A Creative Life

A Creative Life

September Bouquet by Sharon Holland

September Bouquet by Sharon Holland

Believe me, I'm fully aware of how lucky I am! My sister always said I'm charmed and I think she is right.

My husband is a wonderful, kind, and giving man who not only makes me laugh everyday but has worked hard to provide for the family which allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom when our kids where growing up. He's always accommodated me in my pursuit of arts and crafts and supported all my dreams along with putting up with crazy photoshoots, sourcing excursions, and taking over the house as my workspace. 

Yellow Rose study by Sharon Holland

Yellow Rose study by Sharon Holland

My recent time spent reconnecting with painting has me first, wanting to thank everyone for the out pouring of wonderful comments and support and second wanting to encourage you to pursue your dreams and goals as well.

You have to know by now that I'm a natural-born enabler, right? Well, I like to think of it more like a cheerleader for the arts whether it's for sewing/quilting, photography, crafting, or fine arts. 

Fox by Sharon Holland

Fox by Sharon Holland

With kids back to school and summer drawing to a close, it's time to start thinking about following some of your dreams.

Even though I have a background in art from my college days long ago, I still wasn't up to date with modern technology. If I hadn't of taken the plunge and gone back to school at age 45 I may not being doing all the wonderfully amazing creative things I'm able to do today.

Luckily, there's now an easier way to learn at your own pace and right from home. It's called Skillshare. I'm a such a big fan of Skillshare that I'm now a Skillshare ambassador!

Monarch on Coneflower by Sharon Holland

Monarch on Coneflower by Sharon Holland

Skillshare is an amazing platform that lets you watch unlimited videos at your own pace the on every subject imaginable. Maybe you're interested in starting watercolors or learning how to draw? There's hundreds of phenomenal teachers from all over the globe are on Skillshare and ready to teach you what you want to learn. 

Want to be a better photographer? Yup, they have all sorts of levels from beginning photography to advanced. The courses are not just art related either, you can learn about how to improve your Instagram feed, be a better business owner, gardener, start calligraphy, learn the newest technology (like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for example), and improve your lifestyle, health, and fitness. 

Summer Lace by Sharon Holland

Summer Lace by Sharon Holland

Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start. When I wanted to start painting again I felt incredibly rusty but Skillshare helped me gain the confidence I needed to put pigment to paper again. 

So, if you're intrigued or still on the fence about what Skillshare could do for you, here's a sweet incentive for you to give it a try for 2 free months! Use coupon code: igamb1169.

Yes, no obligations other than signup for your free 2 months and start learning something new--today!

Here's just a few of my favorite teachers on Skillshare:

Leah Goren - Skillshare

Leah Goren - Skillshare


Bonnie Christine - Skillshare

Bonnie Christine - Skillshare


Katya Rozz - Skillshare

Katya Rozz - Skillshare


Robert Joyner - Skillshare

Robert Joyner - Skillshare

There's no end to what you can accomplish and each Skillshare class is broken down into bite-size segments and class projects you can share with the class and get feedback from the teacher. You work at your own pace, access the classes at anytime, and rewatch as needed. 

So, what do you say? You have nothing to loose and everything to gain!!!!

Happy learning from your creative cheerleader,

Sharon

Community Sampler Week #3

Community Sampler Week #3

Welcome to the Community Sampler sew along! My co-host and sister Art Gallery Fabrics designer  Maureen Cracknell  and I are so happy to have you sewing with us and look forward to spending the next few months with you.  There are eleven blocks in our quilt and each Wednesday will be a new PDF block release or finishing step for the quilt. If you are just joining us, pick up the Introduction PDF on the  Sew Along page  and you'll get a material list along with coloring pages so you can get started planning your quilt.   Many of the patchwork units (like Quick-Corner, Flying Geese, Half-Square Triangle, and Square-in-Square units) used in this year's sampler have already been oversized to allow for trimming and squaring of units before assembling your block. Please cut your pieces EXACTLY as given in each of the PDF instructions because bumping up the size of the pieces from the measurements give will not bring great results in some cases.  Accurate cutting and use of a true 1/4'' seam allowance is a must for successful patchwork piecing. All your blocks will measure 12-1/2'' square (unfinished). Review how to cut strips, sew with a true 1/4'' seam allowance, and other helpful piecing tips on my  "Are You Ready to Sew" post .

