This is What Happily Ever After Looks Like

Natalie and I have been friends since we met on the school bus in first grade. I haven't seen her and her husband Ben for two years! A lot has changed in those two years! They've moved back to their home state of Indiana with their baby girl Nora and their two rescues Costello, on the right, and Lexi on the left. This is the first time I've met their daughter and their dogs! They've created a very easy-going, furry family of five. 

Natalie wanted 'down to earth' grassy family shots, which my Aunt and Uncle's backyard delivered. It was perfect, we could let the dogs off-leash without any worries, and the only distractions were an occasional bird or squirrel. 

Here are two similar shots, but different focal lengths. I couldn't make up my mind if I liked the naturalistic shot with the large depth of field (more detail in the background), or the more artistic looking small depth of field (very blurry background).

This is what happily ever after looks like. 

Furry family of five family portrait, grassy wooded area, Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Furry family of five family portrait, bokeh background Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Seeing Nora feels like traveling back in time and seeing Natalie as a baby. Those eyes. Those cheeks! Oh my goodness! The drawer that Nora is sitting in was refinished by Natalie, and the blue knitted blanket in the background is the first knitted blanket Natalie ever made. I was there when she knitted it, probably ten years ago, because I learned to knit alongside Natalie. One of the many things I adore about Natalie is how she's so thoughtful and puts so much sentiment and meaning into everything she does.

chubby cheeks baby photo, distressed drawer, bokeh background Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

chubby cheeks baby photo, distressed drawer, bokeh background | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

nuzzling dad, bokeh background family photo | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

bokeh background, baby and parents | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Here are some shots of Costello. He was the first furbaby Natalie and Ben adopted after moving to Colorado! He was a little timid at first, but I gave him plenty of space and used my zoom until he trusted me more. What a handsome, fluffy guy! 

Pet photography, rescued, Australian shepherd mix, bokeh background | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Pet photography, rescued, Australian shepherd mix, bokeh background | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Pet photography, rescued, Australian shepherd mix | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Whenever a camera is around, Lexi does her best Audrey Hepburn, doe-eyed wistful look. She is the ultimate people lover, and lives to greet people. She's always by Natalie's side in the house, helping put Nora to sleep for naps, and hanging out during changing time. She loves protecting her family and nanny-ing baby Nora. Nana from Peter Pan would approve!

Bokeh, back-lit, pet photography, wooded area | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Pet portraits, sniffing | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Love, Love, Love. Just in case you didn't notice, those lilac colored flowers match Lexi's collar! Seriously!

Pet portraits, bokeh, wooded area | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

I worked with Costello and Lexi while Nora had an outfit change, but like the good watchdogs they are they kept checking on Momma and baby periodically. 

Dogs checking up on Momma and baby | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

This was a touching end to our session! Natalie's husband had the sweet idea to go back to Main Street, Zionsville and recreate some of their wedding shots from 2008! Those were taken in a snowy November, so the contrast and change is really fantastic. I hope they keep doing updates as their family grows and changes over the years. Can you imagine a wall gallery in their home of the changes over time? 

Furry family photos in downtown Zionsville, Indiana | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Furry family photos in downtown Zionsville, Indiana | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Momma hand and baby hand | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

What a joy! It was so rewarding to shoot this session for my best friend. One of our favorite things to do in High School was photo shoots in Arbuckle park in Brownsburg and neighboring corn fields. Some things never change!

And because I just can't resist, here's a picture of Natalie and I in first or second grade, at the Indianapolis Zoo, visiting the polar bears of course! That's my big brother Shawn on the left. Fanny packs! Oh boy!

90s kids wearing fanny backs at the Indianapolis Zoo polar bear exhibit | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015


The Next Page For Polar Bear Studio, Pun Intended

To be completely honest with you, I’m scared about my next project, and uncomfortable writing this post. But, I’m willing to bet it’s because the project I want to tackle is too big and ambitious, and I’m afraid I’ll fail. However, if I push through the fear, I’m sure I will learn new things and continue to grow as a photographer. And if its art created out of love for something, it really can’t go all wrong, right?

