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Posts Tagged ‘robin mckinley’

Let me start by saying that I’m sorry I can’t give you more actual details about what’s going on, but I’ve been advised to continue to keep them under wraps.  Those of you who follow me on social media have already heard that I’m going through a difficult time right now.  What I can tell you is that I am about to do something on the 14th which is absolutely terrifying to me and has incredible, life-altering implications.  For me, Geoff and the fur-kids.  And while I have lots of people (like all you dear, lovely folks reading this) who are loving and supporting me, it’s all going to come down to the words I speak and actions I take on the 14th.  I will be alone at the critical moment; the pressure feels crushing.

I feel like Louis Zamperini in the POW camp holding his wooden beam.  I feel like Aerin facing the giant dragon Mar.  I feel like the unicorn standing up to the Red Bull.  I feel like one of Leonidas’ 300.  Frodo off to Mordor.  Rosie and Pernicia.  Lissar and her father.  You get the idea.

One small, anxious girl going up against something far, far bigger than she is; ill-equipped for the job.  The higher the pressure, the more my brain feels scattered and forgets important details.  And it’s crucial that I remember everything, no notes allowed.  The outcome of this will have a huge impact on my financial state, which is currently pitiful.  I need this win.

To say this has been stressful would be a huge understatement.  This sincerely feels like one of the single hardest, most frightening thing I have ever had to do.  But there’s no getting around it, I HAVE to do it.  And I will do my best.

The stress is causing giant waves of discord through my body, mind and soul; causing mayhem and destruction.  For weeks now, every night, I either have stress dreams or I dream that I’m dying… the dying ones are the worst because, in my dream, it’s wonderful, beautiful, the most peaceful, joyful thing I’ve ever experienced.  And then I wake up and remember real life and it feels like a glorious gift has been snatched from my hands while the weight of life crushes down upon me again.

Despite numerous antacids of all kinds, I’m having persistent heartburn, often in the middle of the night.  My pain levels are all elevated.  And as you can imagine, my sleep is suffering in quantity and quality.

I’m not writing about this to simply throw myself a pity party.  I am asking for your support.  If you pray, please pray for a quick and overwhelmingly successful outcome.  If you do Reiki, please send as much as you can.  If you light candles, please light one for me.  Please send all the love, good thoughts and energy that you can spare, whatever your system of faith may or may not be.  I will gladly take it all!

I am determined to win this battle.  And while it traditionally takes a while to hear about the exact outcome from the fight, I am equally determined to get an overwhelmingly positive answer, right then and there.  I am visualizing myself being victorious.  As much as I am afraid, I am doing my best to catch myself when I start to go into a spiral of worry over what will happen if I fail.  When I notice those thoughts, I actively change my vision of the future to one that I want.  I don’t need to open myself up to attracting any negative energy!

One thing about all the metaphors I listed a few paragraphs ago; despite the odds, they all succeeded.  Thinking about others who have overcome incredible trials is deeply comforting to me.  If they could do it, I can do it too.

I can say one thing: this is not about a new turn in my health or anything else along those lines.  My health is fairly crappy right now, as is usual, but I have not taken a turn for the worse…  other than the spiked pain, non-stop migraines, constant tension in my whole body, wildly increased anxiety, panic attacks and depression as well as extreme exhaustion brought about by all of this.  It’s stressful to the point where I don’t even want to edit or create many days, which is an almost unheard-of low for me.  But these are clearly responses to the weeks and weeks of stress and worry.  I don’t want you guys to worry that I’m hiding some terrible new diagnosis from you.

I know I will get through this.  And I know that with Geoff, I will deal with the outcome, whatever it is.  But more than that, I know I will win.  I have to.  Knowing that doesn’t take all my fear and anxiety away, but it does give me hope to cling to.

I feel incredibly fragile in every way, but I will battle and I will be victorious.  Still, your prayers, well wishes and love would mean a great deal to me right now.  I can use all the help I can get.

I promise that I will try and let you guys know exactly what’s happening just as soon as I can.  I appreciate that you’re all being very understanding about that and respecting the fact that I simply can’t divulge much right now.

