Wonderland is back! The last time we posted on Kirsty Mitchell’s gorgeous series it was March, or almost one year ago, when Kirsty shared with us her amazing behind-the-scenes shots. It’s been 9 months since her last Wonderland photo was released to the public, so we’re excited to share this second part of her journey which begins with three mind-blowingly beautiful photos (which you can see in their full glory at the end of this post).
What I love most about Kirsty’s pictures is that you can just tell that there was an enormous amount of work that went into capturing each and every shot. In a post she just released today, she gives her viewers an honest look into what went through her mind at the start of this daunting project.
“Back in April this year, I had a discussion with an art curator who advised me to step back from the Internet and the crazed world of constantly uploading. Instead, he told me to focus, and push myself to the absolute limit by creating less, but also the very best I physically could. To invest my time and money into something I truly believed in, and create an entire vision from start to finish with no compromises. So this is what I have tried my hardest to do. It’s been extremely difficult not showing anyone what I have been up to, and even harder sitting on piles of unedited shoots, constantly having to go from the development of one character, to the next, without the satisfaction or release of editing a final image to share. I’ve watched other photographers racing ahead with their projects and ideas, and felt quite alone working on everything pretty much on my own, apart from shoot days, or the occasional help of friends and the visits from dearest Ebie. Having said this I am so very glad I put myself through this period. I have learned a huge amount about being ruthlessly selective with my work, balancing a body of images across a large number of shoots, and each time contemplating the colours, scale, and perspective based on what was achieved with the previous ones.”
Kirsty shared with us the photos, below, which document her creative process. These show how her ideas developed – from the inspiration she took from a children’t book called The Kingdom Under the Sea to her handmade costumes and her first foray into laser cutting steel. Interspersed within these images you’ll find our exclusive interview with Kirsty, where she explains, for the first time, her exciting new set she calls The White Queen.
From concept to completion, how many total hours went into creating The White Queen?
To be honest I couldn’t even begin to guess. I first thought of the scene and its character ‘The White Queen’ 18 months ago, and had it at the back of my mind for 6 months whilst I sourced the fans from China through a friend. I then began researching paper cuts and looking for antique pieces for the costume in January of 2011. Once I had everything together, I started the physical work on the costume in mid April, and then continued with it until the end of September. I was also making another character at the same time, and of course designing the galleon props, which was the hardest part. The ships took 70 hours to design, but the costume felt like it went on for the entire summer, it was an enormous amount of work.
How is this a departure from your original Wonderland series?
These pictures are actually Part 2, it’s simply the return of the series after a long break of working privately on it since April. For me it’s been a healthy and reflective process because I have evaluated the new work as a set. I think the new characters are more complete and much more detailed. The costumes are the most complicated I have made and the most thorough. There is also a much more noticeable story that becomes clearer as the images progress and eventually leads the series to its end.
What was it about Jan Pienkowski’s illustration that inspired you?
All the pictures in the Wonderland series are directly linked to my memories of the stories my mother read to me as a child. The book The Kingdom under the Sea was one of my favorites, and I remember being bewitched by Jan Pienkowski’s illustrations as a child, staring at the pages for hours. I had actually forgotten about them until I took an interest in paper cuts when researching the personal history of Hans Christian Anderson. This suddenly triggered the memory and I found myself scrabbling around trying to find the original 1970’s edition online. For me the reason I am so drawn to them, and the reason why they are so perfect for this character, is that they are incredibly unusual, beautiful and magical, yet without any color or 3D form. Wonderland is associated with color and lots of floral details and the point of this character was to create something that was the opposite – darkly beautiful – flat, hard and almost colorless.
The Queen’s Costume
What was creating the costumes like?
The creation of the costume and the props were completely unconventional and both were the hardest things I have ever had to create for a picture. The costume was extremely fragile and could break easily. There were over 240 fans used, and each one had to be fixed open, sprayed, positioned into symmetrical panels, glued over a domed shape, then hand painted, and be able to be assembled quickly on location in panels. The costume was heavy and the model would not be able to walk easily, or wear it for long periods of time.
The Making Of/Behind the Scenes
Tell us about the process of using laser cut steel to make the ships.
The ships being in steel was a natural progression from my very humble beginnings of imagining them made from card or thin wood. I have never attempted anything like it before and the whole process was a huge learning curve. I knew nothing about the limitations of standard laser cutting machines, and it was only once I was 100% committed to the design, after hours of work and a few failed test cuts, that my only option was to give up, or get in contact with a major industrial factory. I needed someone with equipment big enough and accurate enough to cut such an extremely intricate design. I was turned down a lot, or asked to simplify the drawing, but thankfully I made contact with Cirrus Laser who were absolutely amazing, and decided to give the design a go.
The only machine that could achieve the details was actually a state of the art nitrogen gas cutter, which could even cut details as small as the mermaid’s eyelashes. Watching the programming was extremely humbling; the reality of creating all the cutting reference points was pretty mind-blowing. The factory explained it was the most complicated design they had ever cut, but the results were absolutely beautiful and so worth it. Once the steel was cut it was painted white – it was the perfect appearance I was after – delicate like a paper cut, but would be strong enough to withstand water and being hung from trees!
What was one of your greatest challenges?
For the second shoot of The Faraway Tree my two main worries were the weight of the ships, and getting them high into the trees without them being damaged (it was very windy), and secondly I never use artificial lighting on my shoots. So producing a night scene, in October, with giant metal ships blowing around in the wind, the threat of rain and a tired frozen model, with just one small generator creating the power for all the lights, it was nerve wracking to say the least. Both of these pictures feel like a very big personal achievement simply because I have never shot anything this complicated before in my life.
In The Queen’s Armada, the ships, as I have already mentioned, were hard work as I had no experience in creating such a thing, and physically they were very delicate in places, and could also be damaged easily. They were also heavy when trying to position them in the water with only small supports, and kept sinking or threatening to fall forwards. Add those two problems to shooting the entire scene on water, and having to build an underwater platform for the model to stand on – it was quite a daunting task!
The Making Of Video
The Three Completed Works
The White Queen
The Faraway Tree
The Queen’s Armada
When we asked Kirsty what she hopes others get out of her works she said, “I hope people can really lose themselves in them. I am heavily influenced by film, and the challenge of creating a scene, in its entirety from start to finish, being responsible for every single detail, and it being believable is what I want. I have said it before, but reality can be overrated at times, escapism is a wonderful thing. Tuning into the powerful beauty of our natural world and then boosting that with a dusting of magic can instill hope, excitement, and passion again.
“Doing things for real and being there in that moment is the amazing part! Those ships were real, and were really hanging in that tree, it was a thrilling thing to witness! It is worth all the hassle and pain to do things for real, not just clone it all in Photoshop. Maybe people will feel inspired to have a go, and see what they can create for themselves, and not feel nervous about trying.”
Finally, what can we expect next? “Goodies, baddies, no color, lots of color, props that get bigger and bigger, and bigger along with the costumes, and a magical end,” she says. “It’s been so much hard work, but I’m so excited and thrilled with the results. So I guess, expect the unexpected!”