Art Direction

Creating a splash on a budget

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Styling a swimwear shoot might sound glamourous and conjure up images of exotic locations, beautiful sunshine, stunning models and so on… But the stark reality is that sometimes you need to be savvy with your budget and your surroundings! There are lots of UK locations that can give the right impression, but if (as often happens) our unpredictable British weather fails you, then an indoor pool can be just as effective. 

On this occasion – a cold autumn day and working on a shoe string budget – we certainly needed to look closer to home if we were to deliver the images on time. And by this, I mean we begged, borrowed and er…stole!

For our location, we chose a fabulous home which has featured in several beautiful architectural magazines. The property was just what we were looking for, not just for its unique exterior, but also because of the impeccable attention to detail on the interior décor. 

Located in the heart of my local region, Nottinghamshire, the house has a vast and gorgeous indoor swimming pool, perfectly complemented by an abundance of tropical flowers inside and out. We quickly realised that, with the right composition and Art Direction, we could easily emulate the look and feel of an authentic Miami or St Tropez home.

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By making the most of the morning sun and the amount of glass at the location, we created striking sun beams, bleached lighting and even the steamy windows which added warmth and a summer haze to every image – a great little cheat! Striking whilst the iron was hot, we varied the ambience within the indoor pool to get a wide range of different shots of the swimsuit, from relaxing on a summer’s day to sporty and athletic.

To conclude, there’s always a way to achieve what you want from a photo shoot, no matter what your budget is (well, within reason anyway!)

Jazz in the Jungle

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Working in the branding industry, I’m always reading about the next marketing and consumer trends. It’s the best way to create work that’s relevant to consumers and reflects the latest market changes, as well delivering strong returns on investment for brands. This is something I’ll write about at a later date.

Outside work, I love catching up on the latest trends in fashion, interior design and weddings. I’m simply addicted to style magazines…it’s quite a problem!

Right now, there’s one theme I’m loving which covers all these areas: ‘Jazz in the Jungle’. I particularly feel this would be an amazing choice for a wedding this summer. Think bright jungle prints, green palm leaves, vibrant colours with dark hints…it’s intimate, sensual and very exotic. As evening draws in, your guests can be transported to the night jungle, a celestial event which draws on your shared love for erratic, yet seductive, jazz. You could transform your venue into a jazz lounge with muted red and purple lighting hues, and lots and lots of fabric – plush velvets, satins, and fringing on everything from light fittings to room dividers.

Your food and drink can also be linked into the theme, not just through exotic ingredients but also through presentation: banana leaves as plates, sliced melon as appetisers, printed tablecloths, pineapple-handled cutlery…the list is endless. It’s the little details that create a truly opulent effect, like spraying the pineapple handles gold rather than leaving them traditional yellow.

You could even go that extra mile and introduce the hot trend of taxidermy; for me, this is the greatest prop a wedding can possibly have. Providing a cool and eccentric vibe, your taxidermy could be intertwined with your venue or placed in an area dedicated to your guests getting the best (and unique) photos from the day. The trend was kick-started by Anyhoe Park in Oxfordshire, an amazing location where, looking back, I really wish I’d held my own wedding! It’s a venue you can hire for events, weddings and photoshoots, or just for an overnight stay in awesome surroundings.

I’ll finish by saying I’d love to style an event or shoot this summer involving a zebra with its own flower garland. Let’s all get planning!

Images all thanks to Pinterest.

Glamorous girls

High Fashion Styling and Art Direction

The brief was to create some high fashion looks which both complemented and juxtaposed with the whole interior of our location, a superb 1960s architectural wonder. Our two models both had very different looks, one with striking red hair which was a perfect foil for the wood interiors throughout the house, and the other a petite dark-haired stunner whose clothes just draped off her.

Here you can see how the use of floor-length windows creates a sense of the outdoors becoming part of the whole image composition. The jacket and trousers are from Maison Scotch, whilst the bralet was a great find from Ann Summers. Below is a Boohoo leotard teamed with Kurt Geiger shoes (you don't always need expensive brands to get a high-end look).

