at its own pace, intentionally slower and more deliberate than most current shows.  It gives its characters time to breathe and allow us to learn much about them in moments which would be smaller in another show; Daniel’s magical wonder at watching and feeling the feathers from his pillow after having not seen or felt a single one in 19 years.  The writing is incredible and uses silence just as loudly and profoundly as the most eloquently-written speech.  The characters are all given fair treatment; there are no black and white “good guys” and “bad guys.”  They are all just people trying to do their best.

And the casting… my god, there are no words.  It is just perfect.  Perfect in every single way.  There are no weak links anywhere.  From the leading roles, Daniel’s family, to what could be considered “small” parts – Chet, the bookstore owner, played by Brian Bremer, or Marcy, the waitress, played by Kim Wall; every single one is a real person and the talent of the actors makes them big.  You wish you could invite these people over for dinner.  Much praise has been heaped upon the lead actors, and every bit of it is well deserved, but even the people you only get glimpses of are perfect.  Bruce McKinnon, playing Daniel’s step-father Ted Sr. reminds me so much of my late grandfather, I wish I could hug him.  Kerwin, played by Johnny Ray Gill, will change your life.  I don’t have enough space here to list every actor and describe how wonderful they are; you’ll have to just watch it for yourself.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Another thing I adore about Rectify is the heavy use of symbolism, metaphor and philosophy.  I talked about this more in my first post about Rectify, so I’ll just touch on the broad strokes.  The first season is six episodes long, with each episode covering one day.  This brings to mind the seven days of creation in the Bible and how God created man on the sixth day.  The mysterious Goat Man… is he representing God wrestling with Jacob or Satan tempting Jesus in the desert?  Or both?  Guilt and innocence, sin and salvation are recurring themes.  As you watch, you pick up more and more tidbits of metaphor, making the story that much richer.

It is a genuinely original and remarkable show, especially compared to everything else on TV right now.  I consider myself a Rectify pusher, as almost everyone I know personally who is a fan of the show started watching it because I insisted they give it a try.  And I will recommend the same thing to you 🙂  Season one is streaming on Netflix.  Season two, given a whole 10 episodes, just finished, but I imagine it will find its way to Netflix soon.  Rectify’s thoughtful pace is seriously ramped up at the end of episode five… I usually recommend to people that they only watch episode five when they can go straight ahead to six, because you will be dying to.

Jayson Warner Smith as Wendall in Rectify. Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Most of the Rectify cast can be found on Twitter and they have all proven to be extremely friendly and happy to interact with fans (time permitting, of course; they still have lives).  I’ve given them all a standing invitation to come join DreamWorld any time they’d like, which may happen soon to my delight!  Over the course of chatting with some of the lovely actors from the show, I got to know Jayson Warner Smith a bit, who plays Wendall; Daniel’s creepy, sinister neighboring inmate.  At first I was almost afraid to talk to him because Wendall is so… well, Wendall.  But Jayson is just an absolutely lovely person who is nothing like Wendall.  He is an actor, after all 🙂  Here’s a great video highlighting some of Wendall’s best/worst moments from season one.  You’ll also see Daniel Holden, played by Aden Young, and Kerwin Whitman, played by Johnny Ray Gill.

I asked Jayson if he would mind doing an interview for my blog and he was kind enough to say yes and take time out of his schedule to answer my questions!  Jayson is currently living in Atlanta though he lived in Hollywood for two years.  He’s also well-versed in both stage and screen acting, though I haven’t had the chance to watch him perform live yet!  Read on for the interview, then I’ll tell you about my latest image which was Rectify-inspired.

 

*****

 

1. Do you have a favorite role that you’ve played?

Bobby Gould in Speed the Plow on stage in ATL. Love the Mamet language. Oh and Jack in The Weir also on stage in ATL.

2. I was impressed to find out you’re a musician as well as an actor!  Do you have any part in writing the songs?

I wrote the two on my site. Those were recorded with an iPhone at a party. Turned out pretty well. I seem to work best with a deadline it seems. I had to have them done in a month for this party.