This self portrait felt especially appropriate for this post.  It serves as a reminder and inspiration to me to keep fighting, to get up when I’m knocked down, and most of all, never give up.  Thank you all so very, very much for all your support!  I cannot thank you enough.

With that said, please wish me a miraculous victory as I go into this battle.  Now, let me go find my suit of armor.

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra

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

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

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

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

The Court Of The Dryad Queen © Sarah Allegra

The Court Of The Dryad Queen © Sarah Allegra

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

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

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

Carried Away By The Wind © Sarah Allegra

Carried Away By The Wind © Sarah Allegra

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

Daisy's Hill © Sarah Allegra

Daisy’s Hill © Sarah Allegra

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

sarahallegra.com

Jake © Sarah Allegra

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

Of Milk And Honey

Of Milk And Honey © Sarah Allegra

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

Where She Learned About Joy 900

Where She Learned About Joy © Sarah Allegra

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

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever © Sarah Allegra

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever © Sarah Allegra

 

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I think it’s fair to say that 2014 has been something of a tumultuous year.  A lot of very good things happened!  And a lot of rather shitty things have happened to.  Let’s touch on the bad first and get that out of the way.

Reuniting With The Stars - detail © Sarah Allegra

Reuniting With The Stars – detail © Sarah Allegra; read on for the full image!

There was a heavy dose of bad this year.  Some of this has been discussed on the blog; three months of colds, sinus surgery, sinus surgery having dramatic and frightening complications, etc.  A lot of it has not been discussed on the blog, however; this does not feel like the proper forum for a lot of the more personal matters, especially ones which involve people other than myself.

The Oracle  - © Sarah Allegra

The Oracle – © Sarah Allegra

Geoff and I have to move.  We are really, really, really not happy about this.  I’m not going to discus the reasons for the move here, except to say that no one did anything wrong.  We always paid our rent, etc.  This is a heartbreaking blow; our neighbors have become like true family to us.  And while we won’t live too far apart after we all move to our new homes, it will never be the same as when we all lived together on the Compound, as we called it.

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra

When my first surgery complication began and I started bleeding profusely from my nose to the extent that I was truly concerned that I might need an ambulance, our neighbor John came rushing home to make sure I was ok until Geoff could get there.  Once John and I decided an ambulance wasn’t needed, he sat on the floor with me and kept me calm and distracted.

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra, featuring my neighbor, John

When I found myself suddenly clutching a whole litter of baby opossums and in charge of their safety, Donna came to the rescue and helped me keep them safe.  (They were eventually taken to a no-kill shelter which would rehabilitate them then release them into the wild when they were old enough.)  These are not your average people.  When we all found out that we’d no longer be living together, everyone cried openly.

One of the baby opossums

One of the baby opossums

And good heavens, it’s been so good for Calantha to be there!  Having a “pack” next door which she can come and go from as she pleases helped her put on a needed five pounds, which she’s maintained the whole time we’ve been here.  Basically, absolutely everyone is extremely unhappy about this for a lot of reasons, but there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

Calantha, modeling the Lady Death bonnet

Calantha, modeling the Lady Death bonnet

And of course I’ve been able to do a LOT of shooting there!  There are SO MANY trees; it’s very easy to make the background look like a forest if you just frame around the tell-tale signs of human habitation.  When you’re dealing with ME, being able to do an entire shoot without leaving your yard, or even getting out of your PJs if you want, can be an incredible boon.

This has also been an extremely tight year financially for us (which a move isn’t going to help).  Again, I shouldn’t go into exact details here, but a large part of our income vanished early this year and we’ve been trying to stanch the metaphoric bleeding ever since.

The Eye Of The Storm © Sarah Allegra

The Eye Of The Storm © Sarah Allegra

Those are the biggest highlights of the bad, of the things I feel I can talk about here.  It’s been a really difficult year and there have been many times when I’ve dissolved into tears over one more bad thing happening.  The world has felt completely against us most of the year, no matter what we’re planning or how noble it might be, which of course feels terribly unfair.  I’m holding out hope that this is all happening for a reason and that things will change soon.  Some days that’s a very difficult hope to hold on to.  I’ll talk a little more about this when I discuss this year’s new image.

