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Posts Tagged ‘bts’

I have known Erick Reidell for several years, but he and Geoff go way back to high school.  Erick has always been an adventurous, creative, gregarious person, and we found a lot of artistic common ground to talk about when I first met him as Geoff’s new girlfriend a little over five years ago.  Which was a relief to me, since I just wanted Geoff’s friends to like me!

It was a shock to everyone when he was diagnosed with cancer that same year.  Cancer cruelly seems to always pick on the best, most wonderful people.  Erick would not be anyone’s “typical” cancer patient.  He doesn’t smoke, lives healthfully and is always full of optimism and cheer.  That first year Geoff and I were dating, Erick had a seven-pound tumor removed from his abdomen.  There were many breathless months while Erick endured chemo and treatments and recovered from surgery.  I vividly remember the night Erick’s wife called Geoff to tell him that the most recent scan had come back clear, and for the time being at least, Erick was in remission.  Everyone was, of course, extremely relieved.

Since then I’ve gotten the chance to get to know Erick better myself, and I can say he is one hell of a guy.  Hard-working, artistic, funny, a great husband and dad and always ready to face the next challenge his body throws at him.  He is such a lovely man that I suggested he become ordained online so Geoff and I could have him marry us at our wedding, which he did.  The wedding was, of course, a wonderful, beautiful blur of a day, but it will always mean so much more looking back and remembering it was our dear friend, and not some stranger, who performed the ceremony.

Alex/my man of honor, me, Erick, Geoff and Geoff's dad/best man, Larry.

Alex/my man of honor, me, Erick, Geoff and Geoff’s dad/best man, Larry.

Late winter, after several years of being clear, Erick’s cancer once again returned, and once again, he beat it.  Not without great effort from him and his doctors, but he did it.  When we knew we’d be seeing each other over Christmas, Erick asked to be a part of DreamWorld, which I gladly said yes to.  I also felt that a very serious charge had been given to me.  I wanted to make sure I did something special for Erick, something true to DreamWorld, something that spoke of his struggles and also something that would ring true to other cancer sufferers.

Out of these swirling thoughts came the Yellow Knight.  Yellow, since that color is associated with cancer-awareness ribbons, LiveStrong bracelets and the like.  His armor is made out of little bits and swirls of ribbon (or paper, as it ended up, but it looks like ribbon) much like the awareness ribbons.  Though ribbon would seem like a frail and flimsy defense, he defeats the horrible cancer-monster.

I’ll talk briefly about how I made Erick’s costume on, again, a next-to-nothing budget.  His cloak was the same one I’d used in Paul Telfer’s Sleeper’s Sentinel photos, so that was already made.  I wanted to make a chestplate and bracers for Erick’s armor.  Ihough I’d originally planned to use actual ribbon, I was dissatisfied with the ribbon selection both in my ribbon drawer and the craft store, so I decided to use paper instead.  That was also quite a bit less expensive, so double win!

For the chestplate, I stared by gluing two layers of cardstock together to give it a firm, stiff base, and covered one side in muslin for a more “polished” finish.

Matching up cardstock and fabric shapes.

Matching up cardstock and fabric shapes.

Cardstock back of the chestpiece.

Cardstock back of the chestpiece.

And fabric front, with a slight seam down the center to help shape it.

And fabric front, with a slight seam down the center to help shape it.

You can see my black and red suitcase on the floor, which just shows how hurriedly I was trying to put this together before we left for our trip.  I got the bracers made too; fabric shapes with cardstock bones to give them sturdiness.  I was planning on just tying the bracers on with ribbon, and I figured I’d do the same for the chestpiece since you wouldn’t be able to see the back or sides anyway, so the problem of keeping them on was easily solved.

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Bracer with cardstock bones.

At this point, we really had to leave, so I just cut lengths of paper and used my rotary cutter to slice nice, straight even strips into them.  I packed my glue gun and other supplies I might need and we hit the road.

Our time visiting family was short, so we decided to shoot right after Christmas.  I spent one long afternoon of our trip bent over the chestpiece and bracers, hot gluing the ribbon strips to them as quickly as I could.  I alternated the colors, types and thicknesses  the papers frequently to give it more depth, using cardstocks, vellum and tissue paper.  Unfortunately, I was so busy feeling stressed about getting it done before the shoot the next morning, I completely forgot to take photos of the gluing-on process.  But you can probably imagine what a slightly-crazed woman wielding a glue gun in one hand, paper ribbon strips in the other, muttering dark curses under her breath, hunched over fabric/paper constructs and commanding the glue gun to heat up faster and just GLUE looks like.