3. If a horrible world existed where you could only practice music or acting, assuming they paid the same, which would you pick?

Ha. They both do pay the same right now.

Acting. I’m not disciplined enough to be a musician.

4. What would your dream acting role be?  It can be anything, including parts from movies which already exist.

That depends on so many things. The best experience would be working with super talented collaborative people. To have a role in that setting that the audience completely empathizes with.

Also, Elwood P Dowd in Harvey.

5. Do you have a favorite way to get into character, or does it vary from role to role?

That’s a novel. Sorry.

6. What is one thing you’d like your fans to know about you?

I’m just a regular guy. And I love F1. Go McLaren!

7. What music do you find yourself listening to frequently, and what shows are you sure to never miss?

Pandora has become my soundtrack. It rotates from Lyle Lovett to Rufus Wainright to The Shins to Blitzen Trapper to Radiohead to Avett Brothers to Sigur Ros etc.

TV? Mad Men, Top Gear (UK), Cosmos, Halt and Catch Fire, Downton, Justified.

8. I thought it was great that you participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (and you were so smart in how you performed it!)  Are there any causes you’re passionate about?

Just the Boy Scouts. I am an Eagle Scout and it made me a better person. It’s a shame that all of this political mess has gotten involved lately. Their organization has been trying to please everyone and as a result the whole program is becoming useless. It’s a real shame.

As Bill Cosby is quoted as saying: “I don’t know the key to success but I do know the key to failure – Trying to please everyone.”

9. Does playing Wendall in Rectify leave a film on your soul or are you able to shake him off quickly once the scene is done?

It’s just acting.

10. What do you like best about living in Atlanta that you wouldn’t have living in Los Angeles?

A house.

Hah- absolutely to answer #10!  Thank you, Jayson, so much for taking the time to do this!  It was a pleasure!  Now if we can just get you out to LA just for a little while… 🙂

Now, on to the photo!

Waiting For Paulie

Waiting For Paulie

The title is a play on the name of the town the show takes place in.  I created this just after season two ended – and ended on a very bad cliffhanger too!  Thankfully, season three has been secured or I just would not have known what to do.

I’d been eagerly counting the days for the second season to start and was enthralled with every new episode.  I’ve watched season one probably a dozen times already (I have it on DVD.  I’d also like to state for the record that I watched the entire season in one day; I REALLY love the show).  Season two, with more episodes, was able to expand upon the groundwork laid in season one, but as the show tends to do, it left us with more questions than answers.  I think I held my breath for the entire last half of the finale, which was a magnificent climax to the season.  After watching it though, I felt so sad that this season was over.  I wouldn’t see anything new from these characters for another year.  And they feel like friends to me, not fictional characters; I truly care about them.

After moping around for most of the morning after the finale, I finally decided to channel my impatience into a self portrait, because that’s what I do.  I set out intending just to use the window and have a couple feathers drifting down, reminiscent of Daniel’s experience with his feathers.  But as I worked, nature kept insisting on making herself known in the image.  Before I knew it, ghostly birds were flying everywhere while vines and smoke crept up from the corners.  I didn’t over-think it as I was creating, but as I thought about it afterward, it felt very true to the show.   Life and death.  Dark and light.  Magical moments between the mundane.  Nature and hope triumphing.  Light illuminating the shadows.  It summed up a lot of my feelings for the show in a way I still can’t really put into words.

There are some detail shots below, but if you only take away one message from this post, take this: go watch Rectify right now.  You will not be sorry 🙂

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

 

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

 

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

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Time for another DreamWorld character!

The Eye Of The Storm - detail

The Eye Of The Storm – detail

I like to think of the Storm-Bringer as the counterpoint to the Wind Goddess:

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

They have similar powers and both rule over the sky, but one brings the weather we like, while the other brings that which we don’t like.  Which is not to say that the Storm-Bringer is an evil character; not at all.  Storms are useful to the world in a variety of ways; bringing rain is just one of them.  While me might prefer one over the other, both are needed and they balance each other.

