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Rapeseed's Harvest

This was one of those self portraits that I just HAD to shoot RIGHT THEN or I was going to explode.  It’s actually been a pretty rough couple of months; I’m fighting my way out of another bout of depression that came on for seemingly no reason.  This does happen periodically, so I tried to just give it time and let it pass, it always will eventually… but it’s been clinging like it hasn’t in a long, long time.

As depression progresses, it gets worse, not just additionally, but exponentially.  You can very quickly move from, “Ok, I don’t like this, but I’ll get through it soon,” to “Oh my god, this is going to be the rest of my life, I will never feel joy again ever; what’s even the point of living??” in shockingly short time.

For me, one of the best tools I have against depression and slowly losing my will to live is creating art, especially art that expresses how I’m feeling at the time.  It’s incredibly cathartic.  Working on this self portrait has been a huge help in keeping me sane lately, but the pessimistic side of me wonders if I’ll just be left right where I was before I started it, once I’m totally finished creating it.  I suppose that even if it does, I’ll at least still have a new image in my roster.  It hasn’t helped my depression to know that it’s been so long since I released any new images (there are far too many reasons to get into right now, but it’s been incredibly difficult to find and make time for art lately).

I was thinking about what I would say to accompany this image, which (probably obviously, belongs to both my DreamWorld and Eternal Storms series) and pondering how to explain what long-term clinical depression feels like to those who haven’t experienced it.  It’s not the same as just being sad or upset, it’s a stain on your soul which you can’t ever blot out.  Out, out, damn spot.  A stain which not only looks ugly, but spreads like a cancer and does you actual harm, emotionally, physically and mentally.

Depression, especially when it gets really bad, feels like your brain is beating and gang-raping your soul every day while the rest of the world goes about their business, either not noticing, or at best stopping to take cell phone videos of your torment, but offering no help.  And much like the unjustified stigma and shame victims of abuse feel, people who have trouble with depression and who don’t feel excited about being alive are often subject to the same kinds of judgements.  We must enjoy wallowing in our own emotional filth, or else we’d just get up, dust ourselves off and go be happy, right?  Or, ok, maybe it’s really a chemical imbalance thing; so just take an anti-depressant and let’s all get on with our lives, all right?  And she was wearing a short skirt, so she was asking for it.

I wish it worked like that; I wish it was that easy.  I can’t recall how many medications I’ve tried, not to mention the far, far greater number of alternative healing treatments, supplements, and anything else I could think of.  Some help more than others, but so far nothing has completely cured me.

For anyone wondering, no, I do not believe this bout of depression is really related to the ME.  The ME has been about the same as it has been since my injections kicked in, so there haven’t been any recent changes on that front.  It definitely doesn’t help anything, but I don’t believe it’s the cause.

Depression lays a gray film over your life.  Everything appears bleak and hopeless.  There’s no point to trying, no point to doing anything.  And there’s also the honest, nothing-to-do-with-depression frustration of having to be your own guinea pig as you try different treatments, often with horrible, horrible side effects, which may or may not stop after you discontinue the medication.  It’s been recommended that I add a psychiatrist to my team of doctors (I have a wonderful therapist, but she’s a psychologist, so she can’t prescribe medication) which I’m not looking forward to.  My depressive mind doesn’t want to go through the bother of more appointments, more co-pays, more explaining my symptoms and feeling judged, more trying new medications will probably make everything worse before it even might get better.  My rational mind says I should try it anyway, but I’m not looking forward to it.

So, back to talking about this image.  I chose the title even knowing it might ruffle some feathers, because I honestly don’t feel like there’s a better way to explain it to those who have been fortunate enough to never be so depressed that they feel they can’t go on another day.  It is your mind raping your soul, verbally abusing you, telling you you’re worthless, a horrible person, undeserving of love or bothering another person by asking them for help.  It’s a prison only you can see and feel; a prison you both hate and are afraid to leave, because it’s all you’ve known for so long.  (My first memories of what was clearly depression are from my early teens, but I wonder if the terrible anxiety and nightmares I endured since I was a very young child were a precursor to this.  The first time I gave serious thought to killing myself, I was 17.)  A strange Stockholm-like syndrome can develop where you long to escape, but are afraid to.  However, I hope it’s clear that I am in no way trying to take anything away from the trauma victims of the “regular” kind of rape suffer from.  Though our hells overlap in some ways, they are not identical.

