I just realized that today marks the four year anniversary of Astral Boutique- whoa! Time passes so quickly.... that means I have been running my Etsy shop for half the time that I have lived in the Sierra Foothills. Somehow in my mind my time working as a receptionist in the local acupuncture and Naturopathic clinics seems to take up almost all of my Work Memory, and it still feels like Astral Boutique has just begun. I guess that's because my work feels like it is always changing- constantly new clothes, new photos, new challenges, new goals.
As a celebration, I am going to indulge myself with a post featuring my favorite photos of all time from the shop history. And a few memories...
Four years ago, myself and my friend Amber at Violet Folklore decided to open our own shops, so Astral Boutique was launched (we ran Violet Folklore together for its first year).
This sounds like something your grandmother would say, but, truly, gas was much cheaper then, so I used to drive sometimes 1-2 hours away to do my photo shoots. It was a hunt for novel photos, a great chance to experiment with photography in different settings and lights, and it was also a lot of fun to be in the Field, literally, after spending several years couped up in offices.
Some of my favorite places are in these shots- the above photo was taken at the Bear River, on the Highway 20, and below is the Yuba River at Bridgeport (before the bridge was closed for renovations).
The Bear River:
Meadows by the Bear River:
I also loved to go to the old Aspen groves up near Sierraville, in the high Sierras. where Basque sheerherders once worked and carved their names into the white bark long ago. The changing colors of the leaves tempted me up there again and again:
Locally, Empire Mine State Park is an amazing resource for photographers- there are always people there doing wedding portraits, graduation portraits, etc. Taken from the rose garden:
The sun stays longer at my in-laws, who live about 1,500 feet lower in elevation... here I am doing a photo shoot in their backyard and visiting their neighbor:
Funny enough, but the more I traveled far and wide to take photos, the more I realized the potential in my own backyard. (I also was learning that the clothes themselves were more important than having novel backdrops.) There are several different micro-environments in the acreage behind our house, and, of course, everything changes as the light moves through the seasons.
The fire road at the top of the hill:
The beautiful stand of oak trees which you see in most of my photos (I'm totally fibbing in this first photo- I don't actually play mandolin. I do play guitar and sometimes I try at the banjo, but the mandolin was too pretty a prop to resist):
The old horse corral and cedar forest down the slope (here, with my Imaginary Friend):
More oaks, and more imaginary friends:
There was a huge storm and one of the large oaks fell down. It reminded me of the story of the Giving Tree... it had become a seat for me:
Since I shoot outdoors in all weather, sometimes that means snow. It was cold, yes, but I loved how this snow acted as a natural light reflector.... my face was lit from below:
And of course there are those marvelous, incomparable sweet peas of the summer:
I don't usually do indoor shots, but this was going for a specific Wildly Domesticated Marie Antoinette look (it's my favorite look, what can I say. I'd walk around like this every day if it didn't take three hours to get dressed and do the hair right) for a contest run by the Indie Free Spirits Team:
After working my little point and shoot camera as hard as I could for a few years, I finally did myself a favor and upgraded to a Nikon D70S. Oh the joy of a good lens! I will say that it took me a couple of months (and this was with constant shooting) to really feel comfortable with the new camera- it was such a big change. But eventually I realized that good lighting is good lighting no matter what kind of camera you are using, and has to be the basis of every shot.
I am a light lover now... I think of everything in terms of whether it would be good photo light. You can imagine the tug on my heartstrings are we whizzed through Arles on the band's European tour, with not a moment to stop (the town in Southern France where Van Gogh was famously enamored of the vibrant light). I just stared out at the fields glowing in the afternoon sunshine murmering yes, yes, yes, I understand... I understand...
There are a precious few weeks when I can make natural crowns of sweet peas to wear in my shoots:
At other times faux flowers (and even- gasp!- faux hair) do me right:
On this cool day in Spring, the smoke from the neighbor's fire place blew behind me at just the right time for this photo. I can see why film and TV people use so much fake smoke for ambience:
Since my photo technique almost always involves backlighting, I am a real sucker for semi-sheer and voile fabrics.
I love how this sparkle is *winking* off of my shoulder:
My fastest sellers are always dresses that I would desperately love to keep for myself, like the one below. However, there are always bills to be paid, and if I find the right dress at the wrong time, it goes on the chopping block... such is the woe of the retailer!
(Someone really awesome got the dress, so that made me feel all better.)
I have learned so much in these past four years- but I honestly feel that it is just the beginning. I approach this business the way I approach anything that I know nothing about: with a lot of enthusiasm, a few opinions solicited from my more intelligent friends or my husband (only a few, because I am bull- headed), some caffeinated strategizing/revelation-making while on road trips, and mostly a whole lot of trial and error. I like that I am still on the learning curve, meaning that I am still learning what makes an online retail vintage clothing business tick, what makes it a success or a failure (believe me, I feel like both a success and a failure, depending on which day you ask me), and how on earth to grow the darm thing so that one can afford groceries AND health care. (Sometimes I really can't even afford the groceries!)
This summer Etsy made me their Featured Seller which, I have to be honest, was a huge Thumbs Up and really solid ammunition to use against my nasty, clever inner critic. A huge thanks to whoever at Etsy noticed me and decided to give me a vote of confidence- it really meant the world to me.
Thanks for allowing this act of self-indulgence.... my girlfriends are always saying that I need to celebrate/validate myself more. Well, I'll tell you.... four years.... even I am impressed with that. Go Astral Boutique!