21 February 2014

Turandot ● by Jess

When I was about ten, I considered myself to be a connoisseur of picture books (really I was just a miniature snob with a very narrow definition of what good illustration was). I thought, if books and art were going to go together, then the illustration better be incredible.

One of the few to made the cut for wee little Jessica, was a book called Turandot, illustrated by Winslow Pels (you can see many of the original illustrations here). The book tells the story of the opera by Puccini and I *LOVED* it. Because of that book, I've spent the last 15 years anxious to see the real thing. Last night Jon took me to see it, and it blew my mind.

Suddenly realizing that is the receipt and not the actual ticket... but who can really tell the difference?

First we went out to eat at Cafe des Amis, which was a lovely little French restaurant just around the corner from the Royal Opera House. The proximity and ambiance were fabulous... the food was less so (I'd say 6 out of 10), but nothing was going to dampen my excitement.

We are clearly in nose-bleed territory, but we were center.... ish! I love being on the mezzanine.

The opera itself was INCREDIBLE. It was exactly the way I love my theatre-- with beautiful music and tons of visual artistry. The costumes, staging, sets, and (above all) the lighting were epic. The opening of Scene III felt like a painting, and paired with Nessun Dorma-- oh boy! I don't think it gets much better than that.


Afterwards, we made a quick stop at Shake Shack (a must-do EVERY time we are near Covent Garden) for milkshakes and "chips." I don't think my little 10-year-old self could have imagined a better evening.


One of the things that made it especially fun was that I finished my dress! And not only did I finish it-- I did for only £17-- a whole £3 under budget! WOOT!

It came out pretty close to my original design, although the back is a tidge different. I created it by deconstructing 4 original pieces (an oversized red skirt lining, lace blouse, beaded crop tank, and tank with soft cup bra inset) and resewing the individual pieces to create my dress.

I'm literally baffled that I found the exact pieces I was hoping for at Primark (the very crucial beaded top was on sale for only £3-- I almost hugged the retail associate that pointed it out). Anyway, many hours of sewing later I was pretty happy with the result. In hindsight, the hook and eye clasps on the back of the top half were probably not the best idea...And after looking at these photos I can see some seaming that looks like it could have used a little more love.  Things to remember for next time! :)

19 February 2014

Opera Dress ● by Jess

Sometimes I like to pretend that I would have been a fashion designer in another life. Of course, that would require some semblance of style, so it fell off the list of potential career tracks pretty quickly.

That being said, I am a devout watcher of project runway and, armed with a circa 1970 Bernina sewing machine, I still like to dabble in the dream every once in awhile.

Tomorrow Jon is taking me to the opera, which is one of the few occasions in life where society offers the chance to wear a full-length gown, and not feel like Marie Antoinette in the middle of a Kansas rodeo. I really want it to be something special! Lately, I've been more than mildly obsessed with the clothing in Downton Abbey, so I decided to design a dress loosely inspired by 1910s fashion. Here is the current design:


It is feeling a little ambitious right now... especially given that I have a grand total of £20 to spend on materials. But, second-hand stores and discount clothing markets have never failed me before! We'll see what happens.... 

17 February 2014

Valentines ● by Jess

I'm lucky to be married to man that loves to show love. Valentine's day is definitely his holiday to shine... However, this year, for various reasons, we decided to keep it simple. We both agreed that we would only give one another a simple, handwritten card. 

Of course, this meant it was my chance to do something epic (and-- admittedly-- *finally* beat him at the game of romance). So, I've been working double time for the last two months so that I could get us a weekend in Paris, which we'll likely use for our anniversary. It has been a surprising amount of work-- mostly in trying to hide it from Jon. Why have I never noticed how diligent he is about checking our cash flow until now??!

When Valentine's came around, we both gave each other our cards:


Jon's was very sweet and I loved it.

Then he handed me a box. Inside that  box were letters by lots of our friends and family, that Jon had compiled, each saying why they appreciate or love me. They were together, the kindest and most beautiful set of letters anyone has ever given to me. If any of you are reading this, thank you thank you THANK YOU. It was so touching and beautiful and made me feel like a princess.

