Posts Tagged ‘art’

My Photographic Eye

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

I read an incredibly interesting article the other day that analyzed the photos Melania Trump has posted publicly on her Twitter account.

(No this isn’t a political post. Yes, the article was pretty critical of Melania. Yes, I agreed with it. No, I don’t want to have a political discussion here.)

If you look beyond the actual subject of that post, the idea of learning how someone sees the world from how they capture it is fascinating. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a photographer, any time you stop long enough to take a picture you’re saying “This is how I see things, this is a moment I want to be preserved, this is my reality as I want it to be presented.” In this era of social media, photos are even more performative – you can crop or filter so your friends (or strangers) can see what you want them to see. You are making a lot of choices, whether they are conscious or not, and looking at those choices can be eye-opening.

Because I’ve been doing a 365 photo-a-day project for three years now, I have hundreds of everyday life photos to look at and analyze for patterns. Once I started thinking about my pictures (many of them not more than snapshots) as a body of work versus just individual photos, it became super clear that my photographic eye says a lot about what I value, what I want the world to see, and what I want to remember.

The most obvious fact about my photos is they are almost all of my children. I almost never photograph myself. I could make a list of my excuses for that, or I could look at it more analytically. My appearance in the photographic record isn’t a priority for me. I don’t want to remember what I looked like during these years. My body doesn’t need to take up space in the frame. It’s incredibly important to me that I witness my children’s lives, but not necessarily as a participant in their activities. This feels both sort of uncomfortable for me (I don’t want to be distant or emotionally separate) and accurate (I’m much more free-range than helicopter mom).  Also, from a practical standpoint, my live as a stay-at-home-mom revolves around my children, so obviously my work shows that.

The next pattern I saw right away is my love of capturing a small body in a big frame. I’ve chosen my equipment (mostly a 35mm lens) so I can focus on my subject while also including a lot of their environment.

When I think about how I framed these photos, I intentionally avoided other people in the frame (unless they were also my children) to make my subject stand out. I didn’t try to blur or compress the environment to the point where you couldn’t identify it – WHERE is an important part of the story. I took photos like these in every season, at home and away, with my subject aware of me and not. Children are small and the world is big. I want my kids to be confident and bold when faced with big things, unafraid of the world, so they remain the focus even though the environment could overpower them.

Another fairly obvious trend in my pictures is that I center my subjects.

 

There they are, right in the middle of the frame. The main focus. There is balance in this composition, and something very calming about a photo that tells you exactly what it’s about. It’s easy. When I think about these photos, I often took them during challenging times, when I didn’t have the energy to devote to seeing something artistic or unusual. Simplicity is something I often value.

Something I was actually surprised to see was my love of taking a photo from behind my subject. I think of my work as being full of faces, so I wasn’t expecting so many of these.

 

These photos are about seeing what my children see, looking at the world from their point of view. I often crouch down, sit on the floor, get low so I can capture their perspective. I want to learn about what catches their eye, what THEY view as important or noteworthy. I’m following along as they direct the show, ready to be supportive but not interferring. Without the emotion of their face, you have to infer feeling from their body language. When you’re raising kids, this feels true in everyday life as well; they often don’t – or can’t – tell you what they’re feeling, so you’re left to interpret what they need.

Something there is slightly less of but still often featured is taking photos of small pieces of my small people.

Fingers, toes, hair, eyes, hands. I love them. They are soft and unlined, a perfect example of how children are unbothered by the realities of life or age. The same way an elderly person’s hand speak to their lived experience, a child’s hands show innocence. Their eyes are clear and open, unguarded. They also are little pieces of where they come from – Caroline’s red hair comes from her father, Linc’s blue eyes are from me. These photos are more personal than any of the others. I do have to be physically close my children to take them, even if the small bodies are in motion and I have to be quick. They capture something so very fleeting – the split second before those feet grow bigger, run faster, carry the children away.

And finally, my neverending love of taking pictures of my kids while they sleep.

The sleeping photos fall into almost all of the previous categories – sometimes up close, sometimes lots of environment, etc – but I took them because of the sleeping so it deserved its own analysis. Children are loud and busy, capturing them at their most quiet and still is a treasure. While they are vulnerable, I watch over them. They feel safe in their home and with their family, which is why they so often fall asleep in places other than their own beds. Our home is comfortable, even if it’s not always magazine-worthy, with plenty of places to take a nap when you need it.