Welcome to the Community Sampler sew along! My co-host and sister Art Gallery Fabrics designer Maureen Cracknell and I are so happy to have you sewing with us and look forward to spending the next few months with you.

There are eleven blocks in our quilt and each Wednesday will be a new PDF block release or finishing step for the quilt. If you are just joining us, pick up the Introduction PDF on the Sew Along page and you'll get a material list along with coloring pages so you can get started planning your quilt. 

Many of the patchwork units (like Quick-Corner, Flying Geese, Half-Square Triangle, and Square-in-Square units) used in this year's sampler have already been oversized to allow for trimming and squaring of units before assembling your block. Please cut your pieces EXACTLY as given in each of the PDF instructions because bumping up the size of the pieces from the measurements give will not bring great results in some cases.

Accurate cutting and use of a true 1/4'' seam allowance is a must for successful patchwork piecing. All your blocks will measure 12-1/2'' square (unfinished). Review how to cut strips, sew with a true 1/4'' seam allowance, and other helpful piecing tips on my "Are You Ready to Sew" post.

Time to get to our second block, Dovecote. Download the free PDF on the Sew Along page.

Half-Square Triangle (HST) Units

Dovecote utilizes a couple basic patchwork techniques that we will be using over and over again in our sampler. The sizes of the pieces may vary from block to block but the technique remains the same and so does the need to cut pieces accurately and sew with a true 1/4" seam allowance.

If you're wanting to use directional prints for either of the following patchwork techniques you may want to check out my tutorial for controlling directional prints that was posted during the Sewcial Bee Sampler sew along. 

HST 1.jpg

Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of the lighter square as directed in the instructions. Place the marked square right sides together with a same-size square.

Sew an accurate 1/4" seam on either side of the line. Tip: Use the 1/2" wide marking ruler to mark sewing guides on either side of the center line, if necessary. 

HST 2.jpg

After sewing on either side of the line, press the unit flat before cutting apart on the line. 

HST 3.jpg

Press the units open. I press toward the dark fabric. Trim units to 3-1/2" square. One of the wonderful sponsors in this year's sew along is Bloc-Loc. In the first image, I'm using my 6-1/2" HST Bloc-Loc ruler to trim and square my HST. First I align the seam with the diagonal center of the ruler and trim the top and right side (not shown well in my first image).

Second I flip the entire unit 180° and trim the top and right side again to make the unit perfectly square. Watch more on the Bloc-Loc video for using the Half-Square Triangle ruler. 

No-Waste Flying Geese Units

Saving time and material is the beauty of fast-piece patchwork techniques. Start with accurately cut pieces according to the instructions and take care to use a true 1/4" seam allowance and you'll be rewarded with sharp points to your geese.

FG 1.jpg

Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of the four squares used for the geese background. Place a marked square right sides together on the corner of the fabric square designated for the goose. Place a second marked square (right side down) on the opposite corner, overlapping the squares in the center. 

Sew a 1/4" seam on each side of the drawn line. Press to flatten.

FG 2.jpg

Cut apart on the line. Open and press to make two Flying Geese sections.

Noting orientation of the drawn line and print direction if applicable, place a marked square right sides together on the section as shown. 

FG 3.jpg

Sew a 1/4" seam allowance on each side of the drawn line. Notice how the stitched lines start in the "V" created by the layered fabrics. Press to flatten.

FG 4.jpg

Cut apart on the line to make two Flying Geese units. Open and press. Repeat with the remaining section for a total of four Flying Geese units. 

FG 5.jpg

Trim units to a 3-1/2" x 6-1/2" rectangle, leaving a 1/4" seam allowance on each side. I've used my 3'' x 6'' Flying Geese Bloc-Loc ruler to trim the point and right edge of my unit and leave the perfect amount of 1/4'' seam allowance. I then rotate my unit 180° and trim the remaining two sides. Watch more on the Bloc-Loc video for using the Flying Geese ruler. 

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For my sampler quilt I'm using Art Gallery Fabrics Pure Elements solids. Using all solids is a personal challenge for this pattern designer because I love prints! If you follow me on Instagram @sharonhollanddesigns then you may have seen some of the Instagram Stories I've posted about taking better photos. So far I've been jumping around with topics and have covered a bit of information about taking photos of quilts in room settings and how to take better flat lay or close photography photos. Unfortunately, the Instagram Stories only last 24 hours so they're not something you can go back to reference. I only mention this because I do hope to make some dedicated blog posts to photography in the future and continue to make impromptu IG Stories as opportunities arise. Either way, keep watching here on my blog and Instagram as I will do more segments as time permits. 

