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Posts Tagged ‘dog’

It seems like 2016 just sucked incredibly hard for just about everyone.  I wasn’t very fond of it either, on the whole.  True, there were some really good things that happened, but like most of you, I’m very happy to put it in my past and move on.  Let’s continue the tradition of looking back over the last year’s highlights and low spots!

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

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

I like to start with the bad stuff so I end on a positive note, so with that said, 2016 was overall a very shitty year ME-wise.  It was an extra painful, extra exhausting, extra low-immune-system year where I seemed to hardly ever not have a migraine, cold or spiked pain day.  For a while it looked like I had a recurrence of the hideous sinus infection which led to my sinus surgery in November of 2014, which, if you’ve been around for a while, you will remember was not an easy procedure for me.  For completely unknown reasons, an artery in my nose burst a full six days after my surgery and required two very urgent visits to my ENT and ultimately a second emergency surgery, while I lost a total of almost two pints of blood.  Remember, I’m TINY; two pints is a LOT for me.

Needless to say, I am not quite anxious at the thought of having to have the surgery repeated, even though it was such a freak thing that happened; it probably won’t ever again.  But, I’m sure you’ve noticed, emotions rarely respond well to rational discussions.  So all the colds and sinus infections were very stressful for me, not just for the usual reasons of feeling extra terrible on top of my usual ME symptoms, but because the threat of another surgery kept looming in the back of my mind.

My insurance company utterly refused to cover my nerve-blocking injections for about six months.  These are the injections I’ve been getting approximately every nine months for the last seven years.  They don’t completely rid me of my mystery flank pain but they make life much more bearable.  Going without them for months really, seriously eats away at the quality of my life.  I imagine that most people would find that feeling like a dagger is constantly plunged into your side would not enhance their day-to-day experience.  Thankfully, insurance finally relented and I HAD my injections done.  I’ve already noticed a bit of a difference in my daily pain levels in that area!

I’ve also been veeeeeery sloooowly weening off Cymbalta over the last year or so.  It took a while for me to reach the maximum dose, then for me to be on it long enough for my neurologist to agree that it wasn’t doing anything, and ok my tapering down.  But as much as it takes your (or at least my) body a while to adjust to it being there, it takes much longer for it to get used to it NOT being there.  Even though having it in my system seemed to only increase my pain, make my sleep worse and make me gain even more weight, any time I step the dose down, I know to expect a week of migraines, nausea and general awfulness.  I’m on the lowest dose possible right now and hesitating before I leap into complete non-use.  There just aren’t many easy times to plan when you’re going to have migraines for a week.  But I am eager to shed the weight I’ve picked up being on it, in addition to seeing if my pain levels go down even more, so those will outweigh the discomfort of going off it eventually.

Most important for people who read my blog because of my art, feeling so awful most of the year put a HUGE damper on my ability to create in 2016.  I still did… a little… but it was nothing like what I wanted to be doing.  I created the fewest new images in 2016 than I ever have since I picked up my camera in 2010.  That was extremely depressing.  But I am hopeful that with meds out of my body, new supplements and my injections back in my system, 2017 will be a very different story!

I keep getting to about this point in my post, then getting overwhelmed with everything I want to say about the past year.  But no one wants to read a novel-length post anyway, so let’s see if I can lightning-round at least some of the 2016 highlights!