I really loved this exercise for myself, even if putting my emotions and inner thoughts into words was difficult. I appreciate my photographs more and I’m thrilled this record will exist (as a reminder, print your photos! I have both 2015 and 2016 books as hard copies of many of these, the rest are from 2017 and will go in a book in January).

Are there any trends you can recognize in your own photographic record? Go look at your Instagram feed or Facebook photos and see if there are patterns or constants that emerge. Or you can take some of this analysis and use it to inspire your own pictures. I’m definitely going to make an effort to take at least one self-portrait this spring.

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A Western Massachusetts Fairy Tale (With An Appearance by Mo Willems)

Monday, July 15th, 2013

I love people. I don’t often feel that way – and the news from the last few weeks has made it more of an act of willpower than an easy truth – but after our experience on Saturday my faith is restored. There are plenty of people who are good and kind and willing to go above and beyond to help others, and it was sheer luck those are the people who I ran into at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

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Giant hallway art

We are huge, huge Mo Willems fans in our house. It wasn’t love at first sight (I was a little baffled by Knuffle Bunny the first time I read it and also super annoyed no one could tell me if the “K” was silent*) but once Evan and then Caroline were old enough to help choose our bedtime reading selections Mo quickly became a favorite. We have all three Knuffle Bunnies and several Pigeon books at home, and almost always include at least one Mo Willems in our library picks. When I heard he was going to be at the Eric Carle Museum on one of our rare weekends home (we missed the last one) I knew we had to make the drive.

E was working, as usual, so I packed up and we made the 90 minute drive early Saturday, getting to the museum seconds before they opened the doors at 10 am. Right as we hit the ticket counter I realized my wallet wasn’t in my bag. It was one of those moments where you can literally feel the universe split into two separate paths – one where I was smart and double-checked my bag before I left home or stopped for gas in town or went through the drive thru for a coffee 10 minutes from home and realized my mistake, and one where I was and idiot there in Massachusetts, without my money or credit cards or debit card or driver’s license or military ID or anything. I didn’t have anything. Idiot.

mo willems at the carle-40

Can you believe this idiot?!

The woman greeting people at the door saw me rummaging frantically through my bag and asked if I was OK. I told her my wallet wasn’t in my camera bag but I might have it in the car. I grabbed the kids and we ran back out, even though I knew it was pointless. I knew exactly where my wallet was: on the end table next to my laptop where I left it after I used my credit card online the night before. Standing next to the car with two kids staring at me I made another universe-splitting decision. Instead of calling the day a wash and heading for home, I headed back into the museum.

I didn’t have much of a plan at that point. I vaguely thought maybe they would accept a business card and an IOU for the admission fee (which wasn’t very much but was more than the nothing I had) and we could just forgo buying the big pile of books I had promised the kids from the gift shop. We had one book from home, so at least we could still get SOMETHING signed. Or maybe they could just give me one of the line passes they were handing out – I could make it home and back in 3 hours, which was still in time for the 2 pm signing but I was worried they would run out of tickets. But before I could even offer one of those as an option, the lady who had asked if I was OK was standing next to me, giving my kids pigeon tattoos and reassuring me we could figure something out.

I used to be the kid who cried in class any time a teacher even LOOKED at me harshly, so it’s not surprising I cried while I explained we were far from our house and I didn’t know anyone in Massachusetts and my husband was working and I just didn’t want to let the kids down so…. The lady, Rebecca, said they would be happy to take a credit card over the phone if there was someone I could call. Thank God my mother picked up on the 5th ring and said of COURSE she’d cover my admission. Rebecca suggested they write down the number and she would put it in a safe place so I could use it later in the gift shop to buy our books and my mom agreed. Mom asked if I was going to be able to get home without money – did I have enough gas? – and I assured her I could make it home (and I did, with 1/8th of a tank left). So lucky.

After handling everything for me smoothly and calmly and in the very kindest way possible, Rebecca handed me two free lunch coupons, good for one item from the food truck outside and said if I needed drinks she would buy us some. She explained now that I was inside all the events and crafts were free and she would be there all day and I should feel free to come find her if I needed anything, so I was just supposed to go and have a good time. And we did. We had an amazing time.

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Pigeon tattoo! I have one too.

