b*styles :: travis & shauna, one more time

Hey! It’s Thursday! And I’m back today with a few snaps from an engagement session I recently styled for Emily. The big reveal of the second blog project will happen tomorrow, as we are still working out a couple bugs today. In the meantime, get a load out of this couple. SMOKING.HOT. I adore Shauna and Travis, and was thrilled to be able to style their winter (#1 and #2) and summer engagement shoots (plus their wedding later in August!). For this one, we headed to a race track in New Richmond, Wisconsin, where Shauna rocked a killer skirt and heels. With Trav sporting blue Sperry boat shoes, and the sun sinking in the western sky, this couple made quite the pretty picture.

After the track, we made for a grassy field, where Shauna and Travis were joined by Nomar and Tellie, their two boston terriers. The couple changed into fresh outfits and rubber wellies. Let me just say, Shauna has got style, man. I helped with ideas for wardrobe, but this girl really pulled it together. As day turned to dusk, we wrapped up the session with flickering candles, sparkling wine and strawberries. Cue collective sigh.

Want to see more photos? Head over to Emily’s blog for two posts featuring Travis & Shauna’s summer e-sessions!

all photos, emily steffen photography

b*designs :: a book blog, part 2

Picking up where we left off yesterday, I’m continuing today to explain the process that I use when designing a blog.

[step no. 2 - design] Generally, once the inspiration phase is complete, I begin by building a digital style board that includes a color palette, fonts, textures and design elements. In the case of Biblio-Files, I knew that Kelly wanted to use shades of gray and orange. I rounded out the palette with a few other neutrals and a subtle pop of soft teal blue. I chose fonts that would seamlessly integrate with the slightly worn, library-book feel that I wanted the blog to exude. Then came the fun part. I knew that I wanted to incorporate several book-themed textures into Kelly’s blog, so I fired up my scanner. The background of the blog is the linen from a vintage hardback book (complete with a few scratches). The library card that doubles as the categories, search and archives tabber was the actual card that Kelly sent along with her inspiration files. I scanned a small envelope, just because I liked the look of it. This was later used for the GoodReads feed in the sidebar. A torn book page was scanned and later became the sidebar texture. Several strips of masking tape were stuck to a blank sheet of paper, and then incorporated into the design. After the scanning was complete, I began building the layout.

I typically start by building the basic structure of the blog. In this case, that meant wireframing the area needed for posts, sidebar, header and footer. The sidebar is almost always designed first. For Biblio-Files, the library card was the first thing on the sidebar that I tackled. I had the idea of incorporating a card that would slide out of the pocket, and I wanted to include reference to the Dewey Decimal system by numbering the categories in a unique way. Kelly helped to figure out which numbers to use for what. The front of the card became a placeholder for Kelly’s brief “welcome”. Slowly, the elements and the design came together. Kelly and I communicated frequently, and I would often shoot over a quick email posing a question or needing an opinion. The last thing I set out to design was the header. I know that this seems backwards, but I almost always end up working that way. In the case of Biblio-Files, I had the idea to incorporate a stack of books. I photographed actual books that I had at home, then brought the image into photoshop to get edited, clipped and transformed into a blog header. The original layout included a stack of books with the pages all facing (no spines seen).

[step no. 3 - proofing] When I sent off the first-round proof, I explained to Kelly that her feedback was very important. Hearing a client’s reactions to a design, as well as their ideas for edits, tweaks, or things they want to see different is what makes for a successful end product. I always stress the importance of combining their style with my design. The bottom line is that I don’t want to create something that looks great, but is miles from what they really love. I say all of that to explain why I value client feedback so much.

After Kelly looked over the first proof, she had a few edits that she wanted to see made. Most were fairly minor, and easy to change. The biggest one was the header. She was struggling with the script font on the face of the book, and suggested “turning” one book around so that the title would be on a spine. BRILLIANT, people, brilliant!! I mean, why didn’t I think of that? This was one of those shining moments that mades me so, so happy that I work with amazing and creative clients all the time. The title on the spine (which we worked with so that it looked like it was engraved) turned out to be the perfect solution for the header. A couple more rounds of edits, and the blog design was completed and approved to code!

[step no. 4 - coding] The last stage of any blog design is arguably the least glamorous and the most important. The development, or coding, of a blog is what takes my static design and turns it into a live, working blog that you can access via the interwebs. I work with two developers, who “slice and dice” my photoshop files into WordPress templates. Typically this process takes 3 – 5 weeks, depending on the complexity of the project and if there are technical challenges along the way. In the case of Biblio-Files, the developer struggled a bit to get our sliding library card to function in the way that I had envisioned, but in the end, it all came together (don’t ask me how… it’s magic). After the online proof was approved by Kelly, we took the blog live online at http://biblio-files.com. There were a few bugs to work out (as there often are in the first few days after a launch), but everything came together beautifully, and Kelly has since been hard at work blogging.

