I teased it a little in my previous post “Lost in Iowa,” but a good chunk of my recent trip to the Midwest was spent in Minneapolis. This served two awesome purposes. First, my brother and his family have lived there for years, and I’ve never had a chance to visit them there. Second, Wren lived there for 10 years and it was cool to see her old stomping ground.
My brother and sister-in-law have two children, Lucy and Calvin. Calvin takes his name from the comic book character created by Bill Watterson, which makes me very happy. This, along with some of the creative portrait workshops I sat in on during Seattle’s PhotoFest in June really inspired me to do some kind of creative portrait involving both children, and to make some nod toward the comic Calvin took his name from. After some thought, I really wanted to do something with the iconic image of Calvin and Hobbes flying around in their cardboard box, which acted as spaceship, time machine, transmogrifier, duplicator, or really anything depending on which way it was positioned and what you wrote on it.
The other iconic ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ image I wanted to use was the huge vistas that Watterson painted for the adventures of Spaceman Spiff, Calvin’s astronaut character. So I figured, why not have Calvin and Lucy, along with their buddy Hobbes (since they have awesome parents OF COURSE they have a stuffed tiger named Hobbes), in a cardboard box flying through space on some adventure?
The first step, come up with the fantasy background. I wanted the environment to look like the comic, so no worries about realism. My first thought was to paint a drop, but since my time and budget were limited, this wasn’t a good option. I eventually decided to make a background out of construction paper and posterboard that I could lay in behind the kids in post, so for an afternoon before our visit, I lay out with scissors, sharpies, and paper and put it together.
Next I wanted the stars to have some dimension to them, so we cut real ones out of paper that could be placed into the photograph. Wren was the master star-maker, and she made them all while I worked on the background. Finally, some loose cotton batting would work great as the clouds of exhaust behind the ship. Now we were ready to go.
Of course, taking posed photos of a two year old and two month old together isn't the easiest thing in the world, as you can tell from this picture. To make this fun and easy for everyone, I took care of as much in advance as possible. I would have loved to have had studio lights, so that I would have had much more control, but since we were travelling light, I just set up in the sunlight outside. I spread out a large black cloth to shoot the kids on top of, so I could easy trim them out to match the outer space sky later. then carefully chose my angle and shot a bunch of reference photos of the empty box. Then, only when everything was completely ready, we brought the kids out. Mom and Dad did a great job keeping them focused, but I still knew I only had about 5 minutes before the whole scene became chaos. Luckily, since I had so much reference already, we didn't need both children to pose perfectly together. As long as I had a few good options of each, I knew I could match them later. So after a few short minutes of shooting, we sent Lucy and Calvin inside, no worse for the wear. Then it was easy to snap a few angles of the pre-made stars and cotton batting against the black drop and pack up.
We had a lot of other adventures in Minneapolis, and didn't give the photos another thought until coming home. On the computer at home I combined the elements, paper background (which stayed behind as wall art for the kids - no way to pack that in a carry-on!), paper stars, cotton puffs, and most importantly, the kids. Luckily there was enough of everything to put it all together.
I hope to do more projects like this, and to try and push toward creating more fun composite portraits. In the meantime it was a really fun project for me and a cool keepsake of the visit for my brother's family.
Just to show that Lucy and Calvin are really super rad kids all on their own, without any fantasy elements, here are a couple shots from the trip that I really liked. Calvin has a killer smile and Lucy came along with us to the sculpture garden.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT POST! A lot has happened in the last few weeks and I'll have more adventures to share soon!