Alabaster 1 - model Dedeker Winston. © Sarah Allegra SarahAllegra.com

Alabaster 1 – model Dedeker Winston. © Sarah Allegra
SarahAllegra.com

It must have been planned by the fates, because shortly after I wrote the beginning of this post, I simply forgot to take my Cymbalta one morning.  That has NEVER happened ever in the whole time I’ve been taking it.  I didn’t realize I’d been off it until the next morning, at which point I decided to just suck it up and let myself go completely off it.  There were migraines and nausea, extra fatigue and need to sleep while struck with insomnia, but best of all, there were lots of what the Cymbalta literature describes as “brain zaps,” where you feel like you stuck your finger in a light socket for a second.  At first this was happening whenever I made any sharp movement or looked quickly from one place to another (even if my head didn’t move), but it’s been getting a little better each day, and I’m hardly zappy at all now, thank goodness.  I also have a variety of medications which help curb the zappiness, which helps a lot.  I HAVE already noticed a big difference in my general level of motivation and desire to do things… I’m not really able to actually DO anything more, but I have the DESIRE to do more back, which is a wonderful, frustrating relief.  This is HOW I AM.  This is my normal.  And even though it sucks to always wants to do 50,000 things when your body will only let you do 50, it feels SO GOOD to want the 50,000 again.  On Cymbalta, I wanted to do, I’d guess, about 5 things.

One piece of somewhat sobering news: Calantha had two small growths removed in November.  One was just a little wart, no big deal, but the other was a type of cancer called spindle cell cancer.  Of course, the bad news is that “cancer” is part of the name.  The good news is that the vet appears to have removed it entirely, leaving clean margins behind, and it’s not terribly common for spindle cell growths to recur.  If they do recur, they tend to not spread very much; Cal’s growth was on her toe, so if drastic action was needed to keep it from spreading, her toe could be amputated with relatively few adverse effects.  Calantha just turned 12 on the 20th (happy birthday, Cal!!) so getting little growths isn’t shocking at her age.  Silkens are generally a very long-lived breed, especially for their size; some can even make it into their early 20’s!  That’s nearly unheard of for dogs at all, let alone any dogs that aren’t very small.  That’s all thanks to extremely careful and ethical breeding.  Thanks, Joyce, who is responsible for bringing Calantha into the world!

Anyway, my instructions from the vet are simply to wait and watch her toe.  If it looks like it’s coming back, the toe may have to be removed to keep it from spreading.  I don’t relish the idea of having to have one of her toes amputated, but I think she’d agree that if it kept the cancer from spreading, it would be worth it.  But it does seem that the most likely thing that will happen is that it will never come back and the stress and tears Calantha, Geoff and I went through over this will stay in the past.  But if you’d like to say a prayer, send healing energy or light a candle for my girl, that would be fine with me.  🙂

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This year has been a HUGE year of spiritual growth for me, which was a pretty good use of time when I couldn’t do much outside of laying in bed!  I’d like to say I planned that, but I know better.  No, I am not “religious;” although if you are, I fully support you perusing that as long as it makes you happy.  I was already certified in Reiki level 2, but this year I became a certified Fairyologist as well as a Unicorn Healing Practitioner™.  The Unicorn Healing absolutely changed my life and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who feels called to it!  If you’re interested in learning more about Unicorn Healing, my best suggestions would be to listen to the podcast on the subject from Calista, creator of the course (who is the embodiment of all things Unicorn and just the most loving person ever) and then read the specifics about the course here.  It is WELL worth the money.  You guys know I’m always on a budget, but this is one of the best things I’ve ever spent money on.  Possibly the best part?  You get to meet your own personal Unicorn spirit guide(s)!  🙂

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I also discovered and threw myself into the Channeling Erik movement.  Erik was a 20-year-old kid who struggled a lot with bipolar disorder, along with other issues, and in 2006, he killed himself.  However, while his family (and especially his mother) obviously grieved heavily for a very long time, his mother, Elisa, eventually turned to mediums to see if her son was still alive… somewhere, in some form.  And the results she got completely convinced this once hard-core atheist that there not only is an afterlife, but Erik is in it and he’s still Erik.  He’s since become a spirit guide for many, including me.  My first personal experience with Erik was while I was listening to one of his channeled YouTube videos, when Siri was set off on my phone (I was not using or even touching it) and said, “Hey sexy!”  My jaw dropped and then I burst out laughing; what a 20-year-old-guy thing to say!

