I grew up hearing the adage that Art Imitates Life, and in mine it seems that my Life Imitates Art.  This has been especially true since beginning the Reliquarian, if you’ve read some of the other blogs I’ve spoken of the parallels, and how almost unnerving it is when something I write then shows up or happens in my real life.  Some of the parallels are more subtle, and perhaps it is a subconscious and intrinsic infusion into the artistry that I understand on a deeper level than I recognize on the surface.  If nothing else I have learned both in Artistry and Life nothing turns out the way I originally envision, but in the end, despite the struggle and frustration, when I let go of what I think it should be, it becomes what it is meant to be, and there is beauty in it that I couldn’t imagine at its inception.
Severence 2

Nostalgia is the third character to be introduced in the visual elements of the story, and this image is actually the last photographic illustration in book one.  It has been an interesting dance in this project being both artist and author, and creating them simultaneously.  It’s a bit like watching a close race or a good game where both opponents are fighting and stealing the lead back and forth.  Some of the characters have been visual representations in my mind and the story of them builds around the image, and others I write into the story and the inspiration for the images come from the writing.  This one came from the name, the idea of Nostalgia, which is something I have always been enamored with as a concept.  Nostos being Greek: Return Home, and Algos: Pain.  It’s a wistful longing to return home.  It feeds in also to the adage of “home is where the heart is.”   Nostalgia is wide spread to the longing for something that we want to return to, a moment, a memory, a place, a loved one.  All I knew of her was that I wanted her to be the visual embodiment of what Nostalgia would look were it fashioned into a humanoid type personification.

The crude idea we began with was that she needed to illuminate light.  She lives in a place called the Atheneum, that is a museum of sorts for lost and discarded things.  In the simplest of terms we might call her a hoarder, and in the realm of fictional characters she’d have gotten along fabulously with Miss Havisham, only it is life she is mourning the loss of rather than a lover.
Severence 3

My mother spent most of my childhood in a relationship with an Antique Dealer and Treasure Hunter, and our house was constantly described as creepy, a museum, and ‘interesting’.  My father and I have been estranged since I was 3, and several small bridges have all been built and burnt to bridge the gap, so this man has been my only subject of “dad” and while he never married my mother, and they ultimately parted ways, he still refers to, and introduces me as “My daughter of choice.”  His house now is an old farm, the chicken coop larger than most people’s garages, and the Barn towers over the property there, all full of oddities, trinkets, and treasures, some that only he sees the value in. The house is always dim, the lights are rarely on, even at night, to protect the patinas and paintings of rare artifacts that might be damaged by the light, and for as long as I can remember he carries a flash like as most carry their phone, or wallet, or keys, so that light is with him when it is needed.

They say we write what we know, and so much of the storyline of this character is rooted in memories of my past.  A thin walkway between rooms, flanked on all sides by minuscule and monumental things of varying importance, some lovely, and some grotesque.  The place I wrote was what I might have called home as a child on a more grandious scale, as Nostalgia has want to always do:  Turn what we remember into more than it was, anchoring our spirits towards past and keeping us from the future and more importantly: the present.

The initial concepts were to make the dress a gown of vintage and victorian lampshades.  To include photographs and frames upon it, and have her carry ‘the weight of the world’ literally upon her at all times.  It would be couture, but also serve purpose, as the common psychology of hoarders is “I need, or will need this.”  The Atheneum would remain dark at all times save candles dimly lighting the silhouettes and her gown which would carry its own light with it, illuminating only where she passed.

