my annual book and a surprise letter

i wanted to start this post in sharing a handwritten note i received in the mail yesterday, which i opened this morning... Deb, I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know a few of the ways you inspire me. First off, the way you push yourself so far into your art helps me to not be complacent in sharing my vision with the world. You help me to become a better artist.

I can tell that you're a great mom. Someone who knows what matters most in life (family) and puts their heart, soul and full energy into crafting a life that allows for the love and support kids need. I know you're raising well-love kids and they're going to change the world because that's what well-loved kids do. The intentionality in how you live your life inspires me to focus on presence with my help me become a better father. I can feel the passion / heart you pour into the words / images you share, so keep posting...

It might seem odd to get a litter from me, when we've met face to face only once, but when someone inspires me, I want to tell them in a meaningful way. Too many times we think awesome thoughts about people, then never tell them. That makes me sad so this is my way of saying you're awesome, you inspire me and to let you know how much you are loved.

With gratitude, JS

what an absolutely incredible surprise to receive this note in the mail. i'm blown away by his beautiful thoughts and so very grateful for his sharing with me -- i will treasure the card forever and already have it tacked up on my inspiration board --  a lovely reminder (especially during those challenging days) that i'm doing a pretty good job in this world.  something i so greatly aspire to do is not only be an inspirational artist, but most importantly, be a great mother, wife and friend.  i'm happy to know that this comes through in how i present myself and all that i share.

right now, i'm gratefully heavily engrossed in preparing for a portfolio review, two solo exhibitions (new orleans photo alliance in december and baum gallery in february) and the development of a fine art book of my work (edited by the amazing jock sturges and produced by gallery vevais).  yep, just wow, wow, WOW!!  did i mention that i am beyond grateful?

but i've also been recently engrossed in the design of my family's annual book, something i've been doing each year since i started photography in 2006. my family will always be my priority and, well...the making of our book each year makes my heart swell and inspires me.

i shared my book layout on facebook yesterday and received a lot of questions regarding my design process, who i use to print, etc. so here we go, a little about my process...

i use blurb booksmart application. i start with a completely blank book and then select page template  based on the photographs that i am selecting for each page spread. with most of the pages, i modify the template, but the template provides a good starting point. i design the book, keeping the photographs in chronological order. how do i select which images to share? i just do. images that mean the most and share my family's story throughout the year. i also include special artwork and writings from my kids. this is something that i keep up with all year (scanning artwork and typing their writings and place into a folder on my computer entitled annual book). i have a page, where i include each child's age and thoughts about them. this year, i'm also asking them about some of their favorites.

my book typical ends up about 140-150 pages and so i needed a book printing company that was somewhat inexpensive, but still offered great quality and blurb fits that bill for me. i not only print the book for our family, but also for the grandparents as christmas gifts.

if you decide to try a book with blurb, be sure to print with their pro paper. it's a bit more expensive but totally worth it.

here is my overall book layout, along with a few of the page spreads. each book is unique to the happenings of the year, our location, etc.  i don't ever have a specific plan when i start the book.  it just unfolds page by page. all the annual books beautifully grace our credenza and nothing makes me happier than hearing my kids reminisce and giggle as they look through previous year's books.

i hope this will inspire you to share your gratitude with another.   i hope this will inspire you to write a handwritten note to someone you love and / or care about. i hope this will inspire you to get your family's photographs OFF THE COMPUTER. i hope this will inspire you to live your life beautifully and authentically -- and cherish every minute of it.

have questions, feel free to ask in the comment section. i will do my best to answer and will edit the post to share my thoughts.

book layout

front and back book cover

some page spreads

grow great minds

as i do every year, i've been working on my kids' class auction projects.  i do a book for both sky's and ryder's classes, which includes a portrait, writing and drawing from each child (along with a variety of other photos from the kids and classroom).  their school theme this year is 'growing great minds'.  sky's 4th grade class wrote about 'if i were famous...' and ryder's 2nd grade class wrote about 'i am special because...'. this year, i decided to write a poem for their books, based on the school theme...

Go. Read all you can. Open your mind and... Welcome curiosity. Immerse yourself. Never give up or forget to be... Grateful.

Goodness and kindness will... Reward you. Enrich your life. And feed your soul. Trust those who are willing to teach you.

Make each day the best. It takes time, but your hard work will pay off. Nourish your creativity. Dream big and... Surround yourself with people who will lift you higher.

and here's my two book cover photos (both shot on the school grounds)...

i'm grateful that i can do this for the kids each year, but i sure wish the auction was at a different time of year.  a november 3rd auction date makes it super tough!!

can't wait

i cannot wait to see this movie...

i'm so not a reader. sadly, i never have been. i try [although probably not hard enough]. and sometimes force myself to start and finish a book; however, this book had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. i finished it in less than 24 hours. passed the book on to kiele the next day and she finished it in a day.

kiele has moved onto catching fire and i will start it as soon as she's done. i've heard the entire series is awesome.

can't wait for the movie -- march 23, 2012.

reach for the stars

remember when sky and i went to check out the light? this session was the reason why. we went to get a photograph for the cover of the third grade [auction project] book i've been working on.  the school theme is 'reach for the stars' so we went with that for the book theme too. this is sky's page spread from the book...

she wrote,

I reach for the stars every time I finish a goal.  And when I have been working on something for a long time.  Also when I have completed a challenge.  And every time I complete a goal like when I finish one of my gymnastics meets.  Or complete something we have doing at school and at my house.  That's what I do to reach for the stars.

and this is the photo i chose for the book cover.

i just love doing these books so much! this year, we decided to do the auction book as a pre-sale item, so that every parent in the class has the opportunity to purchase one.  i'm hoping they do well!!

i also photographed the three sisters [the middle child is in sky's class and mom is my kids incredible art teacher]. i just love the spirit of these kids [and the whole family]...through and through. thank you for all your inspiration and support kim!!

ETA: i decided to answer this question [from a comment], so that all interested in the doing a school auction project could benefit.

Q: Hello, I have so intrigued by this project and each year I read about it , I want to ask " when do you take the photographs for the book?' Do you schedule private sessions or take them during the school day. Do you need parent signature for participation? I am a teacher/librarian and would love "lift" your idea for a school wide reading incentive. Any ideas/advice you would be willing to share would be awesome.

A: i come to the school one morning and photograph the kids someplace on the school grounds. it takes about 30 minutes to get through the entire class. i do individual portraits and a couple group shots. this year, i came back a second time, to capture the kids on the playground -- a bit more casual. i don't get parent signatures for participation; however, we make sure that the parents have all signed the photography release for the school. there was one child in sky's class, whose parent did not sign the release, so the teacher checked to see if the parents were interested in their child participating in the auction book project [they said yes]. the teach and i then decide on something for the kids to draw and write about. for the younger ones, we ask them a question and document their response and include that with their drawing. i then scan all the drawings and writings and clean up the pages [spots, marks that weren't completely erased, etc.]. lastly, i just put everything together.

here's ryder's spread from his class' auction book. i included a writing they did at the beginning of the school year...on why they're special because it was too cute to pass up.

in the past, a single book has been up for auction; however, the book didn't auction off as high as we wished. so this year, we decided to try the book as a pre-sale auction item, available to all parents. the book is $65 and with the purchase of the book, they'll also be getting a 5x7 print of their child [as featured in the book].