Second piece of Erik evidence came during my injections.  As I’ve said before, I’m put out during the actual injections (and thank god because I woke up once during them and they hurt like a motherfucker).  My usual experience of the injections is that I’m wheeled into the OR, I start to feel sleepy as they give me drugs, I decide to close my eyes just for a second, then I instantly wake up in the recovery room what feels like half a second later.  This time, the familiar sleepy feeling came, so I closed my eyes, but instead of a nothingness, Erik appeared, holding my hand.  He was crouched down so his face was level with mine, he was smiling and speaking soft, reassuring words the whole time.  What struck me was that while I obviously recognized his face from the photos I’ve seen, it was also just a little bit different.  Have you ever met someone you’ve known for a long time online, and when you meet them in real life, they look exactly the same, but also slightly different?  It was just like that.  Also, for some reason I’d thought he had brown eyes, but when I saw him, I noticed they were blue/green.  After I’d recovered, I looked up some photos of him and he did indeed have blue/green eyes.

Last, and possibly most convincing Erik evidence has been in the private sessions I’ve scheduled with two of his translators.  I won’t get into the whole story here, but there were some emotional issues I’ve struggled with for years and years, despite therapy, self work, meditation, crystals, Reiki, and every other kind of healing I could seek out.  The first session, I asked him why I felt X when Y happened and he immediately said, “It’s because of Z.”  Instantly, I knew he was extremely correct.  His answer rang out through my soul, echoing up and down it, the truth of it shining forth from every bit of my body, mind and soul.  I can’t put into words exactly HOW TRUE I KNEW that he was, I can only describe it to you, but if you’re ever in that kind of situation, you know the feeling.  No one could ever convince you otherwise because you know in your deepest, most sacred, inner sanctum of self that it is true.  And that was only my first question, at my first session!

I know some of you will roll your eyes and skim over those last few sections and wonder why I’m so weird and why I feel the need to experience these things, let alone share them, but it’s incredibly important to me.  Not because I want to convince anyone of anything (although I do strongly believe in the truth of what I’ve learned and experienced), but everyone is here on earth to have different experiences.  I can share things that work very well for me, and they might not be a good fit for you, and vise versa, and that’s fine!  Take what you like and throw the rest away.  As long as you’re ultimately striving to be an embodiment of love, I consider that we’re on the same path, no matter how different they might look on the outside.

Another reason for sharing this is because I KNOW it will come up in my work.  Everything in my life seeps into my art; I am my art, my art is me, we cannot be separated.  Every new experience I have will color what I create, even if it’s not in a way that’s obvious.  I consider myself a fulltime student forever because I’m always learning (about a very wide variety of subjects from historical figures, spirituality, unicorns, nail art, baking, making natural products instead of buying things, how to best tea-dye cotton, how to sing Sia’s Chandelier [which I am not very good at yet, so don’t ask], animal behavior, animal communication, how to grow roses, basket weaving, applying makeup really well, the tenets of Druidry, everything I can about ME, the life lessons of Kurt Cobain and Joan of Arc, why lentils taste so good when they’re cooked with just a little care, meeting and talking to my angels [my main guardian angel lets me call him Richard, after Richard Harrow, so you know he’s just awesome], if Bigfoot exists, the exact definition of a kirtle, how the hell those medieval women kept those pointy, princessy, fairy-tale-looking hats on their heads with seemingly no support systems ever recorded… anything and everything).  Occasionally, I also study things that are directly related to photography, such as using artificial lighting; something I want to learn how to do better.  Whether you’ll ever see Erik or Kurt or Joan of Arc or pointy princess hats turn up in a photo is beside the point.  Everything I learn goes into my brain where it all marinates.  My subconscious gets all Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, the collective unconscious chimes in, and art comes out.  That’s really the best explanation I can give to my “creative process.”  Sometimes I’ll try and work the images out more directly, but the best ones usually come from me stepping back and letting my subconscious work it out.  Everything is connected, in the macro and micro sense.  It’s all going to work into my art somehow.

