I stopped spending time in the living room in my flat — my family’s flat — when I was eighteen. I only held out that long because the only computer I had access to was a desktop and it was there. As soon as I had a laptop I was out of there. There are several reasons, the main two of which can be summed up as “my parents refuse to not smoke in my presence even though it makes me sick” and “my father exists.”
So I lived and now again live in my bedroom. There was a three-month stint at a dorm, which also had nothing comparable to a living room.
Last year, I moved to London. London: where housing is so expensive people turn living rooms into bedrooms so they can get another flatmate in to share the rent! I went through some places with no living room, or where the only room I could work in was the living room, or where I stupidly didn’t make the most of the living room.
And then I was in Crouch End for two weeks. That flat was all kinds of gorgeous, and well-decorated, and the living room had the most comfortable couch in the whole entire world. I missed it the entire time I was in Hampstead Heath, and then I moved to a place where the living room was off limits, though I asked to use it a time or two. Briefly. No blanket permission.
Holy god, I miss having a living room. I miss curling up on the couch and still being upright with my laptop, and I miss the light, and I miss not being in my bedroom all the time. I miss watching mindless TV and I miss the dining table. I kind of miss socializing with people I actually find interesting.
As usual, I dream through Pinterest. According to my interiors board, which is by far the most populated on my account, my dream living room is apparently spacious, bright, with comfortable seating, with gorgeous wood flooring, and painted like a 20s film.
Sometimes a bit of teal or mustard pops up. It’s rare. I tried to do this with my branding and I got bored and I’ve been wanting to rebrand with actual color — multiple colors, even! A color wheel, if you will! — for a year. My room in Belsize Park was super white and felt mightily sterile, like a hospital ward, so I don’t want to go entirely in that direction.
But grays with pops of color are my interior design of choice, and one day I will get something like it, goddammit. I deserve to decorate a whole place. #dreamjob, tbh. Well, maybe #dreamhobby. There’s no room for any more career paths up in my brain.
If you’ve been around for any of my moves on Twitter, you’ll know every time I complained about packing up until the fifth or last pack, at which point I finally thought to lay everything out on a bed and go SCIENCE.
I mean, it’s not science. Probably. But by the time you’re thinking about weight distribution, standing over your laid-out clothes and saying, loudly, “Step back! I’m going to try SCIENCE!” feels like the only way to hold on to your sanity for long enough to get you on your way.
Today, I’m sharing some tips on packing light for your summer holidays, and a few of my travel essentials! Just a heads up that by summer holidays I mean “holidaying somewhere it’s summer, and relatively warm,” so if you’re heading to Antarctica, even if it’s July, this may not help as much.
Photography by Lix Hewett. Model: Ling K Tang
How to Pack Light For Your Summer Holiday
First of all, you’re already ahead of the curve. It’s hot, which means packing light is way easier than it would be in literally any other season. This is for two obvious reasons:
Dresses and shorts take up less space and weigh less than hoodies and coats. Duh.
Even if the place where you’re staying doesn’t have a laundry room or laundry service, or you don’t want to carry your shit to a launderette and back, you can handwash anything in the sink, hang it somewhere and it will dry quicker than overnight. So if your holiday is longer than you can fit a daily outfit for in your suitcase, you can just wash the ones you put in instead of pack more stuff.
With that in mind, you can get away with not having to check in a suitcase at all. You save money and you save your back: it’s a win-win. Here’s ten things to keep in mind to achieve that goal:
1. Pack for summer. Erase “what if it suddenly gets cold?” from your vocabulary. (Unless you’re holidaying in England. Pack some cardis if you’re doing that.) It’s highly unlikely to get cold in late June/July/August/early September. Last week there was a storm, and I went out to my patio and danced half-naked in the rain. And if it somehow does cool down in a heavy-summer country and you need some sleeves, you can take the opportunity to do some shopping. If you packed light, it shouldn’t be a problem to bring some stuff back with you!
2. Roll your clothes. This is on every advice list ever these days, but while rolling clothes won’t make hoodies or coats any less bulky, it definitely helps with anything thin or cottony. If you roll your t-shirts and dresses, you’ll have more room for denim, towels and other thicker textiles. They’ll also come out less wrinkled. Just do it.
3. Shoes take up the most space of anything. Luckily, you’re not going to be wearing boots to the beach. If you’re going somewhere hot, you don’t want trainers, either, or socks. Pack flip-flops or sandals, a pair of closed shoes (heels or flats, not my decision, but flats are easier to pack!) in case it’s cool at night, and leave it at that unless you have space left over. You don’t need that many shoes.
4. Put your underwear inside your shoes. Also fits inside shoes: chargers, batteries, small deodorants, jewelry pouches, particularly thin t-shirts (may be gross to some, it is to me), epilators, razors.
5. Go light on the tech. You’re on holiday, for god’s sake. If everything you want to do can be done on a tablet or laptop, leave the laptop home. That shit overheats, and if you’re coming somewhere around the Mediterranean, you will want to throw it in the ocean five minutes after you turn it on. This is where I, e-book lover extraordinaire, recommend taking a paper book or two with you. Don’t overdo it, because they’re heavy, but mmm books.
(Remember to take a converter plug if you’re going somewhere that has different outlets than your tech does.)
