I love it when a plan comes together… in a steampunkish kind of way.

Be warned, this is somewhat long-winded.

But since when have I ever been short-winded?

Back in July, one of my good friends surprised me with a request to be her best girl at her wedding.

She said “Steampunk!”

I said, “Hells YEAH!”

Well, it wasn’t an actual steampunk wedding as such, it was more of an east-meets-west-carnival-type thing. Our bride, a lovely Russian girl (complete with that accent that seems to make any level-headed male melt into a puddle of goo), was planning on being a Russian gypsy. Her husband-to-be was a dapper English gentleman sort…

It really has the hallmarks of a typical romance novel, eh?

So we were set for an awesome February, late 1800s New Orleans-esque Steampunky type wedding carnival.

Except for one little hitch.

The bride was pregnant and would already be a mum come March 2014. So clearly there was suddenly way less time for everything because this wedding needed to happen before the “little monster” hatched into the world.

Due to a plethora of other reasons, a lot of thinking about the wedding after this point was put on hold but a couple months out we finally got our crap together and went on a shopping trip to find some inspiration and some clothes for me to wear. Unlucky on that day, I started to worry. Where in hell would I get a costume worthy of a wedding? A little under two months out from the day, I didn’t have time to order from my favourite online steampunk shops.

At a loss, I looked through my cupboards to see if there was something that I could fashion into some sort of a costume.

Unfortunately due to the fact that I am several sizes smaller than I used to be, most of the clothes I remembered having which would have been helpful for steampunkery had already gone to “good will” at least 18 months before. Alas and alack, all I found was a grotty old skirt (that was too big for me) which I had meant to put on ebay ages ago.

It was clearly not enough on it’s own but I figured I could do something with it. Maybe. After a bit more fiddling around and looking up steampunk reference picture after steampunk reference picture, I figured out that I could build the costume in layers – and I think that really is the key to good steampunk fashion. It’s all in the layers.

Kinda like dressing for Melbourne weather.

So using the skirt as a jumping point, I started searching for corsets (because corsets go with steampunk like tomato sauce goes with meat pies) and found this “sleeved” number at Angels and Divas who provided very good customer service, I might add, when I asked them a question about sizing.

So then we had this:

Renlish.com - Steampunk Costume Creation

Ignore the mess behind me! And yes, my bra is stripy.

A little more tavern wench than steampunk at this point, I know. But the ideas were forming! Unfortunately they were forming in ways that I had no idea how to recreate.

So… at a loss, I went to the Stitches and Craft Show here in Melbourne and bought a most excellent book called “Steampunk Your Wardrobe”:

Renlish.com - Steampunk Costume Creation

Steampunk Your Wardrobe, by Calista Taylor

The projects in the book centre around re-purposing old clothes and basic stitchery to create steampunk fashion, it’s bare-bones stuff but it was what I needed to cobble together the rest of my ideas to form my outfit. I knew I wanted a shirt to go beneath the corset and an underskirt so that I could bustle up the brown skirt into some sort of Victorian-esque masterpiece.

The only real problem was that I really don’t sew. Really. I don’t own a sewing machine and my hand-stitching doesn’t go beyond darning socks and stitching buttons back on.

So who ya gunna call?

MUM!

Yes, mum to the rescue!

Mum was awesome and calmly suggested that we go to Spotlight (the Aussie version of shops like Joanne’s and Michael’s, except sucky by comparison) and look at patterns and see if we can come up with any new ideas for the outfit. In the end, we picked out a couple of Simplicity patterns:

Renlish.com - Steampunk Costume Creation

Simplicity pattern – 4046 Misses Costumes. The pattern is actually a dress, however we cut it off at the waist as it was going under the corset I was wearing.

…and…

Renlish.com - Steampunk Costume Creation

Simplicity 5006 Misses Costumes, Misses Lingerie

A warning about the above patterns – if you’re new to the whole sewing bizznizz, do find someone with a little experience to help you decipher the pattern instructions. They are not very clear and for a complete newbie they may be mind-boggling – unless you’re a natural adept at sewing in which case I’ll shut up and let you figure it out.