I liked the idea of using “rapeseed” in the title, not only because it catches the ear, but because I feel it works on a metaphoric level.  Rapeseed is a plant which grows beautiful yellow flowers; it belongs to the mustard family from what I’ve read (and apparently the name has to do with the Latin word for root vegetables and nothing to with an act of violence).  Kirsty Mitchel shot part of her Wonderland series in front of a breathtaking field of rapeseed flowers.  It is also, apparently, what canola oil is made from (or at least used to be?  I’m finding mixed info), around which there is some controversy if it’s truly safe for human and animal consumption.  The word at once touches on horrible, horrible acts of violence and abuse, potential danger but still has immense beauty to offer the world.

In this image, I imagined a beautiful, unicorn-like creature, someone that would look completely pure and innocent, someone who looked like that would never have had a single bad day.  And I just poured my emotions into the shoot, letting them all out.  I’ve already said it was cathartic, but I can’t stress just how much it was.  I felt lighter that day than I did in a long time.  Even editing it was therapeutic.  Some images seem to fight you the whole way, kicking and screaming, into what you want them to be; this one felt like it was actively working with me to help me achieve my goal.  It’s one of the most gratifying feelings when art flows like that.

I have been studied makeup application a lot recently (mostly for upcoming images) and this was one of my first times being able to test just a little bit of my new knowledge out.  That was fun, although tiring.  But I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt at being a makeup artist!  I had to search high and low for some cosmetic-grade silver glitter of the right size and color to make the glitter-tears; you really wouldn’t think it would have been so difficult, but it was!  I eventually found some on either eBay or Etsy; I’ve bought some from both and now I don’t remember where this particular one came from.  I already had the silver wig, so I just grayed up my eyebrows to match it better.  I used Nyx’s Jumbo Pencil in Milk for the entire eye/cheekbone area along with a nice matte white eyeshadow from BH Cosmetics pallet, along with two shades of lavender and a darker purple in my crease and as blush.  I contoured with another Nyx product, an eyeshadow in Taupe which is perfect for my pale skin (even paler here, so I used a very light hand).  I highlighted cheekbones, lids and inner corners with Deviant Cosmetics Ghost Violet, which is just about my new favorite thing ever.  It has the most gorgeous flash of purple when the light hits it, and Deviant Cosmetics has four or five colors in their Ghost line; I recommend them all!  (If you’ve been eyeing the Kat Von D Alchemist Palette but don’t have the money, go see Deviant Cosmetics.  Their colors are brighter, more vivid, they carry one more color than comes in KVD’s pallet, and it’s WAY less expensive!  And since it’s mineral makeup, there are no weird or harmful ingredients to worry about.)

After I did my makeup and looked utterly insane in person, I set my camera up and a couple lights.  I actually really hate setting up lights, so I always try and make it as minimal as possible.  Luckily, this shot didn’t call for anything fancy, so I got away with only two.  I taped some white, mesh fabric to the inside of my front door, and it gave me a lovely, neutral whiteish backdrop that wouldn’t distract from the main subject.  I was nearly done shooting when I remembered I’d intended to wear my unicorn horn circlet from Firefly Path!  I quickly shot a few more images with it on, tipping my head at different angels and planning on adding it on to the final image in post, which I did.  (This is not the exact circlet that I have, my horn is silver and the crystals are lavender, but this seems to be the only one in her shop at the moment.)

Unicorns represent a lot of things to me, but innocence and purity are two big ones.  If a human is sad, well, that’s… sad, but normal.  If a unicorn is sad, it’s tragic.  That there could be anything their magic couldn’t overcome underscores the power of whatever is causing them pain.  To me at least, that emphasized the magnitude of the power depression can hold over you.  The working title for this image as I tinkered on it was Sad Unicorn, because that was all I could think of when I needed to save the file for the first time.  It still feels appropriate in a way.