Let’s move on to happier topics for now.  Let’s talk about some of the good things that happened this last year!

Inside Looking Out © Sarah Allegra

Inside Looking Out © Sarah Allegra

I was able to promote a lot of awareness about myalgic encephalomyalitis, or ME, with images (which go in my Enchanted Sleep series), interviews, articles, videos and blog entries.  During ME Awareness week, I wrote a blog entry for each day of the week and held a print giveaway for those who helped spread awareness about it.  The Microbe Discovery Project asked for people to share their ME stories, so I recorded a short video for them.

I got to work with some really fantastic new models, Dan Donohue and Travis Weinand.  They were both wonderful; the kind of models who make you want to come up with new concepts just for them.  I’m looking forward to working with both of them again!

Where Black Stars Rise © Sarah Allegra

Where Black Stars Rise © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride © Sarah Allegra

 

I lost Dedeker Winston to the FOX show Utopia for a while, and I’m selfishly glad to have her back again 🙂

Water For The Free © Sarah Allegra

Water For The Free © Sarah Allegra

I was really pleased to have been included in quite a few online magazines, blogs and sites.  Photo Focus named me their Photographer of the WeekMillennial Magazine gave me their Self Portrait of the Week spot.

Phlearn, one of my very favorite photography sites, included me in their Weekend Inspiration blog three times during the year, with the images Lady Death, The Shadows Lengthen and The Light Is Winning.

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

I was able to have brushes with both of my favorite authors, Robin McKinley and Peter S. Beagle.  Robin McKinley was gracious enough to let me write two guest posts for her blog and talk about DreamWorld!  In addition to the ongoing work I’ve been doing with Peter Beagle and Connor Cochran, Peter’s manager/publisher as well as my business manager, they had a special showing of The Last Unicorn in Santa Fe, NM, in a theater George RR Martin has helped restore.  Since George RR Martin was going to be at the screening, Connor asked for some of my prints to hang in the theater, which led to this amazing moment caught on camera between the two beloved authors.  While I have been credited as taking the photo, I was unable to be there in person although I would have LOVED to have been there!

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

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

My dear friend and frequent model Katie Johnson started a video series interviewing some of the wonderful photographers she works with called Artist Profile.  Katie was kind enough to start the series interviewing me; you can see the video below!  The series has been really interesting to watch grow and I’m very honored to be a part of it!

Many of you will have heard me talk about how intensely I love Sundance’s original show Rectify.  If you’re new to the party, I LOVE IT.  Go watch it right now.  Both seasons are streaming on Netflix!  For those who have seen it, I gathered my courage, reminded myself that it’s just a show and that these are actors, not the actual characters, and asked Jayson Warner Smith (Wendell on the show) if I could interview him for the blog.  He is actually a lovely and not at all icky, creepy person and kindly sad yes to my interview request!

Tell Me A Happy Story © Sarah Allegra

Tell Me A Happy Story © Sarah Allegra

One of my images was featured on Etsy‘s front page which made me squeal like a little girl.  Luckily I got a screen capture of it before it changed to another treasury!

Etsy's front page 08/08/2014

Etsy’s front page 08/08/2014

After I released Where Earth Meets The Sky, it was requested that I make a video showing how I’d created the image.  Happy to oblige, I made the following video:

Through the kind help of my friend Handy Andy Pandy, I learned how to make animated gifs showing the whole editing process of an image, which I’ve had a lot of fun doing!  I don’t do it for every image just for time reasons, but I think it’s fun to do when I can.  Speaking of Andy, he included me in his recommended artist list both for his part of the Blog Hop, and also on the article he wrote for FStop Lounge titled 3 Photographers You Should Follow.  I blushed and couldn’t have been prouder!