ANYWAY…

For the underskirt we chose a basic black satin and added some lace around the edging and for the shirt I chose a lovely warm beige (as white would have been too stark) lace material with a matching cotton to line the bodice. Following the instructions from my new book, mum and I bustled my brown skirt into the aforementioned Victorian-esque masterpiece and then made the underskirt and shirt based on the patterns we bought.

Of course, while all of this stitching fun was going on, I went looking for accessories.

Because what is steampunk without a hat, AMIRITE?

Well, I found one.

Renlish.com - Steampunk Costume Creation

Beautiful steampunk mini top hat by Corinne of ChikiBird.

I died. Well, not really, but after a week of staring at this thing, I bought it. Couldn’t help myself. Corinne makes the most sublime fascinator hats and mico mini hats. The level of detail in them is exquisite and I totally recommend her. I had my hat arrive from the States to Melbourne within days. Sadly on the day of the wedding my hair simply would not cooperate and I could not wear it, so it stayed hidden away but I definitely look forward to the chance to use it when I play dress-ups again!

The last thing I needed was a belt – as all steampunk costumes need some sort of utility belt. Unfortunately there was simply not enough time (two days out from the wedding at this point) to fashion a proper utility belt with pouches and such, so I bought a cheap brown belt from KMart and attached all manner of brass chains and huge charms bought from Kays Artycles to it, with the finishing touch being a cheap set of goggles that the manbeast bought for his costume but didn’t use in the end.

A pair of fishnet stockings and some awesome new Bennetts “Jia” Boots later, we had our costume!

Ta-dah!

Renlish.com - Steampunk Costume Creation

The finished product! With a parasol!
Photograph by Lisa Otteraa.

A little bit wenchy, a little bit piratey, a little bit steampunky!

And just so you can see the awesomeness that is the skirt and my boots:

Renlish.com - Steampunk Costume Creation

The gypsy bride herself and her steampunk best girl.

The Pintester Movement – “Pigs in Mud”

Ok… so I did the Pintesting thing.

For the uninitiated, “pintesting” is actually attempting one or more of the bajillions of things you’ve “pinned” on your Pinterest boards.

These are my Pinterest boards. As you can see, the craft and cookery ones are choccers full of stuff I would like to try.

Anyway, in the spirit of Sonja, “The Pintester‘s”, Pintester Movement*, I joined in by doing this cake which, like a lot of people who’ve seen the original picture all over the web, I’ve been obsessing over.

(*Link will work as of 30th May… or 1st June Aussie time.)

I mean… come on. It’s pigs. In mud. How hard could it be? I’ve always been pretty good at this food crafty stuff. I used to occasionally make marzipan figures for cakes many, many years ago – so maybe I had a little head-start with this one which may or may not be in the true spirit of pintesting, but ANYHOO…

The Night Before.

When I decided to do this, I posted up on my Facebook wall that I wanted to make a cake. Because I don’t really want to put back on too many of the 50kg (~100lb) that I’ve lost over the past couple of years, I also asked if there was anyone local who wanted said cake. Of course the response I received was expected. Naturally lots of people wanted cake. Fortunately I had a friend who’s daughter was turning six five on Tuesday (28th May) so it was perfect for her birthday and I felt a sense of good-deed-ism for inadvertently doing this for a special occasion.

Unfortunately this meant that I HAD to get the cake done well before the Pintester Movement deadline of May 30. EEEEEEEEP! I actually had to get it done to deliver the next day! I say again; EEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

So I ran (drove) to the shops and bought everything (most things) that I needed to make the cake.

So the whole process started by looking like this:

Renlish.com - Pigs in Mud Cake, Pintester Movement

Cream and chocolate in a bowl to make ganache.

And I’d already made my first mistake.

