The Personal Project and the HP Sprout

I can’t get over it’s still winter, we were tricked in thinking spring was right around the corner and now it’s snowing in upstate New York. We’ve spent all winter indoors contemplating our careers and figuring out, what’s next? For those of you who own creative businesses, some of your best work can come out of these moments. We don’t ignore the impulse, but explore it and the reason why we’re interested in what’s next? When we started having these conversations about a new project we were approached about trying out the new HP Sprout. After trying the Sprout and we started having all these ideas about what we could do, but before I get into that, let me tell you the whole process. Starting at the beginning.

Will and I have been creating as a team since high school. I know this seems crazy (I actually thought college when I started writing this). We are high school sweet hearts, and we loved working on projects in Mrs. Spindler’s photography class. We photographed with film, developed and printed our own images. We took pictures of things we loved, each other, our pets, our friends and I had a thing for old broken down houses (I know, crazy I loved old houses, right?). We loved working on creative projects with each other. We’d discuss what was good, bad, and creative hurdles we had including technical stuff we needed help with. In college we continued working together in this fashion, helping each other with our projects even though Will was focusing on photography and me, graphic design. At the end of the day, it’s all creative work, so we continued to discuss and help each other out.

In 2000, we graduated college and moved to NYC with big dreams. You know, we were gonna make it. We rented our first apartment in Brooklyn and started to grow our respective careers, mine as a graphic designer and Will was assisting photographers. Will knew he needed to shoot for his portfolio, so at night and the weekends we’d work on projects. Me styling and Will photographing. We created some of the first images of Will’s professional photography career. I look back on those images and am still proud of them, I see our connection in them.

About five years ago, I was incredibly unhappy at my position as a design director in the advertising and design industry in NYC. I loved my team, but the politics wore thin on me. Then as I moved more into management and dealt with more politics and less creativity. I wasn’t actually ‘making’ anything. I started thinking about what I really love to do, and that was make images. At that time Will was doing well in his career. He was represented and had a small studio in our Chelsea apartment. He was bursting at the seams and doing well finically so it was time for an upgrade. We looked at a larger studio space in the NoMad neighborhood right next to the Empire State Building. It was a 2,000 square foot box with no kitchen and a bathroom so horrible I had been in dive bars with a better bathroom. We and a lot of work to do, and it was an investment but well worth it. Three days after we had been in the new loft, the phone call came. Will’s photo agency was going out of business. Another photographer on the roster called Will to see if he knew, and Will was shooting a job and had no idea. For a photographer who shoots mostly advertising and commercial jobs, this is a big deal. It means you petty much have no clients cause they all came from your agent. We freaked out, here we are in the middle is Manhattan, dropping some serious cash on getting a photo studio up and running, and oh, BTW, no agent. We had to do something, turn a negative in to a positive.

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Peaches and cream image from one of our first blog posts. 

We decide to make some changes. First, we were going to make Will’s photography career independent and market it ourselves. I was watching a revolution online with blogs and all the materials for individuals to market themselves. We had to take that into our own hands, cause if it failed, we were the only people to blame. If something is not working, do something about it. We did many things but two big things we did was design our loft and start a blog. Designing the loft was really about us living the life we always dreamed about. We were so close, we had to finish. Second was starting a blog. We had always wanted to work with each other but didn’t have a way to do it professionally, so we decided to do a personal project aka, House of Brinson. Just us making some images together, and posting them. It was that simple. We’re working on our portfolios this week and I’m shocked and proud to how many of our blog images are included. What started out as an excuse to work together ended up being a real thing! That we still do today. While House of Brinson has changed a lot, it’s still our personal project.

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Plum image from an early blog post. 

Fast forward and I’ve quit my corporate job and we are living the dream and working together full time. Seriously, a dream for me. Forget a fancy title, forget a high check, this makes me feel accomplished. However we haven’t been without challenges when we transitioned to working together. When speaking with clients a few questions kept coming up. And because these were being asked by several different people, we knew we had to address these issues. If you have a small business and have different clients ask the same questions over and over, it’s a branding issue and you need to address them.