I added the trees and birds on the background, as if perhaps the unicorn girl is longing for her forest home.  I specifically chose to add crows, both because they’re one of my favorite birds (did you know they actually make and use tools and are incredibly smart?) and because Native American legends say they escort one’s soul into the afterlife.  That felt very fitting giving the subject of the image.  She seems like she’s in an alien land, somewhere she doesn’t truly belong, which is how I’ve felt about my time on earth just about every single day since I was born.  I knew this was not my true home.  My true home is where my soul resided before it decided, for whatever insane reason, to incarnate into this life.  In a meditation, months ago now, I actually visited what I consider to be my true home and I sobbed and sobbed, because I was so glad to be back, even for a moment, and also because I knew I couldn’t stay.  That place, that timeless, unchanging Home, is where this ethereal creature belongs too.

Now that I’ve gone on for probably far too long, I’ll finally show you the image.  I felt it was very important to explain my reason for the title I gave it to give people a way in to understand it.  And for anyone concerned about me, thank you, but I’ll be ok.  I’ve been through worse.  And I didn’t even have photography back then.  I have an excellent support system, which I didn’t have nearly as much of before, including my really incredible therapist.  All that said, let’s get on to the first image I’m releasing this year!

Rapeseed's Harvest

Lastly, I don’t enjoy talking about my mental health (or lack thereof) to strangers on the internet, no matter what impression this post gave you.  I speak candidly and openly about it because we NEED to end the stigma around it.  And the only way for that to happen is for those of us who struggle with it to speak about our experiences.  A lot.  In detail.  Repeatedly.  I do think things will change eventually, but it will take a lot of voices speaking honestly, blatantly, about it.  My voice is only one drop in the ocean of voices, but to quote Cloud Atlas, what is the ocean but a multitude of drops?

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New DreamWorld image!!  I’m always happy to have a new installment for this series!

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

This image is a little bit “out of order,” so to speak.  The Apprentice is, obviously, an apprentice, but to someone you haven’t met yet, although you will.  In an ideal world, I would have shown you the Apprentice’s mistress first so it made more sense why she is out collecting herbs and plants and other ingredients, but you’ll have to just trust me on this for now  🙂  Hopefully I’ll be able to show you her mistress soon, but that’s going to be a pretty complicated shoot.

This image is extra special because it features a new model for me, Noemi Regalado.  Noemi is not someone who actively pursues modeling like most of the other people I work with.  She happened across my work and sent me an email asking if she could be a part of it.  Of course I said yes!  It took us a little while to find a time to shoot (which was all my fault; I think she first wrote me right around the time of my first sinus surgery and we know how that turned out.  And it seems nothing has calmed down since then!) but eventually we got a time set that worked for us both.

In a way, I’m a little glad that we had a few months to email back and forth and get to know each other a little more before the shoot although I’m sure the wait was maddening for Noemi!  (She will probably deny this because she’s very laid-back and easy going, but still.  Waiting sucks.)  In the course of our email exchange I learned that she has had her own health battles despite only being about the same age as I am.  She is a cancer survivor, currently completely in remission, and I suspect that she will stay that way.  She is a gentle soul but I know she fought that cancer out of her body.  She also participates in mud runs, something I probably would never have had the endurance for even before ME, and since her apartment only allows very small dogs, she volunteers regularly at a German Shepherd rescue group.  Every couple weeks she goes down, takes a dog out for a nice walk, socialization and a whole lot of love.  Then she repeats the process several times.  If that’s not one of the best examples of making lemonade from lemons that you’ve heard, I don’t know what to tell you 🙂  Shelter dogs have SO MUCH up against them, even the smallest gesture of love and attention can go a long, long way toward helping that dog find his or her forever home.  And so far she has been directly responsible for at least one Shepherd finding a home with a friend of hers!  I’m sure there will be more.