See, the recipe called for 300ml cream to 600gm chocolate.

Which stupid blonde made a 1:1 version involving 600ml cream and 600gm chocolate?

Oh yeah. Me.

So whilst I had ganache, it was very runny and I knew that even leaving it sit overnight, it would still be too runny to use on the cake.

So I sent the manbeast out to buy more chocolate. Which he did. And I ended up with a shit-ton of chocolate ganachey goodness as a result because I added another 600gm of chocolate to the bowl. That’s nearly 2kg (4.4lb) of ganache, people!!!!

Next on the agenda was preparing the fondant for making the pigs. I knew I wouldn’t have time for mixing it up the next day so I grabbed some food colouring and went to work massaging the stuff into lovely pinkness.

Insert an inappropriate comment filled with sexual innuendo here.

Renlish.com - Pigs in Mud Cake, Pintester Movement

Don’t judge me. It was 11pm and what would you do if you were faced with something that was pliable and pink?

Semi-Serious Tip: To get the perfect “piggy” pink, add some apricot colouring to the mix. It tones down the pink and makes it slightly more realistically fleshy coloured.

And then I went to bed.

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Cookie Monster Biscuits

Yesterday I got the urge to bake.

It was 4pm, I’d been bored for much of the weekend and I thought “Man, I just want to bake something”.

I felt like making ginger biscuits because Tony had given me some that he’d made on Friday, which I all but inhaled before I’d even managed to drive all the way home from his place, and I had the taste for them again. There is nothing better in the world than a chewy ginger cookie, right?

Except for chocolate chip cookies! Which I also love.

So after looking up cookie recipes and cancelling out anything that needed “kneading” or “chilling” or, fuck, even “melted butter”, I settled on a recipe in my Australian Women’s Weekly baking book for some chewy chocolate chip cookies.

I looked in the cupboards and saw that, apart from a container of plain flour, I had NOTHING with which to do my baking.

Which sucked.

But this is what happens when you’re trying to lose 75kg of excess fatness from your body, alright? Don’t hate on me.

So I stormed off to the shops to get supplies. Seriously, I stormed because I hate it when stupid things like not having ingredients gets between me and cookie consumption.

I came back with all manner of stuff required for cookie making… and some stuff that wasn’t… like condensed milk; two cans thereof, (WTF?) and yet another bottle of ground ginger (I have two already)… And enough flour and sugar to make about four hundred batches of biscuits or at least two hundred cakes. Or at least a few sticky slices of one sort or another. Or I might just drink the condensed milk straight because that stuff is toodamnedgood.

So… on with the cookie-making.

I don’t stand on ceremony. I just chucked everything into a bowl. A cup of brown sugar, half a cup of caster sugar, half a cup of plain flour, a cup and a half of self-raising flour all in and mixed up. I will admit that mixing your dry ingredients first and then adding the wet stuff is much more convenient, so I followed those directions. And then I added the wet ingredients…

Now, it called for “melted but cool” butter.

Sorry, you can’t have it both ways, Australian Women’s Weekly. Cooled butter is hard butter. So hot fresh-out-of-the-microwave melted (like LAVA) butter was thrown into the mix.

And then, just to add insult to injury, the recipe called for one egg… and one egg yoke.

I won’t repeat what I said at that point but I will say that two WHOLE eggs were thrown into the bowl (sans shell) and mixed with vigour. I did notice that the batter was a tiny bit wet (probably because of the whole melted butter and two eggs thing) so I just added more flour, because that’s what you do, right? A extra half a cup of flour won’t hurt anyone.

Then I read “add chopped macadamia nuts” and I was all like… WHAT? What chewy chocolate chip recipe calls for macadamia nuts?

Well, I had no nut of any description so I upped the dosage of chocolate chips instead. An entire packet.

We do CHOCOLATE-FUCKING-CHIP in this house.

Anyway, dough made, and you know what that means, right?