6. Another thing you can go without is a hair dryer. If you’re a stickler for drying your hair with it, check if the place where you’re staying has one. Most hotels either have one in every room or will give you one at reception if you ask for it. I started air-drying my hair in mid April, though, because it’s so hot in Spain that having a wet head of hair is like relief and it will dry on its own even faster than clothes, so you don’t have to pack a dryer at all.
7. Think about how much makeup you’ll be using. Now think about how much makeup you’d be devastated to find completely melted in your bag. Pack accordingly. (Also pack according to airline standards, obviously.)
8. If you’re going to be buying travel-sized toiletries — buy them where you’re going instead of at home, and leave them there before coming back. Check what the hotel will give you, too, and see if you can’t use that. Toiletries are about the same prices everywhere, and if you’re one of my UK readers and you’re going somewhere that sells in US dollars or Euro, you win on the conversion rate anyway.
9. If you’re going with other people, even if they’re friends and not family, combine your luggage. This is where SCIENCE! comes in, and it’s especially handy if you’re carrying backpacks instead of hand luggage. It’s a great opportunity to redistribute weight if someone is falling backwards every five steps or your suitcase keeps veering to the side and trying to kiss the floor.
10. Don’t forget your earphones. Or you may come home a year later to find out your beloved Apple earphones that still worked perfectly after seven years have been destroyed by the animal that is your sister. Not to be dramatic or anything.
What a summer holiday packing list would look like for me:
1. laptop + charger (maybe)
2. Canon DSLR + kit lens + 50mm lens + charger + USB cord if taking laptop with me
3. phone + charger
4. ipod + charger + earphones + USB cord if taking laptop with me
5. a notebook; I usually carry three or four, but we’re talking holidays: I don’t want to take my work with me
6. hair brush + deodorant + sunscreen
7. nail pouch with: nail clipper, nail files, tweezers, razors or an epilator
8. makeup bag with: foundation, concealer, eyeliner, maybe some choice lipstick and eyeshadow, and all this only if I’m planning to shoot
1. underwear + a couple of bras. I don’t usually wear bras with sundresses anyway.
2. if I’m going somewhere hot, a bikini or bathing suit, maybe two
3. all of the dresses I’m comfortable in during summer
4. a pair of shorts, a few t-shirts
5. flip-flops or sandals + one other pair of shoes + a third if there’s space left
6. maybe some jewelry if I’m shooting, planned beforehand
7. a towel
First of all: life, stop throwing curveballs at me. I need to save up for London. I can’t wait to go and get it over with and have a whole year to save up to go anywhere again.
Yesterday’s curveballs weren’t that bad, to be fair: a client changing her mind about a project and a troll resurfacing on Twitter. It was a lorazepam day, so I handled it fairly well, though it made me even less productive than I already was after accidentally falling asleep out of boredom waiting for my sister to leave me alone.
Sometimes — I was going to say ‘some days,’ but it’s all the days now — I think about going to London early. I’d get some cool weather, do some shoots, and be on my own. But I have responsibilities to fulfill and I can’t tell my clients, “So long, see you in two weeks!” Plus I want to be there in September for a blogger event I’m hoping to shoot. I don’t want to have all that bogging me down. I want to actually focus on shooting and have time to edit the photos at my leisure afterwards.
So I keep waiting.
Podcasts, as y’all know, are awesome. I would like to listen to them more consistently, and maybe edit pictures while I do, or sew, because those are lovely things to do while you listen to podcasts. Unfortunately I need my room back for the latter and alone time for the former. In the meanwhile, I’m exploring the world of podcasting and booking guest spots on things. My family leave me alone to record, so that’s an upside!
My first ever podcast guest spot was on the digital scrapbooking podcast Digiscrap Geek, a weekly chat about scrapbook design and memory-keeping! We talked about capturing personality in casual, day-to-day portraiture, and it was a lot of fun. I’m embedding the audio below so you can hear me be ridiculous on the record and probably mispronounce VSCO. It’s a wonder I spelled it out instead of saying ‘vesco’ like it sounds in my head.
And you can see the show notes here. Let me know what you think! But only if it’s good. I’m fragile.
I still want to launch my own podcast on a topic related to my blog/biz, but I don’t have time (alone) right now, so yesterday I had this grandiose idea of doing a mini biweekly thing where I read my poems and then try to analyze them. Or explain them. Or explain what was going through my head when I wrote them. The way I write poetry, I really don’t put meaning into it; I make it up afterwards. So it would be fun to read a poem and analyze it in the following episode, giving listeners (if there are any?!) a chance to interpret it on their own! Could have guests as well. It’s a silly idea but I think it would be fun and pressure-free, and not necessarily indefinite.
Thoughts on that?
My other two business thoughts:
1. Stock licensing. Maybe instead of licensing photos one by one, I could have a monthly membership library that would give holders a simple license to use my photos for individual blog posts or websites, and they could choose to purchase further licensing if they needed the photos for print, books or advertising campaigns. Need to separate a bit there, but I want to profit more if they’re profiting more, essentially. But I like the library concept a lot.
2. Referral scheme. I was working this out in one of my Facebook groups and they suggested giving affiliates (or… referrers? What IS the difference?) a personalized discount code. That way clients would be less likely to forget to mention who referred them. And the affiliate would get 5% of the sale in cash OR 10% in design credit.
Thoughts on any of these? Would you buy access to the stock photo library/refer people to me? I mean, they sound like good ideas, right?