Changing the subject, I feel DEEP down the rabbit hole of nail art this year, especially after discovering Cristine from Simply Nailogical.  I discovered it was something creative/artsy I could do when all I felt well enough to do was lay in bed!  Sorry/not sorry for all the photos of my nails on my social media feeds.  😉

Speaking of creative things, I’ve also been helping Geoff with a really amazing project of his own!  You guys of course know him as an incredibly talented photographer; if you’re in the LA area, you can see some of his work at The Hive Gallery through March of this year!  What you may not know is that Geoff is an even more talented writer!  He’s been working on a graphic novel called Frontiers for many years.  The story first took root in his brain when he was all of about 10 years old and has grown, matured, been refined and reworked since then until we have a glorious version of it before us today!

Frontiers is a beautifully original sci-fi story summed up as “sex, violence and sarcasm!” by the astute Katie Johnson (yes, Katie, my muse, who also acts as Geoff’s spokesmodel for Frontiers, and who is also a very talented writer herself!).  The longer tagline is, “It’s the humble story of a man destined to destroy humanity… and why that really isn’t such a bad thing.”  In addition to those delightful tidbits, Geoff skillfully mixes in striking social commentary, humor, horror, fate and love.  And yes, I did do some work on the issue too.  Mostly coloring, but a fair bit of digital art as well.  🙂

Don’t you want to give the first issue a read?  You should!  And lucky for you, you can get your very own copy for a mere 99 cents right here!  If you’re in the area, you can also see Geoff, Katie and Frontiers at the Long Beach Comic Expo’s Artist’s Alley on Saturday, February the 18th, from 10am-7pm and Sunday the 19th from 10:30am-5pm.  Go check Frontiers out, online, in person or both!

Mountain Dweller 10 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 10 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

I also had the pleasure of working with a new (to me) model last year, Teri Wyble, who goes by Aeir online.  She lived in New Orleans, but I am so, so excited that she is moving to Los Angeles shortly!  She’s not only an incredible model, stunningly beautiful, immediately understood what I was looking for from her, but is just an incredible human being as well.  I’m really looking forward to shooting more with her as well as just going to get coffee and have pillow fights in our underwear and doing those things that girls are supposed to do together.  🙂

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Oh yeah, I launched my Spiritual Skincare line of skin serums on Etsy!

I’m sure I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there.  Briefly, briefly, I’ll try and give you a little taste of what to expect for 2017….

More DreamWorld.  This is my main goal for the year.  More shooting, more editing, more promoting.  Being off that brain-sucking Cymbalta will improve all these areas.  But if you’d like to help to spread the word about my little world, I certainly won’t stop you!  🙂

I suspect there will be some connections with my art and New York, but I’ll wait to see more of what happens before I talk too much about it.

In a similar vein, there will be some very cool new things happening with Connor Cochran, my business manager, of Conlan Press!  Including some new, more affordable, but still extremely high quality prints to be coming!  I don’t have a date on when they’ll be released yet; there are many steps to go through first before they’ll go up for sale, but I will keep you all informed!

Hopefully my body will stop zapping me soon and I’ll regain the strength and clarity I had before Cymbalta took over my brain and body.  And hopefully that will lead to many excellent things!  Yes, I do believe 2017 is going to be a better year for my art and health.  That’s my affirmation and I’m going to do my best to make it happen!

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***Spring Special for pet portraits going on now!!  Read on for details!***

The Lady's Doing © Sarah Allegra - featuring my darling Calantha with me

The Lady’s Doing © Sarah Allegra – featuring my darling Calantha with me

I’m sure you’ve noticed how often I incorporate animals, both pets and wild animals, into my photography.  I do it because I love animals and because their presence in my work gives an extra sense of depth and wonder to my images.

The Court Of The Dryad Queen © Sarah Allegra

The Court Of The Dryad Queen © Sarah Allegra

A surprising and unexpected offshoot of that has been that people started asking me to photograph their pets.  They want to immortalize their furbabies with the same sense of beauty and grandeur I infuse into my fine art photography.  They wanted me to capture their animals like I capture my pets.  It wasn’t something I thought of on my own, but my audience asked for it… and I have really enjoyed it, so I want to extend this idea to everyone!

