Mannequin Avenue

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Dang, I have been busy with these mannequin heads, y’all:

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First of all, I got the idea to stick a bunch of fake fruit to one of my mannequin heads. I really don’t know why this idea came to me, but once the thought occurred to me to do it I had to give it a go.

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I used double-sided tape to stick some fake fruit to the mannequin; I actually don’t have that much fake fruit – I used Photoshop to duplicate the grapes and stick’em all on there.

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I call this “The Grapehawk”

This one is my favorite of the fake fruit shots. Somehow my edits ended up making the mannequin’s face look so real, it’s almost creepy:

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What should I call this one? The Pear Devil? 

I also gave her a grape beard in one shot:

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Now, some of you may remember that when I tried out all those Oribe products, I mentioned how shiny and metallic silver the Silverati shampoo is, and how much I wanted to take pics of it running down my face. That would have been pretty messy to do, but when using a mannequin as a model, it was just crazy easy:

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I really only took pictures of one mannequin. I composited this shot and changed the face a bit on one of the images so they didn’t look exactly the same. 

These mannequin heads are so ridiculously easy to work with. The have these perfectly smooth, proportioned faces and they’re easy to manipulate as well as glue stuff to or smear crap all over. When I was done, I was able to just wash the old gal off with a rag and call it a day.

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The perfect “skin” tones on these mannequins make them super-easy to overmanipulate in processing. I don’t have to worry about uneven skin tones that don’t match up – and this all led to an absolute photo-editing frenzy. I started out simple enough, but as time went on I started to really go to town with the color and shading:

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See what I mean? The mannequin is such a great ‘blank’ canvas for some awesome edits and I can really cut lose in all sorts of ways I’ve never done before.

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Not to mention how easy the setup and breakdown is. I managed to shoot all these photos this morning before heading out to tutor in the afternoon. Usually that’s not even remotely possible – it takes me at least an hour to put on my makeup and then after the shoot is done, I have to wash it all off again. Not to mention how much longer it takes me to shoot myself as opposed to a perfectly still doll head.

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And I didn’t even need any fancy lighting, just my camera with my external flash. Heaven!

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I am sure eventually I’ll get bored with these mannequins, but then again, there’s all sorts of mannequins out there with all sorts of faces, and they do whatever I want them to do without complaining. The perfect models!

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I can’t believe how many photos I was able to take as well as edit today, while also eating two meals, tutoring a student, and swimming for half an hour. I’m over the moon with this new direction!

 

Hello Dolly

Recently I was in the Goodwill store by my house when I came across one of those big doll styling heads kids sometimes play with:

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I’ve photographed dolls before, but never ones that were so big I could put my wigs on them and really play around with the facial features in post. Needless to say, it made a difference:

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All three of these shots came from a quick photo where I just stood the doll head on a table and took a snap. I used my Portrait Pro, PhotoToolbox, and MakeupDirector software to alter the doll’s face to look different in each shot. Then, after seeing how easy she was to work with, I started to get more creative with my shots, adding wigs and wind (of course, because you know how I love hair that blows about) and taking pictures from different angles:

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Same wig as the shots below, I just put it on the doll head backwards

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I was having a hard time getting the wig to blow around dramatically, however, because I had to sit the doll head on a table and could only get the fan to hit the hair fiber from certain directions. I wanted to be able to get the fan up under the doll as I thought that would create more interesting shapes with the wigs, and then I remembered that I had two wig mannequin heads that have holes in the bottom so they can be put onto a stand. Bingo!

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I have many ideas for where to go from here, and putting wigs on a doll head is WAY quicker to set up for and easier to shoot than putting the wigs on, and photographing, myself. I also feel more free to go crazy with the processing, since the subject isn’t a real human to start with, and I’m having fun working with some filters I don’t normally use, like Topaz’s Impressions filter, which transforms photo into faux-paintings or sketches.

I can easily set up and shoot some wig shots this way every day without it being a big ordeal, so expect to see more doll shots coming soon! I am, of course, already on the lookout for more heads – the wig mannequins are definitely easier to use, but damn they are expensive, as opposed to the wig-styling kids’ toys that can be found used for around three bucks. I’ll be hitting up eBay for mannequin heads today, and we’ll see what I find. 😉 There are also some really freaky mannequin heads out there, so finding some of those for cheap would be a real bonus.

 

Well Red

Recently I’ve been playing around with my makeup. A lot. In fact, every morning I watch CNN in my bathroom and spend about an hour viewing YouTube videos and learning how to apply my makeup better or style my hair differently. It’s actually become a fun part of my morning routine, and for someone who has NEVER had any skill at makeup application, well, I guess finally figuring it out at age 48 is better than never learning at all. I know it’s not time spent making the world a better place or anything, but it puts me in a much better mood for the day, which certainly isn’t making the world worse. So there you go.

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Some of the cool things I’ve learned recently are how to effectively apply winged liquid eyeliner (the key: pull the eyelid way out and extend the line so far out that it looks ridiculous, because when you let go of the lid it will just barely extend past the outer corner of your eye and look amazing) and how to apply a fairly decent red lip (still working on this one, actually). In fact, on my recent trip to my local MAC counter to pick up a few more bright lipsticks, blushes, and shadows, the makeup artist actually complimented the eyeshadow I’d meticulously applied that morning, and having never, EVER been complimented on my makeup application before, that thrilled me to a ridiculous degree.

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Now, before you get too confused, keep in mind that most of the makeup I have on in my photos has been Photoshopped to perfect all the blending and application flaws I always make. My general method is to apply a ton more makeup than usual, just so it all shows up, and then pull it all together when editing. And as much as I love using bright colors for my photos, in real life I’ve never, EVER worn anything other than neutral makeup shades. I’ve tried on occasion, but always felt terribly overdone with a bright red lip or a multi-colored eyeshadow trio on my lids. My general palette for the past 15-20 years has basically been neutral, golden browns on my eyes, cheeks, and lips, with foundation and powder – period. But, it’s finally happened – my skin has reached that stage where it really does call for more color, and all those neutrals were starting to wash me out. Not only that, but they were also starting to bore me, and lately I’ve been wanting to have way more fun with my face. So, here I am.

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I’m also loving my new pink backdrop! It was pricey, but worth every penny.

Aside from some of the nice, bright eye shadows and blushes I’ve purchased to pop up my look, I’ve become obsessed with getting a good red lip game going. And, in typical fashion, I’ve attacked this by over-purchasing makeup products and then taking pictures of all the new shades to justify the ridiculous expense. So, lucky you – you now get to scroll through photos of NINE of the TWELVE different red lipsticks I’ve purchased over the past two weeks! Why only nine, you ask? Well, because three of the colors just didn’t photograph well for various reasons. Being me, I couldn’t just quickly take photos of all the different lipstick shades while wearing the same outfit, because that would be boring, so I made a costume change with each new color, and in one of them I wore a blue top that made me look washed out and horrible (I’ve discovered quite recently that blue just isn’t my color, but sometimes I still forget). In another one, the outfit was a mess because after about the seventh costume change I was starting to run out of ideas, and the third color went bad because, after applying and then wiping off eleven different red lipsticks, most of which were a long-wearing liquid formula, my entire mouth and chin were a disaster. On the plus side, I currently have the most exfoliated lips in history. But I digress.

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Because I actually have never gotten much into makeup and I get easily overwhelmed by the limitless array of choices available, I tend to stick to the two or three brands I know well when it comes to trying new things. I may venture out a little when I feel the need to change my foundation or some other more fundamental product (and I did, actually, change my base recently as well; I figured if I was going to change things I might as well go for broke – I went with Chanel’s Ultrawear Flawless Foundation, but I’m not wearing it in these pics because I have special, heavy-duty foundation I use for photos) so the only two lipstick lines I tried here were by MAC and Lime Crime. I’ve worn MAC since my 20s, and all my blush and eyeshadow still comes from them even though I moved on from their foundation long ago; and I’ve always liked Lime Crime’s aesthetic even though they’re more outrageous than I’ve ever worn in public – I’ve been wearing their lipsticks and shadows in my photos for years. I’ve always liked both of their long-wearing liquid lipsticks, but always took issue with the more neutral colors from both lines. In fact, I’ve always found neutral long-wearing formulations problematic; while the brighter colors maintain their pop in long-wearing lipsticks, I feel like the neutrals just go flat and gray and muddy on my lips. The only one I’ve ever liked is one I found about a year ago – Kylie Jenner’s King K (see photo above) – and it’s still my favorite neutral lip in the world which is why I have about ten unopened tubes of it in my lipstick drawer; I want to have it on-hand forever (it’s currently sold out and I don’t know if they will be re-stocking it).  And it’s still the color I wear when working; I tried wearing a bright red lip ONCE to my tutoring sessions, and when I got home in the evening after my three tutoring sessions and looked in the mirror, I was mortified. At some point while teaching and talking and driving from place to place, without any real time to look in a mirror or touch up  my makeup, that bright red had slipped completely off my lips and settled into my chin as well as my upper lip, leaving only a weird, dark red line outlining my cupid’s bow. I hate to say it, but my first thought when I saw my reflection was that I looked like I’d had a quickie in my car between sessions; it was THAT bad. I looked insane. So, I’ve never worn a red lip to a tutoring session again. But I digress again – let’s get on to the lipsticks!

#1: Psycho by Lime Crime (Velveteen long-wearing liquid)

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I played around with my eyeshadow and skin tone as I always do in these photos – but I do want to point out that I left the lipstick colors alone, so they should be pretty true to how they really look. 

One of my issues with red lipstick has always been that, on me, it always seems to turn pink when I put it on, even if it doesn’t look like it has blue undertones in the tube. So, I was careful to stay away from shades that had any sort of blue or pink in the color descriptions. Psycho, however, is about as far away from a blue undertone as I could go – it’s pretty much flat-out orange, and in real life it’s too bright to work for every day. But it’s fun, and it will work for photos, and I can see wanting to wear it every once in a while. I knew this one was a longshot when I bought it, but as with all the lipsticks I tried I got it during the Black Friday sales so I was feeling more adventurous due to the added savings.