Do you listen to podcasts? Which are your favorites? When do you normally listen, and what do you do while you listen?
Anxiety has been a companion of mine for a good long, long decade. It’s hard to think of a time when it wasn’t pushing its way through the crevices of my brain and knocking on my temples like a five-year-old child going, “Pay attention to me. Pay attention to me. Oi! Pay attention to me.”
In that time, I’ve tried a sizable amount of techniques and attempted to build habits; I’ve been hesitant to use medication and refused completely and gone back around to ‘yes, let’s'; I’ve accumulated a long list of shit that doesn’t work — much of which makes me angry, too — and a much shorter list of shit that works — well, sometimes.
Sometimes still beats never, so I’m going to share those things that make living with anxiety a little easier on me.
I’m putting the most drastic tactic first. The rest of this list is a lot more predictable, which is why I’m including a place to start for each item besides this one. I wanted to be actually helpful and not just regurgitate what you see everywhere.
What do I mean by quit? Well, obviously I’m not saying you should quit your life. (Please don’t. I know the feeling. If you’re at that point, there is help available.) But we all have stressors. Anyone with anxiety can probably list five or ten off the top of their head. Right now, some of my stressors are: my work backlog, financial anxiety about going back to London, anxiety over how I’m going to bring all my stuff back, the thing where I can’t get alone time to work, my bad eating and sleeping habits and the guilt that comes with them, my rebrand and how big and unsurmountable it feels given all the other things I have to do and situational hindrances.
All in all, it’s not that bad. A few months ago, my biggest stressor was financial, too — but it was the kind of thing where if things went wrong, I was really fucked. They did in fact go wrong, and I was so fucked that I moved back home. I no longer have to worry about rent. I’ve traded it off for living with my family again, but boy, has it made a difference to my general mindset.
It could be a job that’s stressing you out. A hobby that takes up too much of your time. Maybe you’re a freelancer and you’re not giving yourself enough time off. (Been there!) I’ve also been in a place — back when I first got a room of my own, same month I first got on paroxetine — where a hobby had become my only source or measure of productivity, and it had become unhealthy. I was in a place in my life where I was able to quit that and be listless for a few months, and that’s how I ended up feeling confident enough to start a business.
It could be a person. Anything from a friend you don’t see eye to eye with to a relative who puts you down to a close family member who’s abusive. I understand how hard it can be to let go of people, both emotionally and practically. I live with my father right now, and while his abuse is less frequent than it used to be, he’s still someone who continually hurts me. I wish I could let go of him. I told you letting go of rent worries was a trade-off.
But maybe there’s someone in your life you don’t have to put up with, and maybe that’s key to making your anxiety manageable.
So: identify where the stress, the dread, the worries are coming from, and see if you can let go of some of it. Delegate it. Postpone it. Simplify it. Trash it. Whatever works. And yes, go cold-turkey. Don’t still do a bit of it. If it’s a real stressor, if it’s the kind of thing that’s filling you with dread? You need to let it go.
It doesn’t mean you can never come back to it. But if you can afford to quit something that’s making you miserable — even if it doesn’t only make you miserable; even if it also makes you happy, but mostly you just want to never think of it again — I genuinely encourage you to do it.
2. Make time for fun
In the vein of ‘quitting,’ I think many people with anxiety — including me — end up in these lifeless, funless ruts where all they do is work, if anything, and they spend their downtime entertaining themselves with unfulfilling [insert choice of game/TV show/youtube/blog that they don’t enjoy that much] that takes up little energy, little headspace, and they don’t care about enough to be fully present in the moment and enjoy.
It happens to me a lot. I tweeted about it last week — I often avoid things I really, deeply enjoy because I don’t think I’m in a good enough headspace to get the most of them. Lately, that’s because I’m tired and hot and out of it. When I was in London, one of my little dreams was to be caught up on my work and actually take a day off to go to Starbucks with a physical book and no tech. This is not ‘how to fix anxiety if you work from home’, but if you have that problem, I recommend scheduling your time and scheduling breaks as well as an hour beyond which you will not work. I managed the last thing for a while, and it was wonderful: after 9 PM, I put aside my work and cooked my dinner, and watched a movie, or some TV.
But this can happen even if you have a standard job, or if you’re in school, or if you’re not working for whatever reason. (That reason could even be your anxiety.) So this is where I tell you to make time for it. Make time for that book that will have you giddily screaming into your sleeve. Make time for the movie that will make you cry fat tears of bittersweet joy ten minutes in. Make time to play guitar. Make time to play a game you can truly get invested in. Make time to read some fanfiction. Put it on your schedule and do it. Let your mind drift off and be comforted for a while.
There are many ways you can take this. You could write a journal. Putting your thoughts and emotions down on paper can make them seem clearer, less scary, maybe even surmountable. In the same way you could journal, you could also find a therapist, and talk it out, if that’s available to you. You could talk it out on a voice recorder, if you want the privacy.
You could find something else to do on paper that helps out. Maybe that’s to-do listing every tiny task so you get the joy of crossing it off. Maybe it’s drawing, sketching, painting, doodling, collaging, scrapbooking. Maybe it’s worksheet exercises you can find on the web. Maybe it’s one line a day. Maybe it’s writing daily about what made you happy — what some people approach as a ‘gratitude journal.’ I have issues with the word ‘gratitude,’ but I admit that keeping track of what’s made me happy has helped me a few times. Most recently, I did it for a Simply Health campaign on twitter of all places, and it was interesting how by the last day, I had a significantly easier time thinking of things that had made me happy — and it wasn’t even a particularly good week.