Approximately half the dough gets eaten, uncooked.

Oh god, it was yum.

I know a lot of people squirm over the whole “raw egg” thing when they eat batter of any description but let me tell you here and now, unless the eggs you’ve used are so old they’re practically green when you crack them open, you are not going to get sick. I have 30+ years experience of licking bowls and spoons and beaters clean, let alone making off with entire batches of cookie dough to eat. I’m still alive.

It doesn’t kill you, it just makes you fat.

Anyway, I digress.

So, according to the directions, we needed to put two tablespoon lots onto the tray. Easy enough. I’m not one of those folks who use those new fangle-dangle ice cream scoops to scoop perfectly even portions. I use my fingers and guesstimate.

So my cookies were made with the equivalent of four tablespoons BUT I DON’T CARE.

After sharing out the cookie dough roughly evenly between the baking tray and my mouth, I threw the whole kit and caboodle into the oven to cook.

And watched in horror as the cookies exploded all over the tray. They grew… kinda big… and butted into each other. Perhaps I should have used extra plain flour instead of self-raising when I added more? Who knows. All I know is that I have cookies exploding to the size of my head in my oven at that point.

The recipe called for cooking them for 16 minutes (who makes these numbers up?) but I was pulling mine out at the 9-10 minute mark as my oven is knackered and can’t decide whether to be extra hot or stone cold. (This time it was hot).

They had spread out way more than what it shows in the picture in the book but I’ll admit that probably had something to do with my messing with the recipe more than anything else. But eating them is still a joy. The edges are slightly cripsy and the middle is buttery soft.

Frankly, delicious, if I do say so myself.

Renlish.com - Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies of Nomminess!

Yes, this post was inspired by Tony and his newish blog, Tony Bakes and also by my mother’s new cooking blog which will hopefully be revealed sometime this century.

Using Wacoms… or any graphics tablet for that matter.

 

As a photographer and digital creative, I’ve grown to love using a tablet and stylus to help with my workflow. Everything from drawing and inking in Illustrator to shading and retouching in Photoshop is made easier with the use of a system that mimics pen and paper. As much as we’ve become used to using ye olde mouse and clickity-click actions, going “old school” method is often better and easier, particularly with the wide range of options for drawing tablets we have now.

There are a few varieties of drawing tablets. The most common and probably least expensive are the sorts that plug into your computer and come with a separate pen stylus (well, they pretty much all come with a stylus). But then you also have ones which are similar to that of an iPad and can display images on the actual tablet themselves so that you can draw directly on the image, thus making the experience of drawing far more akin to drawing as you would on real paper. Then you have the big gun, where the tablet is the computer and you are drawing straight into it. These mofos are huge and hugely expensive and usually only the best in the graphics biz can afford them.

Project 365 - 6

 

I personally have owned a few tablet/stylus set-ups. Currently I have an Intuos4 that I won courtesy of my old favourite photography podcast of the time, Shutters Inc, in a retouching competition. You can see my winning entry and my method here on the Shutters Inc blog. The podcast isn’t posted as frequently as it used to be but it’s still very cool to listen to when you need some inspiration… but I digress.

When speaking to people who are not used to using graphics tablets, I always hear the same thing “I couldn’t get used to it” or “I couldn’t make it work for me”. I sort of understand that it’s a huge learning curve, but after a few scribbles it just came naturally to me. So here’s my tips on using a graphics tablet.

1 – Make sure that your drivers are all up to date. Ensuring you have the right and most up to date drivers means that your tablet will continue to run smoothly though things like upgrades and software changes. Do this right away so you don’t have to worry about it again for a while.

2 – Customise your settings. If you’ve just plugged in your tablet, you may find it jerky or ultra sensitive. This happened to me once and a simple adjustment fixed it in no time. Usually the average factory settings are an ok starting point but you will find that as you grow more accustomed to using the tablet, you’ll figure out individual ways of doing things. The way you draw, the amount of pressure you use on the pen, the active space in which you draw – all of these can be customised which makes the whole “second nature” thing happen much more quickly.