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As I mentioned above, working in all solids is a personal challenge for me. I'm certain the finished quilt will be lovely but I'm craving to work with prints. So, a solution for me was to photograph this week's Dovecote block on a vintage Barkcloth drapery panel! After taking this photo I thought it would be fun to show a couple other flat lay (taking the photo from above) background options. For a detailed post about taking Flat Lay Photography, see an earlier post I put together just on that subject.  

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For the photo of the block on the vintage Barkcloth there was no need for any additional props. That beautiful fabric had enough going on to steal the show! For my second background option I chose a rustic wood panel as the backdrop and added a fresh cut flower and brass quail figurine. Here we know the block is the star and it shows it off well. The rough wood background and natural elements create a moodier nature-inspired scene. I also wasn't as concerned about eliminating all the shadows in this photo because in this case they added to the story. One thing to note when taking flat lays of objects of various heights is to decide where the camera will focus. Most cameras will focus on the object closest to the lens. In this case it was the brass quail. I wanted the block to be sharp so I had to make sure my camera was selecting that plane as the priority. 

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For each of these flat lay photos I had the block set up near a window for light source and used only natural lighting. That means no flash (gasp, never use a flash!) and no artificial light source. Only light from a window and an inexpensive white foam core board to bounce the light from the window back onto the subject. Doing this will reduce shadows and even out the look of the image.

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This last flat lay set up included a few sewing props on a simple linen background. I put the block on point to add extra interest and energy to the photo. All that I didn't want included in the photo was cropped out. Remember to use the grid guidelines on your phone or camera (can be turned on in the settings) to help you keep your camera squared up to your block. Any tilt of your camera will magnify in your flat lay photo and make your block look distorted and wonky. We didn't do all the sewing and squaring up for it to look wonky in our photos! 

Community Sampler Sponsors

Sponsors Graphic Use-01.jpg

Lady Belle Fabric  Omnigrid   Aurifil Thread  Art Gallery Fabrics 

Hobbs Batting  Dritz  Fat Quarter Shop  Bloc-Loc

My co-host Maureen Cracknell and I are continually amazed by the joy and excitement each of you bring to our virtual community. Thank you for making this sew along so special. Please visit Maureen's blog and see the progress she's making on her sampler quilt, using her beautiful AGF fabrics Love Story collection. Be sure to use the #CommunitySampler hashtag when posting your blocks to Instagram and tag both my @sharonhollanddesigns and @maureencracknell so we don't miss any of your beautiful work!

Don't forget that this Friday's a Giveaway Friday on the Community Sampler sew along. Maureen and I will take turns hosting a giveaway each week where one of our generous sponsors will be featured and offering amazing prizes both here on our blogs and also on Instagram. Maureen will be hosting the giveaway this Friday and you'll be instructed how to enter at that time.

 

 

 

 

Flat Lay Photography Tips

There's been a lot of interesting in how I take my S H Nature Study flat lay photos. So I thought I'd throw together a tutorial about how I set up my space, take the photos, and touch on some editing programs that will help you get similar results.

What's a flat lay photo? A flat lay is a photograph shot from above, parallel to the surface (table). A bird's eye view.

S H Nature Study flat lay photos

S H Nature Study flat lay photos

When I first started my photo-a-week-for-a-year series, I gave myself the parameter that I would use only natural origin objects like flowers, wood, rocks, and other found or man-made items with an organic base. Well, that was a totally unrealistic goal when you live in the mid-west and winters make it hard to find flowers and the like. So, I took off my constraints and started playing with sewing notions and ordinary everyday objects that would photograph well and tell a little story. Even though the name S H Nature Study no longer seems a good fit for my photos, I have used that hashtag with all 41 out of 52 pictures so far. You can see the whole series thus far on Instagram if you use the hashtag #shnaturestudy. There you will see the progression/evolution of style and subject matter in my year-long challenge. 

PROPS 

Sourcing props can be fun and as simple as looking around your home and yard. You can assemble a flat lay of totally random objects but it's better to have a focus (pardon the pun). Suggestions for flat lays: Subject, color, texture, materials, size, shape, product, or a combination. 

Try to keep the items a similar height. If you have one or two items considerably higher (taller) than the other items in the flat lay, the camera will want to focus on the object closest to the lense, making the other (lower) items out of focus. Vica versa if you focus on the lower objects then the taller one(s) will be out of focus.