The Blue Ribbon © Sarah Allegra

The Blue Ribbon © Sarah Allegra

I wrote an article for In My Bag titled 5 Reasons Why Creative Self Portraiture Will Help You Become An Epic PhotographerBrooke Shaden was the guest judge that month and felt my article was good enough that she created a third place spot just so my article could be crowned third!  Talk about feeling good!

I’ll try and wrap up this year’s big interviews and features… there was the one Lens People did, a lovely and in-depth interview with Ezra Magazine, and another feature from Dodho Magazine.  The wonderful publication Photography Monthly included one of my self portraits in their October issue from this year.

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

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

The esteemed Photographer’s Forum chose one of my images, Where Earth Meets The Sky, modeled by Katie Johnson, as a finalist in their 2014 Best of Photography Contest.

Photographer's Forum Best of Photography 2014 book - click here to get your own copy!

Photographer’s Forum Best of Photography 2014 book – click here to get your own copy!

Perhaps one of the best online feature I’ve had so far came this year when BoingBoing ran a feature on my “dreamy, trippy, fantasy photography” after seeing it come up in their Flickr stream!

Singed Wings © Sarah Allegra

Singed Wings © Sarah Allegra – an image to honor the Granite Mountain Hotshots

But I think the feature I’m most proud of came from winning a contest from Good Light! Magazine, hosted by Viewbug.  The contests’ theme was “People and Water.”  My image “A Drop of Blood” was chosen as the winning photo, which of course was just thrilling!  But the prizes were really meaningful to me; first, a feature on View Bug’s blog about how I captured the image.  Next was a really lovely article in Good Light!’s magazine about why the image was chosen:

Good Light Magazine Feature, image © Sarah Allegra

Good Light Magazine Feature, image © Sarah Allegra

And then my very favorite part was watching the short video where you can actually hear from the contest’s judge himself (and hear it in his lovely accent!) about why the winning images were chosen.  It was truly thrilling and embarrassing to hear someone say such nice things about my photograph!  Although I will gently note that the title came first and the image was built around it, not the other way around, but I can certainly see how it could confuse people!

Now, in less photography-related news, Geoff and I got to see the Breaking Bad House.  We also celebrated out 3-year anniversary of being married, which Geoff worked hard to made special despite me being deep in the hell of every-three-week-colds.

Happy anniversary!!!

Happy anniversary!!!

At the advice from Patti Penn, my Reiki teacher, and Geoff, I started making an important mental shift.  I realized that I was looking at my future with ME as written in stone; that it was a pre-determined fate for me to always be sick with it to some degree.  Sure, you hear about some people who go into remission, and even more rarely, are cured, but it was too painful to hope for that.  I tried to not expect that I would always get progressively worse, even though that seemed to be the direction everything was heading in, regardless of whatever diet or lifestyle changes I made.  It was less scary to expect that I’d always be dealing with it to some degree; opening myself up to the idea that I might get better some day was making myself vulnerable to extreme disappointment.

The Fragile Blossom That Opens In The Snow © Sarah Allegra

The Fragile Blossom That Opens In The Snow © Sarah Allegra

But I slowly started realizing that if I expected to always be sick, it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I would always be sick.  So as frightening as it might be, I had to start letting the idea of being healthy enter my life.  And it was very scary, very difficult.  Knowing you’re going to be fucked for the rest of your life is something you can adjust to, prepare for and learn to accept.  Having the possibility of healing destroyed the mental plans I’d been preparing myself for, and while it would be a very, very good thing to find myself well, the risk of shattering disappointment was so great, I didn’t want to even entertain the idea.

But I needed to embrace that idea, as terrifying as it might be.  Geoff and Patti both brought up the same idea to me, completely independent from each other and without knowing what I’d been thinking through.  It seemed like a very clear sign.  So I’m taking a deep breath and plunging into the frightening unknown.  The unknown where I could get better some day.  And if I don’t get better, it certainly will be heartbreaking.  But if I don’t allow myself to be vulnerable in this way, then I definitely will not ever get better.