This image was actually not one I’d set out to create.  Katie and I were shooting something else entirely, which had nothing to do with DreamWord, but when I sorted through the raw images, one of them really caught my eye.  I was shooting about Katie (from the second story of my mom’s house) and an image where she was flipping her hair around sparked something in me.  I looked at the next few frames where her hair continued its circular flip and thought it would look cool if I blended them all together.

Just for the hell of it, I brought the images into Photoshop and started playing around… and I played some more… and some more, and then I had a finished piece which I really loved!  As I looked at the finished image, I realized I’d created a new DreamWorld character without having planned it, but her story quickly formed inside my head.

We cannot have a world where there are only beautiful, sunny days.  Even an imaginary world.  The dark needs the light and the light needs the shadow, otherwise it would be a flat, saccharine depthless place.  DreamWorld started initially as an escape, and more importantly, not something I expected to turn into such a long, rich, detailed place as it has.  It is still my escape, but I can now fill in some of the darker areas along with the joy and sunlight.  A story isn’t a story without a conflict, without a villain.  Using a religious metaphor pioneered by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, a trinity (father, son, holy spirit) is inherently incomplete.  And one more facet to it, making it a quaternity (father, son, holy spirit and devil) and it becomes complete and self-sustaining.  The dark and the storms enhance the light, but the light will always defeat the dark.

Though, if we’re speaking purely of wish-fulfillment, I would never have a bright, sunny day.  I would fit in very well somewhere like Portland or Seattle, since my favorite days are the gray, overcast ones, a little on the cool side.  In my perfect world, every day would be like that, but even I realize the need for a storm now and then to shake things up 🙂

Check out the making-of gif below the main image!

The Eye Of The Storm

The Eye Of The Storm

The Eye Of The Storm gif

The Eye Of The Storm gif

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When I started planning my DreamWorld series, one of the first characters that came to me was a dryad; a nature spirit representing our connection with nature.  I saw her as a strong, benevolent queen, keeping watch over the woodland creatures and protecting them.   The first concept I came up with that made my heart pitter-patter with excitement was the idea of building a huge crown for her from sticks and branches.   I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this, but I had a vision.  And I have learned over the years that having a vision will pave the way to making it a reality, regardless of if I know how that will come about.

A sample of the three completed photos

A sample of the three completed photos

I tried to get a lot of photos to document the lengthy creation process, so this will be a longer post.  Bear with me!  Or just skim over it and scroll down to the finished photos 🙂

After I sketched out my designs, I decided to just dive into the project and tackle each step as it came.  So the first part was simple; I needed sticks and branches.  There are lots of trees in my yard, so there was no shortage of sticks to choose from!   The challenge was to try and find ones that already held the kind of shapes and curves I was looking for.

I started by bundling the branches together into small clumps, and eventually joining the smaller clumps into larger ones.

sarahallegra.com

It was quite simple and  low-tech, it just took wire, wire cutters, pliers, time and patience.

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I gently guided the branches into the directions I wanted them to go, and wired them into place.

Calantha bomb

Calantha bomb

Once the shape was right, I spray painted it with various layers of black, bronze and silver paints, giving it a subtle, organic variation of colors.

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At this point I started working on the dress and, in particular, the lace leaves.   Oh, I was excited about the lace leaves!  I’d found a really beautiful yard of lace with an iridescent shimmer to it.  I cut out hundreds of leaves from it in several different sizes.  And I decided that any mild flaws would only enhance the natural and organic look I wanted 😉  After the leaves were all cut out, I painted veins on them with pearly fabric paint; you can see a small sample of the veined leaves trying on my bathroom floor below.  I had to paint them in the bathroom so they could dry without the cats trying to help.

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Lace leaves and happy owl shower curtain!

