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What Else Can I Say About ME?

Here we are at May 12th again.  Another Invisible Illness Day come to bring awareness to all the illnesses and diseases which are impolite enough to leave their sufferers still appearing to be well.  Of course, anyone more than casually acquainted with someone who has fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, complex regional pain disorder, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Lyme, lupus and many, many more illnesses can attest to how debilitating they can be.  The facade of health they leave intact feels like salt in the wound; a confusion for those untouched by their cruel hand, a silent undermining force with us at every doctor’s appointment, a declaration that we are lying or greatly exaggerating our illness.

What else can I say about ME?  About all the other forgotten, ignored diseases swept under the rug of modern medicine?  Illnesses which embarrass our doctors with their constant reminder that we remain unhealed.  Sicknesses with confusing, confounding symptoms which can morph and change like the whim of a butterfly’s flight.  Maddening maladies which suck away our vitality, our joys, our passions, our lives as completely as any vampire.

I’ve written about ME extensively as it’s been an enormous part of my life for the last eight years.  How I have not had a single day since late May of 2008 that was free of pain or its constant, overwhelming exhaustion.  How it has progressively gotten worse each year.  How the government would like to pretend we invisibly ill don’t exist.  How grotesquely underfunded our research is, giving us the same amount of money for research as hayfever gets and less than 1/4 of what male pattern baldness receives.  You have heard me spout the facts and statistics.  You’ve heard me talk about my personal story and fight with ME.  What else can I say?

I can say this: I am not beaten.  I have not given up.

I am determined to get better.  I am committing myself to be well, even if I have it about through sheer mental will.  I will not give in to ME’s gloomy, hopeless future forecast of progressively worsening every year.  I am not accepting a future of the living death that is ME.

I don’t know exactly how I will get better, but I am going to.  As a sign of my determination, I changed my blog’s tagline for the first time since I started this blog years ago.  “Art, photography, life and why I always feel like shit,” felt perfectly appropriate at the time.  “Art, photography, life and how those are really all the same thing,” is much more appropriate now.  My identity is not Sarah-who-has-ME.  I am just Sarah.

As I wrote about in my last entry, my life has been pleasantly consumed recently by my spirituality.  I have strongly felt how focusing on fighting ME has been feeding it.  So now, I will ignore it as much as possible.  I do not mean that I will forget my body’s current limits, or not honor them.  Listening to my body and what it’s able to do is vital for my current and future wellbeing.  But I’ve realized that I can live within the confines of my case of ME while still not letting it reign in every area of my life, and that feel incredibly freeing.  This is the path I will pursue.

This also does not mean that I will not advocate for ME sufferers.  I still feel very strongly that the only way we will bring about change is by demanding it.  And we can only demand it if we know that it exists in the first place.  But I can also advocate without allowing ME to rule every part of my soul.

As May 12th approached, I wanted to create a new image for my Enchanted Sleep series, which is all about living with ME.  I asked Katie Johnson, frequent model and collaborator as well as dear friend, if she would help me bring some concepts to life and she gladly agreed to help.  Through a variety of factors, I wasn’t able to shoot these images until very recently, which meant I had a very short window to edit one up and release it for Invisible Illness Day, but I got it done!  Ideally, I would be releasing the whole short series we shot, but I am content with having just one to show you and help illustrate life with ME.  With that, please let me present my latest image to you, Living With The Tombstones.

Living With The Tombstones

Living With The Tombstones – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Katie Johnson. An image to help raise awareness about ME/CFS and other “invisible illnesses.”

I probably don’t have to explain the symbolism behind shooting this image in a graveyard.  ME (and many other invisible illnesses) truly can be a living, nightmarish death.  Even if you’re not one of the unfortunate souls cursed with severe ME, where any touch, light or sound cannot be tolerated, you die every day to the dreams and hopes you had when you were healthy.  You might discover new passions to pursue within ME’s confines, but do you ever truly forget what’s been taken from you?  If you do, I am not there yet.

I took the name “invisible illness” and interpreted it quite literally, editing out any part of Katie’s body which showed outside her long, princess-like dress.  And the mirrored mask felt like the perfect touch.  When people look at us, they rarely see us; they see their projections of who we are.  Often what they see says far more about them than us.  Some will look at me and, because I can occasionally manage to put on clothes, have Geoff drive and go with him to the grocery store, refuse to believe there could be anything physically wrong with me.  They don’t see the toll that those short, simple trips take on me.  They don’t know that grocery shopping is my ENTIRE plan for that day, probably several days.  How the lights and noise and bustle inside the stores give me migraines, panic attacks and leave me in bed for the rest of the weekend.  They don’t see the weight of my illness on Geoff and my family.  How if I see friends, they always have to come to me.  I so often feel like a dead-weight wife, daughter and friend.  The times I’m overwhelmed by the ME and can’t decide between crying and being too tired to cry.  How many pills I take every day to try and make it to the next day and not be consumed by the constant pain I’m in.  They just see a fairly normal-looking girl.

I can’t blame other people for not knowing that I’m sick.  I don’t display the characteristic signals of someone who is unwell, so of course people assume I’m healthy.  But we need to get to a place where I could tell a stranger that I have ME and they might know what I’m talking about.  That if someone else said they have MS or Crohn’s or fibro, that stranger would have heard of those illnesses.  That the stranger would have at least a basic idea of our struggle and the dire need for change, for research, for treatments, cures and basic respect.

We can get there.  We will.  One May 12th at a time.

Want to do more?  I can help you with that!

I’d like to thank everyone in my life, online and off, who has supported me during these trying past eight years.  Especially Geoff, who I’d only been dating for a month when I became ill.  Lesser men would have run from what he had to face, but he’s stuck with me, no matter how bad things get.  And I’d also like to thank everyone for the extremely warm and receptive response you all had to my previous blog post.  Your kind words and love and support are greatly appreciated, now and always! ❤

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The mystery image revealed!

I’m so happy so many of you have joined in my print giveaway!  There is still time for you to enter, which is free and easy to do!  Scroll down below for details, but most of the ways you enter are simply by sharing/retweeting messages onto various social media outlets – all of which are now embedded in this post!  Just head down to the very end and you’ll see all the different ways you can participate without even leaving this page!

If you missed my last post, let me summarize it for you.  Today, May 12th is Invisible Illness Day; a day we dedicate to raising awareness about illnesses and diseases which can be deadly and have devastating consequences, yet show little to no outward sign.  Every single person with any of these illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,  rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s Disease, (and, of course, myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, which I have*) has been told at least once, “But you don’t look sick.”  As if that invalidates our decades of suffering.  Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t meet your criteria of what a “chronically ill” person looks like; you’re right, I’m 100% fine!  In fact, I’m going to go complete a decathlon, now that I know I’m healthy.