Toward The Boiling Sun © Sarah Allegra

Toward The Boiling Sun © Sarah Allegra

This is one of my big plans for 2015.  Every day, instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t or didn’t do, focus on what I did do.  Even if 99.9% of me feels like complete shit, focus on that .01% where I felt good.  Instead of being frustrated, angry and disappointed with the limitations of my body and mentally say nasty, demoralizing to it, I’ll praise it for the good it did.  I’ll tell it that I know it’s working so hard, that it’s trying its best and that I appreciate all the effort it goes to.  It will take time to make this mental shift, but it’s worth making it.  And I will practice grace with myself, both in what my mental dialogue is and with however long it takes me to heal.  I believe this is the only way I have any hope of getting completely better some day… and no matter how painful that hope can be sometimes, I will commit to it.

Spring's Awakening © Sarah Allegra

Spring’s Awakening © Sarah Allegra

I’ve got a lot I’ll be working on through 2015.  I have big plans for my Glass Walls series, which explores animal rights, along with continuing to build DreamWorld.  A couple burners are being kept busy with Peter Beagle/Conlan-related plans.   And I’ve got numerous projects at various points of completion which I’ll be sharing with you when I can 🙂

The Light Is Winning © Sarah Allegra

The Light Is Winning © Sarah Allegra

I’ve scattered some of my favorite images taken over the past year throughout this post (many of which you can find in my 2015 calendar, on sale here!), but I wanted to leave you with something to inspire you in your own photo creations!  So, in no particular order, here are some of the photographers I recommend you start following right now, if you haven’t already!  There may be some nudity, so just keep that in mind.

Jessica Trinh/Sprinkle Happiness

David Talley

Helen Warner

Chris Arnade

Tim Andrews

Kindra Nikole

Kirsty Mitchell

Brooke Shaden

Robert Cornelius

Handy Andy Pandy

Unsinn Image

And lastly, though she is not a photographer, I highly recommend following Katie Johnson, one of the models I work with most frequently.  She writes blogs for several site which cover a variety of subjects and angles.  If you’re interested in modeling or pole dancing to gain confidence, you’ll find her a kindred spirit.  If you’re a photographer, many of her articles are directed at you and will help you improve your photographer/model relationships.  Plus, she’s just the loveliest person and one I am happy to have in my life and call a friend 🙂

Carried Away By The Wind © Sarah Allegra - a rare image without a human subject

Carried Away By The Wind © Sarah Allegra – a rare image without a human subject

So… this new image.  As I’ve said, it’s really been a pretty rough year, all around.  I watched a movie with my mom recently, on a day she came to visit me after my surgery and make sure I actually laid down all day (something I have trouble doing).

Winter’s Tale ended up being very much a “Sarah movie” as Geoff calls them.  Critics weren’t overly taken with it, and I can see their arguments, but at the end of the day, I still really enjoyed the movie.  It’s hard to make mythic, hopeful movies which are sweet without being cloying or heavy-handed, and I felt that Winter’s Tale balanced itself well.  It’s also very beautiful visually and several of the themes inspired new creations of my own.

Richness In Winter © Sarah Allegra

Richness In Winter © Sarah Allegra

One of the movie’s main points is that “everything happens for a reason” (even the bad things).  This has been such an incredibly trying year; right now I can’t imagine good reasons for the numerous bad things which have hounded Geoff and me this year.  This image is sort of a peace-offering in a way.  A symbol to the universe to say I don’t know what the purpose of these things could have been, but I’m going to trust that there is a reason.  And not just any reason, but a good one.  One I will look back on later and smile, thinking of all the heartache and knowing it had been worth it.

This is the attitude I want to start 2015 off with.  A humble admission that I don’t have all the answers, and never will, but that I am continuing my direction of my life in the hope that tremendous good will be found along this path.  At the moment it feels a bit like a blind faith, but I have decided this is the mindset I need to start off 2015.  I am taking my leap; I hope the universe catches me.

