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Shades Of Sleep: Invisible Illness Day

Sometimes I get a little daunted when May 12th rolls around each year, wondering what new I can say about the subject.  If you didn’t know, May 12th is Invisible Illness Day; a day to bring attention and awareness to illnesses and diseases which don’t manifest obvious outward symptoms for the world to see.  If someone has the measles or is in a wheelchair, you can hopefully tell that just by looking at them.  Diseases like fibromyalgia*, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome*, Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, mental health problems, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome7, Celiac Disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease and the one I have, myalgic encephalomyelitis* (ME for short) are considered invisible illnesses.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few examples.

Shades Trio

According to Wikipedia and the 2002 US Census Bureau, 96% of chronic illnesses are invisible.  This adds in an enormous extra challenge in obtaining proper medical care and treatment as well as being misunderstood by the population in general.  If people don’t know that there are quiet, private, hellish wars being fought every day by millions of people all over the world, how can we ever expect our treatment to improve, let alone find cures?

That’s why May 12th is so important.  We, the sick, need people to understand, to care, to help us advocate when our treacherous bodies won’t allow us to.  Awareness is the critical first step in any change happening.

Why is it so important that we treat ME?  What makes our disease so special?

It can be fatal.  People die from this.  If not from the disease ravaging our bodies for years and decades, then it often comes by our own hands as we can no longer endure the daily torment.

No one should have to live like this.  As someone who has what’s considered only a “moderate” case of ME, I can tell you it’s a living hell.  Pain is nearly constant, sometimes to the point where I’m in tears and desperately wishing to die.  It takes away the plans you had for a normal, fulfilling life.  Careers, hobbies and passions are taken from you.  You either simply cannot expend the energy on anything non-essential, you lack the basic funds to sustain most pursuits because most of us can’t work, or your brain is compromised by what we call “brain fog” and you’re unable to focus on and accomplish anything.  (More on brain fog later.)

We deserve to live happy, fulfilling lives, just like everyone else.  When you’re constantly in pain, always exhausted and unable to think clearly, this doesn’t leave much room for whatever kind of life you wanted for yourself.  And when I say exhausted, I don’t mean that we’re tired because we didn’t sleep well the night before.  On a good day for me, it’s like how other people when they have the flu.  A constant, crushing weight that makes the slightest exertion a Herculean effort.  On bad days all I can do is lay in bed and drag myself to the bathroom periodically.  Sometimes even feeding myself is a challenge.  I might have to choose between feeding my animals or myself, because I don’t have the energy for both.  And of course the animals always win; they’re my responsibility.

I am mostly house-bound and I require help with the sort of tasks I used to take for granted.  Forgot something at the store?  No problem, just go back tomorrow!  Nope, not with ME.  Any time I take a trip outside my home, I have to plan at least one full day of recovering at home from it.  If it’s something late at night, very noisy and extra stimulating, plan on 2-3 days at least.  (But frankly, late night, noisy, stimulating activities happen EXTREMELY rarely because of the damage they cause later.)  When I do gather my strength to photograph models, that is my exertion for the entire week at least.

ME is extremely isolating.  You can’t just go hang out with friends.  You can rarely make it to family functions.  Last year, I had to miss a surprise party thrown for my own mother, something which still upsets me today.  I was just too exhausted to go, and I knew that if I REALLY pushed myself and forced myself to go, I would pay for it for a very long time.

ME is vengeful god.  If you violate any of its insane decrees, you WILL be punished.  Probably for a long time; sometimes forever.  There have been cases where someone with ME did just a little too much one day, they spent the next day in bed… and then they were never able to leave it.  At the same time though, if you try and do as little as possible, your energy supply will shrink and you’ll be worse off too.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Right now ME received approximately 5 million dollars a year in funding from the US government.  To put that in perspective, that’s about the same amount given to researching hayfever.  Male pattern baldness gets at least four times as much.  HIV/AIDS, which is comparable in both frequency in the population and severity of illness, gets about 600 times that amount.  I’m not saying that HIV/AIDS patients shouldn’t receive that much; I think they should!  What I’m saying is that ME needs to be recognized at all levels of society and government as the deadly, hellish disease that it is and get proper funding as well.