Once I latched onto this idea, the dress bodice became inspired by stained glass.  Particularly a Tiffany Lamp my grandmother always had on her serving hutch in the dining room.  Originally I thought blue, but once painted it didn’t seem illuminated and I moved towards yellows and golds.  (The Tutorial on how to do this is in the queue for those interested.)
Severence 4

When I get stuck {as I often do on this project} I often sit with the word I’m trying to convey and write as many connected words, synonyms and symbols as I can think of to play off of.  With Nostalgia one of the first and strongest was candles.  Perhaps because it denotes an earlier time, and older day.  I’m drawn to the warmth of fire, and the glow of it’s light, it romanticizes everything, and I have handwritten most of this book’s first draft by candlelight.  Returning again to my childhood my mother was not one for precision, and while others were building sand castles out of buckets and sculpting clean, smooth lines, mine taught her children “drip castles.”  Closer to the water’s edge, with the wet, muddy sand, dripping into uneven and erratic towers, and continuously washed away by the lapping waves.  At home she had a coffee table covered in years of candle wax.  A waterfall of color, cascading down until it became a mountain, and I was always mesmerized by it.

I too the inspiration from that and created the shoulder pads of the dress, so it would seem there were piles of candles close to her face, illuminating the words she read, the things she searched for, and ultimately, like all else, melting away into a nothingness, and replaced with the next layer upon it.
Severence 1

I will always, in some ways be a “poor kid.”  This method of thought was not only reinforced by humble beginnings and watching my single mom struggle to pull herself from the hole my parents dug together; but also by grandmother, who was a child in the midst of the great depression, and understood poverty and scarcity in a way no one from any generation beyond her can relate to.  This has not only attributed to the way money is handled in my personal life, but I also believe it greatly influenced and made possible the Reliquarian project thus far.

I am lucky to know many talented artists in the fantasy and fine art realms, but when I hear their budgets for shoots, I all but fall over from sticker shock.  I can’t imagine those price tags for the final image, so I instead imagine the ways around it.  I am a creative at heart and I think while some feel a sense of pride in being able to afford such luxuries I will always feel the same sense of accomplishment in the act of creating these pieces for fractions of cost.

The headdress was mostly items from the local dollar store, and remnants from other shoots.  I wanted it to have a bit of a catholism edge to it.  I remember my grandparents taking me to church and lighting candles in memory of those no longer with us, and I remember the statues and figures in the sculptures and stained glass murals that I always admired.  The headdress nodded to both, having the ability to light the candle, and having that more church statue feel in the color and texture.

In spending time in Cambodia last year it was common to see altars outside nearly every house.  They pray to buddha and light incense as offerings.  To nod to the other religion and culture that I have always identified strongly with we added incense which still gave a sort of “Holy Mother” feel to the headdress.  It created a sort of halo about her, and was accentuated with the dissected pieces of an oriental fan.  I wanted to create the idea that we are our own churches, we pray and meditate and connect with our gods at the altar of our own minds.  Anyone who seeks God in brick and stone, or thinks their rituals are where God is found is a fool, it is always within, our divine self is the connection between mortality and immortality, between creator and created.
Severence 5

With Nostalgia’s intricate bodice and headdress complete, focus shifted towards the set.  So much detail in this project is so minuscule in the grand landscape of the image.  If asked to describe the Reliquarian in 3 words I would simply say The Reliquarian is: ‘Art Within Art”  The images within the story, the wardrobe and sets within the image, the details within the details.  It is a mixture of all mediums of expression, and the intertwined consciousness of many minds that are significant in my world.

It seemed fitting to shoot the scene for the last book in the place that first inspired it.  It took nearly 3 days simply to clear enough room to have a line of sight for the camera.  It was dark, and dusty, and nostalgic as it should have been.  As the last image in the first book it had to be potent, and it had to represent the core of the project, which is the idea of Art within Art.  To take that further I made her literally art.  Not only in the elaborate costuming and ornate details of beading, wire work, and sculpture, but by placing her within a literal picture frame, one my husband Michael hand built for this piece.  Our child within the story is so captivated and distracted by all the things within the Atheneum that it is some time before she notices the frame is a doorway into another room of the building, and not a literal painting.
Severence 6
Cadence has been with me on this project since it’s inception 5 years ago… that’s nearly half her lifetime.  It has been fun and challenging to create it with her, and I often hope she looks back at these moments and memories with a sense of nostalgia and love for these moments, as I know I will.  Still as mothers and daughters do, we have bickered over different elements of the project, and one in particular has been her long beautiful hair that is so glorious in the initial images.  She begged me to cut it, something I distinctly remember doing myself, as a child.  When I was not victorious in my plea, I cut all of it in the midst of rebellion, and frustration about my life in those moments… in hindsight I was on a very detrimental and damaging path right then, unable to see past the hurt of the present moment, and the helplessness I felt in being a child and not in charge of my own life and direction.  My tangled curls were simply metaphoric for the hopeless web I found myself ensnared in.  In hindsight I can look back, now more than double that age, and see that some of the dismay was in relation to my perspective, and not entirely my circumstances, but that was something I couldn’t see at the time.  I’ve worked hard to give both our children a really good childhood, in some regards, I, like all parents have failed, but overall I have felt mostly successful.