Oh and speaking of Black Friday sales, the reason I am just now getting these colors reviewed for you when I bought them two weeks ago is because UPS had a complete meltdown after Black Friday, and took forever to deliver my packages. Here’s just one little snapshot of the sort of insanity they had going on while I waited, fairly impatiently, for my deliveries (keep in mind this is the tracking for just ONE package; I had three that were lost in the UPS loop for days and days):

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Allow me to explain.

First of all, I ship most of my packages to a shipping business that rents mailboxes; usually shipments to a business will arrive way earlier in the day than shipments to a residence, and I like knowing when a shipment is out for delivery that I will get it by 3:30 instead of at 8 PM (even if it means I have to drive up to my mailbox to get it). I also like that if something needs to be signed for, I don’t have to worry about it, because there’s always someone at my mailbox who will sign for it. So, that first reschedule above was legit, because the business was closed the day after Thanksgiving. After that, though, things just got ridiculous. There actually was NOT an adult signature required for this stuff, because IT WAS A BOX OF MAKEUP, and MAC has never required signatures on anything. So that was just a flat-out UPS lie. Then I got the dreaded “due to operating conditions” update, where “operating conditions” means “untrained, inept, and overwhelmed UPS drivers.” Then, it just goes Out For Delivery for a few days in a row without ever showing up, then it was back to requiring an adult signature again…you get the idea. Also, make note of the times of those delivery attempts – 9:42 PM, 9:35 PM, 7:55 PM. The office where I rent my mailbox closes at 6:00, and is supposed to have a shipment guarantee with UPS that all shipments will arrive by 3:30. Sigh.

Anyway, on to Lipstick #2, which is: Red Velvet by Lime Crime (Velveteen long-wearing liquid)red velvet

This is one of those reds that went pink on me; it’s described on the website as “reddest red,” which I figured probably meant it would be a blue-red, and I was right. However, I Googled all these lipstick shades before I bought them, and overall I did love the way it looked on other people, so even though I knew it was a longshot I figured I’d give it a go (what can I say – probably the Black Friday sales getting the best of me again). It’s pretty, but definitely no orange undertones in this one that makes it too pinky for my taste. It’s really too bad that in my frustration waiting for my wayward shipment with this color in it to arrive, I actually went online and placed a second order from another website in the hopes I’d get it sooner (or actually get it at all,  because I was pretty convinced that the shipment had actually been lost and was never going to arrive), because now I have two. Moving on.

Lipstick #3: Pumpkin by Lime Crime (Velveteen long-wearing liquid)

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Ah, Pumpkin. I really like this one. It’s orange, but not bright, and in more of a brick-red kind of way, so it works as a neutral red I can wear with all my neutral-toned clothes in tan and gray (I’m also working on incorporating more color into my wardrobe, but hey, let’s take this one expensive step at a time, OK?). By the way, this is probably a good time to talk about the formulation of Lime Crime’s Velveteens (the name of their long-wearing liquid lipstick line). As with all long-wearing lipsticks, these are quite dry, and in fact I find them drier than the MAC Liquid Matte lipsticks I tried. And I will say it was a Lime Crime lipstick I was wearing the night of my disastrous red-lip tutoring fiasco, so, there’s that. But, I wouldn’t say Lime Crime’s formulation is the driest I’ve ever tried, or is so dry it’s unwearable. I think it’s more that the MAC formulation is less dry than the others I’ve worn, and Lime Crime’s are the usual amount of dry, if that makes sense. I purchased MAC’s Lip Primer as an afterthought and have been wearing it underneath all of these the past few days, and I do think it helps a little, but dryness is just part of the deal with all of these matte, long-wearing, liquid lipstick lines. And although Lime Crime didn’t survive one of my marathon tutoring sessions, the truth is, nothing else I ever wear makes it through five hours of teaching, talking, and driving – not even my stand-by, still-loved King K. When I’ve worn Lime Crime out of the house for anything else, like shopping, or visiting friends, it’s held up just fine. So there you go. And while we’re at it, I might as well finish up the Lime Crime lineup all at once, so on to the last one of that batch. This one also happens to be my favorite lipstick of them all!

Lipstick #4: New Americana by Lime Crime (Velveteen long-wearing liquid)

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I. Love. This. Lipstick. 

As far as colors go, this one wins, hands-down. The color is GORGEOUS. It’s very bright, but since it maintains the orange undertone I love so much instead of leaning pink, it really makes me happy.  I have to say, if I were ranking these lipsticks, I would knock off half a star because I know the MAC formulation isn’t quite as dry, and dryness is my one tiny complaint about this one. But I think if I tried to wear something this bright and red in a non-longwearing formula, I would be a mess within twenty minutes, so overall this is a big win. As long as I get it applied right, and have time throughout the day to check myself in the mirror and touch it up now and then, it doesn’t end up all over everything (although you’ll still see some of it on your coffee cup) and stays in place. And the rich, red color is really stunning.

Which wraps up our Lime Crime reviews, and as we move on to MAC I’ll start with the red from them that I think is closest to New Americana.

Lipstick #5: Fashion Legacy by MAC (liquid matte)fashion legacy

Fashion Legacy is from MAC’s Liquid Matte line of longwearing lipsticks, and as I already mentioned, these are a little more moisturizing than Lime Crime’s Velveteens. That said, I notice a bit more color transfer onto my coffee cup with these, but they can still endure a lunch date while maintaining most of their color by the end of the meal. Fashion Legacy has the same nice, rich brightness of LC’s New Americana, but as you can see it’s also a bit more pink. Honestly, I didn’t really notice the difference all that much until I put these two pictures side by side, and Fashion Legacy can probably do anything New Americana do – but it doesn’t do it any better, to quote the song. So, this is a great one to wear if for some reason I’m wanting my lips to be more moisturized than they would be with Lime Crime’s version, and for that reason I’ll give this one four and a quarter stars (I’ve got to give New Americana my highest marks, even if it is just slightly).

Lipstick #6: Quite the Standout by MAC (liquid matte)quite the standout

Look out Westworld! I chose the black hat. 

I like this one. It’s a great orange-red, nowhere near as bright as LC’s Psycho but much more so than the brick-ness of their Pumpkin. I will get a lot of wear out of this one, even though it doesn’t make my heart go pitter-pat like New Americana does – and by the way, how great are all of these names? I even love just saying “New Americana” over and over. Quite the Standout? Fashion Legacy? All so much more lovely than the $60 Chanel foundation I just bought in “Color 40.” And speaking of names…

Lipstick #7: Lady Danger by MAC (matte lipstick – non-liquid)

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Lady Danger – how’s that for a great lipstick name? This one is one of the handful of non-liquid, non-longwear ones I tried; I thought maybe I could make a more moisturizing red lipstick work on tutoring days without coming home looking insane, but I haven’t tried it yet. I do like this color, even though I can’t tell much difference between it and Quite the Standout aside from perhaps a touch of coral in this one; since I really like how Standout looks on, what I may do is carry this one with me when wearing Quite the Standout out of the house as I could use it to moisturize my lips while adding some color if they get too dry. I don’t know; I’m really not sure why I bought this one other than to try out some non-liquid reds while I was on my Black Friday lipstick-shopping kick. I tried a few others that aren’t so entirely similar to something I already had in liquid form, but a few of them were in the batch of photos that didn’t work out, so I don’t have anything to show of them yet.

Lipstick #8: To Matte With Love (MAC Liquid Matte)to matte with love

That’s right, you guys – I even tried a pink. Me, in PINK. In a PINK LIPSTICK, y’all. Me, who never ever even wore pink in high school in the eighties, when pink lipstick was basically the only available color in the drugstore. I figured if I was trying out new things, I might as well try a pink or two, and again – BLACK FRIDAY SALE MADNESS. Plus, this one looked quite pretty and not obnoxious at all, and I actually quite like it. Not sure how much I’ll wear this one, but since I also bought some bright, deep pink eyeshadow and an awesome bright lime green, I could see putting that all together and making it work.

OK, last one for now, and it’s not all that thrilling, quite honestly:

Lipstick #9: Dangerous (MAC matte)dangerous

Why do I look so much like Jared Leto here?

First of all, this is the last lipstick I photographed, and it really shows. By this time, all the scraping and wiping I did on my lips had taken its toll; you can see how much the other colors had kind of faded into the skin around my lips here. Plus, Dangerous really doesn’t have much pigmentation at all; I think it’s buildable if you want more depth, but on its own it is rather sheer. This isn’t a bad thing, but because of that it looks more coral on me than I’d like, and I feel it’s an odd color for such a sheer formulation. For now I don’t feel like I have any real use for this one, but who knows. It might grow on me.

So at last we reach the end of this massive lipstick post. Keep in mind I still have three other shades I didn’t even review! Which one of these did you like best? Do you agree with my #1 winner, or do you like another one better? Let me know in the comments, or don’t, it’s up to you. But if you made it to the end of all of this madness, at least drop me a line in the comments and say hi, so I can thank you for your dedication. 🙂

Lessons Learned

Lots to discuss. Mostly photography nerd stuff, but some other odds and ends as well, so let’s get to it.

On the tutoring front, things are going well. Surprisingly, I have enjoyed working with my two new elementary-school students (grades 4 and 5), so much so that I plan to pick up more younger clients down the road – I just haven’t done it yet as I currently have 5 clients total and am happy with my workload for now. But when I am ready for another wave of networking, I am going to send out my information to the elementary schools in the area, which I have not done yet, and offer my tutoring to the older-level kids; I don’t think at this point I want to work with emerging readers at all, but by fourth grade kids in general are definitely reading on their own, which is the point at which I can step in and help.

And on the art project front, a longtime blogger and follower Charlotte Hoather presented an idea to me in a way that really made sense to me, and gave me a path to follow with some of the opportunities that are on the horizon.Not that I’ve actually put a package together yet; I am still working out the kinks of functioning productively with my new schedule (meaning for the most part, I am still wasting WAY too much time goofing off as opposed to working on projects) but even that is getting better. It’s been almost a year now since I left my former school, after all, so at some point I was bound to get used to my new life; it seems to finally be happening.