This year I decided to do something that was a big stretch for me physically.  I planned a set of self portraits (all shot at the same time) with a rather complicated makeup look for my Enchanted Sleep series on living with ME.  Doing that much makeup on myself normally would have been enough exertion for one day for me, but that plus shooting the images, even with Geoff’s generous help, put me in bed for days afterward with migraines pounding my head.  But I’m not sorry.  It was worth it.

Oh yes, brain fog.  (Which I’ve got a bit of as I’m writing this.)  It’s like when you have a fever and can’t concentrate or think clearly.  Sometimes it reaches new heights where people suddenly can’t spell, remember their names or understand their native language.  Most days it’s more like mentally wading through a bog, at least for me.  I decided I wanted to portray this visually in the images I created since it’s such an annoyance at best and terrifying at its worst.  I think it will be obvious how I incorporated that element into the images.

I have the video I took of me applying the makeup as well as the finished photos to show you, but I want to issue a challenge as well!  I want you: you, who are reading this right now, to #GoBlue4ME!  Why blue?  Because that’s our disease’s awareness ribbon color.  What does “going blue” mean?  There are any number of things you could do to go blue.  I created a couple images that you could use as your profile photos for May 12th, or even this whole week (or more!).  You are more than welcome to download them and use them however you’d like!  You could dress all in blue and post a photo of yourself with the #GoBlue4ME hashtag on any of your social media accounts.  You could get a bunch of blue balloons, take a photo of them and use the hashtag on them too; anything blue works!

For makeup artists, I’m issuing a special challenge.  As you’ll see in my video applying my makeup, I used ONLY blue shades for this entire look.  Foundation, concealer, eyeshadows, blush, mascara, EVERYTHING.  I challenge you all to do the same and post your looks using the #GoBlue4ME hashtag!  If you’re on YouTube and create makeup tutorial videos, this would be perfect for you.  There are so many fun makeup challenges going around YouTube, Instagram and other social media sites; let’s make this the next big trend!  You’ll not only be stretching yourself, you’ll be contributing to a wonderful cause and helping us raise awareness for the whole world!

I did allow myself to use shades of teal, green and purple in my look because they’re offshoots of blue and I really thought it would make for a better overall look, so feel free to do the same.  And you don’t have to make the blue tie into your foundation color as well, but bonus points to you if you do. 🙂  Let’s have some fun, create gorgeous looks and help a community in need of a lot of support by coming together!

Ready to see the video and my images?  Here you go!  I’ll be releasing the images individually over the course of the week leading up to May 12th, but you can always find them all here.

And please, pass these around!  Share the links, video and images with anyone and everyone!  We have to make a lot of noise to get the change we so desperately need.  You have my full permission to share far and wide!

And please, if you take up the #GoBlue4ME challenge, let me know!  Of course, I can search the hashtag and see what you guys have been up to, but I’m very excited to see what you come up with!

One last note, your going blue does NOT need to happen on or before May 12th.  Keep doing it as long as you’d like to!  The longer we can keep the word spreading, the better.

Thank you to absolutely everyone who has and will participate in this!  You are helping so many more people than you know.  I thank you from the deepest wells of my heart.

Download these images and make them your profile photos for a day!

ME avatar 1

ME avatar 2

Shades of Sleep

Shades of Sleep, © Sarah Allegra.  A self portrait about brain fog and living with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

Shaed of Dreams

Shades of Dreams, © Sarah Allegra.  A self portrait about brain fog and living with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

Shades of Blur

Shades of Blur, © Sarah Allegra.  A self portrait about brain fog and living with myalgic encephalomyelitis.

*[There are various theories and arguments about weather ME, CFS and fibromyalgia are all the same disease or separate.  You’ll find as many different opinions as there are sufferers.  It is my personal belief that they’re probably all the same thing, or at least all very closely related.  Some people are extremely militant about using the “correct” name; I find it more important to help people understand by using the name they’re most familiar with.  I tend to use them all interchangeably depending on the situation and who I’m talking to, but if I had my druthers, I’d simply call it ME and be done with it.]

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

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn't look interesting wet...

It doesn’t look interesting wet…

But it dries into a really stunning color!

But it dries into a really stunning color!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mask four small

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

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

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

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

Flowers with and without Looking Glass paint

Flowers with and without Looking Glass paint

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

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

sarahallegra.com

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

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

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I promised you photos from my opening reception at the Creative Arts Group opening reception and here they are!