This year was a difficult one for our family, especially the last few months, we have all been struggling with many circumstances beyond our control.  It is the first time I feel I truly failed in my ultimate purpose as a mother: To protect and safeguard the life and well being of my children, mentally, emotionally, physically.  Tragedy and hardship is a necessary trial we endure so that we might see the true nature of all those close to us, and this year certainly did just that.  Cadence begged to cut and donate her hair last time during her father’s deployment in Afghanistan, and I saw a bit of metamorphosis take place within her emotionally and manifest physically.  It was a healthy means of expressing what was within and what she was without.  Given the nature of the year’s struggles I saw her grappling with how to come to terms with it, and again it was time to let some versions of self go… for her and I both.

Danielle, my hair goddess and guru was the only one I’d entrust her locks, and sense of self worth with, and she reminded me that hair holds weight from all the time it grew to it’s current length, for many it’s a way of declaring freedom, of letting go, of allowing one’s self to shed the exoskeleton of a version of themselves they have outgrown.

For Cadence, some of this is simply youth, some of it is innocence she is willingly shedding, and some has been taken from her before it should have been by a world she will learn to be, often times unforgiving and apathetic.  Interestingly as life imitates art, and art imitates life the easiest solution in terms of the Reliquarian, was to make Cady’s journey part of the child’s journey within the story.  And so Unsung is distracted by all the lovely and strange forgotten things within the atheneum.  She plays dress up in the clothes she finds there, studies the oddities, and eventually finds herself in front of an antique mirror and a collection of shears and scissors.  What she sees and what she feels are out of syncopation, and so she chops her hair, severing it from her head in an attempt to sever the past struggles and sorrows that have been tethering her to past days, and keeping her from moving forward.
Severence 7

As I am always behind the camera in these moments, I often forget that I myself am a part of the story in its creation.  The nights before a shoot are often spent with another creative in the project, and always the final touches and nuances are placed only moments before the shutter fires.  The true gift has always been that amazing people not only become part of the project, but bring other amazing people into the Reliquarian.  Jaye, brought his wife’s incredible talents to Higher Learning and introduced his artistic and creative daughters to me.  Siena has been with me ever since.  Sarah Jane sent me to Danielle, who has not only done hair for the shoots, but created stunning transformations in real life, and brought her friend on set to help fill in the shooting space on the day.  Donna Maria was a student at a workshop that quickly identified as a kindred spirit and agreed to play the part of Nostalgia.   Remy played Deception’s character in Higher Learning and has also done makeup on half the sets for shoot days.

The day of is always full of snacks, and last minute panic attacks, and stress, and excitement, and good people, and I love every second of it… Of course looking back I am struck with the nostalgia of the memory which conveniently leaves out all the headaches and anxiety of the day.  Siena stayed up till about 3 am with me the night before melting wax, and then snagged this behind the scenes as we finally began to shoot the scene, and when I saw it, it reminded me of all the reasons I have invested so much of my life, my money, my time, myself into this project.  It is the embodiment and culmination of every creative fiber of my being, every nuance, and every inspiration all converge here, in the moment I push the shutter button, after months of prep and frustration, inspiration, and the journey between what I think it will be and what it becomes.  It’s the Severance.  It offers a final payment of purpose, it ends the literal chapter or in this case book, and allows me to move forward towards the next ones… though from time to time I shall revisit them with a sense of fondness and nostalgia…

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