my (visual) story building process...

PJB_piasoffice_IMG_2388the chaos of my working space - there is no room for neatness in my creative world... It occurred to me while composing the behind-the-scenes blog post for Country Style this week (the post just went live, you can read it here), that you guys might be interested in my story & styling process… as a writer/stylist, perhaps it's interesting to know how I start with the topic for my monthly column with the magazine, the writing process along with the story concept, styling and the shoot. It's a different method to styling on its own, or writing on its own - it's all intertwined and it's a practice of creating that I really enjoy.

First of all some of you who live outside of Australia might not be aware that I currently write a monthly column for a magazine here called Country Style. It’s a beautifully edited and popular publication that features gorgeous homes from coast to coast, country artisans, recipes by country chefs, as well as craft and decorating features.

I’ve been writing for them for about a year now and was given the simple direction by editor-in-chief Victoria Carey to write what I'm inspired by, in line with my  ‘enhance the everyday’ aphorism.

Composing my column is quite a long process from start to finish, and begins 6 months prior to the story release.


First, I present the story outlines for 6 month’s worth of stories. Fran and I brainstorm these with the seasonal theme guidelines given to me by art director Giota Letsios. To come up with the story summaries Fran and I talk about our current interests and inspirations, as well as aspirations for things we’d like to make, artisans we’d like to meet, things we’ve made, or seen, or done. If something grabs me as we talk – if I start to be able to visualise an idea as a styled story, drawing together props in my mind while creating colour palettes, we stop and work through that idea. If the story continues to unfold visually in my mind as we talk it through - if I get a stronger feel for it - then I write it down as we talk, do some quick sketches and move on to the next theme idea. If the idea doesn't develop visually in my mind as we talk, we leave it be and move on as well, coming back later to see if I can further sketch it out. Coming up with 6 stories in one go is quite a challenge for me, and often one or two ideas can be knocked back by the creative team so then we need to start again. This initial process can take about 4 weeks. By that time we have 6 clear story ideas that we all agree upon.

In the lead up to the scheduled shoot day (with the aim to photograph all six stories in one day) I then present six storyboards to Giota so that she gets an idea of what is in my head. Here is an example of one of my past storyboards…


It’s very simple and loose as although the idea of the layout is strong in my mind, I’m not certain which props I will use on the day. But it’s a good exercise to decide on colour backdrops, whether it will be a horizon shot (an image with a horizon line) or an OTT (over-the-top camera shot), along with a rough idea of the materials I plan to use.


Then I start collecting. In the weeks leading up to the shoot I keep each story idea in my mind as I walk through my home, around the neighbourhood, and while gazing into windows of beautiful boutiques as I walk with my baby girl. I spend less and less time surfing the web for my shoot ideas these days. Because even though there are more and more visual aids like pinterest for creatives, I find it hinders my creative progress as it tends to suck up the short time I have available to prep.  I find that when I need fresh, new material, I need to look within rather than without. So, I pick up bits of bark, string, and flower petals as I wander. I collect things I have in my home and make little samples of ideas along the way. If I really like something I snap an image of what I’ve created or collected and build a mood board of images to send to the art director so that she gets a clearer visual impression. Just before the shoot date I brief my assistant Julia on the stories we will be shooting. She then collects props at her home that she thinks I'll be inspired by on set, and she sources the flowers I've requested from the flower markets and Grandiflora. I source extra props as well as backdrops from some of my favourite places like Major + Tom.

PJB_onset_CS_IMG_3948 setting up the prop tables on set

Next comes the shoot. Julia and I, with our cars full to the brim with props, meet with photographer Craig Wall at the magazine studios. We discuss the storyboards and props and sets needed.

As a stylist, I've slowly evolved my style over the years to seeking a looser, less-styled approach. I like to infuse each story with a spark that comes to me 'in the moment' - I set up the shot while Craig sets up the lighting, then I relax into it and 'let loose'. For this issue's paper love story, Julia and I made the paper pieces there on the spot, only using what we had. We fashioned a crown from a piece of bark and string, making little flags and feather-like sticks to adorn it. I love the rawness of  this style of working, it's a process I am adapting and enjoying more and more.


After the shoot, we cart all the props back to our homes and to stores if we've borrowed some. My props usually stay in baskets in my office for months before I get to unpack them these days.


I don't write the piece until a few months before the issue is released. That way I've allowed some time and breathing space between stages which I find important for the way I work. I use the photograph created to guide my thoughts and reflections. I write the piece in about a day though I've spent a few months thinking about it and making mental notes about the direction I want to take the piece. I'm a slow writer. And yes, from this detailed blog post you might gather I'm a slow creator! But I think that's because everything today has to be faster and faster (that's what I tell myself!).

So that's it! I send my finished written article to the creative team at the magazine, they make very minimal changes, if any, which I'm very thankful for. And a month before the issue goes to print they send me a proof to read over and check.