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Guitar and gas mask and zombie, oh my! On the set: Riley and Erica

Today's post is crazy special.

Riley's birthday present from his mom, Erica, was a rocker themed photo shoot with us. Since we wanted the full effect of a video with endless white, we opted to shoot at Photo Studio Group (thanks, Ben)!! At first things started off a bit traditional. Riley was getting warmed up with is guitar and amp. (He's been playing since he was five)!

There were some outfit changes.

And then there was the gas mask.

And gorgeous Mom stepping in for a few unforgettable ones.

But nothing topped the corpse head. Until...

...the zombie showed up.

What we enjoyed the most on this shoot was the artistic freedom and trust that Erica and Riley put in us. They went on this fantastic ride with us and allowed N to do what he does best -- play. Getting the lighting right, the props to work (there just happened to be a zombie shoot going on next door, no joke) and the models to cooperate are all factors that can make or break the day. N can take the traditional photos but then he wants to move on to the actual photo shoot, the shots that come after the sit-pretty ones are done. We were so lucky to have a photogenic and polite kid like Riley step up and get into character. That's what makes us love our job even more. Thanks, Tom Ulch for letting us borrow your zombie. Thank you, Erica and Riley for being rock stars!

If you're looking for something outside-the-box, dramatic, a la Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair, that's what we're here for. Rock on.




How To: Hang Your Art Pieces Salon Style

Gone are the days of the World's Columbian Exposition but salon-style hanging when done right, is timeless, engaging and unbelievably effective. During the 18th and 19th century, expositions and competitions would show paintings floor-to-ceiling, in a matter that is rarely practiced today.

There are ways to convey the richness of salon hanging in contemporary methods. I've hung numerous shows in this method and while it's difficult to understand the balance of color, shape and scale in practicing this method, it's an incredibly satisfying aesthetic. Most of us don't have large oil paintings in ornate gold frames, but our photographs, prints and smaller scale paintings work just as well for this type of hanging. First and foremost, unless it's a painting done on canvas and stretchers (a wood frame it's built on), your pieces should either all be framed or not framed at all. (Framing is a whole other matter and perhaps I'll do a post on that another day).


To get started, make sure you have enough work to show. You'll need quite a few pieces for this method since covering an entire wall or area is no easy feat. If your pieces are framed, make sure their backs are secure and that wires are intact and strong. If you're depending on the eyehooks or hanging mechanism on the back of a manufactured frame, make sure they're stable. If not give them a good coat of glue, nail reinforcement or what ever care they need and let it sit for 24 hours.

If your pieces are unframed, my best recommendation for showing them in a consistent manner would be to use T-pins. They're inexpensive and lend an air of "art school crit" to the look. They work especially well for photography with borders and edition works such as prints (etchings, lithography, monoprint). Map pins are much shorter but with a variety of colors to choose from, they make a wonderful presentation and are easy to push in the wall. Keep in mind that when you take them out, sometimes the heads pop off leaving a short, sharp pin in the wall. Please, use caution when removing and make sure you take all pieces out with pliers if needed.


You will need a level, pencil, measuring tape, hammer and nails or pins. They're not necessary but bumpers for the backs of works are nice to have on hand especially if you have eggshell or matte finish paint on the walls. This will keep the works from marring the walls. Also, use the proper weight nails for pieces. Some specify the weight allowance they can handle and I suggest investing in a picture hanging kit if you're going to hang things that are heavier than 10 pounds on a regular basis.


Regardless of whether you have an entire wall or a section of a wall that's offset because of furniture in front of it, find your central spot. Keep in mind, your center may not be exactly in the center of the wall, but rather, where you build your structure of pieces out of. Think of it as a starburst. A great tool I use is laying the pieces on the ground and arranging them exactly how I envision them on the wall. That way, I can make changes before I put any holes in the wall. Once you have your order, hold the first piece by the wire or hanging bracket against the wall and use a pencil to mark a spot where the nail will go. (My rule of thumb for any type of two-dimensional work is to have the center of the piece at 60 inches from the ground up. That's the prime viewing height which people generally miss as they tend to hang things too high on the wall).

The center yellow box is the starting point. Notice that the surrounding pieces are not uniform in size and structure but that there are a few rules in place. First, note the red lines where invisible lines relate pieces to one another. Not every line from the center has to be plum, but it's nice to have a few pieces have order. Surrounding them, varying sizes and shapes fill in the space with a uniform amount of space between each piece.

There's no one way to do this but visual balance is essential. You don't have to have symmetrical or frames that mirror one another on either side but think of it this way. A large horizontal frame on the left would balance two small vertical ones on the right. Every time you hang a piece, use the level to check your work and move on to the next piece. You can also integrate plates and other art objects into the equation for visual interest.

You'll get the hang of it. But if you don't, shoot us an email. We'll bring all the tools and hang it for you!





Nick Cave: Fashion or Art or Something Else Altogether

Last Thursday we attended a dialogue between University of Michigan Museum of Art's director, Jopseh Rosa and artist Nick Cave. Known for his extraordinary sound suits, the two talked about his role as an artist and educator, highlighting his process in both worlds.