As you can see, Noemi is a very cool chick!  I wanted to come up with some concepts for her which would fit with her personality and her willingness to get uncomfortable and messy for a photo.  We ended up shooting two concepts; this first one that you’ll see today, as I said, is a DreamWorld image, and the second one, which I have not yet edited, will show off her willingness to do what it takes to get the shot.  And I have to say, she was a great model!  She took direction very well and had a better knack for it than some “actual” models I’ve come across 😉

So, let me tell you a little about making Noemi’s mask/headdress for this shot!  It all started with this lovely purple mask which I found at Rite Aid, of all places, on one of my many, many trips there to pick up prescriptions.  The color really caught my eye, I thought it would compliment Noemi well and I also noticed that it was less expensive than the completely blank, white masks at the craft store!  And no built-in swirls with the blank white masks either.  So that was a pretty easy decision to buy it.

Trying on the mask for research, NOT just because it was fun :)

Trying on the mask for research, NOT just because it was fun 🙂

But of course it can’t just be a basic mask, even if it looked very pretty in its basic form.  The first thing I did was cover it with a layer of lace, which happened to be a remnant cut from my wedding dress (because, surprise!, it was too long ;)).

Mask laceAfter brushing on a layer of fabric glue, I started with a layer of EXTREMELY glittery purple paint.

It doesn't look interesting wet...

It doesn’t look interesting wet…

But it dries into a really stunning color!

But it dries into a really stunning color!

Then I did some trimming on the lace to get the edges to match those of the mask itself.

At this point, I knew I wanted to put some leaves and flowers on it, but I didn’t know much more than that.  So I dragged out my fabric stash (what you’re seeing here is what I’d been able to buy during a HUGE sale!), my glue gun and just started messing around.

mask and loose flowersI knew I wanted to extend the sides of the mask with leaves, so I started there.  Maynard helpfully modeled this part for me.

Maynard is an awesome model, even when he's not facing the camera

Maynard is an awesome model, even when he’s not facing the camera

You can also see that I’d added a bit of black ink around the eye holes, rather like eyeliner.  Just a subtle touch to help draw the viewer’s eye since there was going to be a fair bit going on.

I just played around with different colored flowers and shapes, holding them in place, tweaking things here and there and then suddenly I had a finished mask!  I hadn’t planned on giving it so much vertical volume, that just sort of evolved naturally, but I liked how it looked so I went with it.  Some costumes I have planned out in precise detail before I ever start them, but others are more free-form, like this was.  Always listen to your gut 🙂

mask four small

A mask! Photos from here out are taken in the bathroom to protect it from over-eager cats.

As I looked at it the next day, I felt like it was 95% there but it needed… something.  I didn’t know what.  I mulled it over and when I woke up the next morning I knew it: mercury silver spray paint.

Krylon’s Looking Glass spray paint is no ordinary silver paint.  It has a truly magical quality to it and I end up using it in almost every costume or prop I paint.  Just the slightest mist gives it a mysterious, magical, ethereal touch.  I try to always keep a couple cans on hand because I never know when I’ll suddenly need them.

So that morning I took the mask outside and let the paint gently kiss the mask; just enough to give it that magical feeling without taking away the beautiful colors of the paint and flowers.  In the photos below (which are a little blurry, sorry, they were taken on my phone) the top photos show details of the flowers unpainted and the bottom have had their silver wash.

Flowers with and without Looking Glass paint

Flowers with and without Looking Glass paint

I filled a basket with appropriately magical-looking items and herbs but it didn’t make it into the final image.  Oh well.  You can see just a little of the vial necklace I made full of purple stones and beads and the gorgeous amulet/brooch.  Jewel tones just loved Noemi’s beautiful skin tone!

