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Wistful Bohemian Beans

Okay, shameful confession time.

I have a weird admiration for lifestyle blogging.

You probably know the kind. Very elegant staged shots of end-table dioramas that will probably wind up in decorating magazines. Soft-focus shots of food and hygienically grungy flea market stalls. "Easy" recipes that require more ingredients than bread and Velveeta cheese.* Step-by-step instructions for how to make some kind of craft thingy of questionable utility but unquestioned adorableness.

I have no actual desire to live this sort of life, let me hasten to add. Lots of people read these blogs and feel a weird mixture of envy and inspiration, but I am not actually one of them. My life is A) stupid awesome as it is and B) if you ask me if I want to build a blanket fort with some adorably photogenic children using a lovingly restored thrift-store quilt and then have a healthy gluten free snack on beautiful hand-painted plates---I will climb on top of the goddamn refrigerator and somebody will have to get me down with a broom. (I will hiss like a possum during this process, too.)

Such blogs are often billed as "aspirational" (a phrase I loathe, since it's usually there to make me try and lose weight) but it's not a life I personally aspire to. "Sorry, can't take a soft focus photo of teacups with hand-written labels telling me to follow my bliss right now," I say, pulling on my large and hideous mud boots. "Gotta go spread cow manure on the garden."

And I would have absolutely no useful decor how-tos. Except I can tell you how to hang a skull. I'm pretty good at that.

1. Take a thin, easily bent wire. Wacky Wire will do. Rebar wrapping wire is overkill.

2. Thread the wire through conveniently sturdy bits. The zygomatic arch will usually do, if you don't have any good holes in the back.

3. Twist a loop in the back.

4. Hang the loop on a nail. Make sure the nail is high enough up that the antlers, if any, will not gouge you in the eye and make people duck in terror.

5. Never ever try to hang it by the hole where the spinal cord attached to the base of the skull. It'll look like its all sturdy and stable and then someone will slam a door and the skull will leap for the ground and shatter into a million tiny pieces and you will be sad and need glue.

There. That is the extent of my decor how-tos. I hope you enjoyed it.

Anyway. This is not me trying to slag this type of blog.

People slag on lifestyle bloggers all the time, because frankly, it's easy to do. It's all so perfectly curated and so staged and window-dressed and clean and relentlessly upbeat and optimistic and if you open a closet in this world there will be neatly folded shabby chic bedsheets smelling of homemade organic lavender sachets and there is a vague sense of having wandered into a fabric softener commercial, except with more journaling.

Open a closet in my world and there will be questionable kitchen devices, a leftover can of paint, half a box of light bulbs and a bottle of the dog shampoo we stopped using because it made the beagle itchy.

*pause while author goes to throw away the bottle of dog shampoo because there's really no excuse for that*

Anyway. Like I said, easy to get resentful. At their worst, there's an awful yooooou-are-a-failure-as-a-womaaaan vibe, and ain't nobody got time for that.

But y'know, I actually kinda respect the genre. A lot of these bloggers are making money at it, and like all small businesses based on getting the internet to notice you, it can be hard damn work. There's a perception that all of these women must have terribly rich husbands (and for all I know, plenty of them do) but this sort of thing is a full-time job for a lot of them and it's not necessarily easy. This is weird little creative business in a way I totally understand it--ten bucks on Etsy here, a book there, a magazine article and some blog ad revenue here.

And you have to stay on top of it, same as a webcomic. You have to update regularly, you have to engage, you can't lie at the bottom of the birdcage with your hair in snarls for too many days in a row, or else people start to forget you exist.

And there are skills involved that aren't well appreciated. The difference between me taking a photo of a cake and one of these women (they are overwhelmingly women) taking a photo of a cake isn't just the quality of the camera equipment, any more than the difference between my paintings and Michelangelo's lies in the quality of the brushes.

My mother could set up still-lifes. She did it for paintings. It's not actually that easy to do. I sure can't do it. She had to pin fabrics to board and build sets and stare at them for hours figuring out where to put the plastic oryx and the mummified squirrel.** That kind of artful staging with the rose petals in the chipped bowl on the wooden farmhouse table looks easy. I am forced to assume that there's something to it that's hard, because if I try that, I certainly don't get art.

(Maybe I have the wrong kind of farmhouse table. I don't know. Spaghetti sauce stains are not photogenic, anyhow.)

I think maybe what I really admire is the photography skills. My personal artistic bugbear is that any time I see a style or a medium I like, I wonder "Could I do that?" And then I have to prove I could do it, if I wanted to. (Once I can do it, I generally lose interest. My muse is like a survivalist jumping between end-of-the-world scenarios. "WE MUST LEARN TO SURVIVE IN THE COMING ENCAUSTIC APOCALYPSE! GET THE HOT WAX AND---oh crap, paperclay meteor! Ditch the hot wax and get me some sandpaper!")

