Where do I begin? Where do I begin? I’ve been home for a few days from the two-day Feather Love Artist Workshop in Pacifica, and I am still on a creative high. All I can think is, “What next!?” I am so fired up to make more art and get to the heart of who I am as an artist that I can hardly sit down and write this. But with all stories, there has to be a beginning, so why not just start from the beginning?
A couple years ago, I stopped working for someone else’s photography business and started working for myself. I searched around on the internet, just searching to open up my mind outside the realm of how I had been expected to shoot. I needed to loosen up my new habits and start moving back to where I’d come from creatively as a photographer before I went professional. Somehow I stumbled onto Noa’s Feather Love Photography website. I sat in awe watching the slideshow and thought, “Wow, this is what it looks like when someone makes a portfolio out of their favorite work!” Then I thought about what I would put in my portfolio if I were to do the same. The thought was terrifying, but so exciting, and here was Noa, being courageous for the rest of us and succeeding bigtime. Over the next year and a half I continued to move in the direction of making a portfolio that was “all me”, but ultimately I knew I was probably going to have to get to one of Noa’s workshops before I could take it as far as it needed to go. Besides, I just had to meet this force of nature and kindred spirit in person!
Along the way, my sister, Whitney, owner of Rosie Calligraphie and sometimes photographer, became a Noa fan as well. She decided to come to the workshop too. I also met Kate Skogen of JetKat Photo, another workshop attendee, beforehand, and we all rode up together. I think we were all crazy excited on the hour ride up to Pacifica, not being able to guess what was going to happen over the next 2 days.
On day one we gathered around Noa in the living room of our beautiful home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was an intimate arrangement of couches and chairs. We went through our goody bags, earth-friendly fabric handled sacks, custom printed by FBS Print filled with goodness: Cookies from Gjelina’s in Venice (probably my favorite place to eat ever), a Sioux Magazine (filled with rad art, Noa’s work will be in the next issue), a coupon for free prints at George’s Camera, one also for discounted handmade soap (yay, my favorite) from Cheshire Fields, a Tim & Nicki Bluhm Duets cd (are you kiddin me!?), and last but not least, a sturdy and sweet custom-printed notebook by Paper Coterie. At least one of the other girls was smart enough to photograph these gems right away (as in: before eating the cookies.) I was not.
Back to Day 1: We gathered around Noa and got to work right away. It was evident immediately that she had been working hard to gather the best and most crucial information we would need to realize the true artists inside ourselves. I went back and forth between scrawling down gems of knowledge and listening in stillness with my whole heart. One of my favorite quotes from the day was, “We have a terror of being seen by making choices.” This is actually a quote by Larry Moss that Noa picked up at her recent actor’s workshop in L.A. With every word, Noa was forcing us to confront our fears and hold ourselves accountable for our choices. It was clear that excuses would never fly here. She encouraged us to shut off the outside world and filter purely through our artist selves. We need to write goals she said. We need to work hard, show up. Do the work. Make what we want to look at. Stop looking at other photographer’s work in your genre. Be inspired by everything. Stop making choices based on fear. Learn to say NO. Turn our detriments into our strengths. Discover our intentions. Follow through. And yes, work harder.
Who better to be telling us to work harder? Noa’s inner work is inspiring. The sincerity in her images shines through because she has worked so hard on herself. She discovered a way to let the magic happen, to let the scene and the subjects speak freely and clearly. So when she told us her secrets, her trials, and how she got where she is, we listened. Some of us even broke down, broke open. Yes, it’s that strong. As I witnessed the effect she had on me and the others, I realized a truth: Noa is a catalyst. And most of us were going to be changed forever by the experience.
Because Noa is also a sweetheart, she arranged for some awesome entertainment. After the heavy, intense workshopping for the day, we needed it! Nicki and Tim Bluhm showed up for dinner and set up casually in the living room for a few duets. I felt privileged to hang out with this adorable couple and hear their beautiful voices intermingle in such a relaxed and intimate setting. There were lots of photos taken, ending with Tim taking photos of Noa and Nicki hugging on the couch (which was really funny and entertaining to me.)
Also because Noa is a gracious host who knows how to take care of her workshop attendees, we had amazing food prepared by Square Meals (out of San Francisco) that appeared almost magically throughout the day while we worked. It was stealthily laid out by Noa’s workshop assistant, Stacy with perfect timing. How did I get this far into the story without mentioning Stacy? Stacy is amazing and dedicated; she is the exact person I would want by my side, anticipating my every need, if I were going to plan a two-day workshop for months. I also can’t fail to mention that Stacy is incredibly beautiful. She looks like a painting at every moment and has the sweetest personality you could imagine. She also writes a blog called Hello Cupcake, and will be interviewing Jonathon Adler in NYC today!
