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life in balance


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Weaving: Soft rainbows for Clementine

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This morning I woke up early to weave the last meter on this, my latest yardage for Clementine Baby Wraps. I cut it off while groggy and in sore need of my morning coffee, and its beautiful soft palette was exactly what I needed to really enter the day properly. Measuring and packing these warps for shipping is quite a challenge; if you saw the photo I posted on Instagram, you might have perceived that these warps come off the loom in a big heap o’ fabric. It’s not really apparent from the photos I share here, but my studio space is quite tiny. I can only walk around half of my loom and there is a wall six inches from the back of my weaving bench, so getting the fabric off the loom and out of the studio usually overwhelms me. But with this warp it was a really soothing process.

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The funny thing is that it reads as a spring colorway to me, this warp – and I love it even though I’ve been very challenged by springtime this year. I think I may be the only person in the United States who didn’t want this winter to end. Oh, I know, we’ve had a bad winter, but we’ve had the bad winter I’ve been praying for and I was so grateful for it. DC doesn’t get a lot of wintry weather, which always grieves me. I was born for the heart of winter, always, but this year I had the additional blessing of being truly myself for the first time in close to a decade. The changes I’ve made to my life over the past year have all combined to form a day-to-day routine that’s so true to my core self that it makes me weak in the knees with gratitude. And then the snows came, and I was just full to the brim with joy, feeling that centrifugal force of new work welling up in my heart. That pivotal moment before new life begins; that’s what winter is about for me. The snow covers everything and gives us space to heal and regenerate, and I wasn’t quite ready to give it up.

I thought I had missed the last snow of the season while he and I were out in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and I was the tiniest bit gutted about it. And then right after we got home, we got a little dusting of snowfall, and it was magical. I love to travel but I had been on four trips in five weeks, which put my head in a blender and brought all my projects to a standstill. Seeing that snow falling as I darted into the DC public library to grab some Yvette Van Bowen cookbooks, I felt as if I was watching a conductor raise a baton. You’re home now; you’re coming home now; begin again. I worked on this warp through that last snowfall and I feel like the sensation of that gentle, new beginning is embodied in the fabric, and this morning as I was folding it and photographing it, it soothed my heart. I hope it does the same for you all! Sometimes I get to see some photos of babies wrapped up in the wraps that are made from my woven fabric, which is always wonderful, and I’m really hoping to see some little ones all safe and cozy in this warp – more than any I’ve woven so far I feel like this one has got some amazing new life energy going on. As always, details will be posted over on the Clementine facebook page when it goes up for sale, so check in there if you’re interested.

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the Sweet Paul Makerie: Food Styling and Photography

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I promised last time that I would be sharing more about Paul Lowe and Colin Cooke’s food styling and photography class, and here I am to deliver. The class was my primary reason for attending the Makerie and it didn’t disappoint. A lot of the other students were in the class because photography is in some way important to them financially – either because they want to monetize their blogs and need better shots to do it, or because photography serves as a secondary function of their businesses. I was there purely as an aesthete. I want the shots I share in this space to be the best possible representation of the moment or milieu I’m trying to capture and food photography is one area where I feel very challenged. Paul and Colin really helped me to see and begin to understand the many puzzle pieces I was missing in the process.

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Paul’s food styling is impeccable, and take a look at Colin’s portfolio – the man is a pro, no question about it. Looking through his shots before the Makerie weekend, I felt a lot like I did the first time I saw the LSO performing; sometimes when you’re witnessing the work of someone whose expertise comes from countless years of practice, you can just feel that mastery in your bones. Throughout class I repeatedly felt humbled by the gap in skill and experience between myself and our two teachers, and I was reminded again and again of the importance of putting in the time to refine your own aesthetic and approach. As adults we so frequently want mastery to emerge right away – but you’ve got to earn it through hard work. There is simply no other way.

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It was actually very strange shooting photos that had been styled and arranged by someone else. I like cherry and other natural woods; I prefer the way stained wood looks as a backdrop and I use it a lot, and shooting on a painted colored background was so deeply weird for me. It taught me in a way I never could have learned on my own that branching out is sometimes necessary to create a diversity of mood and experience in my shots.

I also usually shoot my still life photos from pretty high up, and while there was a stepladder, I just felt selfish climbing up there with so many other people vying to use it – and there were so many of us working with differing ideas about how we needed to move the props around that there were always going to be bodies or hands in the shot anyway. It was more important to me to watch and absorb everything that was happening than it was to shoot close up on the food, so I wasn’t particularly aggressive about getting in there. The one thing I was aggressive about was photographing Paul work, like I was a paparazzi stalker, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember everything he had done without copious photographs of the process. If I posted them all here this post would be heavy with images, heavier than I like, so I’m sharing them as a complete photo set over on Flickr, annotated for your convenience.

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The single most valuable thing I learned from watching Colin work is to use my freaking tripod. I have one, but I don’t love setting it up, and I follow a lot of food bloggers who seem to just climb up on ladders and shoot, so that’s what I’ve done for both still life and food. Colin shoots with a remote and a tripod – or at least, he did it that way for every shot he took with us – and I can see how it would be huge in eliminating the camera shake I tend to get with my normal lens. I shoot most of the shots on this blog with a fixed focal length lens with macro capability, a 40mm – it’s not the best lens for the photography I share on this site, but it hit the sweet spot between quality and price when I bought it. The one thing about using it that has challenged me is that its focus is much more specific than the kit lens I initially shot with when I moved to digital, so if I move even a little my whole shot is thrown immediately. Using a tripod and remote instead should allow me a bit of a speed gain – fewer shots needed to get the right one, and also I can be down by my composition with the preview screen angled down at me, allowing me to move things around without having to disengage from my camera. Not only will I be able to recompose my scenes more easily, but I won’t have to relocate the camera when I’m ready to shoot again. Just rearrange, step out of the frame of the shot and hit the remote. I love this idea – it’s going to be huge for me.

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I don’t think I could ever begin to sum up everything I learned from watching Paul work. He talked as he styled the sets, and every other minute he was saying something new and fascinating. For instance, that cold and slightly undercooked pasta is easiest to style, and that we could wrap strands around our fingers to form pasta birds’ nests, then rub in pesto with our fingertips for even distribution. The pasta set was possibly the most instructive from a technical standpoint, in that we did more to the food in that set to make it photogenic than in any other.

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Paul also taught us that if we want to shoot our food on a bed of ice, that can be done by filling a clear plastic bin with the ice and then setting it down on top of bright blue paper; the blue comes through the ice and makes it look vibrant and cold in the photograph. In general, he stressed balance and composition in assembling the dishes, which I also found interesting as a cook. Those of you who have been following this blog know that a year ago, I could not cook at all, and in the course of my self-education I hadn’t yet begun to think about food this way. Watching Paul work changed something in my brain and taught me at a fundamental level to consider how my dish looks on its plate as I’m preparing it.

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The class as a whole was one of those experiences where you’re very aware that the real lessons will continue to emerge as you practice what you’ve been shown and work to deepen your own skill. I’m looking forward to seeing how my photography practice grows and changes as a result of this workshop.