If Thoughts Were Birds

It seems centuries since my last post. I knew this project would be a labor of love and a lengthy project, but already it is desperately intricate and behind where I wanted to be. Different Artists, family and friends filter in and out as the project progresses, but often times it is just me, in my studio and after the darkness has settled and my babies are sleeping I tend to talk to the mannequins because it seems slightly less crazy than talking to just myself. This one has taken to being tattooed with the history of the project, which incidentally inspired a character that shows much later in our story of a creature who also is tattooed but with the history of the world we are creating. And so my artistry and my life continue to echo within each other.


If Thoughts Were Birds 1


I often return to the roots of my artistry, and my native tongue will always be best expressed within a sketch book I imagine. Whatever the concept be it a photoshoot, a set, a prop, or in this case a gown, drawing is mind’s way of creating a workable blueprint for my imagination.


In this case our leading lady grows and transcends from child to maiden and so I knew I wanted some visual elements of her attire to carry over. I could describe what I want, but having something to reference visually I have known to minimize miscommunication, particularly when I met with Ruth, an insanely talented Crochet Lace Artist {and incidentally my Mother in Law}


I have always been surrounded by rumblingly talented people in my life, and part of the appeal of this project is getting to pull them all into the center of my artistic sun so that I can celebrate the vast array of talents and niches that surround me. In this case I have spend 13 years now watching this woman make lovely trinkets from scarves to snowflakes, lace, to doilies, and I knew I wanted to add elements of it into some of the pieces here. There is something I find intimately charming about being able to entwine my passion for artistry, with my love for my family into one cohesive existence, so many feel they have to choose between the two at any given moment, and for me one celebrates, honors, and includes the other.


If Thoughts Were Birds 2


Self Sacrifice I find to be a small request in the wake of something I am willing to fight for… however sacrificing someone you love; that is difficult. I can not separate my art from my life… few true artists can I imagine.


I have loved this soldier since he was a boy. Love has been synonymous with his name for me since 11 years old. I have shared my life, my aspirations, my mind and body, 2 beautiful children with him. I am often commended for how lucky I am that we are so perfect, and we each laugh, knowing we have more than a few moments of disfunction, that we have hurt each other unintentionally, that we have been lesser versions of ourselves, that at times we have been selfish, and even cruel. We have stepped to the edge of ruin on more than one occasion, and yet his breath next to me at night as he sleeps is a song my soul knows by heart. At the beginning of this wretched ‘War’ we were little more than children and his were the among the first boots that stepped down onto enemy territory… for his efforts he received a purple heart and some other pretty ribbons to wear. Now it is ten years later. We have traded a young love for wedding bands and the spaces between my fingers have grooves worn in that only his fit perfectly into. We have a place that we have made home with our own hands, and filled with the laughter of precious people that we created together. They declared the war was ending, and once again Michael answered the call for service, and as his were among the first on the ground, they also will be among the last to leave, if there was anything poetic about war it would reside in that full circle. Another year of our lives will pass before we end this severing between us… someone said I made it look easy; it certainly isn’t. For him, for me, especially for his children. Its extremely hard… many families and marriages don’t survive deployments…


I don’t imagine it has much to do with my character or willingness or ability to wait, I think I’ve just always known he was the love of my life. I told him I loved him when we were 11, I waited 7 years before we dated and he let me love him not from afar. I waited through 5 years, basic training and his first deployment before he gave me his name, I’ve waited through trainings, pregnancies, and even on the edge of separation through trials I have watched break most others. Now I wait through another year of war… I suppose in the end you just need something worth the wait… and for me he always has been. I gave him a knife when he left and engraved “Remember what you fight for on it” I imagine really in marriage especially to a soldier, the message is as much to myself as it is to him.


At the end, no matter how angry, how hurt, how exhausted I am with him, with myself, with the trials life puts in front of us, because we do ALL have those moments in every relationship, no matter how well suited we are… the thing is that the absence of his voice, his presence has always mattered more than the presence of any other.


If Thoughts Were Birds 3


Whatever aching I felt as a wife it was magnified exponentially as a mother. I am a hopeless romantic at heart I gravitate towards the notion of soul mates, and love at first sight, and as with all people, as we grow and learn how difficult it is to truly love others selflessly I have questioned the naiveté of those ideals… but then I have also seen it… When the nurse put Cadence in her father’s arms for the first time and they looked at each other I watched for the first time the exact moment that love began. It was irrevocable. It was the most beautiful moment of my life, and I got to experience it again with Steven when he held his only son for the first time… It was love at first sight for him and was literally love, from the moment of their existence in this world, the first person they saw, they loved and have loved more than any other since. I have never been anything but exceptionally grateful to have him as the father of my children. The feeling of love I had for him in their first moments of hello, I felt again with bittersweetness as they said goodbye. Some times as I pass people and listen to them complain about their blessings as though they are burdens, in their life, their job, their family, their country… I wonder if they ever take a moment and realize their freedoms were paid in full this year by the 6 year old son and 8 year old daughter of that soldier.