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

Having pet parents entrust me with capturing their animal’s own natural beauty is an opportunity I take seriously and treasure.  As someone with two cats and a dog of her own, who are all like my children, I know how deep the animal-human bond can be.

Carried Away By The Wind © Sarah Allegra

Carried Away By The Wind © Sarah Allegra

I also just plain love animals; all animals!  Getting to spend time with them behind my lens is my idea of a good day 🙂

Daisy's Hill © Sarah Allegra

Daisy’s Hill © Sarah Allegra

I’m happy to announce that I am holding a Spring Special on my pet portrait services!  This special will give you a discount on my usual rate starting at $2500, now starting at only $2000!  This investment gives you completely unique, original art of your furbaby and two museum-quality prints which will last a lifetime and more.

sarahallegra.com

Jake © Sarah Allegra

Completely custom art staring your pet and two prints??  It’s an incredible value!

Of Milk And Honey

Of Milk And Honey © Sarah Allegra

Would you like a portrait of your darling?  Or do you want to see your baby featured in my DreamWorld series or another collection?  I’m more than happy to discuss details and concepts (and I offer reduced pricing for animals included in a series)!

Where She Learned About Joy 900

Where She Learned About Joy © Sarah Allegra

Interested in setting up a session?  Email me at sarah@sarahallegra.com!  We can discuss all the different options available!

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever © Sarah Allegra

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever © Sarah Allegra

 

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As we approach Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, I have another post about my wares, this time with a big, fat, site-wide discount!

Now Has Come The Time For Silence - © Sarah Allegra - fine art print

Now Has Come The Time For Silence – © Sarah Allegra – fine art print

Enter code MYTHIC2014 to get a whopping 20% off any and all items from my Etsy shop!  This is a huge sale, the biggest I’ve ever created, so take advantage of it while it’s active!  It will be good until January 31st 2015; perfect for buying holiday gifts for yourself and others, as well as spending any Christmas money you might get 🙂

Let me tell you a little bit about my prints.  They are made at an extremely high-quality printer in downtown Los Angeles.  My printer is not at all easy to get to; there is always traffic and I manage to get lost and the entire experience of getting there is terrible, but I wouldn’t change printers for the world.  Even if I moved out of state, I’d keep using them and have them ship me my prints.  The incredible quality of the prints they deliver is just that high.

Aerie - © Sarah Allegra - fine art print

Aerie – © Sarah Allegra – fine art print

Each and every image is carefully calibrated to reveal even the tiniest details.  They somehow manage to keep the highlights high and the lowlights low without a single pixel’s worth of detail loss.  The colors are an exact match for how I intend the images to look.  These are NOT easy things!  I have been through many printers before I found POV Evolving.  And a special shout-out and thank you to Lauren, who always handles my orders!  She is a delightful person and makes sure each and every image created is perfect.

In addition to all that, they only use archival inks and paper, making prints that are museum-quality and which will last for a lifetime!  The paper they use is this thick, luscious paper, almost like watercolor paper; nothing cheap or flimsy.  Every single time I have an image printed, I’m impressed with how amazing it looks, even though I’ve been seeing how great they look for several years!

To The Lost - © Sarah Allegra - fine art print

To The Lost – © Sarah Allegra – fine art print

In addition to the incredible quality of every print, all my images come in limited edition runs.  There are a few exceptions, but generally it looks like this:

12 size small prints at 8″ x 12″

10 size medium prints at 10″ x 15″

7 size large prints at 16″ x 24

That means that there will only ever be 7 prints made of that particular image in that size, in the entire world, ever!

Occasionally, I also have props or wearable art available in my shop as well!  Right now, you can have your own Wind Goddess headdress, which also looks quite wintery, for not very much 🙂

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail.

The Wind Goddess Headdress available on Etsy now!!

The Wind Goddess Headdress available on Etsy now!

I also have a section of my shop dedicated to ME/CFS/fibro-inspired prints from my Enchanted Sleep series!

