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First post of 2014!

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking my hair for edibility; sorry, buck.

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Sadly, my coat is also not edible.

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

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

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

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

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

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail

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

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

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**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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

A sample of the three completed photos

A sample of the three completed photos

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

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

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

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

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

Calantha bomb

Calantha bomb

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

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

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Lace leaves and happy owl shower curtain!

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

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

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Hot glue is a crafty girl’s best friend.

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

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The $2 plant holder, pinecones and lace leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They do their best despite their lack of thumbs

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

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Hot glue again works wonders

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

That was the wrong thing to do.

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

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

The back of the painted lace collar

The back of the painted lace collar

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One of the cuffs

So much work, but so worth it!

So much work, but so worth it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frisbee golfers golfing

Frisbee golfers golfing

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

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

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More shooting

More shooting

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

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

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

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

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen detai  l

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

Annunciation

Annunciation

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

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

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

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