Ok, so clearly simply not appearing outwardly sick doesn’t mean we aren’t ill.  In fact, most people who saw me on the street would probably assume I was a perfectly healthy girl; although one who doesn’t put a lot of effort into her appearance.  The reality is that I am partially house-bound, I can only drive short distances on very good days, almost all “out of the house” errands have to be done on weekends when Geoff can drive and help me, I’m in constant pain and exhausted every single second of my life.  My energy reserves are very low and I have nothing extra to spare on “getting pretty” before I go out.  As long as I’m wearing actual clothes (you have no idea how many times I’ve almost left my house without key clothing items), that’s enough for me.  Shove on a hat so I don’t have to address my naturally curly hair and I’m good!

While I never overly cared about what I looked like in public, I do find myself missing wearing pretty things.  I put far, far more thought and effort into picking out my pajama outfits that my regular clothes outfits.  I’ve accrued quite a collection of PJs at this point, so I can at least feel like those are cute and colorful.

While worrying about one’s physical appearance would seem pretty far down on the priority list of someone with a neurological disease with no cure, and it is for me most of the time, it’s a little more than that.  It’s just one more tiny slice of normal life that chronic illness takes away from you; one more reason for you to resent it.  I don’t actually want to wear the dresses getting dusty in my closet, I want the option to choose to wear them.  That make seem like a small difference, but from this side, it feels big.

While I don’t feel like I can spare the energy for looking beautiful most of the time, beauty is still deeply important to me, and it’s important that I leave the world with more beauty in it than I found it.  It’s like when you go camping with your dad; the camp site is going to be cleaner when you leave than when you got there (or at least, that’s how it was with me dad ;)).  I’ve come to realize that beauty is a big part of why I’m so drawn to art and to create; it’s a very tangible way of leaving the world a little more beautiful.  And in this case, it’s taking the hideous ugliness of disease and transmuting it into something lovely.

With that in mind, I want to introduce my latest image to you; the one I will be giving away a 10″ x 15″ print of on May 29th!

I spoke to you a bit in my last post about why this image is so special… and I’m going that a little bit again 🙂  For one thing, this is a DreamWorld and Enchanted Sleep crossover piece; the first image of mine which belongs equally to both worlds.  It spoke to me on both levels, and when I was torn about which series to include it in, I finally decided I didn’t HAVE to choose and it could live in both.  Because, while in some ways, DreamWorld is a bit of escapism and fantasy for me, it is not all sunshine and rainbows.  Not many of its dark characters have been photographed yet, but they will be introduced over time.  Even with their benevolent protectors, their King and Queen, the creatures in DreamWorld still have problems.

At the same time, it helps me to look at ME through the lens of myth and fantasy.  Viewing it as a dragon to be slain, a mountain to climb, a thorn in my side to bear; they all help me live with the reality of ME a little more easily.

I have long felt a connection between the stories of Sleeping Beauty and my experience with ME.  A poison, an enchanted sleep (giving birth to my photo series’ title), hope of an awakening under the right conditions… there is a great deal of overlap.  With that said, let me show you the new image!

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreaming Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson

Now, this file ended up being a composite of… I don’t even know how many images.  A LOT.  To give you an idea of the huge scale of the piece, here it is with a normal, full-sized image from another shoot with Katie on top of it.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams/Perennial Parisol  © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams/Perennial Parisol © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson

So, just roughly eyeballing it, I’d say this is, what, 5-6 times the size of an average image?  And while my camera doesn’t produce the HUGEST files imaginable, this is still pretty darn big.  It was such an enormous file, I had to wait until I’d upgraded my laptop before I could actually work on it.  Any time I tried to edit it on my old laptop, it would crash my whole computer after about 10 minutes of work.  With my new laptop, it only crashes every few days, and usually only crashes Photoshop, instead of my entire system.  Much better 🙂  All said, this took almost two years from start to finish.  I’d pick it up, do a little work, get overwhelmed and put it back down.  Then I decided it had to be done in time for the giveaway, so that gave me the motivation to finish it up.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson - detail

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson – detail

Katie really endured a lot for this shot, poor thing.  The area I shot it in was a naturally ivy-covered area of my old yard… and unfortunately also FULL of spiders and spider webs.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson - detail

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson – detail

I’d made a homemade spider repellent (nothing which would harm them, just something with tea tree oil to make the area less appealing to a few days) and sprayed it liberally around the shooting area in the days leading up to the shoot.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson - detail

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson – detail

But despite it, it was a pretty intimidating place to ask any sane girl to lay down in, relax, close her eyes and pretend to be asleep.  I promised Katie that I would watch for any spiders actually crawling on her and scoot them off.  I promised no harm would come to her, and, bless her, she trusted me.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson - detail

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson – detail

Now despite it being just covered in cobwebs and spiders, I ended up having to add all the cobwebs in Photoshop.  I downloaded a special Photoshop bundle of brushes shaped like cobwebs, which got me started.  It took a ton of manipulation of each little bunch to make it look like it way laying naturally over the different areas, adding light and shading to blend it in to the environment.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson - detail

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson – detail

After I got Katie situated, I climbed up on a ladder and started shooting.  But I quickly realized that the ladder wasn’t tall enough to get the framing I wanted, which led to shooting about a million individual frames which I pieced together in Photoshop, which is why it’s such a huge file.  There were some challenges in making everything align since I wasn’t using a tripod, but it helped that Katie had trusted me so completely and was lying perfectly still.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson - detail

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson – detail

I had also shot a purple smoke bomb pouring out of the bottle (separately from Katie, I didn’t think that would be good for her to breath) but then that ended up not really looking right either, leading to another element I had to create in Photoshop.

A Poisoned Sleep And Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra - model: Katie Johnson - detail

A Poisoned Sleep Of Kissless Dreams © Sarah Allegra – model: Katie Johnson – detail

I always try to do as much work in camera as possible, but sometimes the real world just doesn’t accommodate you!

Katie’s bravery and willingness to do whatever it took to get “the shot” made me create this virtual plaque for her:Slogan 1

Thank you, Katie 🙂  This image would not exist without you.  It’s one of my very favorite images and I’m SO happy we went through all the difficulties of making it, even though I wanted to tear my hair out at times!