So now, on to the photos:

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I have been in a SERIOUS photo-taking mood lately; partly because I have had whole days to myself here and there, partly due to making some cool purchases lately I’ve been excited to work with (of the prop, costume, and software variety), and also due to learning some new techniques I am still perfecting. The results of all this have been mixed for various reasons, but the photo above is one example of a slam-dunk I’ve pulled off recently. Everything about that shot just works for me, and I’m really happy with it. Let’s get down to the specifics, for those that care. Or if you don’t, stop reading and just scroll and view the pics.
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There’s two wigs on my head in this shot

As far as props and costumes, back in December I purchased a few of these face crystal sets from Free People and I loved them, but they ran out and didn’t replace the few styles they had with anything new. The brand name FP was selling was called Body Baubles, and a quick Google search turned up a website where I could buy more sets to work with. I had a hard time choosing, but in the end I picked up 3 or 4 more sets to use (I can’t recall off-hand exactly how many). These first two shots above are using some of the “baubles” from that purchase. They are really great little accessories; the adhesive is pretty tacky (although I haven’t found them wearable more than once, and haven’t researched if there’s a way to extend their shelf life) so they definitely stay on for the duration of a shoot. I do wear them with a ton of makeup on, so maybe with lighter makeup they last for more than one wear. When editing photos, they are really easy to manipulate and move to different areas of the face, which is fun – I can put them on once and use them for several different looks, then change up where they are placed on my face via editing later. Sweet.

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A processing issue I’ve been addressing lately is my ongoing struggle with skin retouching. It’s so difficult to get it right, and for the most part the skin in my portraits has always come out too soft. It’s been bugging me for forever, but a few weeks ago I finally decided to do some internet research to try and add something to the skills I’ve already acquired via YouTube that could up my game. I found a pretty easy, albeit tedious, technique from another photographer that was pretty astounding in its simplicity – basically, you take a section of the skin that has good texture, copy it, run it through a few filters, and then paste onto sections of the skin that have lost texture and look too smooth. Not sure why I didn’t think of this before, except for the fact that it is very time consuming and boring to execute.

The idea is for the skin to be retouched so that unwanted wrinkles, shadows, and pores are minimized, which is what loads of filters will already do, but to keep the texture that makes skin look like, well, skin. Here’s an example of really amazing skin retouching, of the sort I still cannot do:

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And here is an example of ‘bad’ retouching  – no offense to the lovely ladies in the photos, of course. This is also what most skin smoothing filters will do to your skin, such as the ones you can use in a phone app or a basic photo editing program.

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I always say that portraits like this look like the subject has been sculpted out of butter; when you lose all the skin’s texture, and yes, even all the lines and pores, you end up with a photo that looks unnatural and blurred. So how to keep the lines and shadows and textures that you want, while still getting rid of the wrinkles, blemishes, and large pores that you don’t want? Well, that’s been my question forever; usually I end up somewhere between the good photo and the bad ones, but still too close to the latter for my liking.

The first thing I realized was that I needed to soften the photo less when working with the raw file, so I have more texture to work with from the beginning. The tendency is always to soften a portrait because in general that’s more flattering, but if a RAW file is softened too much you can end up without enough texture to use later. So, in my last batch of shots I was sure to keep the original sharper than I usually do, even though that means my original shots of my 47 year old skin are less complimentary than I would like. No one but me ever sees those, anyway.

The second thing I’ve been learning to do is add the right sort of texture back into the skin after attempting to retouch OUT the textures I don’t want. As I said, this can be tedious, especially if I have only really small patches of texture to work with and re-distribute over the face, but once I get this down I think the end results are going to be worth it.

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Some early attempts; I keep them bigger so hopefully you can see the skin. I think the second one is better than the first. I actually really don’t care for either one of these shots all that much. Nothing wrong with them, I just think they’re both kinda boring.

By the way, back to props: in the two photos above I am wearing this faux alpaca-fur scarf I saw a while back at Nordstrom; it really is that bright, and it is huge – when throwing it over my shoulders it looks more like a big, long fuzzy vest than a scarf. I saw it at the Galleria store and was dying for it, but it was too pricey for me at the time; later on I saw it on sale half off online and snatched it right up. I am glad I did, even though we have had NO winter here this year and I have had no reason to wear it out of the house.

All of this skin retouching stuff got me excited about working with portraits, so last Friday I decided to try another shoot and give myself some newer stuff to work with. I’ve got my Portrait Pro software down to the extent that, in most of these photos I’ve already shared, I had nothing but foundation, highlight and contour, and powder on my face in the actual shots. ALL of the color on the face, including the mascara and the eyebrows, has been added digitally. This really helps me with prep-time for taking self-portraits, as so often the amount of time putting on a full drag face is so long that by the time I am done applying, I don’t much feel like doing the work of posing for the shoot. Now I can slap on the basics fairly quickly and get to work, although applying more makeup on the front end is always going to be preferable  – something I REALLY learned in this last shoot.

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So, my basic idea was this: I’ve had some luck in the past taking half my face from one shot and layering it over another face to get the “perfect”look – in one case, for example, I loved the movement of the hair in a shot, but there was so much hair in my face it wasn’t usable as it was. I figured out how to take a section of my face from another shot and paste it over the hair-covered one, and not only did it solve the problem, it actually created a new-looking face that didn’t much look like me, but was still cool:

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You’ve seen it before, but here it is again

I am always looking for ways to make me look less like me, so I got this idea to take a bunch of shots of myself standing in the same exact position, wearing exactly the same thing, but making a ton of different faces, with the plan being to use my facial features like a digital Mrs. Potato Head during editing and just steal a nose here, a mouth there, and create all these different-looking people out of them. However, this did not end up being nearly as cool as it sounded.

The basic ‘pose’ was like the one above where I have on the head scarf: I wanted to be looking straight ahead as that is the easiest way to edit using Portrait Pro as well as being the easiest way to pose in general, which I thought would help me keep all the different shots uniform. It didn’t though – you’d be amazed how much you actually move your damn head around even when you think you’re being perfectly still! So, there was actually a lot of variation among the different shots as far as exactly where my head was positioned, which altered the light and shadows hitting the faces, too.

But that could have been worked with – here was the real problem: these shots, even though they served their purpose of having at least somewhat interchangeable facial features to play with, were basically, well, boring. I am not sure why I decided to go with a head scarf instead of a wig, except that I must have thought the presence of wig hair would either be too limiting visually or just get too much in the way of the face. That makes sense, but then I should have gone on to do some shots looking at the camera wearing some sort of hair, because while it was interesting to mix up my facial features on different shots, the end results were just lame. Just me staring at a camera with a head scarf on, period. Very little color and no point of interest, unless like me you are able to look at them and appreciate the subtle differences in my face taking the Potato Head approach renders. Which, honestly, wasn’t even THAT interesting to me! So, I found myself spending a TON of time Potato-Heading myself only to end up looking at a pretty boring photo. As a result of that, I started to add a ton of weird textures and overlays just to cure my own boredom, which isn’t really something I care to look at in the end. I love filters and overlays, but I prefer to use them subtly so that the end result still looks somewhat ‘natural’ – in other words, the filter enhances the photo without overtaking it. In these shots, I got so bored that I let the filters take over.

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You’ve already seen this one, but I’m showing it again because it’s the best example of the problem I created for myself. Although, I WAS briefly interested in the fact that I inadvertently made myself look like Ivanka Trump. 

One other thing I did during the shoot to liven things up, but that also didn’t work out all that well: a few times I held up some props to my face, thinking I could edit those elements out of the shots and apply them to my experimental faces as well – sort of like Mrs. Potato Head bonus features, if you will. But even that was primarily a fail; even though there wasn’t much going on in the initial shots that I had to deal with when compositing later, there was enough that it made it hard to use the props without them being obviously pasted onto my face. For example, I thought sticking a peacock feather over my eye would be kind of awesome; on its own it’s not such a grand idea, but if the peacock feather could look like it was actually growing out of my face it could be kinda cool. Except, when I held the feather up to my eye I didn’t center it properly, and when trying to move it around on another head shot, all the places in the original photo where the head scarf and parts of my face showed through the spines made it impossible to work with without looking totally ridiculous and I am not talented enough to highlight and copy something this intricate without screwing it up royally. To compensate for that, I filtered it to death, and what I ended up settling for in the final version was pretty much laughable and lame – when I look at this, I just think, and why does this photo even exist, exactly? It literally serves no purpose whatsoever, except to confuse the viewer as to why the photographer even wasted her time on such foolishness:

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So, Ivanka Trump, in what appears to be a swim cap, sticks a peacock feather in it and then, what, takes a shower? Gets caught in the rain? WHY AM I LOOKING AT THIS?! And why is that peacock feather looking so much like a fish skeleton – I NEED ANSWERS!

Then there’s this beauty – that’s a Christmas tree ornament I held in front of my face in one shot, that once again I failed to put properly over the eye and had to adjust for that error:

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For fun, I actually took the pink center of the star, stretched it out into a lip-like shape, and stuck it over my real lips. Then I stretched it out even more and put the glitter pattern of it into the head scarf. All of this took a crazy amount of time, and in the end helped the photo not one bit. Still boring. Although, I continue to be impressed with how good I can make fake makeup look.

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Over-edited heavy filter compensation photo. There are actually elements of this one I like, but still, they don’t go together at all. Once I got the idea to use these different wall textures on it, I wished I hadn’t worked so hard to get that star placed on my face, because it literally makes no sense with what else the picture has going on.

Now, this next one I think was somewhat more successful. The placement of the silver tree branch was more workable, and the end result of putting it up against my face in a different shot is more interesting. My goal was to make it look like the branch was actually growing out of my face, but I’m not skilled enough at Photoshop to have made that happen in any convincing way, so I kind of abandoned the idea and decided to just say, hey, here’s me with a silver branch in my face. Enjoy.

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At the time of editing, though, I wasn’t as satisfied with this as I am now, because I actually kept going with the filters until I’d gone WAY too far. Remember, I’m still getting used to the novelty of being able to use all my software on my new laptop, so I do tend to get carried away. Thankfully I saved a copy of the version above and didn’t totally trash it without having a backup to that previous, much less chaotic version.

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Sinead O’Connor hiding out in the forest? Stop, already. Just stop. 