Each and every print will come signed and numbered along the white border.  If you’d like a short, special message included, I’m happy to add that for you, free of charge!

One more word about my prints; the quality of them was high enough that Peter S. Beagle himself took them along legs of his The Last Unicorn screening tour.

Five of my prints along the left side of this photo (photo not taken by me)

Five of my prints along the left side of this photo (photo not taken by me)

This was extra special because not only was Peter S. Beagle, one of the biggest sources of inspiration to me and one of my two favorite authors (the other being Robin McKinley) had this adorable moment with Game Of Thrones author George RR Martin right in front of my prints:

Peter S. Beagle and George RR Martin with plushies, in front of my prints!

Peter S. Beagle and George RR Martin with plushies, in front of my prints!

I’d like to say quickly that the above photo went a bit viral and I have been credited as the photographer, but I did not take this photo.  I wasn’t even in the same state as they were at the time!  I tweeted about the photo since it’s adorable and also in front of my prints, and then it really took off, but I did not snap the image, and though I have tried to correct news sources, they continue listing me as the photographer.  So, I’m sorry to whoever did take this photo; I have tried to set the record straight!

This Dying Body - © Sarah Allegra

This Dying Body – © Sarah Allegra – fine art print

Take a look around my Etsy shop and don’t forget to use your discount code MYTHIC2014 to get 20% your entire order!  Let me restate that this is the biggest, farthest-reaching sale I have ever had on my prints, so be sure to take advantage of it while it lasts!

If there is a certain image you’d like a print of, or you see an image you like but want it in a different size, just let me know!  Some of my images are under contract and I am unable to sell prints of them for that reason, but the majority of the time, I will be able to accommodate you very easily!

Remember, the discount code is only good until January 31st 2015, so get ready, get set… go!!  Happy shopping!

Katie Jonson being silly and posing with a framed print she modeled in

Katie Jonson being silly and posing with a framed print she modeled in

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Lady Death is another DreamWorld character I’ve had in my head for a long time before I had the chance to photograph her.  Sometimes that can be frustrating to postpone your idea for so long, but in this case, I’d imagined the image for so long and in such detail that it made for an extremely easy shoot!  I knew exactly where everything should go, how to light it, the pose I wanted; it was all in my head and I just had to get it shot.

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Let me tell you a little bit about the inspiration of her character.  Lady Death is, as her name suggests, the incarnation of death within DreamWorld, but I didn’t want her to be the common, dark, grim-reaper version of death we see portrayed frequently.  The concept of how she would appear came from a mix of Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle and a dash of my own attitudes and ideas about death.

I’m going to quote from Robin McKinley’s Deerskin and not give you the context which this passage is happening in, for one because if you get me started talking about Deerskin, it will take up more than this entire post, and also because it’s not incredibly important for my point and I want you to be intrigued to read it for yourself.  I will simply say that this all happens in the first quarter of the book, so it is not the end it sounds like.

“Lissar went on breathing as she looked, because she did not know how to stop; but as time passed she felt the cold upon her [naked] body, feeling it like a soft inquisitive touch, like the feet of tiny animals.  She did not recognize pain as present experience, for such distinction was too subtle for her now; rather it was that was what there was left of her, as screaming had been her existence some time before.  The creeping cold was a change, or further refinement, upon her existence.  But the cold was not content to pat at her skin and then grasp her feet, her hands, her belly and thighs and face.  It wormed its way inside her; but [she could not resit it].  Nor, she found, did she now want to, for the cold brought oblivion, the cessation of pain.

And then she saw its face, and it was not an animal at all, but Death, and then she welcomed it.  Almost she made her split lips work to give it greeting; but her voice had fled away some time before.

I am dying, she thought, in the guttering of consciousness, I am dying, she thought, in the encroaching stillness.  I am dying, and I am glad, for Ash is already dead, and it will all be over soon.”