Reuniting With The Stars © Sarah Allegra

Reuniting With The Stars © Sarah Allegra

Thank goodness Byron was around to lend me his opinion while I edited Katie 🙂

Byron giving me his opinion while I edited Katie

Vegan “burger” patties, mashed garlic cauliflower and baked potato, in case you’re curious what I was eating for dinner that night 🙂

 

What are you holding onto for 2015?  What plans are you making?  What hopes do you have?  I’d love to hear them!

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

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Death cape from start to finish

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

 

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

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

Bonnet construction

Bonnet construction

 

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

Bonnet decorating

Bonnet decorating – Maynard offering to help

 

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

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

Lady Death

Bird skeleton

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

Calantha modeling Lady Death's cape

Calantha modeling Lady Death’s cape

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

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

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

Calantha models the bonnet

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

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

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

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

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

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I wanted to save these until after yesterday’s anniversary of the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ death, but several interviews and online posts all went live during the last week.  It felt disrespectful to the Hotshots to interrupt their week of honor, so I’m just posting them now.

So, in no particular order…

Millennial Magazine Self Portrait of the Week Feature

Guest Post 2 of 2 for Robin McKinley’s blog

And lastly, a very in-depth interview with Ezra Magazine!

 

Thank you to all of these people and sites for having me!  Hope you guys enjoy reading them 🙂

In The Lilac Wood

In The Lilac Wood

 

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Just a quick note here for you guys to direct you to the guest blog post I wrote for Robin McKinley!  You know Robin McKinley, author of Deerskin and The Hero and the Crown, two of the most defining books of my life (along with The Last Unicorn).  I’ll be talking in the posts about art, ME and most specifically about creating DreamWorld.

Isn't this just the MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK COVER EVER?? The cover was what got my attention when I was 19 and first read it. My childhood dog had also recently been put to sleep and I saw my mom reading it not long after that event. I guess I asked her why she was reading it because I remember her saying that there were lots of dogs in the book, and the way that Robin McKinley wrote about them made my mom think that she would understand how devastated we both were by his loss. I can only say that as I've had the truly delightful pleasure of getting to know Robin a bit personally, I am 100% sure my mother is right.

Isn’t this just the MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK COVER EVER?? The cover was what got my attention when I was 19 and first read it. My childhood dog had also recently been put to sleep and I saw my mom reading it not long after that event. I guess I asked her why she was reading it because I remember her saying that there were lots of dogs in the book, and the way that Robin McKinley wrote about them made my mom think that she would understand how devastated we both were by his loss. I can only say that as I’ve had the truly delightful pleasure of getting to know Robin a bit personally, I am 100% sure my mother is right.

The article I turned in to her was SO LONG that she was able to break it up into three chunks, so I’ll link to them as they go up!

In the meantime, enjoy this post!  Have a look at the rest of her blog too; it’s WELL worth subscribing to!  It’s one of the few blogs which, if I get behind on emails and they pile up in my inbox, I actually save and read them all instead of scrapping the old ones and tuning in to just the recent ones.  Plus, she loves sighthounds as much as I do.  In fact, Deerskin is a big part of why I love sighthounds so much.

Anyway, here’s a link; enjoy!

Creating DreamWorld, Part I – guest post by Sarah Allegra

 

*****

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It’s that time of year when everyone with a blog is required to take a look at the previous year and take stock.  I like this tradition.  It gives you a sense of accomplishment for the things you’ve done and also brings to mind what still needs attention.

So what happened in 2013?  So much!

I signed a contract with Conlan Press, Peter S. Beagle’s publisher.  This has already brought some very exciting things about, and there are many, many more to come!

In The Lilac Wood

In The Lilac Wood

I created what I consider the first “real” DreamWorld piece.  By “real” I mean a full-fledged character was brought to life with costumes and props which took months to create and inventing new ways to bring about my vision on a shoe-string budget.  The inclusion of birds would also prove to be a frequently occurring theme in DreamWorld.

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

I got to photograph Lauren Cohen, aka Maggie from AMC’s The Walking Dead.  The image also kicked off a sub-series of DreamWorld portraying the various steps along the Hero’s Journey.