Another thing about this image that’s special is that it will be the first to be printed on my new, museum-quality paper of choice: Hahnemuhle pearl paper.  You really have to see it to believe it.  It is a thick, luscious paper with a bit of texture to it, similar to watercolor paper.  What pushed me over the edge into switching to this paper though, is the very subtle, pearlescent shimmer built into the paper.  It is magic.  And it compliments the ethereal nature of my work so well, it seemed we were made for each other.

And did I mention that this special new print is a $400 value?

Would you like to win this very special print for yourself?  Instructions are below!  If you already saw my first post, skip on to the info about how to enter, if not, please consider taking a moment to read it and see why I’m so passionate about promoting May 12th and my giveaway!

 

The Blue Ribbon © Sarah Allegra, Model: Katie Johnson.  ME's awareness ribbon color is blue.

The Blue Ribbon © Sarah Allegra, Model: Katie Johnson. ME’s awareness ribbon color is blue.

 

My Kingdom Of ME video –

I would like to say that I spent a great deal of reflection on coming up with the idea of my bed being my kingdom, but it was more of a response to thinking, “Shit, I have this video… now I need a name for it…”  But I think it holds true despite it’s spur-of-the-moment conception.

When you spend the vast majority of your time inside your house, it becomes your entire world.  If, on a good day, I take Calantha for a walk around the block, I feel like a Viking setting off to explore new lands (but not planning on Blood Eagle-ing anyone).  If my house is my world, my bedroom is my home, and my bed becomes my kingdom.

Though it is a queen-sized kingdom, it is a kingdom nonetheless.  This is where I am most myself, most honest, most raw, most pure.  I spend most of my time here, in my PJs, hair a mess and no makeup (because who’s going to see it, I don’t feel like putting it on, and I especially don’t feel like washing it off).  This room is most set up for my comfort and is bent to my will.  Why is there such a huge pile of stuff always on my nightstand, or next to my side of the bed?  Because then I can reach it easily, no matter what state I’m in.  Geoff’s side is spick and span, while mine is a crazy jungle, but that’s how it has to be.  In this whole world of things which cause us pain and discomfort, we need there to be someplace that is designed for us.  That is, usually, our beds.  And in my bed, I rule.

In Between Awake And Asleep - © Sarah Allegra

In Between Awake And Asleep – © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

My art and my Enchanted Sleep series –

Some people are surprised to learn I have a chronic illness, especially one which confines me to my house and bed so much, since I seem to produce a lot of art.  It’s all the result of very careful planning of everything.  I keep my shoots very short and I plan several concepts I can shoot one right after the other while I have my model.  My shoot is usually the only major thing I have planned for the week.  Actually, it’s usually the only major thing I have planned that month.  If we’re driving to a location, my model will usually drive us since I’m often feeling too tired.  I try to bang out as many concepts as I possibly can, then I crash.  Usually the next two or three days will be awful, and I will pay dearly for my shoot.  But after that starts to wear off, I can sort through my images and work on editing them… which is only possible because I can do that with my laptop while lying in bed.  If I had to sit at a desk, I could not be a photographer.

Using my laptop and my Wacom tablet, I can create art again.  There was a while as I was getting sick where I was truly terrified that art would be taken away from me.  In one sense, that did happen, since I had to put away the pencils and paintbrushes which became too painful to wield, but art abhors a vacuum as much as nature does, and photography quickly sprang up in its place, with help from my photographer husband.

Photography has given me a voice.  But it’s more than that.  It’s given a voice to all of us who suffer from these invisible illnesses.  When I started shooting the images which would become a part of my Enchanted Sleep series, portraying what life with ME is like, I never dreamed that other people with illnesses would flock to it like they have.  I unintentionally tapped into an underserved community, and those within it have made their approval loudly known.  I didn’t set out to capture anything but my own experiences, but in doing so, I captured all of ours.

Spoon Theory - a self portrait

Spoon Theory © Sarah Allegra  –  a self portrait

This is why you should care –

ME alone effects millions across the globe.  There are millions and millions more who bear other invisible illnesses, and you might have no idea that they carry these with them everywhere they go.  Most likely, you know someone with one of these illnesses, though it might be undiagnosed.  Most of the invisible illnesses tend to be diagnoses of exclusion; meaning there’s no one test for this disease, so you have to rule out EVERYTHING else that it could be before you decide what it is.  It’s a long, grueling process, and not everyone really wants to know what’s wrong with them anyway.  For me, I couldn’t stand not knowing.

Your aunt who often complains of pain?  Your friend who frequently has to cancel plans?  Your sibling who gets migraines which always come at the worst times?  They may have one of these diseases.

The online chronic illness community (spoonies, we call ourselves) is extremely supportive, but we need to have healthy people on our side too.  We need real changes to be made in the world, and frankly, we are too ill to do it all on our own.

These are not diseases which merely dampen our fun or mildly cramp our style, these are diseases which kill.  Sometimes that death is a suicide, as the patients cannot stand the suffering any longer.  Even if left to more “natural” courses, these illnesses are evil thieves and rob us of years.  They take away our livelihood, our joys, our passions and, eventually, our lives.

How many more of us have to die before the world pays attention?

Unjust © Sarah Allegra - model: Aly Darling

Unjust © Sarah Allegra – model: Aly Darling

A Fading Girl © Sarah Allegra, model: Brooke Shaden

A Fading Girl © Sarah Allegra, model: Brooke Shaden

This is how you enter –

Here’s how this giveaway works.  It’s going to be very easy and there are quite a lot of ways for you to enter!

First thing: subscribe to my blog if you haven’t already.  There’s a button in the upper right-hand section of the screen for you to enter your email address (which you may do safely, without fear of spamming or other annoyances).  Do that, then move on to step two:

You have your choice here!  You can either:

  • Retweet the facts I’ve tweeted about ME (these are embedded at the bottom of this post to make things super easy – you can like or retweet it without even leaving this page!)
  • Like me on Facebook and share my Kingdom Of ME post on Facebook
  • Follow me on Instagram and re-Gram my Kingdom of ME Instagram post
  • (The Facebook and Instagram posts and tweets are all embedded at the bottom of this post to make things super easy – you can like, retweet or share it without even leaving this page!)
  • Like and re-blog this post if you’re a WordPress user

You can do all of those, too!  One note, if you choose to retweet any of my tweets, each new retweet will count as an entry.  I’ve given you quite a lot to choose from, mainly because I couldn’t narrow it down myself any more!  😉  So, for example, if you retweet all 11 tweets, that will count as 11 entries for you.  However, if you retweet the same tweet more than once, that does NOT count at as extra entry.  The maximum possible Twitter-related entries you can get is 11.  The same idea goes for the other social networking sites too.  If you share my Facebook post, that’s an entry.  If you share the same post twice (which I’m not sure you can do, but let’s say for argument’s sake that you can), then you still only get one entry.

