Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Finding Stillness

What do you do when one of your oldest and most treasured blogging friends announces that she will be holding a still life photography workshop for three magical days at her brand new studio in Rivers, Manitoba . . . and another of your oldest and dearest blogging friends invites you to come stay at her house just twenty minutes from the workshop . . . and those two sweet friends also happen to be among your favorite photographers in the entire world?

If you're me, you thank your lucky stars, and you book a flight to Manitoba.  

In my post last week I mentioned that I've been a thousand miles away both literally and figuratively.  Really, I've been two thousand miles away, but the miles cannot begin to measure what my time at Kim Klassen's The Studio meant to me.  

Finding Stillness was much more than a workshop.   

It was a time and a place where we had the freedom to set up a shot, and to keep coming back to it as the sun moved across the sky over the course of the day--no distractions, no responsibilities, no other task than to play with color and focus and shadows and light.

It was a space filled with well-worn tables and chipped-paint chairs and shelves of cups and bowls and books for us to use as we practiced making magic.  

Kim Klassen giving a demonstration on how she makes her magic

It was also the place where after years and years, I finally got to meet my two incredible friends for real . . . and to watch them work . . . and to soak up their brilliance.

Aeleen Sclater setting up a shot

Barb Brookbank, Diana Foster, Kim Klassen, and Shelley Rounds out for a morning walk on the trail

And it was, perhaps most importantly, three whole days that I got to spend with ten inspiring and talented photographers from the United States, Canada, and the UK.     

Carol Hart and Diana Foster

We talked shop--lighting, cameras, lenses, techniques and tips--but we also talked life.  And we laughed.  A lot. 

Ilse preparing a gorgeous salad while Xanthe Berkley, Barb Brookbank, and Barbara Skrobuton shoot

We also ate the most delicious and nourishing food, cooked by Kim's mom as well as by Aeleen, and by Aeleen's friend Ilse, an incredible chef who graciously let us photograph her preparing our gourmet lunch on the final day of the workshop.  It was a relief to be in a room full of people who not only didn't roll their eyes when I grabbed my camera to take endless shots of a gorgeous basket of peppers or a bowl of fresh salad tossed with line vinaigrette, they grabbed their cameras, too, and we all happily snapped away.

And then there was the stillness.  I found it each day in moments both expected and surprising.  We all shared an hour a day of silence, during which we were free to keep photographing or to process shots, read a book, write, take a nap--whatever our hearts desired.  I treasured those hours, as I'm naturally a pretty introverted person who loves to spend most of my time working in silence.  

But I discovered many times of quiet stillness throughout the day, even working side by side with other photographers.  It was easy to simply be.  Kim created such a light-filled and welcoming space that I think we all felt at home, whether we were gathered around Carol Hart giving a shop talk on using studio lighting or watching Xanthe Berkley make one of her incredible stop-motion animations or learning the secrets to gorgeous top-down shots from Barb Brookbank.  

The feeling of home extended beyond the four walls of Kim's studio to the town of Rivers itself, where we took walks, went out for supper, and popped into some of the local shops.  Everywhere we went in this small prairie town, people welcomed us, asked where we were from, and swapped stories.  I can't imagine a more perfect spot for a photography retreat.

Kim's sweet dog Ben was our muse and companion.

For me, the retreat extended beyond Rivers all the way to Aeleen's beautiful house on the prairie.  There, I got to meet her husband and one of her sons, hang out with her in the evenings, and run out the front door, into the fields each morning with her sweet pup Zoe.

Morning light in the room where I stayed at prairiegirl's place

Everything in prairiegirl Aeleen's world is arranged with love.  The shots above and below were taken in her house.  I didn't have to set them up, because this is just how she sees things, how she crafts beautiful vignettes at every turn.   

me and beautiful pg (Aeleen)

On my last day in Manitoba, I got to roam around early in the morning, taking shots full of color and texture at Aeleen's like the one above.  And her gardens!  And her studio!  I think I need to save them for another post.  There's too much to share.

As if staying with Aeleen were not treat enough, on my last night there, she took me to her neighbor Willi's Octoberfest, where we watched the full moon rise over the fields, and I got to see the biggest, most impressive bonfire of my entire life . . . not to mention fireworks and a fire lantern being launched.  Fire was definitely the theme of the evening!  And Abba.  Did I mention Abba?  There was much dancing to Abba.  Perhaps there wasn't much stillness that one night, but it was a time I won't soon forget.

Spoons and leaves at prairiegirl studio ~ love

Since returning to my own life back on the coast of Maine, I've been swamped with work, but I've also been finding that my week in Manitoba is very much present in my mind in heart.  The people I met there, and the time we spent simply sharing our love for taking photographs, have helped me to see why I turn to my camera so often, why I set up corners all over my house, always chasing the light, always seeking to discover a mood, a moment of stillness that once I've captured it, will always be mine . . . and maybe someone else's, too.  