If I could teach anyone anything it would be to stop chasing money. Money you can always make more of… Time. Time is finite. Time is a far more valuable currency than money, and we should take care to spend ours wisely. It’s so fleeting… I am painfully more and more aware of that now that I am a mother, and see it passing on my children’s faces as they grow. Before he left, Michael told Steven to take care of us, because he was the man of the house until he came home. It was a 4 hour ride home from the base. And this sweet little boy got out of the car and started walking up the drive, when I asked what he was doing he told me: “I’m getting the trash cans to bring them in because daddy always does that for you, and I will take care of you while he is gone, because I love you.”


I cried. I cried for pride in the man he is growing into, and I cried because he is growing up faster than I am ready to see, and I cried because I saw everything I loved about his father in him.


Life goes on. You’d think it would stop sometimes, but it doesn’t. There will always be a yellow ribbon on our door until. With it I tied up my sense of loneliness, and fear and worry, and returned to the artistry.


If Thoughts Were Birds 4


In teaching I hear more than anything else, sentences that begin “I can’t because” Artists are creatives at heart, it is time to embrace that courageously and see your restraints as resources. That is in large part the purpose of this project. It is for you and it is for myself. Wherever you are in your journey you can begin there… for me I needed to begin with a dress. I am at an advantage in the ability to see, because I am by spirit, if not by blood the daughter of an Antique dealer and restoration specialist, where others see the crumbling walls, he taught me to see the foundation of castles. Many of you that followed me here did so from my boudoir and feminine portraiture, so you have seen some of my gown work that delves into a sort of adult fairytale nature. The ball gown skirt is handmade, however for this project also I took one I had already handmade, tore it apart and repurposed it in length and size for the first dress… meaning so far the cost was $0.00… if you are buying the original fabric, it was in this case a champagne matte tulle… you can buy it at joann fabric, or any other fabric store, for less than $1.50, in this case it was about 30 yards $45.oo


The simplest way to make a tulle skirt is to take a piece of elastic that you can tie around the waist of your model. leaving it longer allows it to fit various sizes. Floor length, for ballgown, shorter if you’d like it to resemble more of tutu. Simply cut the length to DOUBLE what you want it be, then cut 4-6 inch wide strips, as many as you have fabric. You’ll then fold the fabric in half, loop the fold over the elastic and pull the other ends through. They form faux knots, and are able to slide around the skirt to fill it out without ever picking up a needle, as you can see in the bottom left image. I choose to sew it for a little more intricacy and longevity. The fabric has ruching by simply making little folds in the fabric as you pin it down… the same way we used to fold paper fans as children so it overlaps itself. It goes incredibly fast if you have a sewing machine. The original version I hand stitched while watching movies at night for a few days, this one I sewed in about 15 minutes, there are 12 layers of tulle. I chose to still leave it open… so it is simply a long sheet of fabric attached to a 4″ wide ribbon of elastic. I knew we would be shooting outdoors and trekking through high grass and weeds and it was easier to carry and be able to simply tie around her rather than trying to feed her into it like a traditional gown/dress.


I think at the heart of the artist lies a passion for creation. We seek to see something within our own mind, and bring that into existence by our own abilities… as I stitched together the pieces of the fabric I also saw the pieces of this first shoot coming together, and by extension this project I have been conceptualizing for nearly a year.


Nothing excites me more or fills me with a deeper sense of purpose and devotion than watching something be created of things and places others see nothing of note in. It is in my own mind, my own particular kind of magic. I think it resonates with the child like part of me that was too charming for me to let go of as I grew older… whatever part of her grew dim is constantly enkindled by my own children who teach me to find wonder in everything. There is also a sense of satisfaction and even an immature inclination to stick my tongue out at everyone that teased me or told my parents I was a strange child, because all that was unusual about me in adolescence is all that has cultivated any greatness in my vision and talents as an adult. I constantly look at my own children and marvel at their potential, and take as a high compliment when people tell me they’re a little strange, because I know that is just the beginning strands of brilliance in who they’ll become as adults


In teaching myself to never say no when my children ask to help; I am consistently impressed by what they do. Cadence is the embodiment of Shakespeare’s quote: ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce.”


If Thoughts Were Birds 5


The vision for the dress changed organically throughout the process. That’s how it always is: a beginning point of inspiration, from which it takes a life of its own, becoming what it has meant to become.


Originally we considered white for the lace, however it seemed a little to traditional and, that deep burgundy has always been a favorite color, it added drama without stealing the show.


The details are the architecture of creating something stunning. I’m paying particular care to running visual themes in this project so small, seemingly insignificant things like the delicate flowers upon the collar of her dress will show up in elements of other attire and props throughout the project, some of you will call them out as though you have unearthed some secret treasure, and I’ll know which of you are kindred spirits to my own.