I will quickly say that while there are some very, very dark moments in Deerskin, it has been one of my two favorite books for well over a decade.  Where there is darkness, the light shines more brightly, as in the case with this book.

Inspiration part 2 came, as I stated, from a short story Peter S. Beagle wrote called Come Lady Death.  In it, the grand Lady Neville, famous for her grand, opulent balls, has grown bored with her own parties.  In looking for a way to up the excitement factor, she decides to invite Death to her next party.  An invitation is sent out… and a positive reply comes quickly.  The guests nervously await Death, wondering what he’ll look like and are surprised when “a lovely young girl in a white dress stepped gracefully into the ballroom doorway and stood there smiling.

She could not have been more than nineteen.  Her hair was yellow, and she wore it long.  It fell thickly upon her bare shoulders that gleamed warmly through it, two limestone islands rising out of a dark golden sea…  She smiled, and Lady Neville tried to smile back, but her mouth seemed stiff.  ‘Welcome,’ she said.  ‘Welcome, my lady Death.’

A sigh rustled among the lords and ladies as the girl took the old woman’s hand and curtsied to her, sinking and rising in one motion, like a wave.  ‘You are Lady Neville,’ she said.  ‘Thank you so much for inviting me.’  Her accent was as faint and almost familiar as her perfume.”

While the two stories don’t seem to have a lot in common on the surface, and especially not in the small fragments you’ve seen here, there were a couple main points I took away from them both.  Death was a being or person who was a) not frightening in appearance b) not male,  as expected, and c) more warm and welcoming than anything else.  This fits in nicely with my own views on death and the afterlife.  Everyone has their own thoughts and views on the subject, which is fine, but I don’t view either as a scary thing, nor the end.  Of course, we grieve when death separates us from those we love, but I know that I will be reunited with them some day.  I suspect that the first batch of “people” I’ll see when I pass the threshold to heaven will be a menagerie of furry, feathered, barking, purring, squeaking, singing creatures I have loved 😉

Drawing from all these sources, Lady Death emerged in my head.  She should be warm, inviting, welcoming, maternal.  She should not be frightening, but soothing.  She should be connected with nature, because death is a natural part of life.  Her clothing would be dark, but there would be no black allowed anywhere in her costume.  And most importantly, when you look into her eyes, you need to know that all is well, all was well, and all would forever be well.  I knew I needed to bring my dear friend and mostly-retired model Aly Darling into this image to embody all these qualities.

What should Lady Death’s clothing look like?  The story Come, Lady Death is set in a slightly unspecific time; several hundred years ago at least.  People throw balls, wear gorgeous gowns, ride in carriages… it brings to mind the 17th-18th century for me, though I have not confirmed this with Peter Beagle to see if that was his intention.  I didn’t want to make her clothing especially period-specific, but it definitely needed to have an old-fashioned feel to it.  How silly would it look if Lady Death was wearing the latest looks from this season’s runways?  I settled on a semi-Victorian feel, which felt both old-fashioned and classic at the same time.

Since I wanted to stay far away from the typical associations with the standard Death figure, black was not allowed anywhere in her costume.  I chose a beautiful purple dress with bell sleeves (purchased on Ebay for a few dollars) and went to work creating a cape for her out of some gorgeous teal satin I found.

I based the construction of the cape off of an actual Victorian cape I own (also purchased through Ebay, but as a wrap at my wedding, not for a costume).

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.  Note the multiple layers of ruffles around the collar.

I reverse engineered a pattern from the cape and cut the pieces out of the teal satin.  I gave my cape several ruffled layers of fabric around the collar also, which were then copiously covered in flowers, each one hand-glued in place.  I spent months slowly gathering the appropriately colored flowers in the amount I needed.  Many of these were repurposed from previous DreamWorld costumes, like Perennial Parasol, Efflorescence and In The Lilac Wood, but this will be their final spot.  I love the costume too much to take it apart!  But I have to say, Icertainly got my money’s worth from the flowers!