Of course I got all caught up experiencing the show to remember to take photos once it really got going, so mostly I have photos of the exhibit itself and a few from Geoff.

IMG_1473IMG_1474We had a pretty good turn-out!  And luckily for my anxiety, I knew most of the people who came fairly well which made it much easier on me.

IMG_1475IMG_1476People seemed to really enjoy getting to see the props and costumes up close and realize they really weren’t Photoshopped.  Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with using Photoshop, I certainly do, frequently and heavily to make the impossible possible, but when I’ve put month and months of work into something, it’s an important distinction.

IMG_1480

Me with the dress and flower footprints from Spring’s Awakening – and my awesome, retro-deer-print dress

IMG_1373IMG_1477

Antlers from Where Black Stars Rise

Antlers from Where Black Stars Rise

Chest piece from Where Black Stars Rise

Chest piece from Where Black Stars Rise

Our old neighbors, Donna and John, showed up, which was really lovely.  It’s been hard on everyone to have suddenly gone from seeing each other every day to every few weeks, so it was great to be able to have them hang out for a little while and gossip about really important topics like Game of Thrones.

John, me and Donna

John, me and Donna

I was completely exhausted afterward and crashed very hard the next day… and a couple after that too.  But it was good to have had the reception and I’m glad it happened, even if I paid for it later.

IMG_1488Maynard crawled up on me after I got home and laid on my chest, giving me sweet little kitty kisses.  I took a photo because he was being so adorable and also to document the fact that I DO still know how to apply makeup, I just don’t bother expending energy on it regularly 😉  I have better things to do with the precious little I have.

It’s been a little while since I posted a new image, and part of that is because I’ve been hard at work getting ready for the show, then recovering, then I was helping Geoff with a really fantastic short film he made.  Are you a sci fi fan?  Like stories about dystopian futures?  Give it a view!  It’s a really cool, original concept which I’m proud to have my name attached to.

Frontiers posterNow… on to my new image!

My good friend Danica is a horse trainer and I discovered she had a cream-colored gypsy vanner stallion named Booger staying with her for a few weeks.  Booger was only going to be with her for a short time, so I quickly rallied Katie and got a shoot scheduled.  Booger perfectly fit a series of images I’ve been wanting to shoot for years, but they required not only a horse, but an extremely specific-looking horse.  Luckily, Booger fit the bill!

Those images will be coming later.  For the mean time, I wanted to make as much use of him as possible, so we shot quite a few concepts.  This one was Katie’s idea, sort of a companion piece to this self portrait I shot, also on a horse (Freddie, who is extremely laid-back) belonging to Danica:

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

Booger did such a good job!  He’s only about two, a baby in horse years, and he had never modeled before.  It required a lot of fast thinking, re-adjusting and everyone being on their toes, but we got some really wonderful shots!  This is just the first of several which you’ll see; the others will be released as I get to them.

Thanks to Katie and Danica (who really did an incredible job of wrangling an untrained young stallion into doing the weird things we were asking of him), Booger’s owner for letting us photograph him, and especially to Booger for being such a great first-time model!  Many smooches and apples to you, my friend 🙂

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail.  Look at those feathery legs!!  :D

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

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As so often happens with DreamWorld, the inspiration for this set of images came close to a year ago.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother series © Sarah Allegra, model: Dedeker Winston

Last summer, I had recently watched some of the BBC’s episodes of Life, their truly excellent series on all kinds of wildlife.  I was watching it while I edited other images (I rarely watch TV without doing a second activity, unless we’re talking about shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Rectify, etc, which all demand my full attention) but my editing suddenly halted when this segment came on.

I remember backing it up and watching the whole piece again, mesmerized, deeply touched and saddened by such complete, beautiful devotion from any creature to another.  As I watched it a third time, I knew a photo was going to come out of it somehow… it was resonating too deeply with me for anything else to happen.

Now, as to how the medieval elements worked themselves in… I can only give you guesses since I’m not really sure how my brain made the jump myself.  I know that part of it had to do with wanting to give her eight “tentacles” of some kind (which made its way into her hair) and wanting to give her a pouch to carry her eggs in.  For some reason, I thought of a kirtle, a medieval garment which lasted for several centuries.  The kind I was picturing were from, I believe, earlier on in the medieval period and looked more like what we might think of as over-dresses or fancy aprons.

A kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

A red kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

Researching medieval garments inevitably led to medieval hair… images like these set my brain whirling.

You can see how the braided and wrapped hair, along with beautiful headdresses leaked into my character.

As usual, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this when I started into it.

I had a longish, dark brown wig which I’d bought very cheaply quite a while ago.  When it arrived, I realized why it had been so cheap; it was already snarled and tangled before I’d even taken it out of the package.  I halfheartedly attempted to work the same wide-tooth comb I use for my own often snarled and tangly hair and quickly realized it was a futile endeavor.  I tossed the wig into the back of the closet and mostly forgot about it.

When this project came up, I remembered it though.  Even though it poofed up like a drying poodle as I combed it, that would work in this case, since I’d be wrapping it up and looping it around.  I spent most of one afternoon just combing it out – not detangling it, mind you; there was never any hope of this wig being tangle-free.  My best hope was to get it to the point where I could separate it into eight segments.  It took all the strength in my arms and they were very unhappy with me for the next few days, but I managed to do it.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

In the meantime, I had discovered arm knitting, which I found I could do without a) using much brain power, b) quickly c) without using much muscle power and d) it had very pretty and interesting results.  The resulting squares and shapes I made from the looping yarn had such a beautiful, organic look, almost like a coral reef or some other under-sea plant/creature, that it felt completely at home with an aquatic-inspired creature.

After the combing session, I put the wig away for a day or two.  I brought it out again after my arms had regained a little strength.  Of course this also meant that it had had a couple days left completely on its own without any outside help to start tangling again, so I spent a little time re-combing it to get it back to a manageable state.  I quickly arm-knit a band of yarn which would form the circlet of my headdress and made sure it would fit.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then I divided it into eight more-or-less equal segments and put a hair band around each one to help keep them from getting into too much trouble.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I put the circlet of yarn back on top of the hair and began crisscrossing the yarn (which was a beautiful, slightly metallic variegated blend of soft pinks, blues,  lavenders and silvers) over the different segments, using liberal help from my glue gun to keep everything in check.  Each segment was attached back up to the main part of the circlet after its crisscrossing was done.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The two front, face-framing sections of hair were left for last.  I added some looping pieces of yarn between the other segments to make it more headdress-like.  The front segments got crisscrossed with their own lengths of yarn and were then attached to the very back of the circlet, forming two large loops on either side of the face, with hair tentacles hanging underneath them.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then was the fun part: beads!  I raided my bead stash, with an eye toward pieces from a very elaborate headdress I’d made which had recently died, spilling beads all over the floor.  I knew there were some really cool pieces which I’d used for it, so I repurposed them again in this piece.  I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly be-jeweled and sparkly, just enough bling to make the character look a bit important; perhaps some kind of royalty.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Moving on to her dress, I had a high-necked, sleeveless, pink chiffon dress from Ebay which I’d gotten for little more than a song.  Pink isn’t a color I’m usually drawn to that much, but since the original octopus was pink, my character was going to be pink too.  I kind of eyeballed the general shape of a kirtle from ivory tulle; a lot was going to happen to it and since it was so light and transparent, it didn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical.

I free-styled a yoke for the kirtle with more arm knitting and added some cap sleeves (which are only visible in some of the images unfortunately).  One thing I was finding with the arm knitting was that is is EXTREMELY forgiving.  Arm you within an atom bomb’s range of what you were going for?  Then it will probably work!

To unify the costume and also enhance the organic, oceanic feel, I arm knitted a piece for the bottom of the kirtle, basically a large triangle, and two smaller, upside-down triangles for either side of the egg pouch.  I left several yarn strings loose from the pouch triangles which would be used to tie the kirtle behind the back of the dress, just like a regular apron.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The eggs were leftover from a shoot I did with Paul Telfer as the Sleeper’s Sentinel.  I’d had to buy a dozen of the super-large plastic eggs so I had PLENTY to use for other shoots!  I kept these fairly simple since there would be a lot going on visually in the images; I started with spray-painting a base coat of a semi-metallic light gold color and added flecks of bronze-black to make them look more like real eggs.  Repeat until they look right.  I knew I’d only need five or six eggs, since that was as many as would fit in the pouch I’d made so I didn’t waste any time painting extra eggs.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I did do one thing to just one egg though…  I found a nail and a hammer and while the egg was still in two pieces, I hammered a hole through from the inside out.  Some sharp knives, pliers and more hammering later, I’d created what looked like a fracture in the egg from a chick inside starting to hatch.  Eggs = done!

