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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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This is one of those things that built up slowly in my head for a while, then suddenly crystallized with numerous people and sources suddenly (unaware of each other) all started giving me the same advice.  After some thought, and a little bit of regret, I’ve decided that they are right and I need to make some changes in how I approach my art.

I need to slow down.  This is very hard for me to do; art is my obsession and I want nothing more than to be producing all that I can as often as I can.

I also need to set my focus more narrowly on DreamWorld.  There is SO MUCH that you guys have no idea about yet, and I need to get to the place where I CAN show you all that stuff!

The thing is, I have to accept that for the time being, I have very limited supplies of time, energy and money.  I’m hopeful, of course, that I will eventually start feeling better, but for now, I have to accept that this how things are right now.  My energy and time allowances have shrunk every year since I first came down with ME.  My chronic pain, daily headaches and frequent migraines don’t help anything.  Since I’m dealing with far, far fewer productive hours in the day than your average person has, I need to hoard them and make the absolute most that I can with them.  None of those minutes can be wasted.

I’m still weighing things, but I may (for now at least) not edit every shoot on my hard drive.  Don’t despair, models waiting for images, I’m not saying none of them will be edited, I just have to really pare things down and only spend the time editing images which I REALLY love.

This also means that I’ll probably be putting out fewer images per year.  This makes me sad, and is the main source of my resistance to the idea of slowing down.  It’s really hard to watch all my friends and colleagues churn out fantastic image after fantastic image and have nothing even on the radar to be shown soon.  You get used to a certain amount of being left behind by the rest of the world when you’re always sick, but it doesn’t make it sting less each new time you feel it.  I love getting to show you guy a new piece!  It’s usually the highlight of my week when I post an image.  🙂  But despite this, I know that this is the right thing for me to do now.

I’m also making some big changes with a lot of DreamWorld concepts; changes which will make the images I do create even better and more impactful, but which requires quite a lot of work on my end which and won’t produce anything I can show you guys, even as a work-in-progress sort of thing.  On one hand, I feel dangerously close to being forgotten and left behind while other artists quickly turn out magnificent pieces… but again, I know that I need to do this preliminary work.  It’s going to have a ripple effect through all of DreamWorld and the images which come from it will be better than ever!  I hope you guys will be patient and not forget about me or DreamWorld in the periods when I have nothing new to show.  🙂

Thank you all for the love and support you have shown me and my work over the years.  It really means so much more than I can say!  I am so grateful for every single person who enjoys and follows my work.  Even if I can’t put out as many images as I have in the past, I can make sure that the ones I do create are the BEST that I can do.  It may frustrate me sometimes, but the extra work I’m pouring into DreamWorld is only going to make it better, brighter, tighter, more emotional and more meaningful.  Thank you for bearing with me.

You’ll notice there isn’t a new image with this post; that’s kind of the point!

And thank you, as always, to Geoff for being an unending font of wisdom, clarity and sage advice.  🙂

A Strange New World

A Strange New World © Sarah Allegra. A self portrait, one of the first images I shot for DreamWorld. I imagine this girl has just returned to our world after years of journeying through DreamWorld only to find that not a day has passed, much like Narnia. 🙂

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I have VERY BIG, GOOD NEWS.  I’ve felt like bursting from holding it in!

Where Earth Meets The Sky, model Katie Johnson.  © Sarah Allegra

Where Earth Meets The Sky, model Katie Johnson. © Sarah Allegra

My work has been accepted into A Gallery!  A Gallery is a fantastic online gallery who represents some truly stellar other artists in whose company I am proud to be.  You might know of Christy Lee Rogers or Tyler Shields, who are both extraordinary and whose work I knew before I was to be shown alongside them.  One of the most giddy, fan-girl moments though was discovery A Gallery also represents Chris Parks whose work you will know if you’ve seen one of my very favorite movies ever; The Fountain.  That magical, swirly, organic background used in so many shots (especially in clouds of stars and gas in space) are his creation.