The great thing about ‘things that make me happy’ is that you can do it in so many ways. Many, many people blog or vlog weekly about their progress. It can be a way to keep yourself accountable, if you commit to having a post up about it every week. Many podcasts — like one of my first faves, Pop Culture Happy Hour — have a regular section where everyone talks about something that made them happy. You can instagram it, if you’re a visual sort. It can be a photography project. Whatever it is, and as many issues as I have with general ‘think positive’ attitudes, singling out the positive can truly help you be more aware of it going forward. And that will definitely help your anxiety.
Like yoga, but without the physical effort. No, seriously. I first tried meditation a few weeks ago, hoping it wouldn’t make me feel ridiculous, and it was very, very similar to doing yoga — except I didn’t have to expel a drop of sweat or leave my lungs on the floor trying to hold a downward-facing dog pose for longer than my admittedly pathetic endurance can handle.
I know some people just, like, meditate. They can zone out and empty their minds and let all thoughts go. I can’t do that. I can’t even do that when I’m trying to sleep. I need someone to guide me. Now, if you have access to slash can afford a personal trainer, or like group classes, that’s for sure an option! Me, I have no disposable income and I don’t have the greatest track record with group things involving exercise — granted, that was high school, but I doubt a group class will wait for me to catch up while I wheeze — so I found some guided self-help type stuff on the Internet.
If you want to try meditation and you have a smartphone — Android or iOS! possibly other systems — you’re in luck. There are quite a few apps that will offer you a range of meditations you can pick based on your mood, what you need to accomplish, what works for you, how long you have, and other factors.
I got four apps on my Android phone to test out, and I haven’t got round to them all, but here they are (they’re all free): Mindshift, Breathe2Relax, SAMapp, and Stop, Breathe & Think.
Breathe2Relax was a nice quick foray into simply breathing without it being a part of a yoga exercise, though it’s not the nicest thing to look at.
However, the one that really turned me onto meditation was Stop, Breathe & Think. You can keep track of your progress, which meditations you’ve tried, how you felt before and after them. You even get stickers! I love having a way to cross things off a list, as it were, that doesn’t require me to remember to put them on my to-do list. Also, it’s beautifully designed. These things matter to me.
So yeah. I’m sure making meditation as a habit can be good for you, but as it is, I know that taking a few minutes to not think about anything definitely is. And a guided meditation — just because it’s telling you to listen, and focus, and you’re paying attention to that — does just that.
Right, so you like the meditation thing, but you also want the physical effort. Maybe you need an extra thing to focus on, and poses (or other types of exercise) will do the trick. In that case, yoga’s the obvious choice. It’s so obvious I feel silly even putting it on here, but honestly. I won’t pretend to be super knowledgeable about yoga, because I’m not, but I’m going to point you to a website I’ve used that has free sample recordings of some of their lessons — most are 20-40 minutes long, they’re doable, they address different issues, and you can get PDFs of the poses to go with them. If you sign up for a membership, you get unlimited access to even more lessons, video, and a bunch of other stuff.
The site is YogaDownload. I can’t vouch for the premium stuff (and this is not an affiliate link), but I can vouch for a number of lessons. The Gentle Hatha set is fantastic for someone just starting out — someone who isn’t very flexible or strong or energetic. It’s also great for anxiety. It runs you through a number of poses, all doable, some harder than others (I really do find the downward-facing dog the hardest one there), and at the end, you’re lying on the floor spread out thinking “can this just go on for a while longer? Like an hour? A year? Shh, outro music. Shh.”
I can tell you from personal experience — as someone who avoided all forms of exercise for twenty-one years, flunked PE once in primary school and rage-quit it near the end of high school — that exercise is fucking amazing for mental health. I mean, seriously amazing. The trick, if you’re not into sports in general or have the endurance of a block of spam, is to start as low as you truly feel, and go from there.
Listen, I’m going to tell you the truth here: the summer I got my room to myself for the first time, got on antidepressants and quit writing, I also got into watching gymnastics, and that gave me motivation to work out. When the Olympics were over, I started Make It Or Break It. Following concepts I explained in #3: Write, I created a super complicated exercise chart full of little exercises I wanted and felt capable of doing, and every day I wrote down how many repeats I did of each. I chose the exercises! And I followed programs like OneFiftyDips and TwoHundredSitups and HundredPushUps, though I’ll admit I was pretty easy on the last one because push-ups suck. I hate push-ups, and that’s okay! I was surprised I was able to start a few weeks into the first two programs, but I tested myself first.
The rest of the exercises on the chart? Jumps. Mini leaps. Straddle stretching. Pike stretching. Shoulderstands. (I can’t do headstands. I tried with my sister and nearly broke my chin. I’ll try again, when I find a gym that I can pay for and that has massive mats to fall on.) Roll-ups (for real). Jumping jacks, sometimes. Squats, sometimes. Walking en pointe and variations of ballet walking. Turns.
I spread these out throughout the day because doing too much at once made me sweaty and I didn’t want to waste hot water or clean clothes changing again.
Somehow, what had seemed impossible for so long became easy and fun and something I looked forward to. It gave me energy. And I felt happier.