However, all hope was NOT LOST! Apparently I’ve learned something over the years I’ve been doing this (well and now, I’ve actually learned more, namely, that taking 50 photos of myself standing in the same spot wearing a swim cap is a bad idea) because I did take the time to throw on a few wigs, and some of the new Goodwill costume purchases I’ve made lately, and get some interesting shots before I packed it in for the day. So at least I can have fun editing those. Although – I can’t say editing this one was an easy ride:

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It seemed I was just determined to make life hard for myself on this day, because right before I called it quits I decided to throw on some crazy makeup and take a few shots with it – I managed to draw those thick black lines onto my face PERFECTLY, then decided to try and blend them out a little with black eye shadow and effed that one over the eyebrow COMPLETELY. I was able to fix it in Photoshop, but it was a huge pain in the ass and took forever, so I’m not sure I’ll edit any more shots from this part of the shoot. That’s probably fine, though, because this is a pretty distinctive look, and I don’t think anyone needs to see more than one of this. Not sure I should have kept the brick wall effect on the orange and yellow eye shadow, but I am a bit obsessed with that particular texture and how I can cleverly incorporate it into shots without allowing it to take over. And that top is AMAZING for photos – it’s big and sheer and very caftan-y and it was only $3.99 at the Goodwill up the street.

Now, last but not least – from the ashes of a basically failed photo session comes this lovely Phoenix!

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BOOM! Take THAT, Mrs. Potato Head! In reality, this wig is a dishwater-looking blond with a very drab green, although a bit of teal and yellow shows up in the underneath side of it. But using Photoshop I was able to draw out a ton of beautiful color, plus I feel like I really got the skin texture right here, if maybe a bit TOO textured. All of the makeup was added in PS, and the hair is actually taken from two different shots of it while I was blowing it around with a fan (the bit where it’s curling up towards the ceiling is from one shot, as well as the bit that is swooping over my forehead and back over my shoulder; that big swoop at the top is from another shot where it was almost falling back off my head, as well as all the strands coming forward onto my shoulders). Even the cheap cotton-knit yellow dress I’d just picked up at Goodwill and put on backwards (since that’s where the interesting detail was) really worked with the wig far better than I thought it would. I absolutely love this shot, at least as much as the very first one I posted in this long-ass thread, so, lesson learned – when it comes to portraits, I really need to start with some color, and some movement and interesting poses that I can enhance in Photoshop, rather than starting so basic that I have to rely on editing to do ALL the work. A little bit of PS magic is fine and fun for me, but if it’s ALL the photo has to work with to make it successful, it just isn’t my bag. Some people are really great all of that image manipulation, but it turns out that I do have my limits. So, onward and upward; more wigs it is!

Speaking of wigs, I did buy three new Rene of Paris ones over the weekend – a Zuma, a Sonoma, and an Evanna. I got one of them in the new pastel blue, then the others are in some of the new brunettes they came out with. The prices are very nice, which helped me decide to make the purchases. I should have them in to review soon!

Spaced Out

Aside from plugging away at some wig reviews lately (a few more on the way and several still to edit and upload, BTW) what else have I been up to? Being “self employed,” at this point, means being unemployed, which is my own fault since I’ve been moving slowly at getting my name out there. I want this tutoring thing to build organically, and I don’t want to rush it since I don’t need to, so it’s still going to be awhile until I have clients, I think. School is only in it’s second week down here where I live (in Texas schools always start a week or two before Labor Day) so I’ve only been making very soft inquiries for business so far. I am so used to feeling stressed, desperate, and rushed when it comes to my work life that I have to keep actively reminding myself that part of the reason for going this route is so that I can be the one in control, and that working myself into the ground isn’t the only way to work just because it’s the only way I’ve ever worked. Why go into business for myself just to boss myself around as harshly as others have in the past? It makes no sense, since I am blessed to be in a position financially where I am not desperate to make money out of the endeavor, but it is something I do to myself out of habit and I am really having to unlearn this way of living that I’ve always known.

short1Who, me? Relax? 

One of the ways this is all starting to tie together for me is the way in which I have been missing having a space to call my own. Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have plenty of room in our house and no kids, so I do have space in my casa that belongs to me and me alone, but somehow that is not the same as when I had a classroom (or as a counselor, an office) that was just mine. It’s about identity as much as it is about space; it isn’t so much privacy I am craving as a self that is seperate from the part of me that lives in this house as wife to my husband. I’m not sure that makes sense, but I honestly also believe that even if I lived alone I would be craving some space separate from it that addressed other parts of who I am than the parts that cook dinner, clean out litterboxes, and chat with people on Facebook. When I had an outside job, there were many times I would go to wherever that office was on weekends for an hour or two, to catch up on work, yes, but also to just be totally alone in a way that I am not when I’m at home. As a teacher, even though I was off all summer, I always kept my classroom keys and would drive up to the school once a week to both prepare for the coming school year a little and just chill in a quiet space where no one could find me or bother me. I guess this is why I love going to the Ruah center so much, too – with all the technology at our disposal nowadays it’s pretty much impossible to really disappear, but there’s something about being in a space that is dedicated to disconnecting from it all that makes it easier to do. So I suppose an office or classroom that I can go to at a time when neither office work nor classes are taking place often served the same purpose for me.

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The Oratory at Ruah – still my ideal sacred space

So it may be an odd way to describe a classroom without a class in it, but yeah, it was a sacred space for me when I could use it in that manner, and I’ve been missing it without really understanding what it was that I was missing. One of the things I got quite obsessed about regarding my tutoring business was owning my own office space where I could work. It’s not really common among indepedent tutors, who tend to just drive to people’s houses and do the work there, but there are people who do rent space, and it has benefits for sure – no drive time, first of all, so you can schedule more students since they can show up one after the other. And driving simply isn’t all that fun, so it solves that problem as well. And I admit to being a little uncomfortable with the idea of going into other people’s houses to teach. You’d be surprised at the questions that come up when considering this, like, what if I have to go to the bathroom? Is it OK to ask to  use theirs or should I find somewhere to stop along the way? What if I just ate Chipotle and I like, really have to go (answer: don’t eat Chipolte before tutoring)? Weird stuff like that.

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How you feel when you don’t eat Chipotle before your tutoring session

I actually asked around and discovered that in my part of town, very small office space can be rented for as low as $350 a month, which is REALLY reasonable. My husband was thinking at least $1000, so he was also pleased to hear it could be had so inexpensively – now, we’re  talking  not much more than a teeny room with two chairs and a desk, here, but it’s not like I need anything more than that to do some tutoring. So at first I was very gung ho about this, and ready to get moving hiring enough clients to cover the rental cost ASAP.

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How you feel when you realize you can have Chipotle before a tutoring session because you have your own bathroom

So right away, I’m thinking about how many clients I need to get to not only cover the cost of rent but actually make money, too. And suddenly I’m feeling behind the 8-ball because at that point I hadn’t done anything to get clients and I was realizing it might be months before I had enough to afford my own space, unless I immediately started hitting the pavement and peddling for clients hard. I didn’t really want to do that, but I wanted that damn office space, so SIGH. Hit the pavement it is. Hey, it’s a job after all, and isn’t this how jobs always go? Rat race, stress, pressure, the whole shebang. Yep, summer’s over, and it’s back to the grind – a different grind, to be sure, and at least I’ll be my own boss – but a grind nonetheless. Unless…

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TFW you have the epiphany that you are driving yourself crazy for no good reason

…what if I reject the notion that work must be a grind? What if instead of creating a situation where my job puts pressure on me to perform to a certain level, I instead embrace a reality where I simply do what I am called to do, and let it grow organically if, in fact, growth is what is meant to happen? In other words, the sooner I tie myself to a financial need to pay rent, I tie myself to requiring a certain number of clients, and a certain amount of income each month, when I don’t even know yet that this business is meant to be some huge success. Maybe the right way for me to do this work is to do it simply, and sparingly, and never turn it into some big endeavor that I can go back to my previous job and rub in everyone’s faces who ever insulted me while I was there (which, upon investigation, was at least part of my motivation for wanting some visual representation of my ‘success’). I was committing to this vision in my mind of having a tutoring business that turns into this huge THING without really questioning whether or not I even want that. And when I did start to question it, I realized that maybe I don’t.

We’re not really raised to think this way, but the truth is, when I quit teaching in 2010 to go to grad school for my Master’s in counseling, I really only did it because I desperately wanted a few years ‘off.’ And I didn’t feel comfortable just owning that; I had to tie that time off to something productive, like going back to school, and I figured after I did that I could at least return to my chosen profession without having to go back to the stress of running a classroom; I could work in a counseling office and not have to spend all weekend grading papers as consolation for returning to ‘the grind’.

This is when it hit me – one day a few weeks ago, I was driving around obsessing about how I was going to hurry up and get enough clients to afford office space, and thinking about how I’d just have to take every kid who came along even if they didn’t seem like a good fit for me or want the sort of tutoring I really want to do, and I was feeling really bummed that I didn’t already have some solitary space of my own I could go to and sit by myself and just ponder my thoughts about it all. So I drove to the university library instead, the university that is located near my house and that is, in fact, the university where I got my Master’s degree. There I was, wandering around dreaming of having a little room of my own, preferably on a higher floor, with a window so I could look out over some sort of view and be totally alone and think things through, when I walked up to the librarian’s desk and asked if they had any study rooms available (they have study rooms all the time, but you can’t reserve them and they’re usually full and hard to get) and lo and behold, they had one – they gave me a key and told me where to go, and when I opened the door I about died right there on the spot:

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Yep, a room with a view.

Yep, there it was – the very thing I’d been wishing for so hard and thinking I was so far away from getting, waiting right here in a corner of a library about 15 minutes from my house. And it was free. Not always available, true – but always there, and always free. Poor libraries – they offer us so much, for so little, and we’re always forgetting they exist. Anyway.