The morning of the shoot came, and I’d managed to finish the costume (though my lower back was still complaining from having hunched for so many hours).  I knew I’d be doing a lot of work to the cancer-monster in post, so I simply had one black trash bag bunched up into a ball which Erick could punch, and I’d made a very, very rough wire frame for another black trash bag into something that was somewhat wing-shaped.

I scotch-taped the bags as needed to hold their shapes and let Erick pummel the central mass of the creature.  Geoff helped tremendously with flipping the cloak and holding the wings up for me to photograph separately and composite into the final image.  All said, it took perhaps half an hour.  The park we were in was just beautiful and quite deserted given the very cold weather and early hour, and I couldn’t resist taking some snapshots of plants covered in jewel-like snow.  I’ve said it before, but as a California-native, snow is UTTERLY MAGICAL to me whenever I encounter it.

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

Erick looked incredibly noble and at home in his costume, and I’m so glad Geoff reminded me to take a portrait of him not in action.  They’re quite different shots, but I think a lot of Erick’s quiet, inner strength and grace shows through, especially in the second portrait.

After that, we all had a lovely breakfast at a local cafe and warmed up with hot food and coffee.  A successful shoot!

I hope these image can be an inspiration to others fighting their own battles; perhaps simply reminders to not give up quite yet.  If you have had experiences with cancer or other long illnesses yourself, I would love to hear from you!  I hope I can make the cancer community proud.

And with that, let’s see the finished photos!

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight -detail

The Yellow Knight -detail

Ribbon Armor

Ribbon Armor

Ribbon Armor - detail

Ribbon Armor – detail

Thank you, Erick, for coming to play in DreamWorld!  🙂

This is not the time or place to get into it all, but it seems I will be heading into another of my own health battles, of the bureaucratic nature this time, and any well wishes and prayers would be appreciated!

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My dear friend and frequent collaborator Katie Johnson has recently started a new video series which profiles the artists she works with frequently.  I was honored to be featured in the first of her videos!  She put a great piece together which includes an interview with me and lots of behind-the-scenes peeks into how we work.

Take a look!

I often think of lines from the song the princess sings in Peter S. Beagle’s legendary work The Last Unicorn:

Oh, I am a king’s daughter
And I grow old within
The prison of my person
The shackles of my skin

And I would run away
And beg from door to door
Just to see your shadow
Just once and nevermore

The prison of my person, the shackles of my skin” perfectly describes how I feel about my physical body most days.  Though I doubt Mr. Beagle had ME in mind when he wrote it, it resonates so strongly with me.  And I’m sure people with other chronic illnesses will be able to identify with it; it’s a pretty universal problem across the chronically ill spectrum.

Feeling so trapped has always made me instantly know something of what Amalthea felt at finding herself in human form.  I imagine it was even harder for her though.  The disharmony we chronically ill feel with our body was something I’d wanted to express in my Enchanted Sleep series for quite a while and I was glad to finally bring the image to life!

There’s something more visceral about images than you often can’t replicate with words.  Words are powerful, they can build and tear down mountains, but the visual world offers the same information in a different form.  One that, if used well, can strike like a snake and bring instantaneous understanding.  That’s my hope with this series; to illustrate the life of a person with myalgic encephalomyelitis in a way that reaches where words cannot.

I will admit… I’d beg from door to door just to catch a glimpse of a unicorn’s shadow too 🙂

Here’s a look at the final image from our shoot:

Inside Looking Out

Inside Looking Out

And a detail shot:

Inside Looking Out - detail

Inside Looking Out – detail

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First post of 2014!

How was everyone holiday and new year’s celebration?  Geoff and I had the chance to take a little road trip to see some family, which was really fun!  We got to hit some stops coming and going we’d been wanting to see for a while, so I’ll just get right into it.