We spent the end of day one, drinking wine and chatting. There were a lot of cool people there (of course), and I think we all enjoyed getting to know each other. Later, my sister and I took a quick trip down to the beach. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see and feel the waves at night and snap a few shots. When we returned, there was a little confusion and a lot of excitement going on about a naked neighbor walking around in front of the window. It turns out that there are a lot of parties thrown at the house, and he’s not fond of crowds or anyone talking on the balcony at all. For some reason he thinks the best way to handle it is to strip down naked, stand in front of his window, and call the cops. So yes, a cop came and Noa had to answer the door and give her name and agree to be quiet but not without retorting that she wanted to file a pervert report on the man showing his penis to her guests. Brilliant! Later and quieter, I found Noa out back with a gathering of workshoppers at her feet listening to crazy tales of her fascinating adventures as a teenager. I had to listen too. Eventually, everyone found their own niches to sleep in (Stacy had rented sleeping mats for the “glampers”, thank you!) and we settled down for the night.
Day Two: Somehow, with around twenty people staying at the house and only two bathrooms, we all managed to get ready somewhat on time. (I attribute this to how cool we all are.) When I went up to the living room/kitchen, the house was a bustle of activity. People were already arriving to set up for the Rue shoot with furniture and detail items. Stacy (again!) had a feast perfectly laid out for our breakfast, provided by Batter Bakery (also out of San Francisco.) The pastries and granola were amazing! Shortly after, the radiant Anne Sage, of The City Sage blog arrived, had breakfast with us, and then pulled up a chair to give us some invaluable information on the business of social media. She went over her blogging journey, starting the publication, Rue Magazine, how she uses Twitter to make connections, and how to collaborate with others: “It’s all about relationships.” Did I mention her jeans? Yes, we all wanted her jeans. And to look that good in them too!
After Anne went to work on the Rue shoot, Chloe Aftel, the polaroid artist, arrived with a big case of polaroid cameras and film, and her two wonderful dogs. (They got tired of being without her and later joined us upstairs during our hands-on polaroid shoot, fun!) Chloe is one of the best no-nonsense teachers I’ve ever met. She knows her stuff and knows how to teach it. Good thing, because polaroid can get confusing. She passed around the cameras and made sure we knew how to operate them, and then we paired up in groups and went outside to photograph each other. The energy was crazy as we ran around the house making polaroids and whisking them into dark boxes to develop. Afterwards all the polaroids were laid out on the steps, and when she turned them over one by one it was better than Christmas morning. I am a true convert now. In a world of the perfect digital image, polaroid’s unpredictability is crazy exciting. Here’s Chloe’s advice, “Blow a pack and take copious notes on the back.” She buys her cameras and film over at the Impossible Project.
We regrouped after the polaroid bonanza and moved out back to watch Noa in action for the Rue shoot. She started by photographing the two cuties, Anna and Lenore, from Three Babes Bakeshop. It was interesting to see how she evaluated the scene, made a suggestion, but directed them very minimally. She moved onto shooting the table scene, interacting with the stylist Erin Hiemstra of Apartment 34, and making suggestions to get the best shot possible. It was fascinating to watch them troubleshoot and overcome a few obstacles. Their professionalism kept the situation calm when it could have potentially been stressful. I loved how the whole process stayed really mellow and everyone cooperated to move the shoot along. A few workshoppers even jumped in to help: Russell Silva of Ressull Salvi Photography helped move a barn door into place, and Kate Skogen of JetKat Photo held a chair so Noa could photograph the mouth-watering pies at the perfect angle.
We ate some lunch, another delicious meal from Square Meals, and moved back into the living room to watch Noa go over her workflow with images from the Rue shoot. It’s always informative to see how another photographer processes images. She explained how she works in Lightroom and Photoshop, showing us how she uses actions and also how to make them. We all chatted and exchanged some ideas. I think we were all quite worn out by then and were just enjoying relaxing on our chairs and couches while looking at Noa’s pretty images. She showed us a few more slideshows (eye candy!), and we wrapped things up with a few of us saying what we’d gotten from the workshop and how we were going to apply it to our work. (There was also a video being filmed over the 2 days by Drew Dorsey and partner Rachel, super rad people with great taste in music. Caroline Lee of Woodnote Photography photographed the workshop as well. She’s really funny, I wouldn’t mind hanging out with her again someday.)
For me, I discovered that I still let fear hold me back at times. I also make excuses, which while real, are not helpful. I learned how to take those excuses and turn it around in order to think differently about them. I learned how to grow from detriments and how to use who I am to make my brand different from others. My absolute favorite quote of the day is “If I have to do it anyway, why not do it with love?” I think I learned to love myself more and love what comes into my life, good and bad, because it is life, and it is always teaching me something. I learned to give myself more freedom to explore, to experiment, to be playful. Ultimately, I learned that it’s okay to be a sensitive artist type, but I can’t ever let that keep me from working my ass off.
I scrawled this on last page of my notebook:
(It’s actually very unintelligible. I’ve tried to make it more readable by assuming that I know what I was trying to write. I think many of us were in a crazy exhausted state by then, running on pure instinct.)
“Noa is a catalyst
Makes us look at ourselves honestly
And call ourselves on our own bullshit.
Because that’s what she does.
Inspires by her own example,
And the works she creates.”
If you ever think about going to a Feather Love workshop, don’t think about it, just sign-up.