The last two weeks of the wonderful 5ftinf Consciously Creative course with Philippa Stanton are all about shadow and composition.
Each Monday morning throughout the 6-week course starts with a live Instagram tutorial and demonstration by Philippa. I make myself a cup of tea in good time and am settled and ready on the dot of 9.30. These tutorials have been a truly wonderful way to start the week. What I particularly love is the enthusiastic and generous way Philippa shares her creative thoughts and ideas. Although she always starts her demonstrations with a theme, the outcome is never planned. I’ve come to realise that the true creative process is about seeing, finding and feeling around an idea. Not focussing too much at the outset on what it is you aim to achieve.
This week for instance, Philippa had added lots of eucalyptus leaves to her first demonstration flatlay with a ‘bountiful’ theme. When she realised how blue and nordic the leaves were looking in that morning’s light, she decided what was needed was some texture to respond to this. I love how enthusiastically she remembered about a jar of herb salt that she knew to be a frosty blue/green. We heard her hurrying off to get it and, as she popped off the lid and started to sprinkle, a sort of magic happened. Philippa was absolutely right. The salt brought a nordic, almost festive atmosphere to the table. In case you’re interested, the herb salt was from Tiger and costs 99p. I’m not sure you’ll want to cook with it though. As she created a visual treat for us on her table top, Philippa also told us that the salt smelled really strongly and really wasn’t that pleasant.
As part of my homework exercises over the weeks, I’ve found myself buying things purely for their colour or texture. Try it. Looking inside packets to see if matcha tea powder is a bright enough green or choosing sugar crystals because of the way they’ll catch the light feels very liberating. This sort of shopping is not about ticking items off your usual list to ensure you can put meals on the table and packed lunches into school bags. There’s a decadence to buying ingredients you have little intention of eating, but will simply enjoy looking at and playing with creatively. This was clearly the case for Philippa with the stinky herb salt from Tiger.
Shadow and atmosphere
So week 5 was all about seeing shadows and capturing atmosphere. Philippa shared a book she loves with us – In Praise of Shadow, by a Japanese writer Tanizaki. One particular quote resonated with me: ‘We find beauty not in the thing itself, but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.’
As someone who often feels the pressure to create images that are beautiful, bright and inspirational, I’m aware that shadows and mystery are elements that I tend to ignore. I approached the week’s homework as I’ve done with the previous weeks of the course and just started to look around me – really look around me – with the theme in mind.
I discovered that the way the mid-morning sunshine hits a vintage cut glass vase that sits on a circular table creates the most magical light play and shadows. On Saturday evening I had rushed to Waitrose to pick up some bits I’d forgotten for tea that night and as I came out, the light was just fading. Instead of rushing home to start cooking, I decided to explore what I could see as the light continued to dim. I no longer care about funny looks. There were one or two when I positioned myself amongst big old bins on the edge of a car park in the dark. All I was really interested in was trying to capture a moment. The light coming from the window in the dark building above somehow struck me as touching. It was the dark shadows around this window that made this something worth capturing. I have started to understand what Philippa means by trying to see – and feel – the shadows between things.
I created a moodboard for the images I took for the week (above) and also made a Steller story which you can see here
The final week of the course was all about composition. I was looking forward to this as it felt like a chance to try and pull together lots of the things we’ve learned during the course.
The homework was to write a simple haiku poem to try and capture a moment, a feeling, and then create a composition that works with that. Sunday afternoon was mild and sunny – perfect for a bit of garden foraging. I found my mum’s old shopping basket in the shed and set off around and about the garden to pick up and collect what I saw and to take time to get a sense of the day around me. I found over-ripe grapes, all manner of beautiful decomposing leaves, a feather, soily old plant pots, lichen-strewn wood and fallen crab pears. I added in three old wooden spoons I’d picked up at car boot sales years ago. I do like a nice old spoon. I also added in some amazing brown eggs I’d bought because I loved the scratchy texture of their shell.
I made myself a cup of tea and drank it whilst I sat outside to think of a haiku. I knew that it should be three lines and wanted it to just capture a sense of the moment in an unforced way. I came up with:
Almost warm sunshine
Paper dry leaves and seeds
Whisper in my basket
I decided what I’d written captured something simple and it would be wrong to fiddle too much. This does go against the grain for me however – I blame the years I spent editing features in women’s magazines. I find myself correcting and perfecting anything and everything I write or read. My family laugh that when I’m studying a menu for the first time, I’m actually mentally correcting poor grammar and typos before deciding what I’d actually like to eat. This course has encouraged me to be more spontaneous and less ‘planned’ which is so creatively satisfying. Besides, the light was suddenly amazing but I knew it wouldn’t last that long and I still had to create my images. So I had to get on.
I had in my mind the demonstration Philippa had done for us at the start of the week, showing us how lines and circles relate to each other. And how to be mindful of shadow and spaces between things. As soon as I placed the eggs down on the old wooden surface I knew I wanted them to be the focus. I added and took away leaves, berries and foliage until it felt right. This is the finished image. I love how the sunlight hits the eggs and brings out the autumnal rich colours. It does sort of fit with the haiku don’t you think?
I feel quite sad that the course is over as it has been the most amazingly creative six weeks for me. I have absolutely loved it and I am determined to keep the process going.
If you would like to sign up for Philippa’s next course (I think she’s planning one for the new year) you’ll get all the details you need from her listing in our directory here.