First stop was the Arizona Deer Farm!  I visited the deer farm with my family when I was about 4 or 5, and I remember it quite vividly.  I was very excited to realize that not only was the place still around, it was pretty much right on our way!  It’s more of a large petting zoo than a farm per say, and they encourage photographs to be taken.  I have a series coming up which is taking a lot of inspiration from deer, so it was very much a win-win situation for me!  Thanks to Geoff for taking all the photos that have me in them!

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There’s a path for people to walk on, and most of the deer mill about freely inside a large enclosure.   They have plenty of places they can go and hang out or take a nap that are well off the path, so they only are interacting with you if they want to.  And since you get a big cup of feed when you go in, many of them want to 🙂

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Most of the deer are fallow deer; as you can see, they don’t get terribly large, they come in a variety of beautiful colors, and they retain their fawn-like spots into adulthood.

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The price of food: one smooch on the head. This one thought it was a fair trade.

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Checking my hair for edibility; sorry, buck.

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Sadly, my coat is also not edible.

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The males have the most stunning antlers of any deer I’ve seen!  I took lots of photos of this handsome gentleman.

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Once we arrived safely in Kansas, we settled in to the cold weather.  They had an unusual amount of snow for this time of year, which was sighed at by all the locals but I rejoiced in.  We met up with Erick Riedell, a friend of Geoff’s since Junior High, who also got ordained and married us, and who is also a photographer.  In addition to being an all-around great guy, he’s a cancer survivor twice over now.  He had volunteered to be a part of DreamWorld while we were back, and I wanted to find a way to honor his battle and triumphs… hopefully I’ll be able to share the result of that shoot soon!

While we were wandering around a snow-covered wood for the shoot, I was enchanted by the fairy-world sparkle the snow gave all the plants.  I snapped this shot, which reminded me of the fairy tale of The 12 Dancing Princesses and the underground world where all the trees and fruit are made of jewels.

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

On our way back home we stopped at the Wigwam Motel, the epitome of Route 66 kitsch.  We’d stayed there once before, and while the rooms are humble, they are so fun to stay in!  It looks like very little has changed since it opened in 1950.

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.  Those are my gloves on the car trunk, not a wad of used tissues as it appears.

As we made our way home from Arizona, we stopped at The Roadkill Cafe, another historic Route 66 stop.  They had great food (which was not at all made out of roadkill) along with a lovely hand-drawn sign honoring the fallen Hotshot firemen.  I had an unsettling moment when I saw the sign; my heart sank at the reminder of all the brave souls who were lost that day, but I loved that the cafe was honoring their lives and memories.  Regular readers will remember why the loss was hard for me.

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Thank you, Roadkill Cafe, for your very sincere and personal gesture showing your gratitude to the firemen heroes.

So now… on to the first photo of the year!  As much as possible, I feel it’s important to start a year off right with my photos.  Get going on a direction that will determine a positive trajectory.  I wanted my first photo of 2014 to be one I’d look back on proudly.  This photo ended up being quite a bit more work to edit than I’d expected, but I felt waiting a little longer would be worth it.

This concept was actually one I’d shot with Katie at our very first shoot many months ago, but it just didn’t turn out quite like I’d wanted.  The concept was a DreamWorld character; a wind spirit, or perhaps wind goddess would be more appropriate.

I started by making her an art nouveau-inspired headdress.  I remember I’d been looking at one of my books on Alphonse Mucha and had wanted to make a headdress similar to what many of his women are adorned with.

I used my foam head to pin and hot glue sensual, looping ribbons into a headband shape.  The forehead and sides were decorated with masses of little white flowers and small glitter-covered styrofoam balls in a variety of sizes.

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It was meant to be worn rather low over the forehead, which almost instantly gave it that art nouveau feel.

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After that, I hot glued long strands of ribbon to the headband and dotted them with a few more of the styrofoam balls which would help show the blowing wind, along with making it feel more magical.

The second shoot went much better than the first one did!

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail

Katie always plays ethereal goddess-types so easily!  Her acting chops are so important to the kind of photography I do.  We both would like to see this kind of headdress become fashionable so we could just go around wearing them all day, at, say, the grocery store… so how about it?  Would you like a wind goddess headdress of your own to help start a trend?  🙂

Thanks to Katie for her patient modeling and to all my readers!  I hope your year has been off to a great start!

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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.

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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.

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

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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….