It was already one of the best Valentine's days ever, when Jon tells me that on Thursday, he'll be taking me to go see Turandot, which I've wanted to see since I was about 10 years old, at the Royal Opera House.

OHMYGOSH!!!!!

Anyway, I think it's Jon for the win on this one... but, if losing still means opera tickets and trips to Paris, I'll take it!

We also got to go to the temple on Saturday, which was fantastic. For my non-mormon friends, the temple is where we go to perform service on behalf of our ancestors. Mormons believe that families can be together even after we die, so its really important to us to makes sure we are all linked together.

In front of the London temple, plus a happy little British family in the background.
Look how amazing this house is! It is so close to the temple (look at the shadow on the ground and you can see the temple spire, which will show you how close it really is!).
All in all, it was a pretty wonderful Valentine's weekend and thanks again to all you wonderful friend and family that helped make this holiday extra special. 

10 February 2014

Van Gogh Under My Fingernails ● by Jess


On Saturday, Jon and I made a day of attending the National Gallery. We made it through all the 18th and 19th century portraits and finally arrived at the Impressionists. 

We settled in, taking our time in front of Van Gogh's Chair.  Suddenly, my husband extended his pointer finger out, making a itching motion, and (to my horror) said, "Wow, I could just reach and out and scratch the paint right off. I could have Van Gogh under my fingernails."

I swatted his hand away and looked around for the guard, who was (fortunately) preoccupied with a shifty gaggle of middle schoolers. I breathed a sigh of relief, but not before shooting Jon a very dark look of disapproval.

That being said, Jon had a very valid point-- most of the paintings were completely uncovered, exposed to every wheezing neanderthal that happen to walk by. It made our proximity to the art both terrifying and a little thrilling. 

In fact, I was taken aback by it. I realized I had never been so close to work that was that iconic and emotive. You can FEEL the aggression and the grace of the brush strokes. Everything is there. There is none of that laborious tedium you can sometimes read into commissioned portraits. These just felt raw and beautiful and uninhibited. 

After a moment or two, I realized I too was fighting back an impulse to touch it. Your eyes sort of roll over the swirls of color and settle in the textured grooves of paint. It's thick and glorious and to touch it would just be magical. I suddenly felt bad for the look I had just given to Jon. How do people resist the temptation to touch these masterpieces?!

A throng of tourists insured that the spell was soon broken, but I still managed to gained an awe and reverence for the Impressionists that I've never had before. Seurat, Van Gogh, Monet, Caillebotte-- I tip my hat to your sirs! It has definitely been a pleasure.

04 February 2014

Anatomy of A Styled Wedding Shoot ● by Jess

So, after over a month with almost no internet, I'm finally back! And I will say, living without it has almost killed me.

Now that I'm finally able to sit down and write, I thought I'd do a post dissecting some of the components of styled wedding shoots. These sessions are sort of a necessary evil for me. They pretty much run your life, but they are SO HELPFUL in getting clients and making industry connections.

So, shall we?

1) The Planner

The event planner is the life blood of the whole experience. As a photographer, I usually cast the models and (surprisingly) put together the initial mood board inspiration, but other than that, the planner takes care of the remaining logistics and getting the vendors onboard and coordinated. In my personal opinion, being the event planner is a thankless, HORRIBLE job... so I am grateful that there are friendly, hyper-organized, mildly masochistic people out there that are willing to do it. Seriously, you guys deserve a medal.


These are mood boards from a vendor meeting I had recently. I always try to select my color palette from the set of upcoming Pantone Colors for the next season. That way I can make sure I'm on trend. 
The planning process usually takes a month or two. I've planned shoots in as little as 2 weeks and it was nightmarish. Never again!

2) The Crisis

It seems with nearly every styled shoot, something terrible happens within 48 hours of the session. A vendor cancels, a model arrives late, a model arrives hungover, a model doesn't show up (are you sensing a theme?).... I am constantly reminding myself of a card one of my old roommates had on our mirror, 'I am flexible and flowing.'

Taking a moment to breathe is really the only way to manage the stress under the realization that a dozen vendors have each invested several hundred dollars of goods and labor and you MUST produce a viable result. It's pretty high pressure, but it definitely lets you exercise creative problem-solving, which can be a blast, especially when you are with the right people.