And lastly, whichever social media platform you decide to use to enter the contest from, you must like/follow me there (and here on the blog) for the entry to count!

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

And a couple of other ways to enter –

Now, those are all very important ways for you to enter the contest to win a gorgeous print for yourself.  A large part of why the entries are based in social media is to help raise more awareness about ME (and other invisible illnesses) by word of mouth.  However, there is another way you can get more entries for yourself.

Any purchases on ANY of the items I sell from today, May 4th, through midnight, PST, May 27th will count as entries!  This means that EACH INDIVIDUAL ITEM that you buy counts as its own entry.  If you buy five t-shirts from my Red Bubble shop, that’s five extra entries for you!

And on top of the purchases going toward extra entries for you, 25 PERCENT of ALL PROFITS on ALL ITEMS purchased will be donated to the Microbe Discovery Project!  The Microbe Discovery project is a wonderful organization here in the US actively looking for a cause and cure for ME.  I strongly believe in what they do, which is why I have chosen them to benefit from my sales.

It’s a very win-win situation!  You get to buy whatever it is that you’ve had your eye on, you get extra entries into the print giveaway and ME research is supported at the same time!

On May 29th, I will randomly pick one winner from all the entries and that person will receive the print!  It will be signed and numbered and shipped to wherever you live, even if it’s the other side of the world!  🙂

One last note about purchases, if you make a purchase, please leave a comment here on the blog and tell me what you purchased and where it was from.  Some of the sites I sell through hide the buyer’s info from me, so I won’t always be able to tell who bought what.  I want to make sure your purchases are properly accounted for!

Martyrs To A Name © Sarah Allegra - models myself and Aly Darling

Martyrs To A Name © Sarah Allegra – models: myself and Aly Darling

This is what I sell –

So, that probably leaves you wondering, what is it that I sell?  Well, quite a lot of things, actually!

I sell museum-quality fine art prints both through my Etsy shop and my gallery representative.

Prices are the same regardless of where you buy, so there’s no need to worry about having “hiked-up gallery prices” 🙂  My Etsy shop also has a few pieces of “wearable art,” some of which is inspired by DreamWorld characters and some of which was inspired by The Last Unicorn!  There’s also a whole section of ME-inspired images from my Enchanted Sleep series!

Through my Red Bubble shop I sell all of the following items with my images on them:

Aly took and sent me this other lovely shot of her bag!

Aly took and sent me this lovely shot of her carrying her tote bag!  It was a bit strange at first to see my friend carrying a bag with my face in it 😉  We we both quite thrilled with the quality and according to Aly, it’s been getting tons of compliments and the straps are the perfect length!

And for something even more special, I also host a very unique online photography class,  INTROSPECTIVE: A Photographic Quest.

INTROSPECTIVE is much more about self-discovery than it is about knowing what f-stops are or having fancy equipment.  You don’t even have to have an actual camera; your phone will do perfectly well!  The course emphasizes self portraits as a way to get to know yourself better, but the definition of “self portrait” here is quite loose.  You never have to appear in an image unless you really want to.  What I mean by “self portrait” in this case is simply any photograph which shows me something about who you are as a person!
This is a very relaxed, reflective class.  There are no grades and no wrong answers!  For eight weeks, you will receive a new theme each week and your assignment will be to create an image around that theme which reflects you.  Love, joy and fears, for example, are all things you would be asked to create around.

This class is very unique!  I modeled it after my own journey of self-discovery as I started taking self portraits.  The art therapy was so helpful and healing to me that I wanted to give that back to the world in some way, so I created INTROSPECTIVE!

And as an extra bonus, here’s a special coupon code for INTROSPECTIVE!  Use the code May12ME25 to take 25 percent off the cost of the course!  Now that’s a win-win-win!!

Silenced © Sarah Allegra, model Travis Weinand

Silenced © Sarah Allegra: model Travis Weinand

Wrapping up –

I know you guys hear me talk about ME quite a lot, but here’s the thing.  It matters.  It really, really fucking matters.

There is so much confusion, misunderstanding and so many flat-out lies about ME that we all need to work extra hard to shine the light of truth on it.  It’s not all the public’s fault; after all, they’ve been lied to by medical professionals for decades.  It all came unraveling  in the 80’s when ME’s name was intentionally changed to “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” and given the belittling nicknames of “the yuppie flu,” “the disease of depressed, menopausal women” and, more recently, “fat, lazy housewife disease,” just so insurance companies could deny patients coverage.

ME does not discriminate.  It does not target people by color ,gender, social status or age.  It attacks anyone and everyone it can.  It destroys lives.  It brings promising careers to grinding halts.  It is not a way to “get a free ride;” we struggle just to sit up and get out of bed.

It could be your sister.  It could be your boyfriend or girlfriend.

It could you.

How many more lives have to be sacrificed on the alter of insurance companies’ desires to not pay out before we get change?  How many more patients have to take their own lives in despair?  How many more seriously ill patients have to endure the most hateful slurs you can imagine being thrown at them?  How many doctors will sigh, roll their eyes and tell us there’s nothing wrong with us psychically, that our problems are all in our heads?

No more.

We cannot let this happen to one more person.  Too many have endured this already.

We have the power to make radical changes.  We have the power to change society’s view of us, to force the government to give us proper funding, to stop treating us like Cinderella instead of their own daughters.  We have the power to unlock the mystery of ME and find a cure.  We CAN do this.  But we must come together, make our voices heard and DEMAND it.  It will never be easily handed to us.  Too many huge companies are invested in not spending any money on those with ME.  But while history shows us many ugly truths, it also shows us that we, the common people, have great power in our hands to bring about the changes we want.

We just have to ask for it loudly enough.

Please join me in demanding change for patients with ME.  Things cannot continue the way they are any longer.

And as you help me advocate for invaluable change in the world, you’ll also be giving yourself a chance to win a gorgeous, fine art print 🙂  Help me with this.  And thank you.

Embedded tweets are just below!