After they were painted, I created a small landscape of bubble wrap and plastic bottles to give a wide variety of angles for them to take shape from, and covered them thoroughly with spray adhesive.  As they dried, they took on gentle curves and curls much more like actual leaves.

Most of the leaves were for the dress, but I wanted to bring a few of them onto the crown as well.

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Hot glue is a crafty girl’s best friend.

Lastly, I added pinecones and a small plant holder which I thought had a very regal look, all of which had been painted to match the rest of the crown.

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sarahallegra.com

The $2 plant holder, pinecones and lace leaves

This whole time I still wasn’t sure how I would attach the crown to my model.  The crown was really pretty huge, fragile and awkwardly shaped, but it was quite light.  After some deliberation, I decided to try mounting it to some extra thick foam board with zip ties, using a piece long enough piece to run from the base of the crown to where the model’s hips would be.  I covered the back of the foam board with adhesive-backed Velcro, and cut matching Velcro lengths, planning to use them as straps around the model’s shoulders and waist.

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There was the crown; next was the dryad’s dress!  I wanted it to be long and flowing, with a very natural feel to it.  I planned on having the bottom of the dress be cut into strips, using fabrics with different textures and colors to help emulate the look and feel of a tree.

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The back of the dress, lace pinned onto and under it.

I used plain, unbleached muslin to make the dress, both for it’s inexpensive cost, and because I suspected it would dye easily.  After the form of the dress was created, I tied a rope between two trees to make a clothesline, bought a HUGE amount of instant ice tea and a spray bottle…

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I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed it… letting each layer dry, so the color could build up and have a natural gradation.  It worked, but oh my heavens, did it SMELL.  I drink tea, and I’ve never found its smell offensive, but apparently I’d never experienced it in such a large and intense quantity.  I had to email the model and warn her that her dress would be beautiful, but stinky.  It had to lay out on a chair on the porch the first night; I couldn’t even deal with it being in the bathroom.

Once it was dyed, I needed to tie up the metaphoric loose ends of the dress; put grommets in the back, sew the ribbons around the waist, etc.  Byron and Maynard both did their best to help with this.

sarahallegra.com

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They do their best despite their lack of thumbs

After that, it was finally time for the part I was most excited about: attaching the lace leaves!  All along I had been planning on creating a collar and cuffs out of the leaves, and I was quite excited to have finally reached that point after all the work I’d done leading up to it.

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Hot glue again works wonders

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I had suspected that I would need to paint in some shadows to define the various layers of the leaves; with white on white, I thought it would look like a white blob from far away.  After some thought, I decided to “paint” the shadows on using eye shadow.  I wanted the shadows to be very light; I love the pearly iridescence of the leaves and I didn’t want to cover that up.  I thought eye shadow would offer me a wide range or affordable colors (and I ended up just using an eye shadow variety kit I’d had forever) and allow me to gradually build up subtle changes of color.  After working on the dress all day, and the shoot looming in the near future, I spent one whole evening painting eye shadow in between the leaves of the collar and cuffs (with an awful headache, I might add).  I loved the result; it was beautiful and just like I had wanted.  To help preserve everything, since shadow can smear so easily, and also fortify the shapes of the collar and cuffs, I gave them all a light mist of spray adhesive to bring it all together.

That was the wrong thing to do.

Somehow, the spray adhesive turned my carefully constructed, beautifully built-up shading into a nasty, muddy blob.  It looked awful.  I wanted to cry.  At this point, I was only a day away from the shoot, and I had no idea what I was going to do.  I absolutely couldn’t use the dress the way it looked.  And it was now very late on a day I’d spent every hour of working on the dress, I was tired, cranky and tearful.  Just to feel like I was doing something potentially useful, I painted on a couple different colored swatches of acrylic paint I had on hand for another project, and decided to let the whole thing dry overnight.  I’d figure it out in the morning.