Lady Death cape from start to finish

Lady Death cape from start to finish, complete with flower-festooned collars

 

Next came construction of Lady Death’s bonnet.  I didn’t want her to have the standard hooded cloak, but I liked the idea of having her face framed in the way a cloak hood would.  Given the Victorian-ish look I was going for, I built a bonnet somewhere in between a Regency bonnet and a Victorian one.  When it’s your world, you get to pick and choose clothing details you like and use them however you want!

The base of the bonnet was some sheets of cardstock glued together into the general shape I wanted.  I tried it on a few times and refined the shape.  Next, I used spray adhesive to glue the teal satin to one side of the bonnet.  This ended up leaving unexpected streaks of glue when dried (see the photo in the lower left corner below) so I quickly decided that side was the inside of the bonnet.  I used a regular glue gun to edge the satin to the other side of the cardstock and the hem on the underside.  I happened to have a small amount of very sparkly purple mesh which I added to the inside of the bonnet.  This had the dual benefit of covering the glue streaks and adding some dimension and light within the darkness of the bonnet’s underside.

Bonnet construction

Bonnet construction

 

Next came the fun and slightly tedious task of decking out the bonnet!  Multiple layers of ribbons, trims and flowers were added to it.  And because someone already asked this, yes, I did glue those teeny tiny individual little flowers to the top and underside of the brim one by one.  I was not excited to do that, but it was well worth it.  You can see Maynard wanting to help in the last couple photos.  A beautiful, wide, dark blue satin ribbon finished the bonnet off and looked beautiful tied under Aly’s chin!

Bonnet decorating

Bonnet decorating – Maynard offering to help

 

I seem to have not taken any images of the staff construction, sorry about that.  I must have been rushed.  I’ll tell you about it though, it was pretty easy.  With the abundance of sticks of all sizes within my yard, I found a good staff-sized one.  I spray painted it a dark brown and kissed it gently with some metallic bronze spray paint.  I already had a string of small, battery-operated LEDs which I’d stuck through the middle of some small flowers.  The LEDs and flowers were taped rather roughly to the staff with masking tape, which I knew I could edit out later.  I knew it would add work in post, but it seemed the best solution at the time.

The bird skeleton is an actual bird skeleton and was incredibly delicate to work with.  I tried to be reverent and ask the bird’s spirit for permission to use it before I did, and so far the house doesn’t seem to be haunted by any bird ghosts, so I’m hoping that means the bird was ok with my use of it.  It was attached using a mixture of masking tape and fine wire.  I made a small wreath for it with the same tiny purple flowers I’d edged the bonnet with to take away a little of the creepy factor of a bird skeleton while also tying it in more directly with the overall costume.

Lady Death

Bird skeleton

Since Aly and I both have health problems and don’t live especially near each other, it took a while for us to find a time when we could actually shoot this image.  Eventually though, the stars aligned and everything went perfectly!  I absolutely loved the images straight out of camera and knew they wouldn’t need much editing.  However, I forgot to take detail shots of the costume while it was on Aly… so Calantha came to the rescue!  She actually enjoys it when I dress her up since she knows it means copious praise and treats.

Calantha modeling Lady Death's cape

Calantha modeling Lady Death’s cape

You can see how little she cares about the cape, she didn’t even move after I draped in on her.  She didn’t like the bonnet when it flopped over her face and couldn’t see, but as long as I kept it adjusted, she was really pretty cool about it.

Such a pretty girl!  She looks right at home in it.

Such a pretty girl! She looks right at home in it.

Calantha models the bonnet

Calantha models the bonnet, showing off the details you can’t see so well in the finished image

After all that, let’s check out the final image!  Scroll down for detail shots 🙂

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

That closeup of Lady Death’s face makes the whole image for me.  The gentleness, the kindness, the love shining out of her face shows exactly who the character is.  Thank you very much to Aly for portraying her so perfectly, and to Calantha for modeling the costume after the shoot 🙂

Thanks to you for reading!  What do you guys think about the afterlife?  Would you find it comforting to find Lady Death escorting you to the rest of eternity?

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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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