Using the unique features in our amazing location, we created stunning scenes in different parts of the house. Above, a simple Mango herringbone jacket over the Boohoo leotard gives a seductive post-work look against the worn black leather inset sofa – an instant hit.

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The hair and make-up styling embodies the kind of 1960s glamour that must have abounded in the house during its early years. Here, the simple use of colour with the lamp gives additional depth to the room, without which the image wouldn't be nearly as strong. 

The key to great Art Direction on a shoot like this is to spot the areas which you'd usually ignore, like these trees. Walking in and out of the house to get another shot, we took no notice of them. An off-the-cuff comment led to one of the best shots from the day. With the bright-coloured dress, this could easily be used for a summer magazine cover – a world away from the internal glamour shots we'd been working towards. 

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Hair and Make up – Leanne Shaw. 

Photography – Rob Smalley

Behind the Scenes

Editorial Shoot

Working with Rob Smalley (Photographer) and Leanne Shaw (Hair & Make-up), we set out to update their portfolio. They asked for my support in Styling and Art Direction, to help them create something that would really make them stand out in the fashion arena.

Rob sourced a unique location previously used by M&S and for a Vogue photo shoot, as well as a Goldfrapp music video. As soon as you approach the drive, it’s easy to see why the house has been so widely-used. It’s a beautiful, 1960s open plan property that’s in mint condition and set within two acres of secluded Nottinghamshire woodland.

The house is owned by a local high-end furniture distributer, something which was clear to see in every room. All the furnishings are original and perfectly complement the house and its features in every way. But what really adds the ‘Wow’ factor to this already amazing location is the fully-glazed indoor swimming pool.

My role in the photo shoot was to style and dress the models. After a few days of planning and frantically sourcing clothes for models who hadn’t quite been confirmed, the day finally arrived. Armed with a suitcase full of clothes, shoes and accessories, I set up and started steaming clothes ready for every possible scenario. As soon as the house tour was done, the shoot list refined, and the models’ hair and make-up perfected, the shoot began.

I supported Leanne throughout the day, making sure the hair looked right through the lens and sometimes adjusting make-up to suit the lighting, as well as working with Rob on Art Direction. This involved checking the composition, moving furniture around, advising the models on their pose and generally striving to achieve the perfect shot.

It was a great day and we captured some fantastic shots – but this was the sneak peek Behind the Scenes.

It was a busy day I promise : )

It was a busy day I promise : )

Prohibition Wedding

Every wedding has its own individual spin – and when it came to mine, the pressure was on. Being a creative by trade, the expectations from friends and family were high.

With no theme in mind and no desire to read countless wedding magazines, I went back to basics – what didn't I want? That might sound like an odd place to start, but it links back to the key to planning any successful party: what are your loves and best memories of past events, and what would you hate to have on your big day?

I asked myself a few simple questions and from the answers, came up with the overall mood and atmosphere that I wanted to create.

The theme I chose was ‘Prohibition,’ but not as everyone thinks or expects it. I wasn’t interested in Gatsby, or in glitz and glam (that certainly isn't me!), but in recreating the underground, back room, speakeasy jazz clubs that thrived during this time. The main feature was to keep it all-American – South America to be precise, where moonshine is still an underground drink found in jam jars and paper bags to this day. My fiancé and I had both travelled the States, and the local bars with their backyard games offered the best times to be had.

Once this thought was in my head, the ideas just kept on coming. Bath tubs for drinks, reclaimed rusty furniture and even baked bean tins for our centre pieces! We wanted a relaxed environment where the music was live and the drinks kept on flowing – a typical expression of who we are. For wedding favours, we had our homemade Raspberry Gin (our own version of moonshine), which is renowned amongst our friends, and even cigars for guests who were of age.