LIGHTING

The most important thing about photography is lighting! Always use natural lighting when photographing. Do not use a flash or add light with incandescent or fluorescent light sources. I set up my shots by a north facing window that has no overhanging eaves, awnings, or light blocking trees on the outside. North light is ideal because it has the truest white light. East facing windows are second best. South and west windows will produce warmer light and generally have too strong of sunlight streaming in, making the shot harder to take and producing stronger shadowing. Where you live on the globe and the time of year can also affect the quality of your light source. However, you may only have a west facing window or not ideal conditions due to one factor or another--not to worry. We can get around these obstacles with some simple tricks (more on this, read on).

SETUP

Think about what format you want your image to be. Knowing where the photo will be used will determine what format to use. Since I am posting my images to Instagram I went with the standard square photo format for all my flat lays in this series. The shape of your format will help you understand how to arrange your flat lay items and save time as well. 

You've probably seen many flat lay photos online with pristine white backgrounds. To achieve this look I use an inexpensive white foam core board as the base and lay out my props on top of the board. Thinking beyond white, the skies the limit. Your subject and props may indicate a mood or feeling and help you come up with creative backgrounds. Some suggestions for backgrounds: Fabric, wood cutting board, table tops, chalkboard, black or colored foam core, wicker, leather, etc. Being thoughtful and creative about what you select for the background can add that extra layer to your image.

Set up a small table by your light source. Arrange your props on your background surface in the desired photo format configuration. I don't fuss too much with my props for my shots. I like an organic as-you-find-it feel to the arrangement and just start laying them down in the space. This saves me a lot of time not to fuss much with perfect alignment and angles, I just let my years of designing call the shots and do it intuitively. Don't over think it. 

I shoot with a DSLR camera mounted to a boom tripod. I can view my shot on the camera's back screen and stand on a step ladder.

You may not have this sort of equipment but can achieve the same result with the camera on your phone. A tripod is nice for reducing camera shake so if it's an available choice for you go to the extra work setting it up. If not, your phone camera may have some onboard tools you can use. See if you have a lock focus feature (newer iphone models have this) by first, tapping the screen with your finger where you want the camera to focus. Second hold down where you want the focus until the Lock icon appears. If you do not change the camera's position after it is locked, you can take more time to steady yourself when taking the photo. If you reposition, you will need to reset the focus each time.

Photo curtesty of Mac Worlds

Photo curtesty of Mac Worlds

Another way to reduce camera shake if holding the camera is to take a deep breath and hold it until you've clicked the shot.

SHOOTING

Your space is set up and you're ready to shoot, yay! Always photograph in the highest resolution possible so you capture the best quality from the start. I like to use the manual settings on my DSLR but that is not a requirement for great shots. The defaults on your camera or phone are impressive as is. But, if you can (or want) to play around with settings on your DSLR here's what I set my camera at: ISO 100-200 is preferred for clear (non-grainy) film and allowing the most light into the camera. I can also adjust the exposure as well. Generally I shoot anywhere from +1.0-+2.0 steps up from the default exposure depending upon the lighting and what I am shooting. I like to bracket my initial shots to get a feel for what's too much or too little in the exposure department. 

Above is an example of bracketing. Bracketing is adjusting the camera's exposure by steps. Photographing a very dark subject may require higher exposure steps then photography a very light subject. Too much exposure on a light subject can cause the white areas of the image to be blown out, loosing too much pixel information. Editing will not improve a blown out photo so it is always best to err on the side of underexposure to make sure all the pixel information is available. Brightness issue can be resolved later in editing. 

Many phone cameras can adjust for exposure. An iphone can compensate for a dark exposure by tapping on the screen and using the sun slider icon to adjust exposure up or down.

Courtesy of www.imore.com

Courtesy of www.imore.com

Take a few shot, trying to crop the image in the frame close to the desired size as possible. Bracket to the exposure. Take about 3-5 initial shots. I upload my initial shots to my computer so I can see a large view. From here I can see if something isn't working in my prop arrangement, camera setting, or any angle issues. 

SHADOWS

Depending upon the mood of your image and the effect you're looking for will dictate if you want any shadows are your flat lay. 

I have seen several stunning flat lay photos where the shadows play an important role in the message or mood of the photo. The extremely talented Robin Zachary, a prop and fashion stylist from New York, effortlessly uses shadows as part of her photography to create subtle moods and intimacy to her photos. 