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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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Another set of DreamWorld photos are done; yay!  🙂

Paul trio

I had the chance to shoot Paul Telfer, who looks startlingly like you would imagine Superman would look in real life.  When I was casting the role of the Sentinel, Paul immediately came to mind.  He just looks like someone who would be more than capable of keeping you safe, in this world or DreamWorld!

You might recognize Paul from his recurring role on NCIS,  and recent appearances on Body of Proof and Vampire Diaries.  In fact, you can catch him on Vampire Diaries on their season finale on hte 16th!  Make sure to set your DVR.  🙂  He is also just the nicest person; charming, interesting and he really brought his acting skills into play for the photos.  He was a joy to shoot!

DreamWorld was going to need a protector; someone who would watch over you as you sleep and keep the nightmares at bay.  As I started thinking about how to visually portray this, I again associated one’s ego with eggs (although I actually conceived and shot this before Lauren’s photo).  It seemed very fitting; the intrinsic fragility of eggs, combined with their promise of life, growth and change… a perfect metaphor for the human soul.

For them to work in the photo, they were going to need to be much, much larger than an average egg, so I turned to the internet.  It proved really quite difficult to find suitable eggs; everything was either far too small or far too large (and also cost far too much).  Eventually though, I came across some plastic eggs at a party supply site.  They were all the wrong colors, and the package came with many more than I needed, but they would work, so I purchased them.

Once they arrived, I set about painting them.  I started with a few base coats of a pearly blue acrylic paint… I love this paint, it’s actually the same paint that I used to cover the dresser at the foot of my bed.  It’s just gorgeous.  Being covered in the paint immediately made the eggs look less like toys and much more magical.  I added in several more layers of different colors and textures, finishing them by spritzing them with water and then spraying on a light haze of silver spray paint.  The paint wouldn’t adhere where the water was, so it gave the eggs a slightly speckled appearance, which made them look like authentic eggs.

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Painting eggs

Painting eggs.

More painting eggs

Paul came over and the weather gods must have been favoring me, since it was a gorgeously overcast afternoon.  Cloudy, overcast days are my very favorite, both personally and for shooting in.  I scooped up a mess of pine needles, generously provided by the little pine grove in front of my house.  Creating a nest out of them brought back fond childhood memories of building just such nests at parks which I’d sit in, pretending to be a bird.  Happy memories!

The painted eggs got loaded into the nest, along with some moss I’d found just to give an extra little dimension of realism.  Paul posed with them and was such a pro!  Shooting all three photos probably took twenty or thirty minutes, and then we were done!

I can never shoot anything without an animal appeared unexpectedly in it, as my neighbor’s dog Mei Mei demonstrates.

Mei Mei bomb

Mei Mei bomb

I felt like I’d done a good job with the photos when I had a nightmare a few days after I’d finished them, and imagining the Sentinel guarding me in my sleep helped calm and comfort me.  Please enjoy the finished photos and detail shots from each image, and feel free to imagine the Sentinel is guarding your sleep too 🙂

Sleeper's Sentinel

Sleeper’s Sentinel

sarahallegra.com

sarahallegra.com

His Flock Of Little Birds

His Flock Of Little Birds

His Flock Of Little Birds nest

Prayer For The Frail

Prayer For The Frail

Prayer For The Frail

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

Smoke birds

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I had the great pleasure recently of shooting with Lauren Cohan, the very talented actress many of you will know as Maggie from AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has its season finale this Sunday!  She was also a special guest lead in this week’s episode of Law and Order: SVU.

I’d had a couple of concepts in mind to use with her, so let me back up a little and take you through the whole creation process.

I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by my idol Joseph Campbell, in which he really delves into his concept of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey, aka the Monomyth, is the story outline that all classic stories, folktales, myths, fairy tales and most popular movies of our day follow.   I will let him describe the basic Hero’s Journey in his own words: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix… it’s easier to find examples of stories which are not variations of the Hero’s Journey than those that are.  And of course, the actual Journey he proposes is much more complex than that brief blurb could touch on; there is the Departure, Initiation, and Return, each of which have six or seven individual steps.

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I’ve found the Hero’s Journey to be a fascinating concept ever since I first heard about it.  And as Joseph Campbell wrote so heavily, and influentially, about dreams, myths and the importance of both in our modern lives, I knew his work would color much of what DreamWorld is becoming.  Recently I decided I would like to do a sub-series in DreamWorld portraying each of the steps along the Hero’s Journey.  It will be a challenge, and a long journey of its own, but I felt it would make an important contribution to DreamWorld.