I’d had my faithful model Dedeker Winston in mind for this character the whole time.  I usually cast characters in the same way I create them, just by what “feels right.”  I had not consciously remembered it, but it turned out there was a really wonderful real-world reason to have Dedeker play the octopus-mother caring for her eggs.  Dedeker has been an egg donor many times to couples who are unable to have children on their own.  In fact, one family has two children, both from Dedeker’s eggs, and they just requested a third!  It’s very unusual for a family to have so many children from the same donor, but I think it’s really lovely that all of their children will be linked in this extra way.  And clearly Dedeker produces really fantastic babies!  🙂  Once I remembered that, it felt truly serendipitous that we were shooting this character together.

I knew that my wig was several shades darker than Dedeker’s hair and I had a couple thoughts on how to deal with it.  I knew she had a dark brown wig of her own which we could layer under mine, or we could totally cover all of her hair with a wig cap.  In the end though, she simply twirled her hair into a low bun, I set the wig on top of her head and since there was so much going on with the hair, it looked completely natural and blended right in.  If you looked closely, you could see that some of the hairs on her forehead were a bit lighter than the rest of her head, but I matched them up in about 30 seconds in Photoshop.  Sometimes the simplest method is the best!

We set out on a morning last summer to capture these shots of the character I’ve dubbed the Pink Mother.  We got started early and the sun was already blazing; it promised to be a miserably hot day but at the moment it was still pleasant.  I started shooting Dedeker in a dryer, dustier, yellower scene and led her along a path which gradually got greener and lusher, mirroring the octopus’ journey to find the perfect environment for her eggs to be born into.  The color pallet moved from warm and vivid to cool and less saturated, especially in regards to the Pink Mother herself.  As she nears death, the paler she becomes until the last shot, where she is very white.

She sacrificed everything she had for her eggs.  She loved them, cared for them, caressed them.  She journeyed over countless miles to find a safe, green place for them to be born.  Though it cost her everything, she never hesitated.  And, it seems, her journey was worth it.  The cracks in the eggs prove her right.  They were brought forth from the deepest love there is, and that can only be the best start to these new beings.

So thank you to Dedeker for being my medieval octopus mother and letting me share your story about your own eggs!  And thank you for trusting my vision even if it seemed questionable at the time 😉  You were the perfect, purest-loving mother to those babies!

And now enjoy the full images, some detail shots and behind-the-scenes captures!

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

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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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***Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t seen the first season of Boardwalk Empire!***

Keep reading to see an animated gif showing the whole editing process I used to create this image!  Many thanks to Handy Andy Pandy for imparting his knowledge of gifs upon me!

You guys all know I LOOOOVE me some Boardwalk Empire.  Or, at least, I did, up until last season’s finale.  I’m trying to work up to forgiving the show for its horrible end before the final season starts this fall, but I’ve got a ways to go.

I had to completely put the show out of my mind for a long time but I’ve started dipping my toe back into that intoxicating water.  As I was starting the whole series over again (for the manyth time) a new character caught my eye in a way she hadn’t before: Pearl.

Pearl

Pearl

Played expertly by Emily Meade (currently on The Leftovers, also on HBO), Pearl is a prostitute at The Four Deuces in Chicago, which is where Jimmy retreats into hiding until heat from a botched robbery he and Al Capone attempted dies down.  She and Jimmy hit it off right away and form a quick, if somewhat odd, couple, shyly getting to know each other.

Jimmy_pearl

Jimmy’s ear is hurt after Al fires a gun right next to his head as a joke (seriously, who doesn’t fire dangerous weapons at their friends heads now and then?)  Pearl tries to fix him up and suggests he take opium for the pain; “It’s divine, it really is, for whatever ails you.”  Jimmy turns the offer down and the begin talking about their pasts.

Pearl, it turns out, is from Star Prairie, Wisconsin, a very small town where “Grampa was the first white man born in town, Pa was the first man got sent to state prison and Ma was the first woman run over flat by a car.  So you could say I have a lot to live up to.”