And now I’ll let you see the completely finished image along with some detail shots!  The show trees had just started blooming in the woods and the wild queen anne’s lace was bountiful.  Both made a beautiful, more neutral backdrop against Noemi’s vividly colored mask and costume.

sarahallegra.com

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

Thanks to Noemi for being so patient through all this!  I’m very glad to have made a new friend though all this 🙂  And I’m very happy with how this turned out!  You’ll all just have to wait a little while longer to see the image where Noemi really proved her devotion to the finished image 😉

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First of all, happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrated it!  I had planned on a Thanksgiving post, listing what I’m grateful for and whatnot, but I woke up yesterday with a swollen, very unhappy wrist on my dominant hand.  I’m being ginger with it today, and trying to really limit my computer use, but I did want to get this timely post out.

So, the holiday shopping season has officially begun!  I, for one, despise the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday.  Crowds are not my thing in the best situation.  Even a gentle trip to the grocery store on an average day can be too much for me.  This is my hiding out period where I really try to leave the house as little as possible.

A less stressful approach to holiday shopping, in my opinion, is in Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  Now, I may or may not technically qualify as a “small business,” but I think I fit the spirit of it if not the letter 🙂  You don’t get much smaller than buying from a single person!  And Cyber Monday?  Heck yeah, I’ve got that covered!  Everything of mine is available online.

And what, pray tell, are these wondrous wares?  Well, let me give you a little run-down!
I have blank greeting cards available at my Red Bubble shop!

One of the many blank greeting cards I offer.

Personally, I love having a stash of blank greeting cards in a drawer, ready to go at a moment’s notice!  You never know when you might need them.  And I’ll confess, I sometimes buy cards for their sheer beauty, with no intention of giving them away.  Those ones usually end up on my wall somewhere.  Either way, they’re very well-made, handy and inexpensive!  And if there’s an image you’d like but don’t see in my shop, let me know; in almost every case I can add it for you!  Stocking stuffers, anyone?
I also sell 2014 collectable calendars!

Sarah Allegra 2014 Calendar

Sarah Allegra 2014 Calendar

Each year I put out a new calendar with 12 of my most popular recent works.  This year’s batch includes images from my DreamWorld and actor portraits series as well as my CFS/fibro/ME series Enchanted Sleep.  I genuinely love the quality Red Bubble puts into their calendars; they’re printed on gorgeous, thick, heavy paper which is perfect for jotting down as many notes and reminders as you’d like!  Plus, I love the extra magic the calendars sprinkle into every day.  And need I tell you they make excellent gifts?  🙂

On a side note, I keep my Red Bubble prices low so that they’re available to as many people as possible.  I don’t make much from these sales, but it’s important to me that as many people as possible have access to my images.

For those looking for a unique gift, either for themselves or someone they love, my on-line, self-discovery-through-photography course Introspective is an excellent choice!

Introspective

Introspective

Introspective is a fun and truly unique, eight-week experience.  Each week I will guide you through a new concept to explore with photography, such as love, fear, secrets and joy.  What do those subjects mean to you?  And how would you portray them in a photograph?  Let’s find out!  Self portraiture is encouraged (as I think it’s an invaluable way to know yourself better), but by no means is it required.  At the end of the eight weeks, you’ll have gotten to experience yourself in a new way and learned things you never knew before.

This would be perfect for your artsy sibling, the person who has everything or anyone with a desire to have an adventure and come out knowing themselves better!
And of course there are always prints available!

Sarah Allegra Etsy Shop

I sell prints through my Etsy shop, which are printed by an amazing local printer.  They are printed on museum-quality, archival, thick, luscious paper which is not unlike watercolor paper.  All the images are printed in very small, limited edition runs and come individually signed and numbered.  They come in three different sizes and are truly stunning.  These really have to be seen to appreciate how beautiful they are.  The level of detail captured in these prints is spectacular.  And as with the cards, if you would like a print of something and you don’t see it in my shop, just let me know!  In almost every occasion, I can accommodate your request.

Thank you to everyone for supporting my art through your kind comments, well wishes and purchases.  I so appreciate all of them and I hope everyone has an excellent holiday season!  Here’s a lovely DreamWorld image, featuring the gorgeous Katie Johnson!

Faerie Dust

Faerie Dust

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