As I alluded to last week, I thought it would be fun to show a bit about how I work, what my setup is, etc. Every week for Project Project Runway I show pictures of my finished products and talk about my inspiration or how I made a particular piece. But up until this point, I’ve never really shown what my work space is like.
WARNING: The following is an uncensored, true-to-like depiction of my work spaces. I decided not to tidy up or anything; it’s not very real “behind the scenes” if everything is tidy, well-organized perfection!
My husband Joe and I live in the Washington, D.C. suburbs where cost of living is quite high. We live 2-bedroom apartment. I just wanted to give a bit of context about how my work spaces fit into the whole of our living space
First, a look at my work space:
My work space and sewing area
1. My “studio.” If you haven’t guessed, this is supposed to be the dining room table, but I have commandeered it. As you will see a bit later, I do have a more dedicated work space, but I prefer working in the main part of the apartment. It has better light and feels a bit less claustrophobic. The stuff that’s out now was for hand-painting the bodice of PPR Challenge 9. More often I have a cutting mat in this spot.
2. My sewing machine, a Bernina Record 930 Electric. I’ve named it “The Beast” as it pretty much entirely made of metal and weighs 40 lbs. It was a generous gift from my mom when she received a new (to her) machine from my grandma. I come from a line of sewists. The machine is older than I am and is a wonderful workhorse. I love my machine.
3. My ironing area. Sometimes I pull out a full-sized ironing board when working on bigger, non-PPR projects.
4. Garbage can. For threads, tiny fabric scraps, and unsalvageable project attempts.
5. (Beyond scope of photo) TV. Possibly the primary reason for my moving my craft space out of the “office.” I like having something going on in the background while I work. I typically have on The People’s Court, Judge Judy, or The First 48 while I work. Very high brow.
For context, the door at the top of the photo is the coat closet; our front door is at a 90 degree angle to that. Also directly behind the work space is our microwave.
So that’s where I do my work. It works for me.
Now, I thought I would show where I do my photography and maybe talk a little bit about my camera and its settings.
This is really where I should be doing my sewing, but after last season of PPR I got tired of having to switch the space from work space to photography space and vice-versa every week, so I moved to the dining room. This shows about a third of the space in the second bedroom which we call our office. This is “my side” of the space, Joe’s desk is on the other.
1. Background for photography. The background I use is a piece of poster board on the surface of the desk and a second piece of poster board Scotch taped to the hutch of the desk. It creates a great neutral backdrop and it only cost a couple of dollars total.
2. “Runway” for photography. This is a box that I wrapped (like a present) in a white plastic tablecloth. It also is nice and neutral and only cost about a dollar (for the plastic tablecloth.) And I’ve gotten two seasons worth of PPR photography out of it.
3. Lighting. This is an Ott Light I purchased at Costco a while back. Ott lights are full-spectrum bulbs, so this works really well to help light my photography space. When I’m taking pictures, I drape a piece of white jersey fabric (it’s actually a piece left over from last season’s PPR Challenge 4.) This helps diffuse the light a bit. Without this drape, my “model’s” face reflects the light too much and looks really shiny and weird. The Ott light doesn’t run too hot like an incandescent bulb and I don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes photographing, so it isn’t going to burn.
4. Brush. This is a pet brush I picked up at the dollar store during this season’s PPR Challenge 1. It works really well for taming my “model’s” hair which helps give my photos a more crisp look
5. iPod and speaker. I listen to podcasts while I work.
6. (Beyond scope of photo) Window. Brings light from the side not lit by the Ott light. Having light from both sides avoids too many shadows in my pictures. This side of the apartment really only gets light from about 8 am to noon, so I have to make sure I am ready to take pictures during that window of time.
On days where it has been really dark and rainy, I sometimes move my photography area to the kitchen where at least I have a fluorescent ceiling light. I prefer my photos to have a cooler feel to them, so I try to avoid shooting under incandescent bulbs. When I shoot in the kitchen, I create my background by putting a piece of poster board on the floor and taping the other piece to the refrigerator. I also bring in the Ott lamp to help with lighting.
When I shoot on the desk, I don’t use a tripod. The desk isn’t deep enough for one . The camera I use is a Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS3 which is a small-sized point-and-shoot camera. I love this little guy so much. Settings-wise, I put it into a Macro setting for full shots and Macro Zoom for detail shots. I also generally give my pictures a slightly longer exposure time. I have to hold the camera very steady to avoid blur, but the colors come out a lot crisper and true-to-life when I do so.My photo shoots take 10 – 15 minutes and I generally shoot 30-70 pictures.
After I take pictures, I import them onto my computer, pick the best ones, and do some light editing with Photoshop Elements. Up until recently I was using the 5.0 version, but I have upgraded to the 10.0 version. I’m still getting used to the changes between the versions. Photo editing software can be really intimidating and potentially quite expensive. For free, I recommend GIMP. Generally, I start by resizing my photos down to a more manageable size. Then I level correct and sometimes mess with the contrast a little bit. I also play with the “remove color cast” feature to get my whites nice and bright. Then I sharpen my images slightly. I find it just crisps them up a bit and makes them more appealing to me.
So that’s my process for photography.
Finally, I’m going to show you my set up for last week’s PPR Challenge 9; the Glow-in-the-Dark challenge. My usual set up wasn’t going to work because instead of lots of natural light, I needed as little as possible. So here was my set up.
My "dark room."
So I needed to find the darkest place in my apartment, and figured out that the master bedroom walk-in closet would be the darkest location for this photo shoot.
1. Black backdrop. This is actually a large bag I use to hold my cutting mats. You can see the back of the mat up at the top. It is hung onto the top two drawer knobs of my chest-of-drawers, which is shoved into the back of the closet.
2. Plastic Shoe Box (full of paper cranes.) As my backdrop did not reach to the ground, I needed something that would add height to my photo area. So I grabbed this box I had on hand which happened to be the right size.
3. Black “floor area.” This is actually a box lid from Ikea. It was one of the few black surfaces I found in the apartment. It worked.
4. Tripod. Since I knew I would have to try really long exposures for these photos to work, I knew I needed to use my tripod so my pictures wouldn’t be blurry messes.
5. Tripod base (cake pans.) Since my tripod is just a short thing, I had to raise it up somehow. I found that three cake pans stacked on top of each other became the perfect height for my camera to be directly across from my “model.”
I brought in my black light (it was plugged in outside of the closet, as the closet has no outlets) closed the door behind me and shoved a sweatshirt across the crack under the door to keep light from interfering. I set my camera for different exposure intervals, hit the shutter button and waited there in the pitch dark. I felt so silly, but I think it was worth it for some of the great shots I got.
So those are my studio and my photo set-ups, mess and all. I sometimes get into a bit of a funk wishing I had more space, or a more personalized, organized, fancier space. I read magazines and sigh over the gorgeous sewing studios, the amazing craft spaces, the dedicated art lofts. As much as I dream about someday having something so amazing, even in my smallish apartment, my work can be pretty solid. The quality of work doesn’t have to be reflective of the amount of space one has to work in or the level of personalized decor or the perfect organization. Those things are convenient, helpful, and wonderful for those who can manage it, but there is also something to be said for making do with what limitations one has. I feel some level of pride for my slapdash way of doing things, my cobbling together something that works and turning out a passable product. That’s not to say I wouldn’t still love to have nice things, but for now, this works for me, and I should be happy enough with that.