Chris Park's dreamy, swirly, organic creations in The Fountain

Chris Park’s dreamy, swirly, organic creations in The Fountain

Chris Park's dreamy, swirly, organic creations in The Fountain

Chris Park’s dreamy, swirly, organic creations in The Fountain

*Squealing, fan-girl hopping*

Ahem.  I am VERY happy to have found such a wonderful home for my art!  I’m thrilled to be working with A Gallery’s owner, Fraser Scott; it’s going to be a really great, long-lasting relationship for everyone involved!  I can’t wait to see what this brings!!  This feels like a really big accomplishment to have checked off my life’s to-do list… and yes, there was champagne when I checked it off 🙂

Vanity's Murder - © Sarah Allegra

Vanity’s Murder, a self portrait – © Sarah Allegra

**Please do take a look at my work on their site!  If you like something, buy it!  You deserve it 🙂  And you’ll be supporting an independent artist and a fantastic gallery at the same time!**

The Shepherdess - © Sarah Allegra

The Shepherdess, model Lucea Shipler, my grandmother! – © Sarah Allegra

When you purchase a print, you will receive one of my gorgeous, luscious, limited-edition, signed and numbered museum-quality prints, printed on the thickest, most delicious fine art paper.  I am going to be printing all my images on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl Paper.  It’s almost like a watercolor paper and it picks up every tiny detail for your viewing pleasure!  As a wonderful bonus, the paper itself is ever-so-slightly shimmery, which truly adds a whole other depth to the images and enhances their magical, mythical feel.  It’s been a long time searching for exactly the right paper which would give me the lifetime of quality I want along with the subtle, fae-like touch of pearl, and this paper is it.  You really have to see it to understand how gorgeous it is

Fae Light - © Sarah Allegra

Fae Light, model Dedeker Winston – © Sarah Allegra

I have sung the praises of my printers, POV Evolving, before and I’ll say it once more.  They are not close to me.  Their location is somewhere between a hassle and a nightmare to get to, I can never go without getting a little lost coming or going, and it’s a big mental and physical drain to make the trip down.  I don’t care.  Their work is so fantastic, I do not care where they are, how long it takes, how snarly the traffic is; it’s completely worth it!  Lauren, who does my printing, is also a truly lovely person who makes the trip extra worthwhile by being so pleasant when you get there.  Pleasantness aside, POV just does astonishing work which will last a lifetime and more.  I have been told by clients who have my work hung in their homes, that when people come over and see my prints for the first time, there are often gasps.  I feel immodest saying that, but that really is the level of beauty you’ll be getting!

End Of Line - © Sarah Allegra

End Of Line, model Aly Darling – © Sarah Allegra

It feels truly wonderful to have found a home gallery run by such a great person who has a commitment to my work, an emphasis on working ethically with everyone, and being in the company of such immensely talented other artists!

A Drop Of Blood, © Sarah Allegra

A Drop Of Blood, model Katie Johnson © Sarah Allegra

I’ve scattered some of Fraser’s image choices through this post, but please take a look at which images he has selected for his prestigious gallery!  And if something strikes your fancy, feel free to purchase a print for yourself or a loved one!   🙂

Hope Of Heaven When Their Lives Ain't Lived - © Sarah Allegra

Hope Of Heaven When Their Lives Ain’t Lived, model Veronica Ricci – © Sarah Allegra

I will still be selling prints through my Etsy shop; either way you will be receiving the same, incredibly high-quality item!

Again Throughout Eternity - © Sarah Allegra

Again Throughout Eternity, model Sandy Moore – © Sarah Allegra

I should have some more good new to share soon, but in the mean time, feel free to join me in having a celebratory drink of your choosing!  Cheers!

3 Good Days

3 Good Days, a self portrait – © 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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As we approach the Holiday Season, I’m dedicating the next few days to promoting my artwork-related items, which would make wonderful gifts for anyone!  Whether you’re looking for straight artwork you can hang on the walls, some inexpensive stocking-stuffer/Secret Santa gifts, or something with a more practical application, I’ve got you covered 🙂

Today I’m focusing on items which can be found in my Red Bubble shop!  I talked about this some in my last post, but I can go into it a little more in its own post.  What do I sell in my Red Bubble shop?  A LOT.  All of the following can be found with my artwork on it!