The acrylic paint worked.  And I ended up liking the end result of the paint even more than I’d liked the initial eye shadow ones.  It still took a lot of time to do the next day, but I was able to work on it without feeling panicked or totally stressed out, because I knew it was going to look beautiful.  And of course, acrylic paint dries quite quickly, which helped!

The back of the painted lace collar

The back of the painted lace collar

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One of the cuffs

So much work, but so worth it!

So much work, but so worth it!

There!  The costume was done!  All I had to do now was shoot the photos.

I had been envisioning one of my go-to models for this, Dedeker Winston.  I love working with Dedeker; we’ve been creating images together for several years now, and she always delivers above and beyond what I ask of her.  It also turned that she especially likes dryads, so she was very enthusiastic from the beginning!  Since this was going to be a more challenging shoot, I asked my sister-in-law Kim, who is herself a very talented artist, if she would come along and assist.  Kim was also excited about the shoot, so the three of us got up a bit early on a Saturday morning and went out to one of my favorite woods.  Kim was also kind enough to take some behind the scenes photos for me, which I will share with you here 🙂

Getting Dedeker into the costume required a bit of work and was definitely not something I would have been able to do without Kim being there.  Dedeker had to step into the dress, I strapped her into the crown while Kim stabilized it and kept the branches from gouging Dedeker’s eyes out.  After that I got the back laced up around the foam board.  I had Dedeker stand on a stool to give her extra height and presence, adding to her ethereal feel.

Helping Dedeker onto the stool; it was not very easy for her to navigate with all that she was wearing.

Helping Dedeker onto the stool; it was not very easy for her to navigate with all that she was wearing.

I had been considering adding an additional underskirt of some really beautiful, shimmery green fabric I’d had in my fabric stash.  Once I saw Dedeker with the crown in the actual location, I thought it would add a lot, so I quickly safety-pinned it under the dress.

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There is a Frisbee golf course at this wood, and one of the “holes” is quite near the location where we were shooting.  Every now and then a golfer wandered into the background.  No one seemed to think what we were doing was particularly odd.

Frisbee golfers golfing

Frisbee golfers golfing

I made some bird stand-ins out of soft foam sheets and a little wire.  I thought it would be useful to have something casting a realistic shadow when it came to adding in the birds in post.

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I clambered around on the trees, trying to find the perfect location to shoot from.  I went tumbling off this log at one point, but managed to twist in the air and not land on my camera.

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More shooting

More shooting

I had my photos!  The weather had been perfect, and I was really excited about the shots I got.  Next it was time to edit them, and add in the birds and squirrels.  Editing ended up being more difficult and complicated than I had expected (which often happens) but I got through them all eventually.

I had been taking photos of the birds at my feeder and yard with this shoot in mind, so I had built up a bit of a library already.  Stalking the birds for so long has given me a much greater appreciation for wildlife photographer; it can take a long time, LOTS of patience and a fair bit of luck to get the shots you want.

I’m really pleased with the final images, and even more pleased that I managed to create these with a very limited budget.  The sticks and branches were free, I already had the wire and some of the fabric.  The only money I spent money on was some fabric, paint, instant ice tea and the crown decoration.  All together I’d guess I spent about $40 or $50 on this, most of which went to the different colors of spray paint.  Huge budgets are not mandatory to create great things!

Below are the the final edited photos, along with some detail shots from each one; the small size these have to be on the internet just can’t display everything I’d like you to be able to see.

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen detai  l

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

Annunciation

Annunciation

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

By the way, does anyone know what kind of bird this is?  It’s one of my favorites who frequents the feeder; I’d like to know what to call her!

Thank you so much to Dedeker and Kim for their help in making these images happen, and to Geoff for all his support!  I couldn’t have done it without you guys.   I’m so pleased to be able to have these photos completed.  They really sum up what I want DreamWorld to be about; beautiful, ethereal, mysterious characters with a lot of production value.  Thanks to all who read all the way down to here!  🙂

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