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I’m not what I’d call a religious person, but I believe in, and often pray to, God, and I admit that both my time working in a Catholic school and the time I spent at Ruah this summer have opened up that communication a bit more for me, and at that moment I just plopped right down in a chair, stared out the window, and thought, okay God. What is it I’m not getting here? And I was immediately taken back to a time I’d completely forgotten – August of 2012, when I was staring down the barrel of my last semester of grad school, and had just been offered the job at that awful school where I ended up working for the next four years. The job was on the table at that time, but I hadn’t yet taken it, and I did not want it. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to any traditional job, because in the two years I’d been off I’d come to love and value my simple life, and my free time, so much that I was desperate to find any alternative way to move forward. The problem was, I just couldn’t see how it was possible; we’d just spent thousands on a graduate degree that qualified me to be a school counselor, so how could I just decide not to do that at all, and work from home as a tutor or personal trainer (something else I considered at the time) instead?

But the day I discovered this little room, I suddenly remembered how exactly four years ago I’d sat in that very same library with a notebook and pen, brainstorming and jotting down ideas about how I could do something, anything, aside from going back to the rat race of working in a school. I actually jotted down private tutoring, as well as some other things that allowed me to work to my own schedule instead of following someone else’s, something that would have less stress and pressure and allow me to continue my blogging, my wig reviews, and my photography – all hobbies I was able to develop during those two years off. I wrote pages about how I was going to broach the subject to my husband, but in the end, I just didn’t do it. I couldn’t believe in it myself, much less convince anyone else it was the right thing to do. I ended up taking the job, grudgingly, and we all know how that turned out.

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It turned out that the job was a mask, hiding what I really wanted, in case that isn’t clear.

Since I’d completely forgotten about the time I sat in this same library four years ago desperately trying to come up with a way to construct a life for myself that totally and utterly matched the life I was now living, I about fell out of my chair at the realization. And right at the front of my mind was the question: why are you still so upset at losing a job you never even wanted? And why are you so stressed about being given the life you’ve always wanted instead? Everything you need is already in existence, just like this room was already here whether you realized it or not. The life you want already exists. The space you need already exists. You do not need to force anything to happen. Just let it all be. And so, I did.

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It was kind of like a long drink of water from a magical fountain! OK, not really, I just wanted to work this picture in somewhere.

So – Chipolte be damned – driving to people’s houses I go. No need to force myself to make this job a J-O-B. I’m going to let it be a calling instead, and go where I am called. And if I am called to have my own office space, then that will be clear at the time, and it will fall into place.

BUT – that doesn’t change the fact that sacred space is something I still desire, because I realized that a lot of my desire for that office space was really just that – not so much a space to work as just space to go to when I need to feel totally silent and totally alone, and the fact is I still don’t have that, being without a classroom or an office as I am. Ruah is obviously one such space, but I can’t go there every day. The university library is another I’ve discovered recently that can provide me a quiet room, but it isn’t the most reliable since the rooms are first come, first serve, and are often all occupied. But it is nice to know it’s there. Still, I wanted something more constant, so I’ve started seeking out chapels in the area to visit when I want to sit still and listen to whatever the universe has to say. And happily, I’ve already found a few.

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This is the chapel of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is about six miles from my house. It’s open to the public every day (as opposed to the much larger church which is only open for services), and so far each time I’ve been there’s been no one else there (which is how I managed to sneak the picture). It has everything I love about a sacred space – although I’m not Catholic, I am very inspired by and into iconography right now, so I love the stained glass windows and the Stations of the Cross they have on the chapel walls. The school where I taught had a small chapel on the campus that I made sure to visit every day for at least ten minutes, and since leaving I’ve really  missed having that time. I can eke it out at home if I need to, but knowing there are also lovely spaces I can visit is helpful. This is definitely one of them, but I admit the fact that it’s always empty makes me feel conspicious when I go too often. I’m neither Catholic nor a member of this church, after all, so I start to feel a bit obvious if I go too much (even though no one is ever praying in the chapel, there are people working there who often see me).

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The chapel at my former school, where I went and sat for at least ten minutes every day.

The other chapel I’ve found nearby is at St. Bartholomew, about 16 miles from my house, so still not bad. It’s another small chapel that is open all day – in fact, they have perpetual Adoration there so there it’s actually open 24-6 (not 24-7 because it stops at noon on Saturdays) and there’s always at least one person in attendance. This chapel is the opposite of the Sacred Heart one – not only is there always one person there, there are in fact a lot of people coming and going, and the parish itself is so large that I don’t feel conspicious showing up there and getting singled out as someone who isn’t a member (not that it would matter, it’s a chapel after all, so everyone is welcome, but still). I haven’t snapped a picture of that chapel yet, though, because it’s always full of people and I feel it would be rude (although when I went today there was one woman there not only on her phone but also blaring music through her headphones – weird) and I couldn’t find any photos of the chapel online, just the big church.

So one of my new goals is to locate available chapels that I like all over the city, and visit them whenever I can. Hopefully I’ll be able to photograph some of them, too. I’d also like to read up on their history and learn about them. The chapel at the Villa de Matel is probably the most glorious one Houston has, so I’ve already been a little spoiled, but we have some very interesting ones to focus on, like the Rothko chapel and the Byzantine one that’s in the same area.

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I will have time to do all of this, of course, because I am not going to turn myself into the worst boss ever and put ridiculous expectations on my tutoring business simply because I’ve been programmed to do that. So it all works out!

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The chapel at the Villa de Matel – how many times now have I shared this photo? No idea, but it’s still glorious

Now, I’m going to wrap this post up even though I didn’t get to tell you the story about the time I decided to check out another supposedly lovely chapel in my area that I’d never been to before, only to realize when I pulled into the parking lot that this church also had a school on the premises and I’d inadvertently driven myself right into the after-school pick-up lane, with about 20 minutes to go until the bell rang, and how I endured utter hell and humiliation trying to remove myself from this line because apparently when it comes to elementary school pick-up lanes, once you are in there is simply NO getting out of them, no matter what. Suffice it to say I endured much honking of horns and shouting out of rolled-down windows to get myself the eff out of there, so this is NOT a chapel I’ll be returning to at any time in the future. It was in a very hoity-toity rich part of town, anyway, so perhaps I wouldn’t be welcome without putting money in the coffers.

I’ll close this out with a picture of my cats, who are obviously getting along nicely. And if you actually slogged your way through this entire post, I’ve got some more wig reviews coming up soon with which to reward you. 🙂

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The Ruah Center at the Villa de Matel

First of all, WOW. I have way more photos of this place than I can fit into one post, even after editing a ton for this one. I’m going to have to do several posts to get them all in, so here’s hoping I can continue to find things to say about the Villa as I share them. That said, let’s take a look at what I’ve got so far, shall we?

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Entrance to the Villa de Matel

The Villa de Matel is the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word – a Congregation that began in 1866. It sits on about 70 acres off South Wayside and is generally closed to the public except for special events such as holidays (where choral concerts are presented in the chapel) and the occasional funeral. The Ruah center consists of two floors in one wing of the convent, and is available to any group or individuals who wish to spend time there in silent reflection.

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Being a generally secluded spot to the outside world, a retreat here can be magical if you commit yourself to the experience; I have been going to the Villa since the 90s, when a friend suggested it to me as a place to vacation without having to spend a lot of money. The Ruah center asks for donations, requesting that each person who stays there give as much as they are called to give by putting their gift in an envelope and leaving it in a box on their way out. So, when I was in my twenties and broke, I could get away for a few days without going more broke to do it.

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The experience has changed since I first started coming here; I admit that back then it was more for a cheap vacation than any sort of spiritual guidance. And the act of being silent, back in the 90s, was far more radical and difficult than it is now, when I no longer talk to people on the phone (choosing to text instead) and have access to technology, and therefore the outside world, at all times. Retreatants are encouraged not to bring cell phones, but honestly, that’s not practical in today’s world, and while I have on occasion encountered guests who openly break the rule – like this last time I visited, when a woman would go into her dorm room at night, which was right next to mine, and make multiple phone calls, of which I could hear EVERY SINGLE WORD because the dorm walls are thin and small and packed closely together – most people, like myself, have them with them in a silent mode, and keep them tucked away somewhere instead of using them in any way (although I will use it to take occasional photos).

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iPhone shot of the entrance to the convent

Also, when I first starting visiting Ruah, it was not mandatory to meet with a spiritual advisor, but at some point that changed and became a requirement. I can understand that, though; the center has a purpose, which is to assist people in drawing closer to God, and they feel it is their duty to guide and assist their guests in doing so. Plus, it’s basically spiritual counseling that gets added into your stay without any extra fee, so it’s honestly pretty wonderful, unless you are uncomfortable with Catholicism or religion, in which case this probably isn’t a place you want to spend a few days at anyway. And by the way – being Catholic is NOT a requirement; all the literature about Ruah encourages people of all faiths to visit. I am not Catholic myself, and it has never been a problem in any way.

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Even the stairwells are lovely – this one is from the third floor dorms to the second floor retreat area

Usually your meeting with the advisor is scheduled to coincide with your arrival; I have been going here for years and meeting with the same advisor every time, so the last time I went I was allowed to check in a day early (my advisor’s day off) and hold off on meeting with her until the next morning (another cool thing this time was that, for the first two nights, I was the only retreatant and had the entire two floors to myself). On a usual stay, though, you’d meet with your advisor, she would ask what you hope to get out of your stay (and man, did I get mine an earful this time!), then she would provide you with guidance in the form of Bible verses, other books or excerpts as recommended reading, and prayers. I’m often amazed at how much Ruah offers to people while asking for so little in return – just the counseling alone would cost over $100 an hour in the outside world, spiritual or not!

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Once that is done, you are free to walk the entirety of the 70 acres; the center is in an old part of Houston that has huge Magnolia trees (and huge tree roaches, but welcome to Texas) and even a few hills, and over the years they’ve carved out some beautiful walking trails through what would feel, if it weren’t for the rush of very close-by traffic, like the heart of a beautiful old forest. Closer to the buildings the landscaping is meticulously maintained and symmetrical, with invitations everywhere to stop and appreciate the beauty in the form of benches and swings.

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I used my phone to film the scene from this swing – the video is below. You can see what I mean about that traffic; part of what is so interesting about this place is how serene it feels while being smack in the center of an incredibly urban part of town, with a major highway about a mile away – birds, cicadas, and LOTS of traffic! For as long as the Villa has been here, the Sisters have been involved in serving the primarily  Hispanic community that surrounds it, offering everything from spiritual guidance to ESL classes and job training.