She tells Jimmy of her plan to head west to Hollywood and become an actress as soon as she saves up enough money.  Half-jokingly, she tells Jimmy he can come with her if he wants to, which he agrees to, and you can see that there’s a real affection growing between them.

But we all know, no one on Boardwalk gets to be happy for long.

Shortly after, Pearl finds herself being used as a means of sending Jimmy a message.  She had nothing to do with any of the reasons these men want to hurt Jimmy, she’s just caught in the ugly crossfire… and it costs her her face.  Warning for the squeamish, this is a bit brutal.

 

You have to think that with what little we know of her past and the fact that she’s a prostitute, life hasn’t been especially kind to this poor girl.  Not only are her acting dreams shattered, but even prostitution is taken away from her.  Jimmy feels responsible for her condition and tries to take care of her.  The Four Deuces wants to kick her out as soon as she stops making money, but Jimmy delays them.  Her face is stitched and bandaged and Jimmy spends a lot of time squeezing oranges into juice for her to take her opium in.

Pearl scar

Despite her opium haze, Pearl realizes that her future has been erased.  At one point, she forlornly asks Jimmy who will love her now?  We wonder what this poor girl will do, but she’s quite calm and collected; she seems to have it figured out.  While Jimmy is caring for her, she asks him to tell her a story.

I can’t blame Pearl for feeling that was her only option.  Life had been quite unkind to her.  She deserved much more, but I’m glad that she at least had a few beautiful moments with Jimmy before she left.

But, much as no one on Boardwalk stays happy for long, no one stays unavenged for long either.

Unknown to Liam, the face slasher, Jimmy has just met Richard Harrow, the World War One sharp shooter.  At their first meeting, Richard tells Jimmy the story of how he once stayed three days in a blind, waiting for the single moment when he could kill a German shooter, finally taking him out with one shot below his right eye.  Jimmy has a soft spot for the lonely and lost and accepts Richard readily into his life.  And they concoct a plan.

While Pearl’s death is tragic, it is the catalyst for Jimmy and Richard’s friendship, which continues for the rest of the series.  If Jimmy hadn’t needed someone to help him extract revenge upon Liam, who knows what would have become of their relationship, and who knows how it would have changed Richard’s involvement in the show?  We might have never met the man who would become one of my favorite characters on all of television.

With a new appreciation for Pearl’s character, I felt like creating an image in her memory.  And I have to say, I was very proud of myself for how little time it took me to transform myself into a Pearl-like girl; maybe 15 minutes.  If I had more energy on a daily basis, I would certainly try and bring more of the 20’s style to my daily look!  As things stand, I will have to be content with just dressing myself and either putting my hair in a ponytail or hiding it under a hat.  But maybe some day…  🙂

Geoff was very kind and helped be my human shutter release for these self portraits.  Byron helped by photobombing as often as he could.  All said, this was a quick and easy shoot and editing it was quite a delight.  My friend Robert Cornelius helped me figure out how to add the tears to the photo later, which I’d forgotten to do at the time of the shoot.  Thanks, Robert!

Please enjoy the finished image and the detail shot where you can really see the tears!  Also, HUGE thanks to Andy for showing me how to create the animated gif below!  It’s a great way to show you guys the whole creation of the image in a fun way.  I’m hoping to do more of these now that I’ve got one under my belt!

Tell Me A Happy Story

Tell Me A Happy Story

 

Tell Me A Happy Story - detail

Tell Me A Happy Story – detail

 

Watch the creation of this image from start to finish!

Watch the creation of this image from start to finish!

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It feels great to finally bring the Oracle to life!  She was one of the very first DreamWorld characters I thought of; I’ve been mentally planning her for over a year.  Part of what held her up was finding the right objects to build her canopy, and then by the time I’d done that, it was winter.  Even though California winters are pretty weak by most standards, I still didn’t want my model to have to lay half-submerged in water that was more freezing than it had to be.  I make my models to odd and uncomfortable things, but I do try to make it as painless as possible for them.

Let’s see, should we cover the making-of first, or the meaning of the images?  Things will probably make more sense if I explain the Oracle first, so let’s do that.