3 – Position your tablet correctly. This actually causes the most amount of stress for most tablet newbies. Like customising your settings, there is no one right way of positioning your tablet. Do what works best for you and if that means leaning back in your chair, with your feet up on your desk, your keyboard perched on one thigh and your tablet on the other then more power to ya!

For the rest of us mere mortals, usually a tablet on the desk works the best.

My biggest tip in this area is do not put the tablet right in front of you to begin with. Position the tablet where you are used to setting your hand for the mouse and then try drawing a little bit. Because of good old muscle memory and brain trickery, you will be able to master manipulating the stylus quicker. I know it seems counter intuitive to how you think you would use a graphics tablet, but trust me, it works. You can trick yourself into thinking it’s just a differently shaped mouse. Once you are used to the different ways of moving the stylus, pressure sensitivity, etc, you can slowly start to move the tablet over towards a more natural drawing position if you like.

Or you could do what I do and just keep the tablet off to the side and use it that way too.

4 – Make sure you’ve got a tablet that suits your purposes! Nothing causes more frustration than having to find work-arounds for everything, that includes graphics. If you’re an artist and bought a small tablet, you may find that you cannot draw properly in the active space that a small tablet allows for. Similarly, if you bought a tablet to just create digital signatures, then you don’t need a huge artist tablet.

Generally for things like retouching photographs, unless you’re way up the food chain in the industry, a basic 6×4″ or 10×8″ tablet will do nicely.

5 – PRACTICE! Don’t give up. It’s different and feels freaky but it makes workflow so much better, particularly when you start getting used to hotkeys and function keys. Learn a few of your most commonly used tools in your graphics program and add those into the function keys on your tablet. Make it as easy for yourself as possible and you’ll find it becomes a fast and effective way of working and you’ll wonder why in hell you didn’t buy one years ago.

Vampire Tam – A creative workflow

I’ve been asked (on a couple of occasions) what my sort of workflow is.

I have to admit, I really don’t have one.  Some days I will edit ten pictures in exactly the same way, other days I will spend ten hours on the one image, barely doing anything to it except fiddling until I find something that I like.  I haven’t been able to do that much recently due to school but last night I did what I would call a relative “quickie” where I mostly followed my workflow for retouching photos.  Kinda.

I also wanted to have a bit more of a play with the new Wacom Intuos graphics tablet I won from Shutters Inc – though with a much more realistic retouch.

You can listen to that podcast and see my workflow here.

But before that, keep reading!

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Skin Retouching – Mad Photoshop Skillz! (Or something equally as leet…er… 733t.)

Right.

So, let’s say you’ve done a great photo shoot, you’ve got some mad photos of some beautiful women* and you want to make them look their best for your portfolio and theirs.  Problem is, their skin? Not so good.  Great make-up but there’s a little too much in the pore department?  A little mottling from too much sun?  Dreaded acne breakout that couldn’t be hidden with a trowel’s worth of foundation and concealer?

Easy to fix.  Photoshop to the rescue.  Again.

Take this picture for instance…

(Stock image found here: BerlinElliott aka Shai – I didn’t take the picture!)

This is Shai.  Shai is GOR-JUSS.  Seriously.  But her skin…  There’s a few scars, a few pimples, a few more bumps and discolourations than she’d like, I’d bet.

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Noirish Apologies

Noir Magazine - Conceptual mazine and masthead design.

I must apologise for the lack of content here recently.  As a design student now in my second year of my course (part time) I am pretty busy with homework a lot of the time. I hope to have a range of different tutorials up over the coming weeks though.

Not to mention photos and assignment pictures.

*** The above assignment features photography by yours truly. The image is one I took of up and coming singer, Katie Weston.

Black & White, the Cool Way.

Tam in colour. So preeeety.

Tam in colour. So preeeety.