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When I went to the book store to buy our books, I was nervous about explaining my credit-card-on-a-piece-of-paper-somewhere-behind-the-counter to the cashier, but as soon as I opened my mouth and said “I, uh…” she knew who I was and rang it up no problem (Mom, I’m paying you back ASAP). While the kids and I were playing, another staffer came up and asked if I had gotten everything worked out, then offered me cash for the drive home, since if she was traveling with kids she’d be nervous in my situation (I declined, but it was an amazing offer). When I went to get our 2 free lunch items, the girl in the truck gave us hot dogs and chips and drinks. Everyone else we talked to the entire day was kind and helpful and friendly and just…amazing. I don’t know if Rebecca got the entire staff together at some point and said “See that woman with the two ginger kids? She’s kind of an idiot, so be extra nice to her” or if everyone in Amherst, Massachusetts is just inherently a good person, but it felt like we were getting extra special treatment. I mean, we WERE getting special treatment. Everyone else had to bring their monies to get in.

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After we spent 4 hours enjoying the yard and crafts and movies and pigeon wall and chalk and library and story time and the museum galleries, we stood in the very first general admission line to get our book(sssss) signed.  It went quickly and was beautifully organized but the kids were kind of at the end of their ropes (Evan: I want to go HOOOOME. Caroline: I don’ wanna go HOOOOOOOME.) and I had used up all my threats and bribes and promises and was just hoping to get out without embarrassing myself even more than I already had. But we got up to where we could see Mo and the kids first perked up and then totally flipped out that he was RIGHT THERE! He looks like the dad from Knuffle Bunny! Mo! It’s MO! My friend MO! When it was our turn, someone took my camera to snap pictures, Rebecca opened all our books to the best signing page, and Mo drew a little picture in every one of our books. The kids watched him draw and shouted “Dinosaur!” or “Piggie!” and finally “PIGEON! IT’S THE PIGEON!!” I just stood there grinning like an idiot. It was great.

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All these are a little out of focus (the camera was on auto because I handed it to someone else and it focused on the sculpture in the background) but the kids look so happy I don’t even care.

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As we were leaving, I stopped by to thank Rebecca (who I think might be the Director of Development based on some website stalking, but I can’t be sure – I never got her last name) for being so helpful and saving our day. You know what she said to me? “You’re such a good mom.” The person who forgot her wallet, cried at the ticket booth, couldn’t stop her children from running and being loud, hissed at and threatened them in line, and was now a big, sweaty, exhausted mess. A good mom. Then she hugged me.

I cried in the car on the way home, but not because I was an idiot but because my faith in humanity had been renewed. It was a really awesome day.

I’m going to write a more concise, less rambling version of this and send it to the email addresses listed on The Carle’s website, since I’m not sure who to thank. And when I get my pennies from last month’s blog advertising I’m going to be buying a membership to show my support (the museum is a non-profit who relies on memberships and donations). Plus I’ll be buying the next year’s worth of birthday and Christmas gifts for everyone I know from their gift shop. It’s one of those instances when Pay It Forward doesn’t seem like enough, but I’m sure going to try.

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#HappyBirthdayPigeon!

*In the cute little animated film version, it was pronounced “Nuffle”, which made me very happy.

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DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

I bought this huge canvas at A.C. Moore a few months ago. They were running an great sale on canvases – I think I bought it for less than $20 – and I’ve been looking for something large to hang over the fireplace basically since the day we moved in 6 years ago. I’ve hung collections of things, put giant vases on the mantel, made banners and art before but nothing has ever really filled the space the way I wanted. I knew a 3×4 canvas would finally be the right size but it’s been sitting in my basement for weeks now while I brainstormed what exactly I should do with it. I am decidedly NOT an artist, and although I found some cool DIY art on Pinterest I wasn’t in love with any of the ideas (and wasn’t confident in my ability to execute them).

DIY Giant Silhouette

While I was talking with my IBFF (internet best friend forever) Amy, she suggested doing silhouettes of the kids. She actually made one and blogged it almost two years ago (and shouts me out in the post, because seriously IBFF!) so I used the same basic idea – took a picture of the kids’ profiles in front of a window, printed them and cut the shape out carefully. But because I wanted to make GIANT painted silhouettes I had to figure out the rest on my own.