I would love to be able to take that kind of out-of-the-pages-of-the-Anthropologie-catalog photo. I would probably photograph my beans. I have grown some really spectacular beans, and they deserve more appreciation than what I can offer. I want to shake a handful of Mother Stallard's at the heavens and say "These are glorious! Why doesn't the camera love them like I love them!? Where is the filter that makes them look like wistful bohemian girls walking along an alpine meadow!? My beans deserve better!"

Then, y'know, I come to and I'm on top of the refrigerator and Kevin has to get me down with the broom. Again.

Maybe I should try doing one of those photo a week things for a year, and see if I get any better. It'd wind up being a lot of cat photos, I expect. Still, practice is the only thing that ever made anybody better...practice, and maybe some good tutorials. And probably at the end I'd learn that the secret is expensive lighting.

Still. May be worth a shot.

*Which is thus obviously not easy. Mmm, processed cheese food...

**I know, right? How cool is a mummified squirrel?!

And I admire your creative drive to try new things and develop various artistic skills.

Now come down off the fridge and get your camera. I'm sure there's tons of cool shots of the cats you can get up there.

There is a really good cheat for expensive lighting that we use (my wife takes excellent photos) and that is those clip on shop lights you buy at the hardware store pointed at a light colored wall or bed sheet. Alas, clear lighting is as far as I am able to go into the world of lifestyle blogging and my crafts always look terrible in the camera's eye because I can't take a picture to save my life. Ah well. I guess I will have to stick to my less upbeat and not at all chic day job :P

I'll have to give that a try!

I have such a love/hate relationship with those blogs. The photography is undeniably very good in many of them, which I suppose allows me to imagine that my messy studio with the dying plant, used oatmeal bowls, dozens of storage bins, heaps of cloth, eleven thousand DECAPITATED My Little Ponies, and piles of bones would be all wistful and cute if I could coax one of these bloggers inside long enough to take a picture -- assuming she wouldn't just run like hell at the Pillar of Skulls in the front room, and the live snakes. It's probably that I'm naturally messy and often tired and really just want my stuff to be where I can get to it, instead of looking cute, but I can pretend it's just a lack of good photography that makes my life not quite as pretty as I would like.

One of the oddest things that ever happened to me was the neighbor lady flagging me down outside my old house and crying "HEY! HEY! AMANDA! DO YOU WANT A MUMMIFIED SQUIRREL?!" At which point I realized the thing she was carrying was not some sort of food-on-a-stick but a very dead mummified squirrel she was holding by the tail. Apparently lightning had struck one of her trees, split it, and revealed this little treasure, and having been my neighbor for all of eight months, of course she thought of ME. Its expression of horror was fairly Lovecraftian in its disturbingness. I named him Imhotep and sent him to a friend in California because at that time, I did not have any place to display it or any money to buy a display case, and I thought she would probably be better able to do him justice. Generosity is giving a friend your only mummified squirrel. So yeah, mummified squirrels are AWESOME. I keep hoping to luck into another one. I . . . might or might not have a display case waiting. *looks shifty*


(I love this squirrel story. I love Ursula's bohemian beans and refrigerator-possum-hissing. I am delighted and privileged to know you both!!)


At least your closet isn't full of "Grab quick and slam it shut before something falls out" like a couple of mine ;-)

I think the problem with those blogs is that I WANT to have elegant things and awesome sachets that look all pretty and wonderful and everyone will ooh and ahh when they walk into my house.

Life is messy though and I also don't want to spend a few hours organizing my books every week or always put away the laundry or try to actually keep a lovely organic lavender plant alive long enough to make my own sachets (apartment gardening is something I fail at despite many attempts otherwise)

I suppose it boils down to I want to be Martha Stewart with someone else doing all the Martha Stewart work *grin*

I would love to have someone else doing all the Martha Stewart work. Someone who could come in, organize all my stuff in the way that I want it but just don't know how to do myself, sift the litterboxes, and do the laundry. And then make cute crafts.

...I think I want brownies, like the kind who made shoes for the shoemaker.

I confess, I originally misread the title of this post as "Wistful Bohemian BEARS."

I tried the picture a day thing once, and wound up all too often reaching the end of a day, realizing I hadn't gotten my pic of the day, and taking one of the first cat I saw. (There are three of them, so at least there's a bit of variety, although not much because two are all black and one's a tux.) Possibly making a cat photo a day would have worked, but it's hard to get good pics of black cats. I just wasn't challenging myself in the right way. I know people who've done the pic a day thing and gotten a lot out of it.

Then I came up with doing an origami crane a day, and taking a picture of that, and that's been working great and improving my photography a lot.

It definitely does take practice, but the nice thing about digital cameras or phones with decent cameras is that it's so quick and you've got the results right there, so you can make adjustments immediately. And take lots at different angles and all of that.