We work as a photography team. Meaning we both show up for every job and we both work through the job together (planning, shooting, post production). The things that clients asked were, “Who actually shoots the pictures,” or “Who presses the button on the camera,” “Who does what,” “Are they both photographers”, etc. To us, we were surprised. With my experience in advertising a client never asked ‘Which designer is designing this?’ We might have four designers working on a project! I was always under the impression if you show a portfolio, you deliver on that work. Regardless of what I think, and my rational as to how we work together, we have to address this issue. The photography industry is a bit conventional in the fact that for each shoot there are very specific roles each individual has, and very rarely is there cross over. To answer the burning question, we both shoot, concept, do post production, we both do some styling or work with stylists we like to collaborate with, not to mention food stylists. We each have our individual strengths and favorite things to work on with each project. For instance I love concepting and kicking around ideas for each project. Will is very technically talented. I’m serious, when you get into really technically lighting, especially studio lighting, Will is beyond talented. He makes it look like ice skating. You think it’s easy, then you try it and realize how hard it actually is. What we both share is the same vision and core values. That’s why we’re hired, and is true for anyone in a commercially creative industry.

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Scanning in tube. 

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Working with different lip stick modifications. 

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Digital Sketches.

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Scanned samples of different lip stick options. 

We decided to start another personal project. We are doing some soul searching about us individually and also as a couple working together. I went back to our core visual values or style statement, which we wrote over five years ago.

Our style is about contrast: black and white, light and dark, masculine and feminine, old and new, rustic and modern.

In every class we teach we will always encourage you to write a style statement or core visual values. Yes, people change, and tastes and trends change, but your core values shouldn’t. When we looked at our values and thought about what we need to go back to was the basic value of contrast. Our new personal project is about visually exploring masculinity and femininity. We are focusing on us being a husband wife team and okay with being a different. We have a powerful point of view. We will acknowledge our differences and also our similarities. We decided to assign the stereotypical colors of pink and blue to light and dark, respectively to the feminine and masculine. We’ve just started exploring the visuals in this project and some of our first images are in this post. We plan on working on it for at least 6 months and then we’ll reassess. Other than what I started above, there are no rules. We can photograph anything we want. No limits. We have no plans for doing anything with the images, we might get some nice portfolio work out of them.

I was interested in exploring my feminine relationship with lipstick. Since I’ve been a teenager I’ve loved a good lipstick. I can remember getting that deep red Revlon from the drug store and loving the way it fell when I wore it. Lipstick is powerful and transformed me. I also have a gap between my front teeth, so I felt very powerful drawing attention to a known flaw. I was just putting it out there: me and my gap! One struggle I was having from a technical, creative perspective was that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the lipstick. When I heard what the HP Sprout was capable of doing, a lightbulb went off. I could experiment with my concept and technique with the tubes of lipstick, then do a layout before shooting the image. The Sprout would act as a digital sketch pad, and the scanning mat would be a life saver cause anyone tried putting lipstick on a flat bed scanner? Me either. You’re probably wondering: why not just take the picture? Cause it’s expensive! If I get 100 tubes of lipstick and set them up wrong, they are trash and I start over! that gets super expensive for each image. We don’t mind putting some cash against a personal project, but to throw out several hundred tubes of lipstick would be crazy. With the Sprout, I could do a digital sketch and count how many tubes of lipstick I’d actually need. Good planning in effect over at House of Brinson!

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I hope your inspired to start a personal project and explore the source and inspiration for your creativity.

We’ll be speaking at the Makeshift Society in Brooklyn this Wednesday about this project with the HP Sprout team. You can see the Sprout in person PLUS there are adult beverages and snacks. We hope to see you there if you are NYC based. If you can’t make it, see what’s happening with the Sprout by following the #sproutbyhp hash tag.

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Masculine take on a aging flower.

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Feminine take on a aging flower. 

This post is a partnership with HP Sprout. All opinions are our own. Thanks for supporting content that keeps House of Brinson going.

March 28, 2015

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