Supplies:

Canvas
Spray paint
Craft paint
Paint brushes (at least 1 small and 1 large)
Cardstock
Printer
Scissors/craft knife
Box
Pen
Clothespin/tape/paperclip/whatever you need to get the angles right
Smartphone with flashlight app (or a very strong flashlight)

Instructions:

I took my canvas outside to paint it, which wasn’t the best choice because it was pretty windy and I ended up with spray paint on my back door. Eh, not the first time.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Ignore the tree shaddows

I picked blue for my background colors since I was hanging it in a blue room but any colors would work. In a kid’s room a whole rainbow would be really fun. If you were just doing 1 silhouette instead of two you could do it vertically.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

 

From top to bottom: white base paint for a picture frame, kitchen stool, nursery project, picture frame, kid-size cabinet, and failed lamp shade project. All found in my basement with enough left for this project.

I lined them up from darkest to lightest and worked from the outside in on the canvas. Then I went back and used the white to lighten anywhere it felt REALLY uneven. This is what it looked like in the bright outside light:

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

I’m not going to win any painting contests but I like it (and E was surprised I had made it myself – he thought it was actual art). I let the spray paint dry for a few hours – there wasn’t a lot of paint so it didn’t take long – while I talked the kids into posing for their profile photos. They were both in cooperative moods so it didn’t take long.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Try to get a picture where your kid’s nose DOESN’T blend into the background. It still worked fine.

To make the cutting edges more distinct I lowered the blacks slider and converted the pictures to black and white in Lightroom (totally optional). Then I printed them out on cardstock (I happened to have brown, but the color doesn’t matter) and cut out just the silhouettes as closely and cleanly as possible.

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Then came the hardest part: figuring out how to get that cut-out silhouette big enough to trace onto the canvas.

My first thought was I’d just hold one up next to a lamp and trace the shadow, sort of like a super-simple version of a projector. Unfortunately, a regular light bulb doesn’t direct the light strongly enough to make a crisp shadow. I tried to make a DIY projector with a cardboard box taped over the lamp but it still wasn’t clear enough.

I tried asking the internet and my husband and they both suggested I find an overhead projector so I called the library and after a lot of shuffling departments and waiting on hold they said yes they DID still have a projector and if I wanted to bring my canvas in they could set me up in one of the conference rooms on Wednesday. That would have been a good option if I hadn’t figured out an at-home solution. I got impatient waiting for Wednesday and during a little more Googling I found a tip that the flashlight app on a smartphone makes a really bright, direct light.

So I made this:

DIY Shadow Projector

That’s my iPhone with the flashlight app turned on, propped up against a book inside an empty box, with the silhouette clipped to the end with a clothespin. I set it on the coffee table and pulled it back until it the shadow was the right size on the canvas. You definitely need a dark room to make it work right, but luckily the sun goes down around 8 pm (I think it’s called “night”?) so I didn’t have to move the canvas.

DIY Shadow Projector

I traced it with a regular ballpoint pen, being careful not to move the canvas. I should have used a level and a measuring tape to space the two silhouettes exactly right, but I just guessed based on the color stripes on the canvas. Then I switched out Caroline’s silhouette for Evan’s, moved the canvas (it seemed easier than moving the light projector set up) and traced Evan’s. I adjusted the distance a little to make his silhouette slightly bigger than Caroline’s but not so much the finished product would look unbalanced.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

I used black craft paint to fill in the silhouette shapes. I used a medium brush to do the major edges and a tiny brush to do things like their bangs and Caroline’s eyelashes. I filled everything in with a medium sized brush and went back over the edges to make sure they were colored in fully. I messed up both their noses a tiny bit and noses are very important in making a silhouette that looks like your child, so be extra careful. I did NOT wait long enough for it to dry before I propped it up on the mantel, so I got a black paint drip on Evan’s side. Luckily the cheap craft store brand of paint was easy to peel off the spray painted canvas so I fixed it. The other option would have been taping up the silhouette and spray painting over the mistake.

The last step was finally taking down the train station banner from Evan’s birthday party and putting a nail in the wall to hang it up!

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Aaaand then take some pictures. I’m happy with how it turned out. High fives for easy, inexpensive artwork!

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Ta-da! I’m so excited to finally have something to fill that space after six years. Total cost: $25 for the canvas sinceI had everything else on hand and approximately 45 minutes worth of total work. Let me know if you try something similar, I’d love to see your spin on it!