I found myself using one hashtag again and again on my Instagram account while I was in Manitoba: #feelingblessed.  Thank you Kim, Aeleen, Xanthe, Carol, Diana, Barb, Brenda, Dorry, Shelley, and Barbara for three days full of more blessings than I can count.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015


I have been a thousand miles away--for real and true.  There is much to tell, and I will, but for now there is October, the clear light it brings, and the days that disappear to dusk when I look away, when I take a breath, when I least expect.

Each leaf that shifts to gold on the maple outside my window is another blessing.  We will rake them, pile them out behind the shed, let them take their sweet time to turn to magic for the borders and the raised beds.  And there are bulbs for planting.  I'll haul out the barrow and the heavy spade, dig troughs for crocuses and daffodils.  There will be whole hills and mountains of snow between now and the next full bloom, but gardeners bank on hope, and October's sunlight gives just enough to keep me until spring.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Strawberries and Sunshine

I have lost count of the number of quarts of strawberries we've eaten so far this summer.  If it's true that you are what you eat, then I am on the verge of actually becoming a strawberry.  We grow beautiful strawberries in our garden, but the squirrels steal them, so I buy mine from local farmers, which is just fine by me.  Before we ate the last quart, I managed to stop munching on them long enough to do a still life shoot.  I could seriously take photos of these little gems all day.  I believe they are among the most photogenic of all foods.  The backdrop of the top shot is the inside of a vintage picnic hamper.  It's the loveliest shade of forest green--just right as a shadowbox.  The white berry basket is one I bought on sale at Anthropologie last week. Maybe they still have some left . . .

We have just been enjoying the berries fresh with Greek yogurt or a little light cream--or straight out of the box, but I do love them in baked goods, too, so I thought I'd share a link to one of my favorite summertime treats: strawberry-rhubarb crisp.  This one's from Ina Garten, and I've made it a few times.  Pure heaven!

And here's a recipe that I'll definitely be trying; this one's from Gena Hamshaw at Food52.  It's a vegan strawberry vanilla coconut ice cream.  I feel like I need to make it before the season is completely over.  Maybe it's time to invest in an ice-cream maker!!!  If you have one that you love, please let me know the brand. :)

If you live in the US, hope you've been having a joyous and relaxing Fourth of July weekend filled with firecrackers and, what else, strawberry shortcake.

Back with more summer treats soon, chickadees!  xo Gigi

Friday, June 12, 2015

Moody Me

Hello, my friends!  I can't begin to tell you how much I have missed being here on the blog this past month.  There I had made a big promise to post about our Brimfield adventures, and then I just fell off the map.  Two things happened: first, my little Brimfield post kept growing and growing into a big, all-encompassing flea market post.  Not unlike Brimfield itself, it started spilling out over the sides and becoming a little more than I could handle in just one brief post, so I've decided to develop it more and take my time with it.  Second, my life speeded up much faster than I had planned.  I have too much on my plate with work right now, and I haven't been able to keep up with, well, much else.  

But all that is boring.  All that matters is that I'm here now.  I managed to steal some time this week to do a still life shoot or two--woohoo!  The shot above is a vase I inherited from my Memere.  It's filled with purple and chartreuse posies from our gardens.  The backdrop is an old, beat up blackboard.  The fabric is a pretty scarf I bought in London at Spitalfields.  The lighting is my steady favorite--the moody north light I get coming through the window in my study/studio.  Have I told you before that this window is beside the bathroom door, so I end up doing a lot of shoots against that door, which often means blocking access to the bathroom for hours.  Good thing we have a second bathroom downstairs!

I was thrilled to discover this morning that the photo had been included by my amazing friends Kim and Aeleen in their #fouriadorefriday feature on Instagram.  You can take a peek at the beautiful grid they selected here.

This week here in coastal Maine we are finally having springish/summerish weather!!!  The sun is shining and the gardens are bursting with life.  I'm working in them whenever I have a moment to spare.  You'd think all my photos at the moment would be flooded with light and white and beachy sunshine, but I'm kind of loving dwelling in the darker, moodier realm right now.  The shot below is a "portrait" of Mr. Magpie.  Those who know him know why this is a portrait.  ;)

Sending a warm hug, lovelies!  More very soon.  xoxo Gigi

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Vintage Spring

Hello, chickadees!  Just stopping in to share some spring blossoms.  The crabapple is blooming in the front yard, and the lilacs and azaleas have just joined in, too.  Next up will be the viburnums and rhodies, and then the weigelas, mock oranges, and bridal veil spirea will follow not long after that.  

Life is a rush of activity this spring, but we did take one day to hit Brimfield Flea Market with our friend Kazeem, from Portland Trading Co.  I'll have some photos and finds to share soon!