Unfortunately, every time I’ve gone to Ruah has been during the summer, when the oppressive heat prevents me from spending much time walking the trails. A random wander around the grounds in the morning or evening is OK, but even then the humidity is stifling, and I like to stay close to the casa so I can get back to air-conditioning ASAP. It is my intention to make a trip back in the fall, so I can experience it at a time I can appreciate the outside spaces more than I’ve been able to in the past.

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These shots are still in the more manicured areas of the grounds; I didn’t take any photos of the nature trails which appear more natural and wild. Maybe next time.

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I’m an indoors sort anyway, and a sucker for a beautiful structure like this one. The areas of the second wing where guests are invited to wander are beautiful even without the care the Sisters put into making them places of silent reflection and worship.

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My favorite room is the Oratory; the light coming through the windows is bright and pleasing, I love stained glass and the shape of those windows (you can see them in the entrance photo at the top of the post), and it’s small enough to feel cozy. I never use the chairs, but pull out some of the floor pillows provided and sit on the floor in front of the altar, propped back against a wall (this space is small and was hard to photograph, even with my wide-angle lens, so apologies for the weird framing and angle here). I bring my iPad full of books to read, a notebook and a pen, and sometimes if I’m alone I just babble to myself or to God or whomever I think might be listening.

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The Oratory – a “happy place” I can picture in my mind if I need to de-stress

Next to the Oratory is an Icon Room, where people go to sit in a chair, light a candle, and reflect upon whichever icon they choose. This is a form of prayer that was foreign to me when I first came here, and I never much used this room until recently. The chapel has always spoken to me, which really isn’t that hard when it’s so beautiful, and eventually I made the connection between my love of staring at those stained-glass windows and the little icons people would stare at while sitting in a chair. Since making that connection, I’ve used it quite a bit and found it healing; however, getting a photo of it was difficult. There were either people in there or nearby (I do not like to take photos of the interiors when others are present; even though it’s not disallowed I feel like it’s a distraction people don’t need) or I couldn’t get a decent angle because each chair is partitioned off from the others, creating all these tiny spaces in an already small room. So this is the best I got:

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Stained-glass window in the chapel

There is a Centering Prayer room next, where the Sisters meet in the evenings to pray. If you are on the second floor at this time, you can hear them chanting and singing, and it’s lovely. Aside from holding this room for centered prayer sessions (something with which I am  still unfamiliar) it acts as another space retreatants can use to sit and reflect – the view out the windows of the front entrance is particularly lovely, and I find this a nice spot to sit at night once it’s dark outside; I switch on one of the little lamps and sit down in a rocking chair and feel completely at home. This could be due in part to the fact that my grandparents and great-grandparents all had homes in this area when I was a kid, and so much of the construction and the grounds reminds me of them (not that their houses had near the level of architecture the Villa has, but still. They all reflect the era in which they were built – and the Magnolia trees in this part of town are always in my memory). For some reason, I bypassed this room on my photography jaunt, but I did take a video out the window with my phone during one of the many rainstorms that popped up while I was there:

At one end of the second wing is the chapel, which we’ve already seen – you can enter at the balcony level and take the stairs down to the first floor. This is a real treat, since the chapel is not open to the public, but as a retreatant you are free to move about or sit and reflect at any time (although it’s pitch-dark and creepy as hell at night, so while the doors are open 24-7, I don’t recommend it). At the other end of the wing are a few more meeting and prayer spaces and a beautiful balcony – another place I haven’t ever been able to use much due to the heat.

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These two rooms are used often for group retreats, meetings, and classes that are held at the convent; I’ve only been here once when these were being used and off-limits to other guests, but I know they use them often. The first one is another cozy spot to sit and read and relax; it’s quite homey and the views are beautiful.The second space is obviously more of a formal meeting area, so to me it’s just a thruway to other parts of the building, but when I first started coming here, it was an art room that guests could use. It had watercolors, pastels, easels, books, and all sorts of crafty and creative stuff lying around; I really enjoyed spending time in the room then, but I suspect it had to be converted to accommodate for an increasing need for group spaces and classes.

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This is another room that was hard to photograph due to the dividers cutting it all up into smaller spaces. Each shuttered-off section has an old, comfy recliner and a boom box sitting next to it, complete with old-school headphones and CDs and even cassette tapes (!) to choose from and listen to, while you kick back and enjoy the views. My first few times I came here, I lived in the relaxation room and even fell asleep one time and stayed most of the night down there instead of in my room – but back then it was in a different location that looked over another of my favorite spots, and it was smaller, darker, and cozier than this one. Ever since it moved I haven’t much felt myself drawn to the space anymore, but each time I visit I am called to certain places over others, so that could change at any time.

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Ah yes, the balcony. This has to be one of the money shots of promoting the Villa – it’s just lovely, and I think it visually sums up the whole space nicely. It’s clear that every single plant is given a lot of attention – this is Houston, in July, and none of them are dead! – and all those randomly-placed chairs almost demand that you sit down, slow down, stop fussing about, and pay attention to the trees and the sky. The rooftop you see in the near distance is another building on the grounds – it is a heritage center that was not here when I first started coming, and that I’ve never been inside. I keep meaning to ask my advisor about it when I come and forgetting to do so, because it doesn’t appear to be open to people on retreat, and I’ve been too timid to pop my head in and see.

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Another favorite spot – the cloister. They actually call this the “Cloister Walk,” which feels odd to me since cloister means walkway already, so isn’t that calling it a walk walk? Anyway, this is another sweet spot in the whole place – tough to enjoy in the summer, but covered enough that it’s tolerable, and I was lucky that every day I stayed the weather did that Houston thing it does so well, which is start out bright and beautiful, then turn into a gray stormy downpour in the span of 20 minutes before brightening back up in the late afternoon so everything’s completely dried out by dinnertime. This is the BEST PLACE EVER to be seated during a rainstorm. Don’t believe me? Watch it in action here (I’m just bummed I couldn’t get any thunderclaps on video – they kept eluding me until i gave up):

Also, some of those windows you see in the photo on the left side used to belong to the old relaxation room, so when you sat in a recliner you looked out at this view instead of the entrance to the convent. Not that there’s anything wrong with the convent’s entrance, as it’s as lovely as the rest of the place, I just preferred this view and, as I said, it was dark and shady whereas the new room is incredibly sunny and bright.

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If you go through those doors at the end of the Cloister Walk, you are back at the chapel, and have come full-circle through Ruah. As a sidenote: I attempted several times to do a video walk-through of the place so you could get a sense of the scale and location of the rooms, but the videos took up too much space on my phone, and I kept hitting record, making the entire walk, and finding out after the fact that it stopped filming after the first room. Then, I deleted enough data to be able to record, and I screwed up and filmed the whole thing without turning my phone the proper direction, so I said to hell with it and decided I’d just bring my real videocamera next time and do it properly.

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You can walk this labyrinth while the bell tower in the chapel (probably not the right term) looks on

I stayed three nights, and with that I got two days of spiritual guidance (an hour each time), free reign of the place for the first two days (it is also a convent, remember, so free reign just means no one else at the retreat center part of the building), and three fairly boring but square meals a day. I don’t want to reveal what I paid, but if you did this yourself you would, before you check out, pay whatever you felt called to pay at the end of your stay, no strings attached. And at least for me, I go away feeling much more centered and at peace.

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Statue guarding the entrance to the Sister’s cemetery

As I said earlier, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the photos I took during my two trips there this summer. I’ll be working on them for quite some time, so more will be forthcoming.

Back Dropped

Let’s catch up and look at random photos while we’re at it, shall  we?

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And I do mean random.

I’ve processed some more of the photos from the Ruah retreat, but I have to say that I’m not thrilled with the pictures overall. Granted, my outdoor/landscape/architecture photography skills are weak already, and I definitely did not shoot in the proper light at the time (which due to the cloudiness and storms could not be avoided) but I also think I chose the wrong lens for these shots. I used my wide-angle lens so I could get into some tight spaces, and also to get some lovely panoramic scenes – but there really weren’t a lot of panoramic scenes to photograph, and most of the tight spaces weren’t that interesting (the chapel was the main exeption). I think the outdoor shots would have been prettier with my 50mm, maybe, or perhaps my telephoto lens for better depth of field. Everything looks too sharp and crisp and ultimately chaotic to me, and I’ve had this issue with the 17-40mm before, just have never identified it as the problem.

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Ah, the joys of being a self-taught photographer who basically knows nothing.

So I did my usual – filtered and textured the hell of the shots to make them interesting, even if I couldn’t find them aesthetically pleasing. I may be taking another trip there sometime this summer, since I didn’t feel like I stayed long enough the first time to get everything I needed to out of the experience, so perhaps I’ll try again.

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Photoshopped myself from another shoot into this shot – it was only marginally successful.

One thing I’ve gotten into the past few months is purchasing and using different pop-up backdrops for my photography; I’ve been using some basic ones (black, white, and gray) for years, but when I started making wig videos again I became really irritated with all the grain and banding I could see in the solid background I was using. I tried using software to reduce the noise, but it would soften the video too much and I’m a stickler for clarity. So in the end, my solution was to buy a gray mottled background which would camouflage the grain, and that’s the background you now see when you watch my vids.

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Exhibit A

In searching for a gray pop-up, I stumbled across tons of other interesting ones that I wanted to try; unfortunately the more interesting the background is, the more expensive it is, so I haven’t tried as many out as I’d like.

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A few examples

Once you get away from basic solid colors or mottled ones, these suckers get pricey. The two pictured above (they’re reversible) run anywhere from $150 up to $220 depending on where you buy them, so I haven’t pulled the trigger on them just yet. And by the way, they are called pop-ups (if you don’t already know) because they fold down into a small circle the size of that blue case you see in the left and right pane of the collage (the middle shot is just to give you an idea of their size). Fun fact – folding these backgrounds down to fit into that circular case is A BITCH. As proof of this, there are probably about eight million videos on YouTube of people showing how to fold them, and I STILL struggle to do it every single time and have to watch at least ten of them to get it done. In fact, the gray one I use for wig vids is still popped open and sitting out in the hall because I haven’t had the energy to put myself through the anguish of wrangling the thing back into it’s case – I am literally almost in TEARS every time I have to do it because it’s so frustrating! I am incredibly challenged spatially; I have no sense of direction and have to stop and think if you even tell me to raise my right hand because I am not sure at first which one of two hands that is, so that’s probably why it’s so difficult for me to do. Here, allow me to show you a video example so you get the idea of what I’m talking about:


Make sense now? Yeah, I still don’t get it either.