[tweet https://twitter.com/sarahallegra/status/595063967409516545 ]

[tweet https://twitter.com/sarahallegra/status/595063916524216320 ]

[tweet https://twitter.com/sarahallegra/status/595063812086071298 ]

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My Kingdom of ME – This self portrait is actually the cover image for a
video I made about May 12th, ME and me. May 12th is known as Invisible
Illness Day. A day to raise awareness about diseases which may have
devastating impacts on peoples' lives, yet may not show any outward signs.
Diseases like ME, which I have. I'm holding a print giveaway for a brand
new image which will be revealed on the 12th to help raise awareness!
Please see my blog for info on how you can enter. It's easy and free!
https://sarahallegra.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/my-kingdom-of-me-and-a-print-giveaway/ #myalgicencephalomyelitis #ME #MECFS #chronic #fatigue #pain #disease #illness
#video #promotion #print #giveaway #blog #youtube
#selfportrait #awareness #giveaway #May12
#InvisibleIllnessDay #fibro #CFS #neurologic #migraine #raw #honest #real
#fineart #DreamWorld #change #hope #queen

A post shared by Sarah Allegra (@artosthebear) on

3 Good Days

3 Good Days © Sarah Allegra, a triple self portrait

Footnote

[*Because the United States does not officially recognize the name “myalgic encephalomyelitis,” despite decades of public outcry for change and hundreds of thousands signing petitions, they continue to stick to “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” or “fibromyalgia.”  Depending on which doctor of mine you talk to, I may have three different diagnoses.  The US is especially complicated in how it defines – or, rather, it’s lack of definition – the differences between the three so it’s impossible to talk about one in the US without talking about all of them.  For the record, they are NOT all the same disease, but that is essentially how the US treats them.  I know that what I have is ME and not the other two, but many of my doctors had not have heard of ME until I told them about it.  ME has scientific, diagnosable guidelines, which I fit, but the country still refuses to adopt the name and its excellent guidelines.  If you’re interested in learning more about why this is, here’s an article for you, but for this post, I will leave the subject there.]

 

 

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The Blue Ribbon © Sarah Allegra, Model: Katie Johnson.  ME's awareness ribbon color is blue.

The Blue Ribbon © Sarah Allegra, Model: Katie Johnson. ME’s awareness ribbon color is blue.

May 12th – what is it?

We are rapidly approaching May 12th.

Why is that important?

May 12th is recognized across the globe as Invisible Illness Day.  Though most people are unaware of its significance… which is part of the problem.

It’s a day for bringing more awareness to diseases like fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,  rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s Disease, along with many others.  Diseases which can have horrific, devastating effects on the person’s life, yet may not outwardly show.  They can be completely disabling, and the patient still looks “normal” to the world.

And of course, this list includes myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, which I have.*

What ME is –

I’ve spoken quite a lot about ME on my blog, so a lot of you probably know the basics of it.  But for anyone new, here’s a quick summary.  ME is a neurological disease defined, in part, by:

  • Profound fatigue which is unrefreshed by rest and sleep.
  • Chronic pain, which can occur anywhere in the body, but is especially common in muscles and joints.
  • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances, despite your constant exhaustion.
  • Post-exertional malaise (meaning you feel worse after you exert yourself — and the exertion can be as simple as a trip to the grocery store or walking to your mailbox).
  • Neurological problems, a.k.a. “brain fog.”  This can manifest in the form of sudden clumsiness, tripping and falling, being unable to recall a word you knew just a second ago, suddenly forgetting how to read or write, forgetting your name… you get the idea.
  • Headaches of new or worsening kinds (I never had migraines until ME started sinking its talons into me).
  • Dysfunctional immune systems (if there’s a cold going around, I will get it).
  • Hyper-sensitivity to any and all stimuli — I describe it as the volume in my brain being turned up to “11.”  Noises are very loud to me, lights are bright, smells overwhelming… the scent sensitivity means that anything artificially fragranced makes me nauseated, but it has led to me find small, unnoticed gas leaks inside houses on several occasions.
  • Post-Exertional Neuroimmune Exhaustion (your brain functions worse in every way after even minimal efforts — mental or emotional efforts as well, not strictly physical ones).
  • Low threshold of physical and mental fatigue (lack of stamina) resulting in a substantial reduction in pre-illness activity level — things you did before you were sick are now out of the question.

And so on.  Because ME affects every system of the body, in a way somewhat similar to multiple sclerosis, the symptoms can vary from person to person, but these are the classic signposts of the disease.

I have what would be defined as a “moderate” case of ME.   A mild case would be someone who could still maintain a somewhat normal life, but would probably need extra recovery time after big events, help lifting heavy objects, etc.  Moderate, like what I have, is someone who can’t work a normal job, is partly or completely house-bound, may not be able to drive and has a great deal of their life impacted by the disease.  Their world becomes much, much smaller and quieter.  Severe cases… you wouldn’t wish them on your worst enemy.  These are people who are completely bed-bound, unable to care for themselves in the most basic ways, unable to tolerate any light, sound or touch.  They lay in dark rooms in silence, often on morphine drips for their severe pain… and this can last for decades.  It’s been described as “a living death,” and for good reason.  It’s truly horrifying.  This is often the time when patients try to take their own lives.

Vanity's Murder - © Sarah Allegra

Vanity’s Murder © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

My Kingdom Of ME video –

I would like to say that I spent a great deal of reflection on coming up with the idea of my bed being my kingdom, but it was more of a response to thinking, “Shit, I have this video… now I need a name for it…”  But I think it holds true despite it’s spur-of-the-moment conception.

When you spend the vast majority of your time inside your house, it becomes your entire world.  If, on a good day, I take Calantha for a walk around the block, I feel like a Viking setting off to explore new lands (but not planning on Blood Eagle-ing anyone).  If my house is my world, my bedroom is my home, and my bed becomes my kingdom.

Though it is a queen-sized kingdom, it is a kingdom nonetheless.  This is where I am most myself, most honest, most raw, most pure.  I spend most of my time here, in my PJs, hair a mess and no makeup (because who’s going to see it, I don’t feel like putting it on, and I especially don’t feel like washing it off).  This room is most set up for my comfort and is bent to my will.  Why is there such a huge pile of stuff always on my nightstand, or next to my side of the bed?  Because then I can reach it easily, no matter what state I’m in.  Geoff’s side is spick and span, while mine is a crazy jungle, but that’s how it has to be.  In this whole world of things which cause us pain and discomfort, we need there to be someplace that is designed for us.  That is, usually, our beds.  And in my bed, I rule.