 

Glade

Glade – a sneak peek at what’s to come

The real-life kernel of inspiration for the Oracle came from the idea of having precognitive dreams; ie, dreams about events which have not yet happened.  Though this sounds quite mystical, I know quite a lot of people personally who have them on a semi-regular basis as well as having them myself.   Modern science has no good explanation for how this happens, but I know from my own experiences that it does, and it cannot be explained by deja vu, coincidence, a self-fulfilling prophecy, etc.  There are some very interesting papers written on the subject for anyone who cares to read them, but I’ll stick with talking about my own experiences as much as possible.

For me, I rarely note the dreams as precognitive when I’m having them, although this seems to be uncommon; the majority of people recognize them as precognitive when they wake up.  Mine are almost always about very mundane things.  It’s not anything I can control; it happens on its own.  I’ll have dreams about working at a job before I have the job, before I’ve started looking or even considered that job as a career choice.  And while there is some overlap with deja vu, they are completely different things.  I experience deja vu like anyone else, but I never confuse it with the dreams.  They feel quite different.

Seeing a precognitive dream come to life does start out feeling odd and familiar, in a similar way to deja vu, but as the seconds pass and more and more details match up exactly with how you remembered them from your dream, it transcends deja vu.  It’s like you watched a home video of the event before the event occurred, and now you’re watching it play out in real time.  The best evidence I have for the validity of the experience is that occasionally, I can remember enough of my dream to get a few seconds ahead of reality and know exactly what someone is going to say or do before they say or do it.

People will believe me or not, and while I’d rather people assume I’m telling the truth (since I am) I know there will be others who will refuse to believe no matter what I say.  And that’s fine.  That’s not the point of this post, or of these photos.  I’m relating this to you to give you an understanding of how these images came to be, not to convince you of the validity of my weird dreams.  Though I would encourage you to keep an open mind about the unexplained.  At one point, every new idea was unexplained.  Obviously, it helps my belief that it happens to me, and that I know numerous people whom it also happens to.  If you feel so inclined, you might try asking people in your own group of friends and family if they’ve ever experienced something like this.  Some studies show that over 50% of people have had at least one precognitive dream, so you might be surprised at what you find!

Back to the images.  DreamWorld was a perfect place for the Oracle, who is in charge of distributing precognitive dreams.  She lays half-submerged in the water to indicate the duality of her nature.  She sees the future with one eye and the present with the other, she has a foot in each world, she is a bridge.  Spanning the two worlds is a heavy burden, but one she is uniquely equipped to bear; this is her purpose.  She lives off in the wild on her own with nature as her main companion.  Pilgrims may make a journey to ask her to peer into the future for them, and the devout has erected a beautiful canopy around her.  The canopy offers her a little shelter, helps other pilgrims to find her and is an extension the people’s love for her; a lovely tribute to honor her.

Obviously, the main prop for this shoot was going to be the canopy.  I doodled different designs for it endlessly until I finally settled on this one.  I knew I wanted dramatic fabric framing her, but the “chandelier” of glass ornaments was something I tinkered with a lot until it finally felt right.  They feel like bubbles to me, rising up from the Oracle’s body; fragile, shatterable encapsulations of dreams.

Originally, I set out on the internet, searching for clear, iridescent Christmas ornaments.  Surely, I thought, somewhere on the endless internet, I will find exactly what I want!  I did not.  Everything I saw was wrong in some way.  And I looked for MONTHS, both around the holidays and not.  Then I thought I’d buy clear, round ornaments and paint them with iridescent paint; because that has to exist, doesn’t it?  It turns out that it used to, but the one and only maker I could find for such a pain no longer made it.  After many frustrating months of almost finding what I wanted, I changed my plans.  I would buy clear Christmas ornaments, with tops that came off easily from the craft store (which I bought just after Christmas when they were all about half price!), fill them with iridescent Easter grass and give them the lightest kiss of silver and gold spray paint.

Supplies laid out upon the bed.

Supplies laid out upon the bed.

Stuff that sucker

Stuff that sucker

Make a clothesline out of any old rope you can find.  Since the balls are meant to hang, they make this part pretty easy!

Make a clothesline out of any old rope you can find. Since the balls are meant to hang, they make this part pretty easy!

I added multiple very light layers of gold and silver spray paint after first spritzing all the balls with plain water.  The water acts as a barrier, so even if you go totally crazy with the spray paint, the ball itself won’t pick up much paint.  Pat it dry and repeat as desired.

balls2

The paint gives them just a tiny bit of opacity and adds to their magical feeling

Ok, bubbles are ready to hang, better get the canopy ready!  I started with a fabric canopy meant to go over a bed, which I purchased for about $5 on Ebay.

canopy

Very typical work layout for me: something hung in front of the closet, supplies strewn about the bed, TV on so I don’t lose my mind from boredom.