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Paper Culture Bamboo Wall Art Review

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

You know what I love about the business end of blogging? Getting a chance to work with brands I already use and recommend. I ordered Caroline’s birth announcements from Paper Culture (Although for the LIFE of me I can’t find them on the blog – did I not post it? I know I ordered so many I sent them to everyone from my old boss to the mailman)(It was this one, in case you were curious) because I won a credit on another blog. They were the nicest, best quality stationary I’ve ever ordered. Paper Culture uses beautiful, thick, 130-lb weight card stock AND rounded corners on their announcements. Rounded corners are pretty much my favorite thing. Add their fun, modern typography and their commitment to being extremely eco-friendly and you get a brand that is totally doing it right.

So when I was offered a credit to Paper Culture through the Global Influence Network in exchange for sharing my experience with you I jumped at the chance. Especially since Paper Culture has just launched a new product – bamboo wall art.

I am a huge fan of any company that turns my photos into art without needing a frame. I’ve ordered several before – mounted on foam board or on canvas – but the bamboo wall art is by FAR the nicest. The photo is perfectly crisp and clear, even though it was blown up to 8.5 inches square. The interface is simple and easy to understand. There are options with text, options with several photos and the one I went with, a plain photo. My only complaint was that the photo editing software built in to the Paper Culture site is TOO much fun. It took me an hour just to pick the perfect photo and then another hour playing with black and white, tints, effects (very Instagramesque) and sharpness.

In the end I used just a tiny color bump and a crop to turn one a snapshot of Caroline swinging into the newest piece in my family room wall gallery.

paper culture bamboo wall art review

My gallery was a little light on Caroline pictures so I’m thrilled to have a new one. Plus I love how she’s checking out baby 8 month old Caroline walking on the beach.

paper culture bamboo wall art review

I’m not sure how exactly the get the photo on the bamboo, but it looks flawless.

paper culture bamboo wall art review

The unfinished bamboo edge is cool and almost unnoticeable when it’s hanging on the wall – it just looks like it’s floating.

paper culture bamboo wall art review

I love her, her swing and this piece so, so much.

I realize with the yellow wall and the weird lighting in the room the wall art looks weird in every single shot – but I promise in person it is nicer than any of these. Comparable to a professional print.

 If you have a photo you’re dying to get up on the wall, I found this on the Paper Culture site: Save 25% off all Bamboo Wall Art by entering voucher code: BAMB25 on the Review Order page before Aug 15, 2012. I’m going to keep my eye out for more codes, since I’m guessing the grandparents would LOVE these as Christmas presents.

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I was given a $50 credit towards my purchase at Paper Culture in exchange of my honest review through the Global Influence Network. No other compensation was provided.

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Inspiration Execution

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Thanks to Pinterest (don’t know what that is? I recommend this brilliant how-to-use Pinterest post written by a very talented blogger)(spoiler alert: it was me) I’ve been inspired to make a bunch of stuff recently. Or at least attempt to make a bunch of stuff. I’m having some extreme spray-paint related angst. I am TERRIBLE at spray painting stuff. It’s a really debilitating condition, like people who can’t park straight or say “supposably”. So I gave up on a few ideas and wandered around Michael’s Crafts staring at other kinds of paint until I was struck with new, better ideas. I think I’ve used up all my crafting energy for the next month and a half though so don’t worry about me trying to turn this into a craft blog.

Here are my successful non-spray paint related crafts from this weekend:

 

Buttons + corks = stamps

They actually work pretty well! Even better on soft stuff, like bubble mailers.

Corks + hot glue = trivet. I KNEW drinking all that wine would come in handy.

Scrabble Letter Shadow Box

Toddler involved craft project:

My little Picasso helped me paint

This is the glass from an $8 frame I bought at the craft store. I helped Little Evan paint directly on one side with green, blues and white. After it dried I painted over his paint with yellow. When I turned it over, this is the side that shows through the frame.

 

Then I Googled "quotes about creativity" until I found one I liked, printed it on clear full-sheet label, trimmed it a little and stuck it on the front side of the glass. Voila: Art! The two other frames are just plastic paper holders from Staples. It takes 3 seconds to switch out the pictures so it will be a rotating display of Little Evan's creations.

Inspiration for some of the projects found here on my Crafty Pinterest board.

Now, does anyone have any suggestions for turning a plain beige metal filing cabinet into something prettier? AND DON’T SAY SPRAY PAINT.

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