Converting Colour to Black and White, the Cool Way.

In the Beginning, God (in this case, Adobe) created Photoshop. And on the seventh day, He edited his photographs in Photoshop and was pleased; for they were good.   And on that day, He bade his subjects go out into the world and teach.

“Lead my people home!”

And that’s when Ren decided she knew everything… and so the story continues.

This is a demonstration of how I create most of my black and white images. I’m presuming you know about layers and adjustment layers however if you don’t, either look up a tutorial ot two – there’s heaps online – or just head on up into your Layer menu in Photoshop and start playing. It’s easy. Don’t be afraid. Go now. I’ll wait…

While we’re waiting, I’ll say many, many thanks to Tam for the use of her lovely face and apologise unreservedly for any offense or boredom that may be caused. Please note, there are umptymillion ways of getting a single result in Photoshop for just about anything you want to do. This is just one method of creating black and white images – there are heaps that I’ve discovered but this is my favourite so far.

Ok, onto the tutorial.

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Vignettes, work of the Devil.

Coastal Woodlands... and not a vignette to be seen.

Coastal Woodlands... and not a vignette to be seen.

Vignettes, those wonderful dark edges in photos and artwork alike are the bane of my existance. Why? Because they are overused and they are used in the wrong flippin’ way.

Vignetting should never be used simply “because [you] can”.  It should be used to increase the appeal of an image – providing that the image actually calls for for that sort of treatment.  Unfortunately many photographers, including my very talented friends, are getting swept up in the evil power of vignettes.

THEY ARE VIGNETTING EVERYTHING.

Always, always, ALWAYS use vignetting sparingly.  Think before you use it; “Will this make my image look better?”

Please note that a craptastic photo will always be a craptastic photo. You cannot make a silk purse out of a pigs ear and no amount of digital fucking-with (oops, I sworeded) will make a craptastic photo any better. Believe me, I have tried and tried.  Many of my photographs have vignettes but these were all taken long before I learned precisely where vignettes should be applied.

Vignettes force focus to the centre of the image.  If the main subject of your photograph is not towards the centre of the image, then for Gods sake, do not use a vignette.

This is something I have picked up from my studies at graphic design school. Product placement isn’t as naff as it sounds. The layout of an advertisement is done in many different ways to provoke many different reactions but all are done in such a way that the viewers eye are led through the image with no bumps or roadblocks to the important information contained therein.

The same also applies to photographs. If you’ve placed your subject to one side of the frame, if all the details are very close to the side of the frame, then you should not be using a vignette.  The same goes with images which are absolutely saturated with colour. Do not vignette these. The impact is already there in the colour and hopefully in the image itself.  Why add a vignette that will just make it murky at the edges? And why mess with people’s natural discovery of the image itself by forcing them to look into the middle of the photograph when the eye may well lead them there anyway, thus making them appreciate the picture even more for it’s entirety rather than just the bit in the middle?  Seriously, if you’re going to add a vignette to an extremely colourful image, set the vignette layer to OVERLAY or SOFT LIGHT rather than leaving it on NORMAL or MULTIPLY blend modes in Photoshop.  What this will do is darken the edges by saturating the colour without adding a murky black which kills the colour altogether.

And I have to add this… if your images are white or very light around the edges, for the love of all that is good and right with the world, don’t murky it up with a grey-black vignette. That’s just all sorts of wrong.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken, you can add vignettes to anything but seriously folks, think before you apply.  Criticise your work – stand back from it, disassociate yourself from sentimental feeling and evaluate what you have done with it or what you want to do with is. Visualise, apply and, if it sucks, DELETE.

About the photos in this post:
These were taken in July 2009 in the front yard of a house situated just off the beach in Portsea.  The light was so beautiful – it had just been pouring with rain and there was a break in the clouds that lasted just a couple of minutes, I just had to try and catch it.

Coastal Woodlands... and still no vignettes!

Coastal Woodlands... and still no vignettes!

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