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The Forest's Secret

The Forest's Secret

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Closeup of makeup and details.

Closeup of makeup and details.

The day I conceived of this particular character for dreamscapes, I was mindlessly doodling in a notepad. I drew a cluster of spheres and decided to draw hair on those spheres, and then a head attached to the hair, and a neck, and suddenly I’d sketched out an unusually tall forest nymph adorned with a massive skirt made of ferns, a lavish headdress made of moss balls, and a corset made entirely of bark. And so it began.

A concept, for me, always begins with mentally mapping out all of the steps it will take from conception to actualization before the image will come to fruition. Logistics can prove to be quite tricky, depending on how complex an idea is. I knew one of the most challenging pieces of this equation would be the headdress. At first it was going to be large moss-covered balls that would be entwined in the model’s hair, but as I began my mental-mapping process, I realized I wanted something different—something more. I imagined a headpiece that would curl up from the model’s head, completely covered in pinecones. At that point, I began collecting pinecones each day when I’d go out walking with Ziggy, my dog. I also recruited my good friend Austin to help with collection, as I knew he frequented areas with differing pinecones from the ones I’d been collecting.

Soon after, I began researching for the corset. I knew I wanted it to be made of bark, but I also needed it to be functional and flattering. I’ve always loved the bark on birch trees—peeling the bark off is oddly satisfying, and I knew of some birch trees nearby that were shedding quite nicely. I collected a large pile of the paper-thin bark, and then ordered a simple white corset off of eBay. Logistically speaking, I was hoping that hot glue would do the trick, and it ended up working out very well, which was a relief. I was concerned that because the bark was so thin, it might rumple under the heat. There was a small amount of rumpling, but I found that if I smoothed the hot glue out underneath the bark as I pressed it onto the fabric, the wrinkles were minimal, at best. As soon as the corset arrived in the mail, I put it on my dress form and slowly began gluing bark pieces on, over the course of a few days. The patchiness was troublesome, as it looked a bit cobbled together, but then I decided I’d simply fill in some of the “seams” with moss, closer to the date of the shoot.

Corset completed, prior to moss and ivy detailing, and Ziggy eating dinner in the background.

Corset completed, prior to moss and ivy detailing, and Ziggy eating dinner in the background.

Meanwhile, I was in close correspondence with Meredith, the beautiful model pictured in the image. She had contacted me on Facebook with a very touching story, and it sounded as though she and I were kindred spirits, of a sort. I was thrilled by her enthusiasm, and although she is based in Portland, she was more than happy to travel up to create with me. It is quite likely that Mer will be a frequently used model for this series, so expect to see more of her lovely face.

I knew that the skirt would need to be made the weekend of the shoot, so I settled on purchasing a simple white hoop skirt and worrying about the logistics later.

I realized that the concept I had envisioned for the headdress was very much shaped like a cornucopia, so I made a trip to Goodwill, and lo and behold, a cornucopia the perfect size for someone’s head was sitting on a shelf for three dollars! Honestly, it’s pretty amazing the sorts of things you can find at thrift stores. I decided to have the front of the headdress covered in larger pinecones, and then the tip covered in smaller ones (a cone gradient?). Austin and I speculated about the technicalities involved in attaching pinecones to it—at first I thought hot glue, this magical liquid, could certainly do the trick, but we realized that due to the shape of the pinecones, it likely wouldn’t hold up well, and they would possibly fall off. Austin offered to instead hand sew the pinecones to the cornucopia… Let’s just say that that became an incredibly daunting task for him, but in the end, it came together beautifully, and I can’t thank him enough for his patience in helping out with it.

As the character’s outfit began to really flesh itself out within my skull, I realized that the white of the birch bark and the green of the skirt would be nicely balanced if the headdress were mostly white. I picked up some white spray paint and Austin and I spent an evening outside his house, painting all of the various cones we’d gathered. Well…technically we tried painting them inside my house (as I don’t have a yard…), and though it worked, we decided gassing ourselves was probably not in our best interest. I amuse myself at how impatient I can be with my ideas at times—I get so eager to start executing them and making them a reality that I do things like spray-painting in the kitchen. I *know* how idiotic that was… It all worked out in the end, anyhow!

Meredith and I gluing on the very first ferns to the skirt.

Meredith and I gluing on the very first ferns to the skirt.