While trying to take the above image, the dress fell. This wouldn't have been such a big deal if it hadn't landed on an archway with no access. The designer decided to straddle the void to retrieve her gown. I was terrified she'd fall to her death, so I *naturally* just stood around photographing the whole time. 

From this I've learned to only work with positive people. Its not worth it to deal with debby downers. On one shoot I had a couple of months ago, I incurred thousands of dollars of equipment damage-- so much so that I had to use the model's mobile phone to finish up the session. Everyone was still so happy and excited, even though I was literally falling apart inside. Thank goodness for optimistic people!

3) The Man Candy


Its not all stress and anxiety; there are a few perks to the job. Male models definitely bring a little zest to an otherwise gloomy group of women and can make for the most epic people watching EVER! On one particular shoot, our dress designer was going gaga over our "groom" and her daughter (who was one of our female models) was mortified. "Please mum," she begged. "Stop gettin all pervy on him. It's really gross!" But did it stop her mother? Of course not ;)

4) The Diva

The wedding industry seems to be disproportionately full of divas. Sometimes its fun-- like when you get a fabulous gay florist that makes you feel like a million bucks.

However, sometimes it's not so fun.  Recently we had a makeup artist-- the self-proclaimed "best in England"-- that came on a shoot. I had a bad feeling about her from the beginning, but my event planner was determined to bring her on. The day began with the makeup artist, who was late, calling up and saying that she refused to ride the elevator alone and required an escort. weird.

Then she went on with the makeup of our two female model and one male model. We had 2 hours budgeted... she took four-- 45 minutes of which were entirely devoted to putting on lipstick. While she did a good job with our fair-skinned Asian model, she clearly had no experience with black skin and this was the result:

Between the strangely absent foundation, the bluish eyeshadow, the galactic orange-pink lip color, this makeup job was disastrous

The edited version, which looks most like the model in real life.
After four hours of waiting around, the rest of the team decided we'd just plow forward and I'd edit afterwards. BIG MISTAKE. Every single image had to have makeup edited, which extended my editing time by double. But I couldn't leave it! Our beautiful model looked like a cross-dresser circa 1987.

When the makeup artist got the images back (I sent her both the original and edited versions) she insisted that the makeup needed to be edited further if it was going to be featured in print, while simultaneously maintaining that her original color choices where better. OH MY GOSH! Some people will never be happy.

5) The Team

There are usually a dozen or more people on these shoots and all of them deserve a round of praise. Most particularly my assistants. Lucky for me, marriage provides me with a very convenient assistant. However, when he is working, I get to work with other wonderful individuals (shout out to Gabby Nau-- best photo assistant ever!).

6) The Chemistry

Its really important to me to get the models to look like they have real chemistry-- which you can do a fair bit with posing-- but the BEST way to do it is to get them to laugh. Now, I am not a funny person at all. I've tried telling jokes, but every time one leaps out of my mouth, it dies somewhere in the space between the models and where I'm standing. We all mourn the death by staring at each other awkwardly, wishing it had been funnier. Needless to say, I no longer tell jokes.


Good news is, I have discovered an even BETTER way to make people smile: Flattery. It may sound silly, but when you gush meaningful compliments (not empty praise), you can literally watch someones self-esteem bloom in front of you. They light up and you see genuine smiles and self-confidence. Interestingly, as you compliment the bride, the groom begins to see her through your eyes, and you watch him change his posture and gaze on her (and vise versa with the bride). People, this even works on models!

It also probably helps that I bounce around like a caffeinated toddler in a candy store. I'm sure I look like a buffoon, but excitement is infectious, and it seems to be working....

7) The Editing

After the shoot is done, the burden is really upon me to deliver. I give between 2 weeks and a month to get all the images finished both for vendors and for blog submissions. Generally, which blogs we submit to is a decision made between the event planner on myself. Being in the UK, its usually a trade off between the higher traffic US blogs or the more audience specific UK blogs. US blogs often win out though as the Brits don't seem to like styled shoots as much as Americans.

And there you have it. I could probably write six more blog posts on this subject alone, but that is where I'll leave things for now! Toodle-oo!