The nice thing about buying the canopy like this was that it was already designed to be hung and had a nice big ring at the top.  In this case, I just put a clotheshanger through it and hung it in front of the closet, which was the only place remotely tall/deep enough to make it workable for me.

I started by draping layers of lavender organza on the inside of the plain, boring, white canopy.  This organza was especially lovely, with pink undertones and a shimmery surface.  It was also inexpensive which made like like it even more!

canopy2

Sides are tacked up to make a pleasing, framing opening for the Oracle

Maynard LOVED that I was working with lots of fabric and sparkly things.  He parked himself right in the middle where he could be of most help.

Maynard LOVED that I was working with lots of fabric and sparkly things. He parked himself right in the middle where he could be of most help.

Next I started hanging the finished balls, along with some long strings of little iridescent balls, which also came from the Christmas decoration section of the craft store (and I think were also on sale).  The canopy came with its own very sturdy circular frame for the fabric to hang from, and I added a second, smaller inner ring made from plastic corset boning.  It was pretty filmsy but I tied it securely enough to the outer ring that it held up.  It added another dimension for all the hanging things to fall from and drape over.

canopy4

 

Done!  After months and months of research and work and about $40 worth of supplies, it was done.  It was a weird, fragile mess, but it was done.  It was at this point that I texted Geoff a cell phone photo of the finished canopy and he said that it looked like “a serial killer Christmas tree.”  I had no idea what that meant.  He clarified that he didn’t mean, as I first thought, that it looked like a Christmas tree which belonged to a serial killer, but a Christmas tree which was itself a serial killer.  Ah.  Yes, of course.  I’m going to keep teasing him about that for a long time 🙂

A few days later and I was shooting with Dedeker Winston on a bright, early morning.  We made out way to a location where I knew there was usually a stream; I’d scouted it recently and decided it would work for this shoot.  I needed a very specific location for this shot; the water couldn’t be too deep or too shallow, it had to be green and pretty, ideally, shaded from the sun, and most importantly, it needed to have something in it which I could hang the canopy from, and in the correct position for the composition for the image.  I’m really quite surprised that we found it as easily as we did!  That Reiki comes in handy.

hung up

These branches hung over the creek and were in the perfect to hang the canopy from!

I gave Dedeker two vintage nightgowns to slip on, a nude one with a sheer purple one over top, a few more balls which were attached to elastic straps around her hands and she bravely sunk half her body into the water.  I gave her a minute to adjust to the cold, she got her model face on and we went to work.

I tried to work very quickly since I knew this was not at all comfortable for Dedeker, but I also wanted to be thorough and make sure that we had gotten everything, especially since it was uncomfortable.  Our location happened to be quite near a well-traveled path in the woods and even though it was early and a weekday, people kept coming along and exclaiming over what we were doing.  I gave my card to the first couple of people, before Dedeker was in the water, but after that I just smiled at them, kept working and told them we were doing a photo shoot.  People will accept that as the explanation for almost anything they come across.

Not too long after I’d made her dunk in the cold water, I released Dedeker from her watery prison with a successful shoot under our belts!  I knew the images would be wonderful; I’d gotten everything I wanted.  I gave Dedeker a pile of towels, she dried off and we untied the canopy.  I’d carried it to our location in a large black garbage bag and I carried it out the same way; much heavier now with the weight of water, leaves and muck in it.  I knew that the canopy was not something that  I would save as a whole piece; there was no way to suitably clean it from the mud and water.  I let it dry in the yard, cut the fabric off it, cut all the ornaments free and I’ll reuse them in other ways.

A blurry selfie right after we finished

A blurry selfie right after we finished

Now that you’ve heard all about how these images came to be, let’s have the finished photos!  Detail shots, as always, are under the main images.  Thank you, Dedeker, for being such a trooper!

The Oracle

The Oracle

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

 

Divination's Riddle

Divination’s Riddle

Divination's Riddle - detail

Divination’s Riddle – detail

 

The Two Worlds

The Two Worlds

The Two Worlds - detail

The Two Worlds – detail

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