My photo above was featured by DistressedFX on their Instagram feed and Facebook page this week.  If you haven't tried this app, I recommend it for photos that you want to really manipulate and push in exciting directions.  I use this app as well as Stackables to create moody effects for some of my iPhone photos.  I think I ended up using both apps on the top photo of the crabapple blossoms.  Before I used the textures, though, I upped the exposure and desaturated the photo a bit.  The background of that photo is my picnic table, which most people would think really needs a paint job, but I use it a lot for photos, so it will stay shabby chic a while longer.  ;)  

For photos I take with my big girl camera, I often use fewer textures and stick to subtler processing techniques in Lightroom.  I do some of that processing from scratch or with my own presets, but I also use presets by other folks, including this exciting new set from Kim Klassen.  Presets provide me with so much flexibility, and they give me ideas for creating several moods with one shot.  If you've never tried them before, take a peek at Kim's collection.  I think you will love it.

Vintage finds from Brimfield in the next post!  I have some exciting things to show you.  

Happy weekend, my friends! 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dreams and Schemes

I've been working in the garden whenever I have a little spare time, which usually means early morning or just before sunset--the two most beautiful times of day.  We spread yards and yards of compost last week, and still have more to go on some of the beds, but I'm not rushing.  These are days meant to be savored.  As you an see, the fritillaria and 'thalia' daffodils are blooming this week, as are the primroses and grape hyacinths.  The tulips are just about to open, and in the woodland gardens, things like epimedium and lungwort are at their peak.

I've allowed myself to cut and bring inside just a few specimens for still lifes, as usual.  I always love photographing them, but I love them in the garden even more.  As much as I enjoy arranging large, elaborate bouquets (just wait until the dahlias and roses are blooming) I also love really simple clusters of flowers--not arranged at all, but just tossed in a dundee jar.  They say springtime to me.  In a couple of photos below, I've included my latest find, this sweet little watering can, which I bought at my friend Melissa's incredible garden-inspired shop here in Portland.  If you are ever visiting coastal Maine, a stop at Fiachre is a must!

Oddly enough, I had begun taking some shots of the watering can and flowers over the weekend, and then I saw my friend Kim's latest prompt in the Online Studio: Potting Bench!  Well, that was an easy one, since my shots already looked like potting bench-inspired photos.  As I took these, I thought a lot about my plans for the garden this year.  In the photo below, you'll see that my gardening journal is opened up to a page I sketched our first fall in this house.  Nothing really ended up as I'd planned it, of course, but that's not the point.  I love dreaming and scheming, and discovering surprises along the way.  Among the surprises in the garden this spring are the lady's mantles that have self-seeded, which I was hoping they'd do, but you can never plan for these kinds of happy accidents.  I'm also excited to see that the lilacs, which I've trimmed back hard for two years, are looking the best they've been yet.  Soon there will be blooms to share.

Have I told you that I'm devoting one of the raised beds to nothing but cutting flowers this year?  I can't wait to see how it turns out, but in the meantime, I am loving the elegant fritillaria, with their little checked blossoms, hanging like plum bells beneath the wings of the white daffodils in the early morning light.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Being in the Moment

End of the Day, Town Landing, Falmouth, Maine

Spring in our house always feels jam-packed.  The to-do lists are long, the days fly by, and suddenly, after winter's long semi-hibernation, I wish I only needed about two hours of sleep a night.  There just aren't enough hours in a day for us to do the work that pays the bills plus do the million and one house projects that somehow feel most urgent in spring plus keep up with the classes I'm taking, plus get my own writing projects done, plus see friends and family plus workout daily plus cook meals plus--and most pressing and exciting for me--work in the garden.

Just Before Dusk, Congress Square, Portland, Maine

I'm grateful for my iPhone camera, because it reminds me in the midst of all of these tasks and commitments (so many of which I love) to pause and breathe and just take note of what's around me.  My word for the year is "see," and I live in a part of the world where so much of what there is to see is beautiful.  But I see what's not beautiful, too, and I believe that's just as important.    

Early Morning on Moulton Street, Portland, Maine
So many of us feel rushed and stressed these days more than ever.  I think that as much as we love them, our technologies--our phones and laptops and various other gadgets and devices--play a big part in this stress and in this feeling of never being able to truly shut down, rest, retreat.  It's up to us to take charge and use this incredible technology for our own benefit--to determine how we use it rather than letting it gradually take over.  So, I love to use my phone to take photos of simple, quiet moments.  I share some, but many more I just keep for myself to enjoy.  I also make sure that when I go for walks or out to eat I don't always bring my phone with me.  Sometimes it's best to just be in the moment, no need to record it.  I don't need a photo of every pretty latte I drink or every gorgeous rose I see.  That makes the photos I do take all the more precious to me.

I'd love to know what you do to slow down and relax.  What helps you rest and recharge?
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