In Between Awake And Asleep - © Sarah Allegra

In Between Awake And Asleep – © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

My art and my Enchanted Sleep series –

Some people are surprised to learn I have a chronic illness, especially one which confines me to my house and bed so much, since I seem to produce a lot of art.  It’s all the result of very careful planning of everything.  I keep my shoots very short and I plan several concepts I can shoot one right after the other while I have my model.  My shoot is usually the only major thing I have planned for the week.  Actually, it’s usually the only major thing I have planned that month.  If we’re driving to a location, my model will usually drive us since I’m often feeling too tired.  I try to bang out as many concepts as I possibly can, then I crash.  Usually the next two or three days will be awful, and I will pay dearly for my shoot.  But after that starts to wear off, I can sort through my images and work on editing them… which is only possible because I can do that with my laptop while lying in bed.  If I had to sit at a desk, I could not be a photographer.

Using my laptop and my Wacom tablet, I can create art again.  There was a while as I was getting sick where I was truly terrified that art would be taken away from me.  In one sense, that did happen, since I had to put away the pencils and paintbrushes which became too painful to wield, but art abhors a vacuum as much as nature does, and photography quickly sprang up in its place, with help from my photographer husband.

Photography has given me a voice.  But it’s more than that.  It’s given a voice to all of us who suffer from these invisible illnesses.  When I started shooting the images which would become a part of my Enchanted Sleep series, portraying what life with ME is like, I never dreamed that other people with illnesses would flock to it like they have.  I unintentionally tapped into an underserved community, and those within it have made their approval loudly known.  I didn’t set out to capture anything but my own experiences, but in doing so, I captured all of ours.

Spoon Theory - a self portrait

Spoon Theory © Sarah Allegra  –  a self portrait

This is why you should care –

ME alone effects millions across the globe.  There are millions and millions more who bear other invisible illnesses, and you might have no idea that they carry these with them everywhere they go.  Most likely, you know someone with one of these illnesses, though it might be undiagnosed.  Most of the invisible illnesses tend to be diagnoses of exclusion; meaning there’s no one test for this disease, so you have to rule out EVERYTHING else that it could be before you decide what it is.  It’s a long, grueling process, and not everyone really wants to know what’s wrong with them anyway.  For me, I couldn’t stand not knowing.

Your aunt who often complains of pain?  Your friend who frequently has to cancel plans?  Your sibling who gets migraines which always come at the worst times?  They may have one of these diseases.

The online chronic illness community (spoonies, we call ourselves) is extremely supportive, but we need to have healthy people on our side too.  We need real changes to be made in the world, and frankly, we are too ill to do it all on our own.

These are not diseases which merely dampen our fun or mildly cramp our style, these are diseases which kill.  Sometimes that death is a suicide, as the patients cannot stand the suffering any longer.  Even if left to more “natural” courses, these illnesses are evil thieves and rob us of years.  They take away our livelihood, our joys, our passions and, eventually, our lives.

How many more of us have to die before the world pays attention?

Unjust © Sarah Allegra - model: Aly Darling

Unjust © Sarah Allegra – model: Aly Darling

A DreamWorld/Enchanted Sleep crossover print giveaway!

I try to always do something around May 12 to help bring awareness to ME and its sister diseases.  This year, I’m going to be giving away a print of a brand-new image… one which won’t be revealed until May 12th itself.  It’s going to be a really, really great image though, I can promise you 🙂

This one will feature model Katie Johnson, and it’s so complicated, I’ve been working on it on and off for about two years.  I had to put it aside for a long time until I upgraded my laptop.  The file size was SO huge, I could only work on it for about ten minutes before it would crash my entire computer.  Obviously, that didn’t work for me.  It’s still a monster of a file, but on the new machine it only crashes Photoshop every few days, which is much better..

This image will be very unique in that it straddles both DreamWorld and Enchanted Sleep, a foot in each world like the Pillar of Hercules.  No other image of mine does this.  It will be a first on several fronts!

Another thing about this image that’s special is that it will be the first to be printed on my new, museum-quality paper of choice: Hahnemuhle pearl paper.  You really have to see it to believe it.  It is a thick, luscious paper with a bit of texture to it, similar to watercolor paper.  What pushed me over the edge into switching to this paper though, is the very subtle, pearlescent shimmer built into the paper.  It is magic.  And it compliments the ethereal nature of my work so well, it seemed we were made for each other.

Did I mention that this special new print is a $400 value?

Is your interest peaked?  Want to win the print for yourself?  Instructions are right below.  🙂

A Fading Girl © Sarah Allegra, model: Brooke Shaden

A Fading Girl © Sarah Allegra, model: Brooke Shaden

This is how you enter –

Here’s how this giveaway works.  It’s going to be very easy and there are quite a lot of ways for you to enter!

First thing: subscribe to my blog if you haven’t already.  There’s a button in the upper right-hand section of the screen for you to enter your email address (which you may do safely, without fear of spamming or other annoyances).  Do that, then move on to step two:

You have your choice here!  You can either:

You can do all of those, too!  One note, if you choose to retweet any of my tweets, each new retweet will count as an entry.  I’ve given you quite a lot to choose from, mainly because I couldn’t narrow it down myself any more!  😉  So, for example, if you retweet all 11 tweets, that will count as 11 entries for you.  However, if you retweet the same tweet more than once, that does NOT count at as extra entry.  The maximum possible Twitter-related entries you can get is 11.  The same idea goes for the other social networking sites too.  If you share my Facebook post, that’s an entry.  If you share the same post twice (which I’m not sure you can do, but let’s say for argument’s sake that you can), then you still only get one entry.

And lastly, whichever social media platform you decide to use to enter the contest from, you must like/follow me there (and here on the blog) for the entry to count!

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

And a couple of other ways to enter –

Now, those are all very important ways for you to enter the contest to win a gorgeous print for yourself.  A large part of why the entries are based in social media is to help raise more awareness about ME (and other invisible illnesses) by word of mouth.  However, there is another way you can get more entries for yourself.

Any purchases on ANY of the items I sell from today, May 4th, through midnight, PST, May 27th will count as entries!  This means that EACH INDIVIDUAL ITEM that you buy counts as its own entry.  If you buy five t-shirts from my Red Bubble shop, that’s five extra entries for you!

And on top of the purchases going toward extra entries for you, 25 PERCENT of ALL PROFITS on ALL ITEMS purchased will be donated to the Microbe Discovery Project!  The Microbe Discovery project is a wonderful organization here in the US actively looking for a cause and cure for ME.  I strongly believe in what they do, which is why I have chosen them to benefit from my sales.

It’s a very win-win situation!  You get to buy whatever it is that you’ve had your eye on, you get extra entries into the print giveaway and ME research is supported at the same time!