So what I’m saying is, exercise can be awesome. There are loads of programs out there. You can pick a sport you love and do that — another little dream I have is being able to hire a gymnastics coach, but I would also go for tennis lessons. You can create your own workout.
Don’t force yourself to do things you can’t do. It’s funner when you start where you are and actually accomplish things, step by step. Most of all, do what works for you.
And that goes for everything here. Anxiety, like any other mental illness, rarely looks the same for two different people. What works for me may not work for you, and viceversa; what works for me may work differently, or better, or worse, for you than it does for me. None of this is a cure, and sometimes depression knocks you down so you can’t try it at all — I’ve been there, and that’s why antidepressants are a choice I make.
Regardless, I wrote this post to give you an idea of where to get started with helpful life habits, and I hope it serves its purpose!
Do you have anxiety and hate it when people tell you to think positive? Let’s commiserate!
Disclosure: This post contains no affiliate links and I wasn’t paid to mention anything in it or write it (which is outrageous, frankly; it took forever) but Simply Health will donate a small sum in my name to the organization Mind in exchange for my participating in their campaign and including their link in this post.
I’m nowhere near as lazy about walking when I can do it with my camera, slowly, especially with a friend. So the first week I spent in London last year involved some long-ass walks. I’m not sure which was the longest; our first day there, Annemari and I took a while to find — after, let’s be real, probably getting lost — the building Ashley was living in at the time, and I basically got a full view of Marylebone right there… and a fair share of Fitzrovia. The last Sunday, we covered a ridiculous amount of ground, between Regent’s Park and Baker Street and the one successful flat viewing of the week (it was Benji and Mindy and the chihuahua, wasn’t it?).
Today, I’m showing you what I wore on Wednesday — yes, this is April 30, 2014, but let’s be real, I still wear this shit on a regular basis. (Except the jeans, which I only wear if I’m going to be photographed. They’re too thin. Too much like leggings.)
Essentially, I am stalling while I figure out what each main point of our walk was, because quite frankly I’m fuzzy on the details of the whole first bit. Let me just…
Holy god. That was a long-ass walk. I didn’t realize St Paul’s Cathedral was that far out there! Well, we were there to meet Ash, but we missed her, and so I decided I wanted to see the Tate Britain. It’s a thing. I planned my first trip to London — in 2007 — around a Millais exhibition. I’m a walking cliché, but that’s my favorite museum in London, in terms of the art inside. (Favorite building is the Royal Academy; I couldn’t tell you why.)
So I stopped at a Waterstones to use their WiFi on my tablet — I didn’t have a phone plan back then — and figure out how to get there. Or rather, how to get to the river. From there I was pretty confident of my ability to keep walking until I saw Vauxhall Bridge.
And then we walked. For EVER.
It was brilliant, and this is an outfit post and therefore just a taste of the truly outrageous amount of photos I took that day.
Well, we’re due one of these. I was going for Sunday and hoping to have a normal post up yesterday, but that didn’t happen, and here’s why:
It is hot as shit.
In case you’re unfamiliar with my deep and intense hatred of summer in Spain, I’ll remind you of two things:
1) How much I complain about it. On Twitter, Instagram, in response to other people, in real life, on this here blog, did I mention on Twitter? Yeah.
2) I moved to London last year in spring so I could escape this hell, and my most defeatist plans for coming back home weren’t supposed to go into motion until September.
Also, I have a half-written post about how to survive summer in Spain. I don’t know if I’ll post it, but item #1 is: Spend it somewhere else. Item #10 is: Seriously, I hear Siberia’s nice this time of year.
In short: I fucking hate summer.
Fortunately, or neutrally, or the opposite of fortunately let’s be real, it was so unbearable that it made work impossible, so I broke down and bought an electric fan. This was a trade-off not only in the sense that someone took my money and traded it for a thing that blows air on me, thereby returning the ability to think to my brain, but also in the sense that I’m not the only person in this house who’s basically dying in this weather, and I’m also not enough of an asshole to tell my mom to go become a puddle of sweat somewhere else. (I have fewer qualms about telling my sister this, sometimes.)
So there’s another obstacle to work. I’m managing today because my sister’s meeting friends. My mom napped here and it was eh, okay, and then I kicked her out at 8 PM, which wasn’t that cruel. I wanted to write and it was fine when she was sleeping, but when people use gadgets behind me, it drives me up the wall. And I have enough concentration issues as it is.
What all this means is the same thing I’ve been saying since I moved here: I have got to get up early so I can enjoy the patio while there’s still a breeze. I’m never more productive than the two hours after I get out of the shower, and I can’t use them if I spend them in my room because as soon as the electric fan goes on, somebody invades.
But hey, at least I can think again. Near my laptop, even. This weekend was bad for me and my laptop. I went near it and went ‘arghhhh’ and stepped away.
One of the things I can do is keep taking the Skillshare class I’m taking on surface pattern design. I’m learning loads about Illustrator, you guys, I recommend it. The more I learn about it, the more it doesn’t look that different from Photoshop. Isn’t that lovely? Yes it is.
Even lovelier is the fact that they approved my scholarship request, which means I can continue to take classes for a year without paying for it. I love that they took me at my word and gave me the chance to keep using the site and my respect for them has basically increased tenfold knowing the scholarship program is legit.