[step no. 5 - blog away!] Once the blog is live online, it’s time for the author to get to work! Filling up the blog with content is the best part, and I always love visiting blogs that I’ve designed to see how they are taking on a life of their own with the author all moved in. Biblio-Files is no exception. Kelly has done an amazing job with her first few posts (it helps that she is a fantastic writer and an expert on her topic), and I can’t wait to see where she takes Biblio-Files in the future. Make sure to stop by, check out her new blog, and say hello!

So there you have it… a very brief glimpse at the process of a blog design, from start to finish. If you’ve read both (long-winded) posts, I am impressed. Be back tomorrow with a (more concise) intro to another big blog project that went live this week!

b*designs :: a book blog, part 1

Hey friends, I am here today to unofficially celebrate the premier of two new b*spoke studio blog designs that have been completed and launched this week. For the next few days, I’ll be talking about these two projects, and giving you a glimpse into my design process. Today I want start with a quick behind-the-scenes glimpse at how a blog design begins. I am a big picture person, and I like structure and organization. So, for me, that means following a few basic steps of a fairly well-defined process every time I go to design a blog.

The blog I am first going to introduce to you is Biblio-Files. Before I go too much farther, let me explain that when Kelly contacted me about designing a blog that celebrated all things books, the wheels in my head started spinning. My first job out of college was for a design firm that specialized in book design. I became quite familiar with the publishing industry, and especially with the elements that make for a great book cover. I wanted to see what could happen when my book design experience met my passion for blog design.

[step no. 1 - info & inspo] The first step in any blog design is the gathering of information and inspiration. Each client that I work with fills out an extensive Project Brief. The Brief includes questions on everything from fashion preferences, to defining the “mood” of their brand, and exploring the elements of color and type. The questions I ask allow me to get to know the person behind the project. When I am designing for someone (especially someone else creative) I find that getting to know them by exploring what makes them tick promises a successful design. I always say that if the blog design were a shirt, they would want to wear it everyday, and if it was a house, they would to move in. The idea is, I want the end result to feel like an extension of the author. A blog is a person’s “home” on the internet, and my opinion is, it should celebrate their unique style. Working through the Project Brief is one huge part of defining that style. The second part is the creation of Inspiration Files.

Inspiration Files are different for every person, but the basic idea remains the same. I tell every client to pull together the textures, patterns, colors, fonts, and elements that capture the mood they want to convey. The end result should be a visual snapshot of the essence of their brand. Some clients choose to pull together a digital style board, while others, like Kelly, choose to literally cut and paste a collection of clippings, images and swatches. Whichever method is used, I always tell my clients to have fun! I am showing you Kelly’s Inspiration Files for Biblio-Files here today because, honestly, I have never seen anything quite like them. When I received a thick envelope in the mail from Kelly during the early weeks of her project, I ripped it open to find a collection of inspiration so complete and so lovely, that I was literally giddy (and I am not typically giddy). I referred to Kelly’s Inspiration Files often during the course of the project, and many of the elements that she included ended up directly inspiring some portion of her blog design.

On the first day of what I call the “Creative Phase”, when the design process officially begins, I spend time reviewing the Project Brief and Inspiration Files, and often, I go on a field trip. Sometimes, it’s field trip online (if, for instance, it’s a blog on home decorating, I’ll go take a visual walk through some amazing homes) and other times, it’s literally a field trip. In the case of Biblio-Files, I took about 20 minutes out of my day to head to our local library. I wanted to spend some time immersing myself in the world of books, and gathering some more visual inspiration. After about two minutes at the library, I began to hone in on the fact that books are both alphabetic and nermerical. What I mean is, there is a close relationship between numbers and letters in the organization of and formation of books. This planted a few seeds in my mind that would later show up in the design of the blog.

After my trip to the library, I came home to regroup. Kelly’s Inspiration Files were kept in front of me, and stacks of old books were at arm’s reach. The photos I had taken at the library were downloaded on my computer for easy reference. My creative batteries were fully charged, and I was ready to dive into the next step of the design process…. which I will talk about tomorrow. Stay tuned!

b*daily :: babies and x-men

Monday, Monday, and I am mucho late getting this post up. I’m just going to pop in today and share a few snaps from the weekend. It was a busy one–full to the brim. On Saturday I hosted a shower for my dear friend Jamie here at the cottage. It was a small group of women, some of my closest friends, and we had a great time together. Jamie is due in July, on the very same day as her sister. Crazy, right?! They were both at the shower, and I got a kick out of their matching baby bumps. Also in attendance were three little ones, ranging in age from 16 months to 3 months. It was a day for celebrating all things baby!