One day I’l have to make a video of ME folding one of these suckers; it would start with me wrangling it to the ground using my legs to hold it to the floor, then getting popped in the face when one end snaps up, then me falling over, getting up, picking up my glasses that have been thrown across the room, then me wrestling it to the ground again, getting popped by the other side when it flips back open, then me picking the whole thing up and throwing it across the room and throwing myself on the ground in a fit of tears, then leaving the room and coming back with some chips and a soda and sticking the background, fully open, into a corner, and giving the cat the little round carrying case to play with since I’ll never figure out how to put the background back into it. DONE.


Although I love how this chick does it so quickly the hooker in the corner doesn’t even have time to put down her phone (just kidding, I ‘m sure it’s just a model. Or a drag queen.)

ANNNNYWAY…my real point is that in all my searching around for interesting backgrounds to use I came across two that I just had to have, even though they were $180 each. After I got them in, I used them for some quick test shots – some of which you’ve already seen.

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These are called Lastolite Out of Focus Backgrounds, and they’re the only two styles available that I’ve seen. Wish there were more, even though they’re pricey.

The set on the left I’ve already used and I shared some of the photos from that shoot in a previous post:

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I am pleased with the green foliage background, but the so-called “city lights” side didn’t thrill me all that much. After using this one a few times, I became obsessed with getting the other one; both sides looked like they’d take some lovely photos, but I had to wait awhile for it to get back in stock in one of the three places I managed to find it on the internet. I thought the beach scene side was, obviously, seasonally appropriate, and I was anxious to try it out:

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Yep. This works for me.

I actually went ahead and bought a stand to hang these behind me, because they are smaller lengthwise than my other backgrounds, and I couldn’t just stand them on the floor like I can those.

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What do you mean Photoshop? Me? Never heard of it.

I couldn’t be more pleased with how lovely the beach side turned out. I love the subtle wash of color it creates, and you can’t see it in these shots but there’s actually a little bit of the sandy shoreline running along the bottom edge.

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Another totally natural shot. I hate makeup.

Now, I was pretty excited about that beachy side, but the real deal-clincher for me was that fiery yellow autumn background. When it comes to photography, I am a sucker for some fiery reds and yellows and golds – I love it in makeup and I love it in fabrics, and I LOVE IT in this background:

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Yeah this wins.

That wig, by the way, is one of those fabulous $19.99 ones I get from Sam’s Beauty online (don’t go there, seriously, you will lose HOURS looking at hair) and cannot ever wear out of the house but will wear AROUND the house for days feeling like Carole King or Oprah Winfrey in a curly phase. And that background! GAH! It is beautiful. So worth the money.

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Photoshop trick stolen from drag queens: I am not skilled at blocking out my natural brows the way drag queens are, but I do sometimes use Photoshop to raise them. Really changes the look of the whole face. Here, I moved them to just above their natural placement, then used some other trickery to cover the natural brows with “eyeshadow.” 

I also finally switched out the big, wall-sized background I keep tacked up in my office from  black to gray, and did a few jumping shots that I haven’t work with much yet. In fact I only have this one:

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The leap was pretty boring, but I’m not gonna lie – I processed this shot solely (no pun intended) because I was happy with my feet. I almost never jump in bare feet, because I am so NOT a dancer and my feet usually end up looking awful; but this was just a test shot so I hadn’t put my shoes on yet. But, I actually managed to point my toes pleasantly, so I had to work with this one. Since it wasn’t very thrilling, I did the usual and filtered and textured the hell out of it in the hopes that someone might find it interesting. I actually think most people are just gonna notice the feet.

That’s all I have for now; I have some updates to my work situation that I’ll post later on the private blog – as I move out of the classroom and venture out on my own, I may at some point go back to posting the more personal stuff publicly, but for now I’m still keeping it locked down. Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Photo Phun

I’m really running out of title ideas, sorry. But this poorly-titled blog post is brought to you by my RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 obsession, Acid Betty:

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Gee, I don’t know what it is about her that fascinates me…

Betty is a controversial queen, because she’s really playing up her bitchy side for the cameras and the editing is responding by presenting her as the villain of the show; it happens every season and usually I cannot stand the girl who gets the ‘bitch edit.’ But Betty’s look is right up my alley, and when she presented this look for the Oscars Runway challenge I had to pledge her my allegiance for the season:

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I LIVE
It’s also easier to love her because she is clearly PLAYING at being a bitch and not just behaving that way by accident; it’s a role she’s been sharpening for years in NYC, but the reality show audience is interpreting her as overly harsh. Whatever. My beloved Pearl from Season 7 was a controversial queen too, but ultimately it’s the look that wins my heart, and Pearl and Acid both have mine in spite of whatever shortcomings might get highlighted by a reality show. Rumor is that Betty doesn’t make it much farther in the competition, though, and that is going to seriously bum me out if it’s true – usually the queens I favor go far in the competition so I will hate it if this time my idol sashays away too soon. But, there is a hell of a lot of good talent on the show this year and plenty of other queens to root for if this is the case. Moving on.

I’m also bummed because I have to  travel tomorrow for a work conference; sure, the destination is San Diego, CA, which is great, but still, there’s the traveling part to deal with, and I hate that. I don’t like flying in spite of how much I love airplanes; it’s not that I am at all afraid to fly (and in fact I actually quite like that part of it) but I hate dealing with airports, meeting deadlines, and most of all I hate packing. The day before a flight I always go into a complete panic, feeling like I am not prepared to travel at all and going shopping at CVS to buy as many tiny bottles of things as I can find, making list after list and double-checking everything out of fear I am going to leave something behind, or get to my destination only to realize that I packed the wrong shoes or am in a climate with dry, cold wind that leaves my lips parched and in need of the Blistex I forgot to bring. This is completely illogical, of course, because unless one is traveling to a remote location boots and Blistex can be purchased in any number of stores, but there it is. I panic nonetheless. I think it has to do, psychologically, with my need for safety, routine, and familiarity; I have a very CERTAIN WAY I like my mundane daily activities to proceed, and when in another location far from home I am thrown off completely. I unpack and immediately realize I don’t want to wear ANY  of the outfits I brought to wear (especially if someone with whom I am traveling brought clothes that look better than mine do; yeah, I’m that vain). I realize I should have brought a comfy pillow since the hotel ones are cheap, or that I really would like to have the flat iron with the 1.5″ barrel instead of the 1″ one I brought along. In short, I am high maintenance, and traveling just ain’t my thing. But off I go anyway.

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Praying I bring the right flat-iron

This past week I worked more with Portrait Pro on the photos I was able to take over Spring Break, and on occasion I continue to use too much skin softening and coming out looking a little plastic. That happened in this case, so I did my usual and added a bunch of texture and overlays to hopefully disguise it a little bit. It’s funny, because clearly I don’t care if people know I edit the hell out of my photos for effect – my face shape, nose, and eyes in particular are completely re-created here – but when I overdo the skin smoothing it reads ‘phony’ to me. And the reason why I end up overdoing it so much is pretty silly too: after sharpening the photo (which is generally the last step) I can magnify the photo to full-size (which is freaking HUGE) and see all sorts of flaws in the skin that the sharpening accentuates, and it bugs me so badly I have to go back and re-soften all the big pores, fine wrinkles, and color inconsistencies that you really can only see if you magnify the hell out of the photo – AS IF ANYONE BUT ME EVER DOES THAT. No one, and I mean NO ONE is blowing my photos up to full size to look at my pores or messed-up makeup application aside from me, and yet I do it every time and obsessively correct all the errors anyway. And there’s the rub: it’s the little lines and flaws that add depth to the face, so when I edit those all away the end result is a face that looks like it’s been sculpted out of butter. I do a better job than most at keeping the texture and sharpness of everything else without going overboard, but try as I might I just CANNOT leave the skin alone. Some day I’ll learn.

Another new feature I’ve tried out a few times with Portrait Pro is the hair-coloring feature – in the photo above, the wig I’m wearing is actually black with dark auburn highlighting in the front (it’s the same wig as the second photo posted here), and in the one below my hair was actually a highlighted blonde (it’s the wig from this video review):

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The software does a pretty damn good job with changing haircolor and maintaining the texture of the hair, if you do it right and have time to play around with it, at least. It’s all so much fun and gives me hours of entertainment; I remember when I was a kid how much I loved to turn the ‘tint’ knob on the television while watching ice skating, because the skaters’ dress colors would change (yes, I am old enough to remember when there was a ‘tint’ knob on televisions, and I was weird enough to actually spend hours doing this). That’s kind of what it’s like to play around with changing my makeup and hair color in Photoshop (I also used to use markers to re-color all the makeup on the models in the JC Penney catalog when we got it in the mail, so I’ve been strangely entertained by stuff like this for awhile). Speaking of re-coloring my makeup – in this shot I was originally wearing bright orange lipstick that really looked horrible on me (I can pull the orange off, but not while wearing watered-down colors like peach and ash blonde) and another fun side note is that the peach top is actually a cardigan, and to use it in these photos I put it on backwards – something I do quite a bit if I really want some of what I am wearing to show in a portrait (see this collage for other examples, all three portraits were taken with a shirt or dress on backwards).

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OK now, I know this photo is over-edited all to hell (especially  based on all the comments it got on Flickr which pointed this out, albeit in a good-natured manner) and yet, I think it really works. I don’t know who I look like here, it’s someone I can’t place right now but it’s definitely not me; I really liked how I was able to bring out (i.e. totally fabricate) the peachiness of the skin and makeup and man, in spite of its flaws that wig takes BEAUTIFUL photos. I hope my friend Lana can doctor it up and wear the hell out of it, because it is lovely.