I just need some time to play* with my skills without money on the line, you know? Learning is thrilling and creativity and art are joyful and I miss them not being so tied up to client work. I want to work on more passive income streams, but I also want to have something structured to do that I don’t have to feel guilty or stressed about. So I’m very excited about this.
* They also didn’t revoke my scholarship after I used this line in my thank-you email preceded by the sentence, “In the immortal words of Avril Lavigne,” so extra bonus points to them.
I’m also excited about all the posts I want to write for the blog. I feel like I should work on my rebrand first, but maybe I could set a goal of posts scheduled and written before I do that? If I’m doing three per week, and rebranding will take me maybe two months in between client work, let’s say — 24? Damn, that’s a lot. Doable, though! For sure. I have fourteen posts outlined and one in my head already anyway. This should be fun.
The picture in my head is becoming clearer, as far as content at least. It’s scary because it’s a little different from every blog I follow, so I don’t have any people I can clearly use as a guideline. I’m not comfortable breaking molds, me, I like to transform them mainly. But it’s finally coming together and hopefully it will work out.
One of the posts I’ve outlined is about rom coms, so media, which is something I want to do more writing about. It’s my first passion and I feel like going back to my roots. I’m not sure if I’ll do it mostly for this blog or find a gig somewhere else, but I’m finding myself finally wanting to watch things — movies and TV, not just John Oliver and gymnastics on youtube — again, and that makes me happy.
Finally, I’m guesting on a podcast on Thursday! It’s a small one but it looks like it’s full of lovely people and I’m SO excited to get some experience with that. The podcast is Digiscrap Geek and I’ll be talking about how to capture personality in portraiture.
If you read my outfit post on Wednesday, you may remember I mentioned wanting to write about the process behind style photos. Well, guess what: I actually did, and this is that post.
Here, I’m going to tell you about everything that happens between ‘deciding to shoot an outfit’ and ‘getting enough pictures on my camera to call it a day.’ I’ll try to account for people who shoot with tripods and remotes, but obviously, what works for me may not work for you.
This post focuses on the non-technical aspects of photographing outfits, but in case you’re wondering, I shoot with a Canon EOS 450D I bought in 2008. Yep. My 50mm f/1.8 lens is a bit newer. All my photos are taken in manual mode and in RAW.
BEFORE THE SHOOT
The first thing I do, days or weeks before a shoot, is either a) receive a piece of clothing in the mail, or b) randomly come up with an outfit made out of clothes from my closet. If (a), then I try (b). I often think long and hard about what jewelry could go with the outfit, how I could dress things up a bit, and if I could maybe put on makeup this time. Spoiler alert: none of this has any bearing when I get dressed.
Then I need to find a time I will be going out. I tend to time my outfit shoots around errands. The thing is, I don’t do a lot of errands, so the last two outfit shoots I did happened after going to the doctor and getting my eyes checked out, respectively. Health appointments are particularly convenient because my mom doesn’t put up a fuss about coming with me to these things, and that way I don’t have to worry about my assistant’s schedule.
(My mom is fine with being called my assistant. Assisting me, she doesn’t like so much.)
The morning I picked to go somewhere, I usually can’t be bothered to get out of bed and say, “Eh. Tomorrow.”
And then tomorrow comes. (Ominous!) And I put on my piece of clothing, and the bare minimum of other items I need to go outside without dying — i.e., shoes, glasses, and a bag with my wallet, my camera and my notebooks in it. I briefly consider the jewelry thing, and remember it’s all inside a pouch in a backpack in a suitcase in my closet.
That is a hell of a lot of work. Pfft.
Let’s just work extra hard on the photography instead, yeah? That’s my selling point anyway.
For real. ‘s why I do what I do.
THE OUTFIT PHOTOGRAPHY PROCESS
First, I let my mom know I’m going to be making her take pictures of me. I often do this days in advance, and then on the day of. It’s important because that way she can wrap her head around the fact that I will waste thirty minutes of her time.
PICKING A SPOT
We go to the thing we have to do, and then I think about what’s around: there are trees in this direction, and a park in that other direction but it’s really ugly, and a nice wall in the third direction but it’s kind of far. Eventually I pick a direction and set off in it, and walk until I find a place that meets three (3) requirements:
1. There is enough shade (in summer) or enough clear space (in winter) to fit both me and the person holding my camera (or your tripod!). I don’t mind a little sunshine getting in the way of things — it makes things fun! — but the straight line of shooting must be solid.
2. That space is also large enough for me to step away from the camera for a full-body shot when the camera’s got a 50mm lens on it. This is not incredibly hard, but it means I can’t shoot across the sidewalk.
3. It’s halfway pretty. The 50mm is handy here because it will blur things out, so you can significantly lower your standards. However, if you live somewhere with some amount of charm, you can and should shoot for all the way pretty.
This all involves switching walking modes from ‘normal’ to ‘examining the backdrop potential of your surroundings.’ Tip: pretend you’ve never seen any of this stuff before. You will look like a tourist in awe, but that’s an unavoidable job hazard.
If you already know where you want to shoot, you can skip the above step — for the most part. If you’ve decided to shoot in a park, you may still need to find solid lighting! If, however, you have a setup in your backyard, you’re three steps ahead of most.
