I have been following the work of artist Brooke Shaden for some time. Her fine art portraiture is a genre I adore and an expression of one’s self that I truly admire. Her ability to create a character instead of simply photographing a person has intrigued me from the start — and I often find myself wondering about her creative process.
When Brooke first appeared on CreativeLive to teach Fine Art Portraits, she introduced herself with her portfolio — which, of course, amazed the audience. Then, when Brooke began to discuss how she came up with each creative concept, delving into styling and location, her process became much more achievable and instantly the inspiration began to flow.
In Brooke’s early years, her self-confessed choice of location was her tiny apartment that housed an incredibly small white wall behind the door. The space was so restrictive that the foot of her unmoveable bed appeared in many of her early shots — and had to be later cloned out using Photoshop. Anyone willing to experiment, but too shy to venture outdoors, can take a cue from Brooke’s creative use of the cramped space available to her. By playing with poses and beginning to explore fine art ideas, her work developed naturally in such spaces. However, it wasn’t long before Brooke discovered she was most suited to natural light and rustic elements, and gradually moved her work outside, where she mostly shoots today. Brooke’s creative evolution proves that an impossible location is very much an opportunity.
I personally love conceptual imagery because it is a genre that takes the viewer to a new, fantastical world. It is a form of escapism as well as surrealism and a chance for us to explore uninvented places. In her Fine Art Portraits course, Brooke speaks about her love for underwater shooting because she can create a space where we cannot naturally exist.
Not only does fine art allow the viewer, as well as the artist, to venture into non-existent worlds, but also to create non-existent characters. One of the ‘characters’ Brooke shares in the course is a portrait she made of herself wearing a dress made of keys. Knowing it would be a lengthy and costly process to either a) find a dress suitable to the concept or b) enlist the help of a designer to make the dress, she set about finding a new way to make it happen.
When Brooke decided to build the image entitled ‘The Keeper of Keys,’ that’s exactly what she did. She built the image from scratch by photographing a key and then building the dress by duplicating that single key image over and over again, situating the keys on the model in the form of a dress. Brooke is well known for her digital creations, morphing original garments and elements into the concept she envisions. Whether she is creating a new dress or a new expression; anything is possible in Brooke’s compositing process.
I was lucky enough to model for Brooke during her London workshop earlier this year, and to witness first-hand how she created ‘Sacrifice.’ The deep red dress was long, but not long enough for Brooke’s vision in which the dress rolls down the church steps like blood. By photographing the extra pieces of dress in position, Brooke illustrated how the styling she desired can be constructed — emphasizing the importance of having a plan from the start.
This is another key point that Brooke makes in Fine Art Portraits; the importance of knowing what you aim to achieve before setting out to do it. Sometimes art just happens, but that kind of luck is very rare. Most times, creating art is a premeditated, thought-out process with a preconceived concept. In order to get all the images required for the shot in mind, it is crucial to create a plan in advance — e.g., a levitation shot needs a blank plate shot in order to edit out the stool that the model is balanced on.
Brooke also talks about using drawings to share ideas and to ensure all requirements are checked off the list when creating a fine art image. I am currently in the midst of creating my own series of images, a project called the Dreamcatcher Project. It is a collection of images I have designed myself and am shooting with various photographers. To get all teams involved aligned to create the single image I envision, I often use stick men pictures (albeit terrible ones!) to show them exactly what I mean with the angle, pose, colours, and styling. A handy notepad is a great way of remembering your ideas, too, by sketching them out. I would personally be lost without my notepad.
Brooke continues to be a source of motivation to both myself and many others. Her ways of creating the seemingly impossible in fine art portraiture are inspiring, especially because she never shies away from sharing her editing secrets. In Brooke’s words: “Create what you love, put it out there, that is my best advice.”