On May 29th, I will randomly pick one winner from all the entries and that person will receive the print!  It will be signed and numbered and shipped to wherever you live, even if it’s the other side of the world!  🙂

One last note about purchases, if you make a purchase, please leave a comment here on the blog and tell me what you purchased and where it was from.  Some of the sites I sell through hide the buyer’s info from me, so I won’t always be able to tell who bought what.  I want to make sure your purchases are properly accounted for!

Martyrs To A Name © Sarah Allegra - models myself and Aly Darling

Martyrs To A Name © Sarah Allegra – models: myself and Aly Darling

This is what I sell –

So, that probably leaves you wondering, what is it that I sell?  Well, quite a lot of things, actually!

I sell museum-quality fine art prints both through my Etsy shop and my gallery representative.

Prices are the same regardless of where you buy, so there’s no need to worry about having “hiked-up gallery prices” 🙂  My Etsy shop also has a few pieces of “wearable art,” some of which is inspired by DreamWorld characters and some of which was inspired by The Last Unicorn!  There’s also a whole section of ME-inspired images from my Enchanted Sleep series!

Through my Red Bubble shop I sell all of the following items with my images on them:

Aly took and sent me this other lovely shot of her bag!

Aly took and sent me this lovely shot of her carrying her tote bag!  It was a bit strange at first to see my friend carrying a bag with my face in it 😉  We we both quite thrilled with the quality and according to Aly, it’s been getting tons of compliments and the straps are the perfect length!

And for something even more special, I also host a very unique online photography class,  INTROSPECTIVE: A Photographic Quest.

INTROSPECTIVE is much more about self-discovery than it is about knowing what f-stops are or having fancy equipment.  You don’t even have to have an actual camera; your phone will do perfectly well!  The course emphasizes self portraits as a way to get to know yourself better, but the definition of “self portrait” here is quite loose.  You never have to appear in an image unless you really want to.  What I mean by “self portrait” in this case is simply any photograph which shows me something about who you are as a person!
This is a very relaxed, reflective class.  There are no grades and no wrong answers!  For eight weeks, you will receive a new theme each week and your assignment will be to create an image around that theme which reflects you.  Love, joy and fears, for example, are all things you would be asked to create around.

This class is very unique!  I modeled it after my own journey of self-discovery as I started taking self portraits.  The art therapy was so helpful and healing to me that I wanted to give that back to the world in some way, so I created INTROSPECTIVE!

And as an extra bonus, here’s a special coupon code for INTROSPECTIVE!  Use the code May12ME25 to take 25 percent off the cost of the course!  Now that’s a win-win-win!!

Silenced © Sarah Allegra, model Travis Weinand

Silenced © Sarah Allegra: model Travis Weinand

Wrapping up –

I know you guys hear me talk about ME quite a lot, but here’s the thing.  It matters.  It really, really fucking matters.

There is so much confusion, misunderstanding and so many flat-out lies about ME that we all need to work extra hard to shine the light of truth on it.  It’s not all the public’s fault; after all, they’ve been lied to by medical professionals for decades.  It all came unraveling  in the 80’s when ME’s name was intentionally changed to “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” and given the belittling nicknames of “the yuppie flu,” “the disease of depressed, menopausal women” and, more recently, “fat, lazy housewife disease,” just so insurance companies could deny patients coverage.

ME does not discriminate.  It does not target people by color ,gender, social status or age.  It attacks anyone and everyone it can.  It destroys lives.  It brings promising careers to grinding halts.  It is not a way to “get a free ride;” we struggle just to sit up and get out of bed.

It could be your sister.  It could be your boyfriend or girlfriend.

It could you.

How many more lives have to be sacrificed on the alter of insurance companies’ desires to not pay out before we get change?  How many more patients have to take their own lives in despair?  How many more seriously ill patients have to endure the most hateful slurs you can imagine being thrown at them?  How many doctors will sigh, roll their eyes and tell us there’s nothing wrong with us psychically, that our problems are all in our heads?

No more.

We cannot let this happen to one more person.  Too many have endured this already.

We have the power to make radical changes.  We have the power to change society’s view of us, to force the government to give us proper funding, to stop treating us like Cinderella instead of their own daughters.  We have the power to unlock the mystery of ME and find a cure.  We CAN do this.  But we must come together, make our voices heard and DEMAND it.  It will never be easily handed to us.  Too many huge companies are invested in not spending any money on those with ME.  But while history shows us many ugly truths, it also shows us that we, the common people, have great power in our hands to bring about the changes we want.

We just have to ask for it loudly enough.

Please join me in demanding change for patients with ME.  Things cannot continue the way they are any longer.

And as you help me advocate for invaluable change in the world, you’ll also be giving yourself a chance to win a gorgeous, fine art print 🙂  Help me with this.  And thank you.

Embedded tweets are just below!

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3 Good Days

3 Good Days © Sarah Allegra, a triple self portrait

Footnote

[*Because the United States does not officially recognize the name “myalgic encephalomyelitis,” despite decades of public outcry for change and hundreds of thousands signing petitions, they continue to stick to “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” or “fibromyalgia.”  Depending on which doctor of mine you talk to, I may have three different diagnoses.  The US is especially complicated in how it defines – or, rather, it’s lack of definition – the differences between the three so it’s impossible to talk about one in the US without talking about all of them.  For the record, they are NOT all the same disease, but that is essentially how the US treats them.  I know that what I have is ME and not the other two, but many of my doctors had not have heard of ME until I told them about it.  ME has scientific, diagnosable guidelines, which I fit, but the country still refuses to adopt the name and its excellent guidelines.  If you’re interested in learning more about why this is, here’s an article for you, but for this post, I will leave the subject there.]

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First post of 2014!

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking my hair for edibility; sorry, buck.

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Sadly, my coat is also not edible.

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

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

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

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

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

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail

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

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

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

Closeups of both finished photos.

Closeups of both finished photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sketches

Initial sketches

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

The robe with cardboard "pintucking."

The robe with cardboard “pin-tucking.”

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

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

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

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

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

After the sculpting and baking came many coats of paint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

robe

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

Tree of life buckle.

Tree of life buckle above the paper belt.

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

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

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

Trying out different objects as stencils.

Trying out different objects as stencils.

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

Making the crown.

Making the crown.

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

staff

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

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

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

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

Calantha helped whenever she could.

Calantha helped whenever she could.

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

Thank you, Dedeker for these adorable furbaby pics :)

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Katie!  :)

Thanks, Katie! 🙂

Mei Mei photobomb

Mei Mei photobomb

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

My imagination hero.

My imagination hero and me.