NOTE: The deal with shooting during intense sunshine: I know people hate it. I do not. I mean, I actually like it. It means you can turn your shutter speed hardcore high, which will give you super smooth, sharp photos even if you decide to twirl in your dress and show unexpecting passersby your underwear. When you look for that lovely solid shaded spot to shoot, you will have super cool sunshine filtering through, if you choose to. I love that.
You just need to be really really careful to avoid overexposure. I haven’t fully mastered it myself (look, I know), but it helps if you have the minimum possible ISO, roll the shutter speed as high as it will go, and if you’re not seeking bokeh, narrow the aperture a lot. I never narrow the aperture a lot, especially for portraits, but just saying as it may come in handy!
I can’t be held responsible for taking other pictures while I look.
TESTING THE SPOT
Look around. Where’s the best background? Make your mom slash assistant stand in for you. Last time my mom was like ‘fuck this bullshit, make your sister do it’ and my sister did, though I rarely use her because her hands are shaky as hell even on 1/1600 shutter speed. My family are a prime example of how having a good camera does not, in fact, make you a good photographer. (I love you, mom and sister. Also cat, you absolute babe. One day I will put your paw on the shutter and click.)
If you have a tripod, you’ll have to stand in for yourself and take test shots. Obviously.
1. Where the light is coming from. I tend to take pictures from a few angles to find this out, though occasionally I’ll take one and be like, ‘Eh, that’ll do’ if I’m somewhere open plan where the lighting isn’t cut in by walls and whatnot. If you’re in a patio or a porch or a cul-de-sac or indoors, this matters a fair bit more. As a general rule, make sure you’re fully or mostly facing the light. (If you’re going for a silhouette photo, turn your back on it. There, you showed that light who’s boss.) Otherwise you’ll have to lower your shutter speed, and the background will be washed out in light while your skin is dark and gross. Not a good picture.
2. Light intensity. Check how your skin is coming out, the details on your dress, your hair, everything that’s a tricky color. White is super tricky in intense lighting. Make sure you’re not washing out the textures at your current shutter speed. Pull it up if necessary.
3. Potential backgrounds. If you’re using a wall, you can skip this part. But if you’re in the middle of a street or a park — somewhere with a busy background, even if you’re blurring it out with a wide aperture — shifting yourself and/or your camera five centimeters to the left can make a huge difference to the composition of your photo.
Once this is all tested, you should have your adjustments set up solidly enough to pawn your camera off on somebody (or leave it on your tripod). You’ll also know where to stand, and where the photographer needs to stand.
Portrait of My Sister Holding a Phone #1356. She is not amused.
HITTING THE SPOT
(I couldn’t resist.)
Well, now I pawn my camera off on my assistant, make her stand where I stood, and go stand where she stood.
Then I pose. My assistants (eh) like to press the shutter and just… not lift their finger for a while. I try to hold poses for at least two clicks and delete them after, mostly because I’ve found that if I move too fast, even with high shutter speed, I may end up with a lot of awkward faces.
I’d love to give you some tips on posing, but I need to go over my shoots and write down what I normally do, because I have no idea. I won’t say I’m An Amazing Model, because I don’t know much, but I have a ridiculous amount of fun with it and it really comes naturally. I’m not afraid to look ridiculous because those photos can be the funnest, and I can delete anything I don’t like afterwards. Sometimes I’ll remember a pose I saw on somebody’s blog and try for it, but for the most part I improvise.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to smile. I can be a bit terrible at that. I like smiling pictures, especially for outfit posts; I’m not actually shooting a super serious fashion campaign here, and even if I were, I like to see people smiling.
Anyway, I pose and shoot a few full-body photos. I look at them and adjust the settings if necessary. I also check whether there are any photos I can use yet, or if there are any I want that are missing. I make sure you can see my face in all of them so the post won’t look like a shampoo commercial.
I do a few more full-body shots. I bark orders at my assistant to move further or closer or a step to the left or five milimeters back diagonally to the right. I check in again, adjust, run over what I have in my head.
Back to my place, and this time I ask my assistant to stand a little closer and get shots from the thighs up, or from the chest up, or from the waist down. I look over those to make sure I have what I wanted, and often do a few more full-body shots just to be safe.
Sometimes I’ll repeat the entire process, or part of it, somewhere else. When I shot Wednesday’s outfit, I looked for a green background I could shoot the back of my dress against, but sadly I didn’t find one. It was very sad. I tend to rush through the testing if I’ve already done the main shoot, mostly so my assistant(s) won’t kill me.
AFTER THE SHOOT
Then I come home, delete everything that already looks bad in the camera, transfer my photos to my laptop, and edit! Okay, first I go through them and wallow in how pretty I am, sometimes I tweet about that, and then I edit.
Next on this not-a-series: Lix’s Ultimate Guide to Post-Processing Outfit Shots. Or something a little less ultimate, and therefore less work for me. Give me some time to decide.
So I wore a thing. Yay! I wear things every day, obviously, but this time I dragged my mom and sister with me to photograph it. You may see a post about our process on the blog soon — or rather, about the way I mold my process to deal with their impatience, their lack of love for my camera, their lack of love for my modeling, and their general inability to tell when their focal point is a motorbike in the background.
I love them, I do. I love them almost as much as I love sundresses, which is what I’ve been living in since the weather got much too warm to continue wearing jeans. This white dress is from a company called Zaful; I got a couple of other pieces I’m excited to style and shoot as well, but this is by far the most wearable. It needs taking in on the sides; I liked it a lot and really wanted a white sundress, so I went ahead and ordered an M, and my boobs are saying “ha. Ha.”