After over-editing the skin and thinking it looked too flawless (no, I did not wake up like this) I tried out a black and white version, but in the end decided to stick with the color, as I usually do since color is my THING.

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It’s quite interesting to work this closely with my face and learn what tweaks I feel take me from perfectly acceptable to fabulous; I always widen the distance between my eyes because they are a little close-set, and I definitely do slim down my nose, even though my original nose isn’t a feature that has ever bothered me – it’s just more visually appealing when it’s a touch thinner. I also mess with face shape a bit; I usually prefer to shorten and slim my chin a little and widen my brow, making my face more heart-shape than oval, and even though I already have a nice neck (length-wise anyway; age-wise it’s seen better days, but COME THRU Photoshop and it’s all good), I tend to go ahead and make it longer anyway since for a portrait it’s more appealing. My cheekbones are pretty good, and I’m good at using contour to add depth to them anyway, so I don’t have to do much there; and then I go to town playing around with color, completely changing my makeup shades and usually doing something to change the color of my eyes. And yes, in the first photo shared here I made one eye blue and one brown, just because.

Honestly, the main thing that I feel I would change about my face if I could isn’t possible through plastic surgery, which is widening the distance between my eyes. With glasses on they can easily look even MORE close-set, which is why I am so particular about the size of the frames I will wear. But you can’t go to a plastic surgeon and ask him or her to MOVE YOUR EYES TO A DIFFERENT LOCATION ON YOUR FACE, and if you do and the surgeon agrees, please run away quickly and save yourself. So, Portrait Pro and makeup tricks it is. Moving on.

Two more I messed around with this week; I’m OK with these two, but they’re not thrilling, so I don’t have much to say about them. The cloth over my face in the second photo is just a shirt I was flinging about for the hell of it, and believe it or not I captured this shot without trying at all to frame my face with it; the top just flew up that way as the camera went off, so I thought that was pretty cool.

It’s past 9 PM here and I need to get my butt to bed so I can wake up at 4:45 to make my flight, so I’ll leave you with this last shot, which is one I really like; one thing it makes me think to mention is that the Portrait Pro software really only works in shots where the face is looking directly into the camera. The program uses adjustable placement points to determine where the features of the face are, so when the face is in profile or greatly off-center it just starts guessing where the eyes are, or the nose, or whatever. The result of this can be amusing, but unattractive, so I’ve learned by now to use PP sparingly in shots where the face isn’t basically head-on. I used it to shorten my chin, slim my nose, and touch up my lips a little here, and that’s it – but, because the software insists on finding TWO eyes even when there is only one showing, before I edited it out there was a random, misshapen, floating eyeball hanging out in my hair, complete with wonky eyebrow. It was amusing, and I should have saved a copy of it that way for posterity, but I did not. So here she is, without the hairy eyeball, and with this I will say good day, until next time:

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Yep, it’s the backwards cardigan again. And you can see some of the wonky wig hairs at the crown that I mention in my video review, too. But other than that, it’s a lovely wig.

Spring Brake

Once again I have to say I’ve been way too busy to type up blog posts, so there it is. And here’s a new one, since although I can barely believe it, Spring Break is here and I have a week off. It feels like we’ve just barely gotten past January, but it’s mid-March already and the school year is zooming by quickly. It’s been a tough year in many ways, some of which I’ve written about on my private blog, and some I’ve yet to share because I’m still processing it all. But for those of you who follow me there, that big old blog post of crazy will be going up soon.

For everyone else, there are more wig videos to come (have two more arriving tomorrow) and a few new photos to share. I finally got a chance to dress up and shoot the last Saturday, so I’ve worked on a few since then and will continue to work on more. I haven’t taken real photos since December, so it’s been awhile. I also worked over some old shots back in February when I didn’t have anything new to edit:

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I’m still playing around with the Portrait Pro software I bought recently, and it’s a real blast. I over-do it a lot, but I’m learning how to apply the effects with a softer hand – although on occasion I still do too much and the photo comes out looking way more edited than I’d like. In those cases I usually just add some texture or surface effects to disguise the over-smoothed skin (which is my biggest downfall).

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For my last set, I also played around with lighting a lot, which was great fun, but it means my usual editing techniques don’t work as well, and sometimes the end result isn’t quite what I want. In the photo above, I’d used a softbox to hit my face with more light, which eliminates a lot of soft shadows and small detail from the face. The result is a more ‘high-fashion’ look (in my opinion) which a lot of hard shadows and angular edges, so a face can end up looking a little ‘flat.’ It’s not a bad effect, but it requires different editing, and although I really love that photo it doesn’t look much like a real person. So, I added a texture to it to give it an even more animated feel. Sometimes you gotta go where the photo leads you, after all.

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This one worked out better; I wasn’t using the softbox when taking the picture, so you can see how much softer and more dimensional the face looks from the start. Also, in case you’re interested, that dress was actually a mauve color that I edited to look gray; I didn’t really realize it when I chose the dress to go with that wig (I really chose it because I ran out of my usual photography makeup and was trying to find something that would cover me all the way up to my neck; in photos I use makeup on my neck and decollete that’s a different color from what I use on my face to get a good match, but I ran out on the last shoot and forgot to buy more) but when looking over the shots I noticed that the white curls on the wig mimicked, at least to me, the flowery swirls in the lace on the dress, so I wanted to emphasize that more by making the dress the same color as the dark black hair on the wig. Black was a bit too dark, though, because I also wanted some of the shine from the material to show, so I went with a dark grey. The result was a much more unified and interesting photo.

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In this shot I was once again using different lighting, but I think I did better at editing the skin even though it’s probably a bit TOO alabaster-looking to be considered real. However, I think that works with the dress and the hair anyway so I’m fine with it. And although the dress color in this shot was also edited, I went with more of a dark blue this time than gray. I’ve also been continuing to mess with the face sculpting controls in Portrait Pro to alter my look; in some shots I still look like me albeit a much better, less-wrinkled version; in others I let Portrait Pro edit me until I was practically unrecognizable. I usually use the program’s pre-sets first and then, if I don’t like what I get, I go back and change things on my own – in this next photo, PP gave me a serious Angelina Jolie/Julia Roberts edit, and who was I to argue with that?

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This is another one I shot using the softbox, so again you see how much depth is removed from the face when using it. Also, I thought this shot was going to be impossible to get right, because in the original my face was about 15 different shades (from not having my photography makeup again and improvising with my day to day stuff, which isn’t nearly as heavy in coverage) AND on top of that there was a big shadow on my nose from the hair blowing around that made it look gray. And yet I actually managed to salvage it, albeit with a TON of editing. The wig in this shot, by the way, is the Bennett I reviewed last week. This next one is another one of the wigs I recently reviewed – the Aria by Rene of Paris. It’s a gorgeous color to photograph:

lighting2ab

And yep, this is one of those shots I felt I over-edited then added a bunch of texture to try and conceal. My skin looks practically plastic in it, but I love the way the hair is moving and that color – it really can’t be said enough – is unbelievably gorgeous both in photos and in person. And keep in mind that in all of these five new photos, I was wearing the same makeup, and used Portrait Pro to make all the color changes. I can’t say enough about that program, if you love working with portraits it’s the best thing I’ve ever come across for processing.

Coming up soon – more photos, and of course, a few more wig reviews. I still need to film the Soft and Subtle by Gabor (a major disappointment, so stay tuned), a new Kristen by Renau in one of the new Chocolate Collection colors, the Tessa by  Noriko in Butter Pecan-R, and another Robin by Noriko in Harvest Gold (I’ve always wanted to see what a longer wig would look like in that color, and we all know I love Robin). So stay tuned! And for those who follow the private blog, keep an eye out for a new post there, too.

Portrait Control

A few days ago, I clicked on a link that kept showing up in my Facebook feed for some software called Portrait Pro; I don’t generally pay any attention to those links so I’m not sure what motivated me to do it this time – but as it turns out, I’m glad I did. I recently paid over $100 for another portrait program that I was just figuring out how to use; I liked it fine but it wasn’t anything thrilling, just a very good skin smoothing and softening program without any fancy bells and whistles. So, it wasn’t like I needed anything else at this point, but after spending about two seconds with the freebie trial version I realized I had to have it:

Changing face shape and other features has been part of my photo editing for awhile now, but I’ve just been doing what I could get away with in Photoshop without being able to really go for it. This software was available as PS plug-in, which made it even more appealing to me, and the controls are incredibly easy to use as well as providing sliders for just about every little thing, so I can really control the final results. I’ve only had time to edit two photos so far, and admittedly I went overboard (especially on the first one) but so far I’m pretty amazed by what this program can do.

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I used Portrait Pro not only to soften skin here, obviously, but in no particular order, I also changed my face shape, change my eye color as well as add a ring light reflection, move my eyebrows down a little and trim them, plump up my lips, add eyelashes, blush and highlighter, a different lip color, change my eyeshadow color as well as the shape of my eyes, widen the distance between my eyes, lengthen and slim my nose, perfect my skin tone, shorten my chin, and add light and shadows to my face. And other stuff I probably forgot. Because I made each change on a separate layer, this took a pretty long time, but photo editing is like being a kid scribbling in coloring books to me, and I can do it for hours anyway.

PPro_collage1

I decided to work with this photo because I found it rather funny, I clearly had blinked during the shot, and something about the way I was holding my hand just made me look really tired and kind of over it, whatever “it” was. I really didn’t expect the software to improve the photo so much it was no longer goofy, but it did a hell of a job on that half-closed eye and actually turned it into a nice photo. It was harder to work with this shot since the program struggled a little to properly locate all my features, but if you watch the video I linked at the top of the post you’ll see how it works, and that you can easily move the detection points around to get them placed properly.

I can’t wait to work with the program more; my mind is reeling with the possibilities, but as I mentioned it takes a great deal of time so I can only work on about one day. Certainly you could just open up the program and edit the entire photo at once, but I don;t think you get the most realistic effects that way, so I literally just work on one portion of the face at a time and put them onto layers in PS – the eyes, then the eyeshadow, then the nose, etc. My poor old computer really grinds away at stuff like this and moves slowly, but I get it all done eventually. I’ll share more later when I have them.