An outdoor venue might seem like a crazy idea for a spring wedding. But we wanted to stay true to our theme, so we went for something hidden well away from the beaten track with plenty of land and a real backstreet, invitation-only feeling. Jodie from Sami Tipi was the best choice we made, helping us find the perfect location, supporting our ever-growing wedding and even helping us get ice for the big day. If you’re looking for a genuine wedding partner and not just a venue provider, then Sami Tipi is the only choice.

Every aspect of our wedding day was a reflection of us as a couple, our journey together and our shared tastes. The food was no exception. Thomas the Caterer, winner of Wedding Caterer of the Year for goodness knows how many years, really got to know us and created some gourmet taster courses that were just what we had in mind. His dedication to making your food exactly how you like it is second to none.

After what seemed like years of sourcing, collecting and repainting Prohibition-themed props from all over the country, I had a clear idea of what I wanted the venue to look like. Tara from Ticketyboo Events helped make my vision a reality with her amazing venue-dressing skills. The support she provided on the days running up to the wedding should be available to every bride; it even extended to managing my family (now that’s tough!). With the addition of what felt like bucket loads of stunning flowers from Tineke, the venue felt intimate and handcrafted – exactly what we wanted.

It really was our greatest day, with all the little details I got so hung up on fading into the distance. What’s important is that it was an event which our friends and family still talk about now. We certainly threw one epic party!

A wedding should reflect you as a couple, not whatever the latest trend might be. So when you start to think about your own wedding, think of what you don’t want first and work your way back. 

Old Cuban

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We love a theme party! It's a real chance to use what you know about someone – what they like and where they've been – to create a true reflection of their personality. This party was for my husband, who’s a big fan of rum and cigars. Add my love of salsa music to the mix and a Cuban theme was an easy choice.

To get a feel for the party atmosphere, think the film Chef. Great soundtrack, a passionate salsa-fuelled vibe and friends and family aplenty. Not forgetting those amazing-looking Cubano sandwiches (you have to try one!) which are so central to the plot. In fact, every detail created for the event was inspired by the film. The beautiful city of Havana with its untouched architecture and heady mixture of aromas – the sweet smell of fresh fruits mingling with the unashamed love of tobacco smoke….

To set the scene, we transformed our garden into a typical Havana backyard, complete with BBQ. As people arrived, the amazing outfits came with them! Traditional Cuban drinks and cigars soon had the party going with a swing. Dominoes (a Cuban passion) dominated the men’s competitive streak, whilst the ladies danced to every track – bringing a little piece of Latin America into our home.

As you’d expect at a Cuban party, rum played a starring role in the evening, with a Mojito Cheesecake, a Rum Bundt Cake and four different rum cocktails on offer. These were all made by hand, right down to the sugar syrup. The biggest hit was The Old Cuban cocktail, something we'd never made before. It really was gorgeous! We have Jamie Oliver to thank for this beautiful drink – here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it.


For one Cocktail –

  • Martini glass or a Champagne saucer.
  • 40 g caster sugar
  • ½ a lime , juice from
  • 70 ml Bacardi 8 year old dark rum
  • 1 sprig of fresh mint , leaves picked
  • Angostura bitters
  • a handful of ice cubes
  • 50 ml Prosecco

Chill a martini glass or cocktail saucer in the freezer.

Heat the sugar and 25ml of water in a small pan until the sugar dissolves to a syrupy consistency, swirling the pan occasionally. This creates your sugar syrup.

Add the sugar syrup, lime juice and rum to a cocktail shaker. Lightly bash the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar (we used a rolling pin and a bowl), then add to the mixture with a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters and the ice cubes. Pop the lid on and give it a good shake, then sieve into the chilled glass. Top up with Prosecco and enjoy.

As for the Cubano sandwiches, we followed the recipe from Chef to the letter. It’s a lot of work but every bite you have is 100% is worth it. I’ll be using the amazing Mojo Marinade again and again!