As I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell has been taking us through the Journey one step at a time, using examples from mythologies and religions all over the world.  Crossing The First Threshold  is the moment where the hero is given his first real challenge and he realizes there’s no going back (eg, taking the red pill).  In illustrating this step, Campbell talks about a story where a thunderbolt in one’s belly is used as a metaphor for a person’s essence.  It is their soul, their spiritual center, and it is what gives them the strength and intrinsic ability to overcome the challenges the Journey will throw at them.  I loved that image, so I set about figuring out how to incorporate it into my photo.

While I puzzled out the thunderbolt, I decided to start working on two pieces of my Hero’s costume; a crown and an amulet.  I made them both in a very similar easy, quick way, starting with some cardboard from a cereal box I had finished recently.

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I had a large deer-head necklace that I’d been wanting to use for a while, and I thought it would make a beautiful center to the amulet.  I doodled a complimentary shape on the cardboard, traced the shape onto a piece of paper, flipped it, and gave myself a very symmetrical base.

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Next I started working on the crown, using the same doodle-trace-flip method to give myself as much symmetry as possible.

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Pinning and gluing the crown pieces together.

Once I had the basic shapes down, it came time to wrap them all in aluminum foil.  I just smooshed it on, not worrying about making it smooth, since having a bit of texture was going to actually be good for my purposes.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

The next step is one I remembered learning as a kid from a library book which taught you how to make your own toys and crafts; pirate coins in this case.  Smear black paint on the whole surface, then rub most of it off with a paper towel.  The paint will stick just in the cracks and crevasses, giving a much more authentic, aged, weathered look to the pieces.

Post paint.

Post paint.

I added a couple of hair combs to the crown to help it stay it Lauren’s hair.  Then came the fun part; decorating them both!

I knew I wanted to use the deer necklace on he amulet so I twisted it on with a few wires, so I have the option of taking it off and using it somewhere else later (as I almost certainly will).

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At the bottom is a decorative piece from a hair pin I’d gotten as a teenager and never got rid of after it broke because it was pretty. I am SUCH a magpie, but it can be a handy curse.

I dug into my bead stash and found a bag of purple and orange beads of various sizes and shapes which I thought would work really well.  I began hot-gluing them on, which is not the way to do it if you wan something really solid and lasting.  I did not.  I wanted it to hold together long enough to shoot, then be easy to take apart and use the beads again somewhere else.

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Done and done!  Now on to my thunderbolt/soul piece.  I do not recall the exact chain of thoughts that led me down this path, but something about the word ego and its similarity to egg made me want to give the soul an eggy, oval shape.

This one I started with a cardboard oval, cut from more of the same giving cereal box.  I covered it with foil, then glued lot and lots of little scraps of lace (left over from my lace leaves) to give it a little dimensionality and wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap.

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Plastic-wrapped soul egg.

I painted the outline with some soft purple paints, darkening the color gradually around the perimeter.  And lastly, as a nod to the “thunderbolt” part of the story, I topped it off with a sparkly, snowflake-shaped ornament.

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All that was left was the glue the egg onto a length of wide ribbon to make a belt of it, and there I was done!

The day of the shoot arrived, and Lauren was fantastic for everything; a trooper and such pleasure to shoot!  I suspected that Lauren’s acting ability would lend itself well to my concepts for her, and she did not disappoint; she was wonderful 🙂

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero's Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren... my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot.  She bore this with good humor.

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero’s Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren… my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot. She bore this with good humor… or rather, humour, in her case, since she’s British.

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The ubiquitous Calantha bomb of the talent; she manages to work herself into the background of most photos at least once.

 

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This time Calantha not only photobombed us, but she decided that my laying on the ground to get the angle I wanted was irresistible and she HAD to lay down with me.

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photo 4(1)

She decided I was boring, so she took a nap.

I have another photo to work up still, but I’ll be posting those later.  Editing just this one was tough enough; I put well over 50 hours into it.  I’ll need a little break before I get to the rest!  But for now, here is Lauren Cohen Crossing The First Threshold of the Hero’s Journey!

Crossing The First Threshold

Crossing The First Threshold

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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.

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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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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.

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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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