8.24.2014

Spotlight Kirsty Mitchell, The Wonderland Series

Hey There . . .

Don't you love (or are you scared by) Parker's black dining room.  I have heard a lot of comments like, "I'm not that adventurous, but I would love to have dinner in there !"  It's not for everyone, but it is fun and it's absolutely a look that needs to continue, very carefully, though out the home, if you choose to embrace that strong a color palette.   I love the fact that, as a whole, it's artistic and not average, a statement kind of room.  The butterfly and flower wall paper is by far one of my favorite elements. Butterflies are big right now and I have always loved them.  Their delicate wings with intricate colors and detail have always amazed me.  Each so different.  Nature's abstract canvas.  Osborne and Little introduced Butterfly Garden as part of their Spring 2014 collection and I could not wait to incorporate it in a design.  Mary Fran took about a minute to agree and we incorporated their paper on her dining room ceiling.  In the Fall of 2014 Matthew Williamson for Osborne and Little will be embracing nature as well with a series of dragonfly papers and fabric.  (Stay tuned for Mary Fran's Powder Room and another nature inspired paper !)  Nature . . . such an inspiration for design. 

When I wrote the post, I started off with a photo by Kirsty Mitchell, that I felt captured the overall feel of the room I designed.   I came across her photography one day and spend hours reading about her and her journey.   Thought I would share and elaborate on it a bit being that I was so captivated by her "Wonderland" series.  I have never seen a series so detailed, so magical and with a story behind it that is so beautiful.  Her work in amazing.

photo by kirsty mitchell

From her site, these are just a few of my favorite images from the Wonderland Series she created.






Kirsty's site (here) contains the story behind the series, a must read - take a minute, or two.


"Wonderland began in the summer of 2009 and has now been running for five years.  It was started in memory of Kirsty's mother Maureen who died in late 2008 and was the turning point in her approach to photography and consequently her entire life" . . . says Mitchell.


"The Story Behind Wonderland"

"My mother was an English teacher who spent over thirty years inspiring generations of children with her stories and plays.  She was rarely seen without her head in a book, or writing in her own diaries, which she had kept since I was young.  She was lost to a brain tumor that left her too ill to be brought home to England from the small French village where she and my father retired.  Instead of a funeral full of her ex pupils, we had to make do with a tiny family gathering which left me heart broken and needing to do something that would never let her be forgotten.

In the months that followed real life became a difficult place to deal with, and I found myself retreating further into an alternative existence through the portal of my camera.  This escapism grew into the concept of creating an unexplained storybook without words, dedicated to her, that would echo the fragments of the fairy tales she read to me constantly as a child.  Originally it began as a small idea in the form of just a few shoots that would span the summer, but nothing prepared me for the emotional journey it became, and the very special friendships it produced.  From the moment I met hair and makeup artist Elbie Van Eeden, there was a sense of something deeper.  We became very close, and the project blossomed into our own private playground within the woodlands that surrounded my home.  Both of us were still in full time jobs and so had to spend out evenings and weekends creating props, wings and sets out of the most basic of materials, to try and achieve results as convincing as possible.  There was little budget, so we relied on the kindness of strangers donating their unwanted treasures, and anything else we could scavenge or customize.

As the series developed I found it became an elaborate melting pot of my backgrounds in fashion design and costume making, as well as passion for art history and the English countryside.  I chose my local landscape as our setting and searched for areas of natural wonder, which could convey my feeling that despite its theatrical inhabitants, Wonderland was in fact real . . . and all around us.  Over time I developed a deep bond and respect for the locations in which I worked, and hoped that through my pictures I could remind others of their forgotten magic and beauty.  I became fascinated with the pockets of wild flowers that would appear for only a few brief weeks of the year, such as the English bluebells.  In some cases I would wait the full cycle of 12 months in order to return prepared with a concept and model, to capture the scene in full bloom.  These vivid natural colors in turn dictated those of the costumes, and soon a pattern began to emerge.

I quickly found that the physical creating became my favorite part - the chance to step into the scenes for real was unlike any other experience in my life to date.  It made my daily existence a better and richer place, and slowly helped me deal with my grief.  At first people presumed everything was created in Photoshop, the scale of the props, the colors, even the entire landscapes the models were in !  So I began to write thorough diary accounts about each piece and took behind the scenes photographs of the shoots and costumes being, so the viewer could understand the amount of work involved.  There were no stylists, designers or professional support teams and nothing was commissioned.  It was simply a few passionate friends working for free, with what I could afford out of my wages every month, whilst I begged and borrowed the rest.

As the pictures evolved I pushed the concepts further with some of the new characters taking up to five months to create.  It became impossible to cope with working as a fashion designer and developing the series in my spare time and annual leave.  So eventually in December of 2011 I left my 10-year career behind, to dedicate my future to finishing the series and producing the book and exhibition.

It has been a roller coaster of emotion, and an enormous amount of effort, but now (finally) at the point of writing this in March of 2014, Wonderland is almost complete.  There are currently 72 pieces in the collection, with a final 5 on the way.  In the last few years our little world has grown wings and finally broken through to the major international  press being recognized by Harper's Bazaar, Italian Vogue, The Daily Mail, the BBC News, MSN, the Huffington Post and countless magazines and blogs around the world.  The response and support has been utterly overwhelming and humbling, and something that still amazes me daily.  I have met so many extraordinary people and been so moved by the reactions of others, that it feels like the project has become a fairytale in it's own right.

It is true to say that in losing my mother I lost so much, but equally this new unexpected path has changed my life forever.  So, no matter how sad the origins are, I am so very grateful for what has happened, and the precious friends I have gained.  At present I still don't know what the future holds, but the day I see my mother's name printed on the inside cover of the Wonderland book, it will feel like I have finally fulfilled my promise to myself and her precious memory.  I miss her so much . . . .  . . . 

This if for you mum .. x

Kirsty Mitchell


I think what really amazed me were the props with all their artistic detail.  All created by hand - no Photoshop here.  The way she captured the light in her images - gorgeous.





Take a closer look at the most amazing props they created . . .







all photos by kirsty mitchell


My thanks to Kirsty for taking me to another place and such inspiration !

Happy dreamy Sunday.















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