Photo courtesy of Robin Zachary

Photo courtesy of Robin Zachary

Or, maybe you want a slick, shadowless, clean flat lay what places all the attention on the object(s) or product(s). Small Talk Social has a fun tutorial on how to style flat lay photos for instagram and some great styling tips with examples of clean, white flat lay images.

How to Style a Flat Lay by Small Talk Social

How to Style a Flat Lay by Small Talk Social

I tend to do a little of both these worlds of shadows vs. no shadows. To cut down or avoid shadows use foam core boards (see image in SETUP) to block light and shadows from all sides of your subject. Note, you may need to readjust the exposure when adding boards. If the light reflected from a white board directly across from the window is too strong, use a black or gray board instead. The boards will defuse the light but also bounce light onto the area. Play around to see what works best for you. 

If you are photographing reflective or shiny objects you may need to defuse the light even more. I use an inexpensive reflector that opens into a large diameter circle. It comes with a removable cover that can switch out to black, silver, gold or opaque white. With the cover removed, it has a diffuser capability. 

You can totally DIY a diffuser with stretching sheer material in a large embroidery hoop, taping white tissue paper to a empty frame or canvas stretcher frame, taping tissue paper to a window, or holding up a sheet. 

Sometimes holding a black foam core board over the shoot will also block glare on reflective surfaces. Again, experiment with what works in your space with your lighting. Each time I shoot there is a new set of challenges and unique conditions. 

Above are examples of filtering the light source. Note: The top left corner of my white boards should have been either butted up to stop that light from leaking through or taped to block light. the last image is subtle but an overhead use of the diffuser softened the shadows and produced the final shot for this flat lay.

EDITING

Up until now you've done everything in your power to produce the best photo ever! But, alas, it's not enough. Rarely will you ever escape the need to photo edit. This includes cropping, adjusting the brightness, contrast, touch up, etc. 

When working on my computer I use Photoshop to make my images sing. This is not something for everyone, I know. If you are using a phone to take images you are in luck because there are several extremely amazing photo editing apps available for free! The three I use the and listed in order of preference are: Snapseed, PS Express, and ColorStory. They can do just about anything you'll need if more robust editing is not an option for you. 

I took this photo with my iphone and embraced the shadows as part of the mood of the image. Depending upon what I am shooting for and how much time I have to spend on a shot I move between DSLR and phone camera. The best way to learn is to practice taking lots of shots, read blogs, and tap into the immense amount of online resources that are available on the subject of flat lay photography. 

Sharon Holland Nature Study Photos

I have been meaning to make a post about my flat lay photo collages for some time now but other posts just kept taking precedence. I am calling these grouped objects photos by the hashtag #SHnaturestudy on my Instagram account and have also started a Pinterest board S H nature study.

The reason I started taking these photos came from my need to reconnect with the world around me and give myself a personal design challenge of creating a new photo each week--for a year. I am always too absorbed in my work and I forget to take time to enjoy the world around me. Life didn't used to be that way for me so this is my wake up call to regain a little of what I used to enjoy so much--nature and beautiful things, brush up on photography skills and just do something completely different.

So, here are the parameters I set for myself when setting up these shots. I want to use objects that are natural in origin. Obviously plants and flowers are a good choice but will be hard to come by during winter in the midwest. So, I am allowing myself to add other objects to the grouping to help fill it out and support the weeks' color mood. As you will see, I am also creating a color story each week as well. I have no idea if this is all sustainable but want to complete my year challenge and push myself creatively. 

Here are the first 11 photos out of 52 weeks to get you up to speed. I will plan to recap at the end of each month with a post of the newest photos so you can follow along during the year. 

S H nature study no. 1

S H nature study no. 1

S H nature study no. 2

S H nature study no. 2

S H nature study no. 3

S H nature study no. 3

S H nature study no. 4

S H nature study no. 4

S H nature study no. 5

S H nature study no. 5

S H nature study no. 6

S H nature study no. 6

S H nature study no. 7

S H nature study no. 7

S H nature study no. 8

S H nature study no. 8

S H nature study no. 9

S H nature study no. 9

S H nature study no. 10

S H nature study no. 10

S H nature study no. 11

S H nature study no. 11

I hoped you enjoyed the images. I sure am having fun taking them each week. Remember to take time to marvel at the little things and connect with the world around you. We all need to "stop and smell the roses" now and then.