But it’s super comfortable for everyday wear, and it makes me feel a little bit Marilyn Monroesque, if you’ll forgive the differences. The skirt is massive, and it goes all up when you twirl (you’re welcome, everyone who saw my Catch Me If You Can kitty-with-a-ball-of-yarn panties!) and it’s delicious if you love that shit, which I do. I so do.
Trichotillomania, for anyone unfamiliar with it, is also called “hair-pulling disorder,” which gives you a good generic idea of what it entails. Essentially, it’s a compulsion to tear out your own hair. It is often caused by anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it kind of sucks.
I’d been struggling with it for two years before I knew there was a name for it, and this fall it will be eight years since it started — during what I now consider my first proper depressive episode.
My trichotillomania is focused on my eyebrows, with occasional detours towards my eyelashes and nose hair. There’s something satisfying about tugging at something and having it come out, and once I start, I have a lot of trouble stopping — even though I feel pretty gross right from the get-go.
I already wrote about my history with it. It’s one of my most popular Google Search posts, but it only covers up to two years ago. My year in London caused pretty major changes to the way I saw my eyebrows, so I thought an update was in order.
We left off at a time when my trich was mostly under control; I had occasional relapses, especially when I tried to write, but I’d quit doing that, so it wasn’t as frequent. I had eyebrows again and everything — thin, sometimes barely-there brows. The hairs are also pretty coarse, I imagine from pulling them out so often.
Most of this is still true. The main difference is I accept my eyebrows now. Unfortunately, my trich is an actual disorder; even if the reason I went for my eyebrows instead of the hair of my head was, originally, that I hated them and didn’t know how easy it would be to pick up a pair of tweezers and not doom myself to a chronic impulse disorder, I did, in fact, doom myself to a chronic impulse disorder.
But: I have thicker eyebrows now. I have eyebrows that makeup artists can work with. That is the real change here. I no longer constantly pluck them. I do, sometimes, but not as thoroughly, not as extremely. I like them. On some level, I knew before moving to London that people purposefully filled out their brows with shadow and pencils and products; that thick eyebrows were in (I haven’t gone that far with liking those) and invisible eyebrows are weird (I knew this properly, on all levels) and, essentially, that my teenage self was a really clueless, really insecure girl. Standing on the mountain of her self-important ego. But that’s not the point.
The point is makeup artists made my brows more noticeable. They shaped them and they darkened them and they straightened them up. And I looked great.
Now, modeling has given me zero confidence about whether I’m pretty or not — I still dislike my face, and I know I’m not a stunning beauty, and sometimes I feel like I’m opening myself up to scorn by modeling at all, presumably because scorn has reached me a time or two. (“You don’t know anything. You call yourself a model.”) But on the eyebrow front, it has been awesome.
My relapses are rarely less than three weeks apart, these days, and they nearly always happen at night. Know how I said I feel pretty gross as soon as I get started? That usually keeps me from touching my brow hairs the rest of the day. I’m a bit of a neat freak about personal hygiene. If I don’t feel super clean, I can’t think straight or get anything done. As soon as I can, I forcibly drag my fingers away and I head to the bathroom to wash my face and tell my reflection to “Stop it. Stop.”
Sometimes that happens later than I’d like, but it’s only been once or twice in the past year. Those are the worst moments, though, that second I rush to the mirror thinking, “God, I hope I didn’t totally fuck them up.” The once or twice I have has really hurt. The thing about impulses like this is they leave marks, and when you’re already messed up about everything — finances, living situation, work, having to move back home, the last thing you need is to mess up your eyebrows, too. That doesn’t feel like control to me. That feels like spiraling. It feels like yet another thing you’ve failed at. I’ve failed my eyebrows. I’ve failed my next modeling gig, and I wasn’t even actively looking for any.
But that’s another reason to avoid it. Another thing I don’t want to feel that trich relapses bring about — another reason to fight the instinct. I want my eyebrows to stay full. I don’t want to have to grow them out from scratch again.
So, thanks, modeling. Or, more specifically, because the industry kind of sucks in a great many ways, thank you, makeup artists I’ve worked with. You have inadvertently helped me accept my eyebrows — and on a not-as-thorough level, my acne, just by covering it up and acting like it was Totally Normal, which I know it is, but still — and for that, and for how beautiful I looked in the pictures, I am forever grateful.
You may have noticed my increasing obsession with hand-lettered logos and calligraphy. I’m not ready to spend a small fortune on pens and shit, but I have my tablet, and my Illustrator brushes, and I’m ready to have a ball with it and maybe a Skillshare class here and a lesson there. To that end, I’ve been browsing Pinterest really kind of a lot, and looking at fancy script fonts, and generally just looking at letters a little too long to be normal.
I just don’t know that much about letters, it turns out, so I need a lot of guidance. I also still end up sketching a lot on notebooks, despite the Bamboo Pad — specifically this Minted notebook, actually. I love their collection, so I was pretty happy when they reached out for a collaboration.
Since it’s wedding season and I’m all over this hand-lettering thing, I thought I’d gather some inspiration that also serves as a little selection of my favorite of Minted’s wedding invitation designs and other wedding cards on their site. Some are hand-written, some are hand-drawn, and some simply use fancy scripts that inspire me all the same. Hope you like my picks!