Crossing The First Threshold

Crossing The First Threshold

I also got to photograph Paul Telfer, known for his roles in NCIS, The Vampire Diaries and other roles that require buff-and-handsome men.  He perfectly portrayed the angelic kind of being you would want watching over you while you sleep.

Prayer For The Frail

Prayer For The Frail

This year also brought about a new, ongoing collaboration and friendship with actor/model Katie Johnson.  I could write an entire post about how wonderful it’s been to have Katie in my life, both for artistic reasons and personal ones.  I will leave it at two main points; that she is a spectacular model, equally skilled at following specific, minute directions as well as being let loose while I just try and keep up with her.  Her friendship, strength and grace have been a great boon this year, especially during some notable rough patches.  Thank you, Katie 🙂

Perennial Parasol

Perennial Parasol

One of those notable rough patches was learning about the tragic deaths of the 19 Hotshot firemen in Yarnell, Arizona this summer, and that one of them had been a childhood friend of mine.

To The Lost

To The Lost

In a somewhat similar vein, I took my passion for animal rights to a new level after watching the documentary Blackfish.  This also meant that I finally tackled underwater photography, which I’d been quite nervous about trying.

Concrete Cell

Concrete Cell

I wrote an open letter to Jack Hanna criticizing his continued support of SeaWorld after the Blackfish allegations, which became quite successful and even garnered the attention of celebrities such as British actor Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry Tweet

Stephen Fry Tweet

Like DreamWorld, the set of Blackfish photos has set in motion a more all-encompassing series addressing animal rights in other areas.  More of that will come in 2014!

A Drop Of Blood

A Drop Of Blood

In championing human causes, I got to be a part of the Kickstarter campaign for the documentary Canary In A Coal Mine, in production, about myalgic encephalomyelitis, aka ME, previously known in the United States as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/CFS.  The Kickstarter was an INCREDIBLE success, and we can look forward to seeing the film in late 2014 or early 2015!  I’m proud to have been a small part of the movement.  I also got to work a little more on my series on living with ME with the help of model/friend Aly Darling.

Martyrs To A Name

Martyrs To A Name

I visited a sheep farm to take photos of lambs and goats along with friends Katie and Brooke Shaden, to create a very personal portrait of my grandmother.  This particular lamb was appropriately named Too Cute 🙂

The Shepherdess

The Shepherdess

I had the pleasure of being interviewed on The Candid Frame, The Altadena Blog, and having some of my photos appear in the self-portrait how-to book, Shooting Yourself, by Haje Jan Kamps.

SP book all pages

I “celebrated” my 5-year anniversary with ME.  I’ve tried many new therapies this year to combat the ME, but with the exception of ART massage, it has gotten slowly worse and finally forced me to quit my day job.  In some ways this is a good thing, as my day job was doing my body no good at all, and it also means now I can concentrate fulltime on art.  But it’s also a bit frightening; will the ME get a little worse every year?  Will it level off now that I’m not pushing it trying to hold down a job?  There are many unknowns, which can be worse than knowing something bad will happen.  I try and keep a good attitude about things, but it’s also no good trying to simply ignore your fears.  They won’t go away, they’ll simply grow in the dark.

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder

This TED Talk sums up my fears, hopes and trials beautifully, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone, especially any who struggle with depression.

I am still mourning Richard Harrow’s death (this was my light-hearted way of dealing with it) and I’m working on a photo to help work through those feelings.

On a happier note, I got to save a litter of opossum babies and was deeply moved by a beautiful new book.

But perhaps very best of all was getting to photograph author Peter S. Beagle, of The Last Unicorn fame, and bring him into DreamWorld as its King.  It was such a tremendous amount of work, but that just makes the resulting photos that much more meaningful.

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

A year ago, I never would have thought I’d find myself not only merely talking to Peter, but actually interacting with him, making a costume for him, and casting him as one of the most important characters of DreamWorld.

Aerie

Aerie

If that all happened in 2013, what will 2014 bring?  I am very excited to find out!

Christmas Eve

Here’s to a great new year!

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