Using found objects from nature and flea markets, there are three components to his suits: stand-alone sculpture, how they look and sound in dance and performance (Cave trained in dance at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) and as photographed objects. There are motifs which repeat themselves including colorful fur suits, twig and tree trunk shaped suits with basket weavings incorporated, iridescent space-age looking suits made of buttons with open "mouths" as well as what I call oversized gingerbread men among others. Because of this, I found it particularly interesting when he denounced fashion design's need to produce a collection. In his mind, it was more about the process of "making", the challenge and excitement of producing work during art school that not only engaged but challenged the mainstream norms.

His vision is absolutely astounding and achieves the "dream-state" ,something he touched upon, but I found myself watching the loop of videos and images, beginning to get a sense of what aesthetics and themes he was comfortable returning to. That to me, began to feel like a collection.

Which brings up the question: Is fashion design as it's taught in school meant to be replicated and sold at Gap? Is that an art? Or should it be a solitary experience, one which allows the artist to choose and learn based on his/her own experience of making the piece by hand and not sold in stores to be consumed by the masses. Most fashion design students go on to work for companies (like Ann Taylor or Banana Republic) and sometimes, fashion labels such as Calvin Klein, Michael Kors or even Alexander McQueen.

Cave's perception of fashion moves further beyond that, laying the responsibility on the viewer to deem what his work is. It's been featured in a diverse array of publications including fashion, art and craft magazines which further allows him to learn how his work is categorized. For someone that's selling out shows in a world that's generally suffering from recession is quite a feat. But I'm sure you can see why people are clamoring at his works.




Organized Chaos: Space + Tools

This past Friday we attended the ribbon cutting for the University of Michigan School of Art & Design Graduate studios. Located a couple miles from the School, the space is over 30,000 square feet and has a communal center space with arms of studios extending on lower and upper floors.

Each faculty member and graduate student candidate is designated a space for working on their specialty. It was an exciting evening and I loved being able to explore each little world. Some had panels of thread, others had cabinets of objects and others were covered floor to ceiling with colorful collage. Setting up a studio or work space is incredibly important to me and I can't work unless it feels "just right."

We work from home. It's a very rewarding and at times, challenging, feat. For instance, I have an office but -N- works in the main area which has the distractions of TV, NPR, the kitchen and many times, the dog's antics. Foregoing the typical use of a living space, ours is more like a studying, dining, library area where we can sprawl out, look at books and draw.

In my office, I incorporate a lot of pretty things to stare at so it's a mishmosh of professional and personal things.

I'm pretty meticulous about how I keep my tools. 

What does your space look like? Do you work from a home studio or do you have to get away to be productive? Send us some photos if you feel inclined to share. I love seeing how others function. And yes, those are Pixar forever stamps. Go get some.




A time for renewal

It's been a funny month. I had been so anxious to spend a real Autumn in Ann Arbor unlike the hurried ones in the City. I wanted to watch the leaves prepare themselves for slumber, corners tucked in neatly as they descended toward the ground. The smell of near-fermented piles of earth mixed with fresh cut grass lingering before the final mow of the year. And yet, with the start of the company and an endless list of tasks, I feel like a great renewal has recharged the both of us and given us purpose here. I don't fear the holidays and the lull. Instead, I see it as a challenge to challenge others and their notions about what can be started and when. The end of the year is not a time for relenting and making imaginary resolutions for the upcoming year. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to learn something. Much like every other day of the year. Happy Autumn, everyone.



Workshop: You Can Build a Pyramid in a Day

Recently I had the pleasure of styling merchandise on a photo shoot for a catalog. Maybe you haven't given much thought to it but just every object you see in a magazine has been set in its exact position to trigger an emotional response from the viewer so hopefully they'll want to run out and buy it. Whether you have an event to arrange or a bunch of knick knacks that don't have a home, styling objects is an art that can be learned. A triangle or pyramid is not only strong in its physical properties but visually as well. Building levels of varying height stimulates the brain in a way that allows for the eye to wander up and down, back and forth, adding interest to a grouping that works well in reality or in a photograph. Here's a short tutorial on how objects interact with one another. Notice how the print on the right and birdcage on the left balance the sides of the grouping even though they aren't the exact same height and are not similar objects. To bring the eye forward, the stack of books ground the area with a horizontal line to break the multiple verticals. The candle is yet another grounding shape that's lower than all others. I've also deliberately brought in various textures and patterns to stimulate the viewer with the lines of the cage against the scrolls of the mirror. The spotted fur is yet another contrast against the smoothness of the books. Keep these things in mind when curating your set up but be careful to not go overboard with colors and patterns. While the objects are different, the color family they belong to are somewhat subdued and neutral.

Even if you don't have objects of different heights, here's an example of how things work in threes. Even though it's not a definitive pyramid, there are still elements that draw the eye back and forth.

Many people think of a coffee table as something that only has flat books or objects but building a vertical space for it breaks up the static quality of horizontal lines. The Nambe platter in the foreground replicates the triangular shape in a subliminal and unexpected way. This last example is how to build a triangle in a photograph. Notice how the dog is not very high but still acts as a point in the hierarchy because I've lowered the camera to table height. The model train is a strong horizontal reference which juxtaposes the angle of the books behind it. Next time you decide to just toss things on the table, take a moment to play around with their placement and engage your guests with your thoughtful styling. Good luck!