I suspect your photography would not be the soft-focus dreamy bohemian feel, but something both organic and vaguely odd.

Good photos of black animals are very hard. In fact that is one of the reasons that shelters and rescues have problems getting black cats (and other black animals) adopted is because they are so stinking hard to photograph!! Taking a black cat picture a day might net you some serious Skillz.

Love the origami crane photo a day idea though.

Hrm. I have a DSLR and I take 1000s of photos but usually in large bursts of several hundred at a time. Perhaps I should try this "every day" idea...

Bring on the cat photos!

As a fairly serious amateur photographer myself I can tell you that it definately isn't as easy as you might hope.

Apart from the photography kit reqd - decent SLR with a good lens and prob a macro as well, and a decent tripod, and some light modifying options, you have the challenges of needing all the frippery for the actual styling.

Then there is the food and the setup thereof and I can tell you that its almost certainly more made up and full of fake than any actress at the Oscars!!!

I read this book a few years ago and it was an eyeopener - http://www.amazon.com/Food-Styling-Art-Preparing-Camera/dp/0470080191/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389746049&sr=1-7&keywords=food+photography

Milk that is actually white paint or thickened with wallpaper paste - soup that is full of glass marbles to give the parsley something to perch on so it looks like its floating on the surface and not sinking like it really does. Lettuce sprayed with glycerol and it goes on and on!

Good food photography is a real arcane artform and I have dipped my toes in it and it is quite hard. There is also all the post processing required to tart up the final image to make it look like you really need it to, you could spend one whole day to get one decent shot!

I have some of my macaron shots I was experimenting with here


And for those of you who might want adorable kitten pix, check out here http://www.flickr.com/photos/thebluerose/

Bearing that in mind, it can and is done but like anything you have to live and breathe it and make ALL the mistakes in the book first before you get anywhere :) Its part of the fascination that photography has for me, that it is the perfect blend of art and technology :)

*nods* I do doll photography (a form of still-life, with the added challenge of trying to imbue your subject with a degree of life), and it's a real challenge even with a D90 and nine years of practice. (I'm Ashbet on Flickr, too, for the curious.)

I don't have a permanent indoor lighting setup (no room, and I generally prefer the results of sunlight), and that's an added challenge -- but I really do find it a continuing (but generally enjoyable) challenge... which not-infrequently involves some amount of swearing and a LOT of unused photos for every good one that I post!

-- A <3

sadly, a lot of lifestyle bloggers are less lifestyle bloggers and more "i used to be interesting once but then i got it into my head that i was going to be famous and deep so what do YOU want me to write about?" bloggers.

it's heartbreaking. i start reading someone because she takes a good picture of her afternoon snack and talks about her afternoon in a funny slice of life way and then one day she gets a lot of hits on a post about something trendy and it;s all over. she starts being PRECIOUS and i run screaming from the room.

ahhh! ahhhh! it burns!


I might just hang around.. just a little.. on Pintrest. There's a lot of that there. Along with the Crunchy-granola outdoors sorts, and the beer&bikes brigade... and just occasionally the sort that would also probably think a mummified squirrel was cool.

Well there is always something new to try. I think your "lifestyle" blog would be more fun than some.

For example:

Birders tip of the day.

If your scope falls from the pier, don't risk life and limb and hypothermia trying to retrieve it. Grab the nearest fisherman/ net seller and ask him nicely for help.

A tutorial on one of your woolly sheep creations would be far more interesting than an artfully created flower arrangement any day.

As for presentation - there's always photoshop to iron out the flaws.

"A tutorial on one of your woolly sheep creations would be far more interesting than an artfully created flower arrangement any day."

Yes, this!

Frequently the lighting is actually good window lighting, and point and shoots/iphones made getting that shallow-depth-of-field-with-the-front-in-focus thing easier. Plus, you know, the quite difficult still life staging and a really pretty table. (I am good on the theory, but I totally fall down on executing the staging.)

I at one point found an awesome behind-the-scenes discussion from a couple of bloggers who do this as a business (google is failing) me and it is totally a typical 60 hrs/week small business and the entirety of their houses don't necessarily look like that between photo shoots, and they get take-out sometimes, just like the rest of us.

I've definitely become a much better photographer of still lifes (lives?) since I started trying to get good pictures of my yarn and knitting for Ravelry. I think I do better with the yarn, but that may just be because the finished objects frequently require models, and I don't always have someone willing to stand around and be photographed when the light is good. It's still really challenging to make the colors come out well, though.

Bearing in mind that people who do these Easy Decorative Motifs are healthier with the Spanish Flu than I am on an average day, and that my brain's first definition of "aspiration" refers to inhaling a solid object, I agree with the description of the blogs, to wit:

They suck.