I started buying Red Bubble calendars before I ever started selling any of my own and I’ve been constantly impressed with the incredibly high quality year after year!  The paper is thick and lush, the inks print vividly and the design maximizes the room for artwork!  I truly love having one of these in my house each year (and I get frequent requests for these as gifts for friends and family).  It’s such a simple way to get 12 unique pieces of art to hang on your wall, adding beauty and magic every single day and it comes at a great price!

My 2015 Calendar!

My 2015 Calendar!

And if that’s not enough for you, you can also shop by series!  Want to see everything DreamWorld-relatedEnchanted Sleep, for those who chronic illness has touched?  Orphans of the Mother Road for vintage-lovers?  Glass Walls for the animal-lovers in your life?  Pop Culture-inspired?  How about Music- and Literary-Inspired images?  Or are you a fan of a good old self portrait?

I have never had any issues with any of the items I’ve ordered from them myself, nor have I heard anything negative from others.  Red Bubble really makes buying fun and easy!  You can visit one site and take care of many people on your to-buy-for list and get your shopping done quickly!  And if you’re looking for any image in particular on any item in particular, just let me know!  I can very likely accommodate any requests!

As always, I sincerely thank anyone who helps support independent artists with their buying power!  You guys help make what I do possible 🙂  Keep an eye on the blog for the next couple days as we approach Black Friday and Cyber Saturday/Monday!  New items will be showcased and some really fantastic savings will be revealed as well!

Happy shopping to all!

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

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Something a little silly and fun for today….

One of the very cool things that Geoff and I got to do over our Christmas road trip was drive by the house used as the exterior shots of Walter White’s house in Breaking Bad.  To both of us, it was a mini pilgrimage, a holy shrine dedicated to one of the best shows television has ever produced.  (Seriously; we were talking about it the other night and couldn’t think of ONE single time the show had miss-stepped even slightly in its entire run.  What other show can you say that of?)  I brought my Heisenberg hat along the entire trip just for this one moment, and it was completely worth it.

IMG_0900

I tried to be cool, but inside I was fangirling and squealing over the fact that I WAS STANDING IN FRONT OF WALTER WHITE’S HOUSE OMG.  It ended up being a very Breaking Bad Christmas all around; AMC ran a series marathon right around Christmas, and Geoff and I both gave each other some very fun Breaking Bad gifts.  His stocking contained some “blue meth” sugar candy from a great shop on Etsy 🙂

While running the marathon, AMC’s website had some really fun Breaking Bad extras for fans to enjoy, such as a quiz which would tell you which villain you were most like.  I was perversely proud and pleased when the quiz told me I was most like Gus Fring.

Copyrights belong to AMC.

Copyrights belong to AMC.

I even saved my results because they were so fun.  And you know?  I can kind of see it.  Were I to take the path of the bad guy, I probably would be that scariest kind of quiet, seemingly peaceful villain who, when the mask is dropped, threatens to kill you, your wife, your son and infant daughter, then slits a man’s throat with a box cutter in front of you just to prove his point.

So who am I?  Gus Fring?  You’re goddamn right 🙂

All Hail The Queen, my Breaking Bad homage.

All Hail The Queen, my Breaking Bad homage.

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

Closeups of both finished photos.

Closeups of both finished photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sketches

Initial sketches

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

The robe with cardboard "pintucking."

The robe with cardboard “pin-tucking.”

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

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

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

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

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

After the sculpting and baking came many coats of paint.

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

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

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

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

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

cuffs

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

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

robe

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

Tree of life buckle.

Tree of life buckle above the paper belt.

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

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

scrolls

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

Trying out different objects as stencils.

Trying out different objects as stencils.

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

Making the crown.

Making the crown.

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

staff

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

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

birds

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

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

Calantha helped whenever she could.

Calantha helped whenever she could.

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

Thank you, Dedeker for these adorable furbaby pics :)

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Katie!  :)

Thanks, Katie! 🙂

Mei Mei photobomb

Mei Mei photobomb

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

My imagination hero.

My imagination hero and me.

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

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

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

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

Connor under the marquee.

Connor under the marquee.

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

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

The mayor giving Peter his plaque.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting mom's book signed.

Getting mom’s book signed.

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Katie, Peter and me!

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Aerie

Aerie

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

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

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

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

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