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

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

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

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

Connor under the marquee.

Connor under the marquee.

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

sarahallegra.com

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

The mayor giving Peter his plaque.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting mom's book signed.

Getting mom’s book signed.

sarahallegra.com

Katie, Peter and me!

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Aerie

Aerie

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

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

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

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

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I had the great pleasure recently of shooting with Lauren Cohan, the very talented actress many of you will know as Maggie from AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has its season finale this Sunday!  She was also a special guest lead in this week’s episode of Law and Order: SVU.

I’d had a couple of concepts in mind to use with her, so let me back up a little and take you through the whole creation process.

I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by my idol Joseph Campbell, in which he really delves into his concept of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey, aka the Monomyth, is the story outline that all classic stories, folktales, myths, fairy tales and most popular movies of our day follow.   I will let him describe the basic Hero’s Journey in his own words: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix… it’s easier to find examples of stories which are not variations of the Hero’s Journey than those that are.  And of course, the actual Journey he proposes is much more complex than that brief blurb could touch on; there is the Departure, Initiation, and Return, each of which have six or seven individual steps.

Heroesjourney

I’ve found the Hero’s Journey to be a fascinating concept ever since I first heard about it.  And as Joseph Campbell wrote so heavily, and influentially, about dreams, myths and the importance of both in our modern lives, I knew his work would color much of what DreamWorld is becoming.  Recently I decided I would like to do a sub-series in DreamWorld portraying each of the steps along the Hero’s Journey.  It will be a challenge, and a long journey of its own, but I felt it would make an important contribution to DreamWorld.

As I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell has been taking us through the Journey one step at a time, using examples from mythologies and religions all over the world.  Crossing The First Threshold  is the moment where the hero is given his first real challenge and he realizes there’s no going back (eg, taking the red pill).  In illustrating this step, Campbell talks about a story where a thunderbolt in one’s belly is used as a metaphor for a person’s essence.  It is their soul, their spiritual center, and it is what gives them the strength and intrinsic ability to overcome the challenges the Journey will throw at them.  I loved that image, so I set about figuring out how to incorporate it into my photo.

While I puzzled out the thunderbolt, I decided to start working on two pieces of my Hero’s costume; a crown and an amulet.  I made them both in a very similar easy, quick way, starting with some cardboard from a cereal box I had finished recently.

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I had a large deer-head necklace that I’d been wanting to use for a while, and I thought it would make a beautiful center to the amulet.  I doodled a complimentary shape on the cardboard, traced the shape onto a piece of paper, flipped it, and gave myself a very symmetrical base.

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Next I started working on the crown, using the same doodle-trace-flip method to give myself as much symmetry as possible.

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Pinning and gluing the crown pieces together.

Once I had the basic shapes down, it came time to wrap them all in aluminum foil.  I just smooshed it on, not worrying about making it smooth, since having a bit of texture was going to actually be good for my purposes.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

The next step is one I remembered learning as a kid from a library book which taught you how to make your own toys and crafts; pirate coins in this case.  Smear black paint on the whole surface, then rub most of it off with a paper towel.  The paint will stick just in the cracks and crevasses, giving a much more authentic, aged, weathered look to the pieces.

Post paint.

Post paint.

I added a couple of hair combs to the crown to help it stay it Lauren’s hair.  Then came the fun part; decorating them both!

I knew I wanted to use the deer necklace on he amulet so I twisted it on with a few wires, so I have the option of taking it off and using it somewhere else later (as I almost certainly will).

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At the bottom is a decorative piece from a hair pin I’d gotten as a teenager and never got rid of after it broke because it was pretty. I am SUCH a magpie, but it can be a handy curse.

I dug into my bead stash and found a bag of purple and orange beads of various sizes and shapes which I thought would work really well.  I began hot-gluing them on, which is not the way to do it if you wan something really solid and lasting.  I did not.  I wanted it to hold together long enough to shoot, then be easy to take apart and use the beads again somewhere else.

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Done and done!  Now on to my thunderbolt/soul piece.  I do not recall the exact chain of thoughts that led me down this path, but something about the word ego and its similarity to egg made me want to give the soul an eggy, oval shape.

This one I started with a cardboard oval, cut from more of the same giving cereal box.  I covered it with foil, then glued lot and lots of little scraps of lace (left over from my lace leaves) to give it a little dimensionality and wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap.

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Plastic-wrapped soul egg.

I painted the outline with some soft purple paints, darkening the color gradually around the perimeter.  And lastly, as a nod to the “thunderbolt” part of the story, I topped it off with a sparkly, snowflake-shaped ornament.

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All that was left was the glue the egg onto a length of wide ribbon to make a belt of it, and there I was done!

The day of the shoot arrived, and Lauren was fantastic for everything; a trooper and such pleasure to shoot!  I suspected that Lauren’s acting ability would lend itself well to my concepts for her, and she did not disappoint; she was wonderful 🙂

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero's Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren... my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot.  She bore this with good humor.

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero’s Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren… my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot. She bore this with good humor… or rather, humour, in her case, since she’s British.

btsCalantha Bomb

The ubiquitous Calantha bomb of the talent; she manages to work herself into the background of most photos at least once.

 

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This time Calantha not only photobombed us, but she decided that my laying on the ground to get the angle I wanted was irresistible and she HAD to lay down with me.

btsphoto 5(3)

photo 4

photo 4(1)

She decided I was boring, so she took a nap.

I have another photo to work up still, but I’ll be posting those later.  Editing just this one was tough enough; I put well over 50 hours into it.  I’ll need a little break before I get to the rest!  But for now, here is Lauren Cohen Crossing The First Threshold of the Hero’s Journey!

Crossing The First Threshold

Crossing The First Threshold

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

A sample of the three completed photos

A sample of the three completed photos

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

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

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

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

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

Calantha bomb

Calantha bomb

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

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

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Lace leaves and happy owl shower curtain!

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

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

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Hot glue is a crafty girl’s best friend.

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

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The $2 plant holder, pinecones and lace leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They do their best despite their lack of thumbs

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

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Hot glue again works wonders

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

That was the wrong thing to do.

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

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

The back of the painted lace collar

The back of the painted lace collar

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One of the cuffs

So much work, but so worth it!

So much work, but so worth it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frisbee golfers golfing

Frisbee golfers golfing

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

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

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More shooting

More shooting

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

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

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

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

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen detai  l

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - detail

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – detail

Annunciation

Annunciation

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

Annunciation - detail

Annunciation – detail

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

The Queen's Consort

The Queen’s Consort

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

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

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