The weekend of the shoot arrived, and the afternoon prior to the day of the shoot, Meredith, Austin, and I all went to my woods and gathered a boatload of ferns and a huge blanket of moss, taking care to snip leaves from many different ferns, so as not to diminish the area. We loaded up four sacks full of the stuff, confident it would be enough for the skirt... That evening, Meredith and I began gluing the ferns onto the hoop skirt, starting from the bottom and working our way up, layering as we went. I wanted to leave an open V in the front, where I’d later be gluing fresh moss, to create the illusion of an opening in the skirt. Austin diligently continued sewing on pinecones to the cornucopia headpiece…contraption. About 2/3 of the way up the skirt, we ran out of ferns. I resolved to go out to the forest on my own, first thing the next morning, while Mer was having her makeup done, to gather up the last bit of ferns to finish the skirt. Meanwhile, I began gluing moss to the seams of the corset. Austin finished up the headdress, which looked spectacular (even better than I’d originally imagined it might), and then we added on moss for detailing and to break up the white.

Finally, the day of the shoot was upon us. I’d been hoping for nothing short of a miracle in terms of the weather, as my vision involved brilliant rays of light shooting over the model’s shoulders from behind, enveloping her in a soft cocoon of light. However, Mother Nature saw fit to bestow me with rain. Lots of it. With Meredith having traveled up for the weekend from Portland, we simply had to make do. I’d scouted a location just a few minutes down the street from where I live—an area I’d been eyeing for the past year at least. A small patch of forest overrun by ivy, licking up the trees and covering the forest bed with green vines and leaves. When we arrived, the rain had made everything shiny and saturated with color—it was even more beautiful than I’d imagined, and I knew immediately that even without the light I’d hoped for, the shot would come out.

Lauren braiding Meredith's hair while Austin sports the headdress.

Lauren braiding Meredith's hair while Austin sports the headdress.

Affixing the headdress was damn near impossible. We ended up using twine to tie it under Meredith’s chin, and then stuffed the back end of the cornucopia with socks of mine for stability and support. While Lauren, the makeup artist, worked on Meredith’s makeup, I was frantically glueing the last ferns to the skirt. I realized that transporting the skirt would not be an easy task, as folding it was no longer an option. I feared that many of the ferns would fall off in the process… We ended up delicately laying it in the back of my hatchback—some ferns were lost, but not too many, thankfully. Meredith got into the car with the headdress on, and the weight of it was so uncomfortable that she found herself propping the headdress onto the headrest while I drove, to release pressure.

Meredith wearing the completed headdress on our way to the location--due to its weight, she was resting by balancing it on the headrest. The ferns creeping into the front of the car are the massive skirt that we somehow managed to fit in my backseat.

Meredith wearing the completed headdress on our way to the location--due to its weight, she was resting by balancing it on the headrest. The ferns creeping into the front of the car are the massive skirt that we somehow managed to fit in my backseat.

We parked just about a block down the street from the location, and, in the pouring rain, carried the massive skirt, stool, ladder, tripod, and other various necessities down the street to the location. There was a fair amount of gawking, to say the least. It was pouring down rain the entire time, of course.

Finally at the location, we had to guide Meredith into the skirt, having her step into it from above. I had her stand on a small stool once in place for the image, to create the illusion of her being just a bit taller. The headdress had a habit of sliding around on her head, so for many of the shots, Austin had to help hold it in place.

It was freezing, and wet, and there was my concept, standing before me, amid the lush greenery, a far-off whimsical look in her eyes. As I was shooting, I knew that this was just the beginning of something very big for me. The elation I felt at seeing this character come to life was quite honestly indescribable. This unnamed character I created is the protector of this forest’s most precious possession, the pinecone in her arms. Meredith gently cradled the forest’s “egg,” and though my fingers had gone numb some time earlier, I was ultra focused as I snapped one shot after another.

Austin helping adjust the headdress.

Austin helping adjust the headdress.

Calling it magical is, I’m sure, a tired thing to say, but it was nothing short of that. I cannot wait to see where dreamscapes will take me, and I cannot wait to share it with everyone.

Me capturing the magic while Austin supports the weight of the headdress.

Me capturing the magic while Austin supports the weight of the headdress.


Model: Meredith Adelaide
MUA: LC Hair and Makeup
Assistant: Austin Tott | Photography