On Saturday morning before the shower, I woke up early to do some housecleaning and decorating, and I ended up in my garden picking flowers to decorate with. The peonies had just bloomed, and were in spectacular form. I snipped a few stems, and arranged a couple bouquets, partly inspired by the article on flower arranging in the most recent issue of Real Simple. So domestic, I know. The delectable spread of food that you see above was prepared by my good friend Ali. She is amazing!! We co-hosted the shower, and she did all of the food. It was ever so yummy, and it turned out to be a great way to share the tasks involved in preparing for the party!

After the shower was over, I changed into a t-shirt and shorts, and got ready for party #2. A few friends showed up an hour later to make homemade pizzas and start an X-Men marathon. Talk about changing gears! I had never seen any of the X-Men movies (yes, I live under a rock), and they felt that this was a bit ridiculous. We watched the first and second movies that night, before crashing at 2:30 a.m. The next morning I was somehow coherent and ready for church in time. Post-church, we made brunch, and then watched the third X-Men. I can’t remember the last time I watched three movies in one weekend!? But, I have to say, I enjoyed chilling on the couch, and the X-Men movies were quite enjoyable (if not a bit hilariously lame at times). We’re planning on finishing off our marathon with the NEW X-Men in a theater very soon. Sunday ended with an unplanned nap, dinner on the patio, a long walk, and finally some reading in bed. Not a bad weekend. How was  yours?

I’ve got a full week of fun posts planned, so stay tuned dears, and have a great rest of your Monday!

b*eats :: good food

Thanks to my parents, I really like good food. Growing up, my mom always had a great meal on the table at dinnertime, and on frequent occasions my Italian father whipped up things like homemade spaghetti sauce, garlic bread, chicken cacciatore, and calamari. In college, I took a literature of food class, and loved every minute. Books upon books about food, and a plethora of papers on the topic. In my adulthood, I find myself more and more intrigued with food, as well as the topic of nutrition.

Recently I have been coming to terms with the fact that an appreciation for gourmet food is quite different than an appreciation for wholesome food. Lately, I’ve been trying to find the balance between foodie and healthy eater. About three or four months ago, I read Ultimate Metabolism, and really started to change the way that I eat. I began to focus on good foods–healthy, whole, real, clean foods that can be found in nature (nothing made in a science lab). Over the past few months, I’ve read even more books and articles and guides on nutrition. All of this reading and educating has caused me to make a fairly drastic shift in the way that I view food. I’ve cut sugar, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, processed foods, carbs, grains and most dairy. Yeah, I know, you’re probably wondering what is left to eat. I focus mostly on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean meats. I use coconut milk in smoothies, and add fresh grated cheese to salads. I make farm fresh eggs for breakfast a couple times a week. Lunches are often salads, or avocado with some smoked fish and a hard boiled egg. For dinner, I add meat to a big veggie stir fry, or grill a small steak and serve it with steamed broccoli and a fresh salad. Snacks are made up of raw nuts mixed with raisins, or a piece of fruit.

Part of the reason I made this drastic shift was because I had been having some major issues with my skin. I went from fairly clear, to really broken out over the course of this winter, and I wanted to see what I could do to clear it up as naturally as possible (no thank you, accutane). I’ll write more on that topic another time. For now, let me just say that all these changes have left me feeling great. My skin is improving, I have more energy, I never feel hungry because the things I am eating leave me feeling satisfied, and I’m slimming down. The more I learn, and the more I eat this way, the more I am convinced that our bodies were not made to handle the garbage that we so often put in them. So much of the American diet is loaded with sugar, products of corn, chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified plants and hormone-loaded products of animals. It’s no wonder that we have health issues. Our bodies don’t have a clue what to do with all this stuff, because we weren’t made to process it.

I could go on and on about this topic, and perhaps I will in another post, but for today, I just want to leave you with a few of my main “philosophies of food” that I try to stick to. Maybe they will help in your own quest to become a healthy eater!

- eat close to nature (if God made it, it’s probably good for you)

- avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, caffeine, alcohol, most grains and dairy with added hormones

- bulk up on veggies, fruits, and lean meats!

- if you can find it locally and organically, do so

- if you can grow it, even better

- try to eat in season. shop farmer’s markets!

- vitamins, taken them

- water, drink it

- eat only when you are hungry, and stop when you are full

- snack often

- figure out what works for you. i’ve found that i don’t tolerate grains or dairy well, so it was easy to cut them from my diet.

- remember how horrible you feel when you eat junk next time you are tempted to reach for it.

- splurge!! when you cheat, do it thoroughly (think homemade ice cream). don’t feel guilty when you do.

- move your body, frequently

- get plenty of rest

- enjoy mealtime! eat with friends and family. savor your food. eat slowly. don’t become a prisoner to a diet. instead eat all in moderation, with your main focus on clean, whole, fresh foods!

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