While not all will have a string lace artist, it’s important to note the base of the top is a simple tshirt purchased for $3, it was tea stained, the collar and sleeves cut and re-sewn. You can find lovely lace and trim at your local fabric store for relatively inexpensive. It was an extremely challenging endeavor to envision a dress for Cadence that was lovely, charming, quaint, but still just a bit couture and intricate, without defying the innocence I wanted to project. To see what it was at the beginning and what it became as it was finished was overwhelming for me; and there is a great sentimentality for me residing in the idea that the dress she wore was fashioned by the hands of herself, her mother, and her grandmother… there is magic within those threads because of that. This would have been nothing in the absence of Ruth and her amazingly intricate attention to the detail of the design.


If Thoughts Were Birds 6


Much of this is a learning process as I go… my intention in journaling the details is that some may sidestep the difficulties I encountered whilst trying to succeed in certain elements or creating these pieces. The sketch was a girl in a lovely dress, in a beautiful field, softly lit, with her hair playfully caught in the wind, and from it humming birds tearing away from the nest of her curls and flittering into the golden magic of the peaceful afternoon light… the reality was the entire team at my house attempting to conduct 2 sessions in a single day, which also happened to be 4th of July, before guests arrived for fireworks and we lost the light, and there wasn’t a breeze to be found. We sat in the front yard attempting to craft a way to get believable epic movement in her hair before journeying to the field. The trade off was going to be her losing expression as she squinted against the false air in her face.


If you’ve seen other behind the scenes, you’ve seen Michael deconstruct an entire cherry wood sleigh bed and reassemble it in the yard for me… he is often my heavy lifting, my logistics manager, and organizer, and not only keeps me on point, he gives me confidence in the success of things, as he has often saved me and projects from eminent disaster, sometimes that I was not even aware was looming. In contrast, I flourish in sharing the things I love most with the people I love most… and I was painfully aware of his absence all day.


Unless you are very new you know noon time, when the sun is highest in the sky is crippling for most portrait photographers. The light is harsh and unflattering, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Luckily I had both Mackenzie and David with me and it was an extremely easy fix to simply diffuse the light by shading her face. If you didn’t have an assistant or diffuser finding shade under a tree, or in the shadow of a building will often work, in circumstances where there is nothing to be found I will in contrast turn directly towards the light, turning them away from it allows them to not squint because of the light, and if it is particularly harsh and unforgiving I can usually put it directly behind them, and shoot from a low angle, using them as a barrier between the lens and the sun and it will illuminate behind them without the glare.


If Thoughts Were Birds 7


I recently was invited by Trey Ratcliff to be a Master Artist at The Arcanum – Magical Academy For Artistic Mastery. It has been my honor, and greatly speaks to my love and passion for teaching and artistry. I’m sure you’ll hear much about it as this project progresses because it is becoming a large part of my life, although in terms of the Reliquarian it also distracted my time and attention from these first sessions. In hindsight it also inspired and amplified them. I shot the opening sequences in a lovely field here, it was a way of baby stepping into the project, however the first field on fire with purple and red and yellow I found mowed to the ground days before the session. So I settled on a secondary overgrown field rather than wait an entire change of seasons to have another go… I found myself feeling slightly uninspired at the end results. They were pretty but not astounding.


One Day Trey called on a whim, which I’m beginning to note he has a tendency of doing and asked if I could get on a plane in less than 48 hours to a private retreat in montana. It was a life altering experience. The other attendees were world renown, the top of their respective fields, from champion fishermen, to best selling authors in genres from fiction to self help. Magician Andrew Mayne from the A&E show, to Particle Physicist David Kaplan and his lovely wife Melora {you can watch the Particle Fever documentary on Netflix, or buy it from iTunes} to Curtis and Trey themselves from Stuck in Customs, and Renee Robyn whose work I have always admired, and others. The ranch was remote, but it didn’t phase anyone as I was nonchalantly waved off with a “we’ll just send the helicopter” Well of course… fly me over the most beautiful parts of yellowstone in helicopter… It was like a movie, we touched down, our bags were taken to our room, and we hopped on horses and rode up to the waterfalls. The weekend was spent with good food, in the company of poets, and professors, writers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals, and each of them salt of the earth people, in the most beautiful rejuvenating place I had been to. It was a well of inspiration and fire for my artistic spirit. Around the year of my birth there had been a raging forest fire that decimated everything in it’s path. In my lifetime the forest had grown back up around it, but many of the trees stood like epitaphs and monuments to the losses, it was the most beautiful grave site, a haunting juxtaposition of life and death, beauty and decay, all of which feeds into the undertones of the Reliquarian story. I found magic in the slight of hand of the magician, and equal magic in the physicist uncovering the science behind the mysteries of the universe. I found magic running through the river with the horses, and magic on quiet mountain sides amidst the wild untamed chaos of the flowers… and I took it home with me, the experience, the gorgeous serenity of it, and when I sat down at my computer I realized where I had been was exactly where I envisioned her when I dreamed of this scene. I wrote three chapters and created two of the final images with the experience and photographs of that trip.