I’m also afraid to write this post because I don’t have everything ‘perfect’ yet. I’m still tweaking agreement forms, participation requirements for volunteers, and finding locations for the photo shoots. I may even have to sketch stuff and show the sketches to people I don’t know and aren’t related by blood or marriage! Gasp!

However, sometimes ‘done’ is better than perfect. And I could really use your feedback! So I’m going to risk my pride, throw my perfectionism to the wind, and go ahead and reveal my next big Polar Bear Studio project.

My next project that will likely take me through the rest of 2015, if not into next year, is ‘Beloved Pets in Children’s Books’.

Beloved Pets in Children's Books: The Next Page for Polar Bear Studio, Pun Intended!

I love books, and I love Children’s Books even more. I worked at a library for four years in High School, worked at Borders in Sarasota for 2-3 years while in college, studied Children’s Book Illustration and Children’s Book Literature in college at Ringling.

Little known fact about me: I wrote and illustrated 2 picture books as well as wrote an easy reader chapter book for classwork while at Ringling College. Did I ever submit or publish anything? No! It wasn’t ‘perfect’ enough... but I did get an A, and my Mom was really proud!

Reading, writing, and art have battled for my mind, heart, and my time all my life. But why? Why do they have to battle? Why can’t I have it all? I started to think back to how many amazing pets were in children’s books and became so inspired. Children’s Book Illustration meets Pet Photography? Why not?

I’ve fallen into a ‘rabbit-hole’ for sure. Yes, that pun was intended too.

I’m rediscovering old favorites and catching up on classics I somehow missed out on.

Here comes the feedback part I mentioned earlier:

1. I want to limit my source material for the project only to chapter books and novels for kids, no picture books. To me, the picture books are so literally visual already, and I personally want more words to visually interpret. If there’s a children’s chapter book or novel that featured a pet which you loved, please share it with me via comments below this blog post or if you’re reading this through my newsletter go ahead and reply via email.

2. And the other item on my mind is whether or not to require a small participation fee from the volunteers, $25 or less. Any participation fee would go towards a product purchase. I want to make sure everyone that signs up to volunteer is really passionate about participating in the project. I think with the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar I proved myself worthy and reliable. I had too many volunteers for the calendar project and had to turn some away. I want to make sure in my next project that everyone who is involved is really excited to be involved, and I believe a small participation fee would guarantee that. Am I crazy? Participants are already volunteering their time, would a fee be too much and discourage anyone from signing up? If you feel passionately about this issue either way, again please share it with me via comments below this blog post or if you’re reading this through my newsletter go ahead and reply via email.

I feel better after writing this. At least the project is not a secret anymore, and now you can all watch it grow and develop with me. I’m excited!



Artists and Their Cats

I think other cat lovers will agree that for every 10 dog-lover’s product there’s probably just 1 cat-lover’s product. I love dogs, but I love cats too, and the cat lover in me is always a little bit jealous by everything available for dog lovers.

So when I saw that Chronicle was publishing an entire book devoted to the cats of famous artists, Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi, I sat up a little straighter, prouder, and pre-ordered the book to make sure I didn’t forget about it!

Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi Book Review

Disclosure of Material Connection: Quick housekeeping, I’m writing this post on my own volition out of love for this book. I’m not affiliated with the publisher. I’m just a fan-girl book nut who wants to share one of my favorite books with you! However, some of the links in the post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What a treasure trove! Of course I was looking forward to seeing my favorite artists like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe with their cats, but I really enjoyed discovering new artists I had never heard of before. Keep your smartphone handy while browsing because when you get to artists you’re not familiar with you’ll want to look up their work.

Do yourself a favor and don’t look at the contents page. Let yourself be surprised with every page turn!

I learned I have something in common with Gustav Klimt! We both named our cats ‘Katze’, which is German for ‘cat’.

Side note: Katze and I both relish a good ‘new book smell.’

Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi Book Review

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone in any way, so carry on and buy Artists and Their Cats here if you want to be completely surprised, and come back when you’re done reading it.

I’d love to share with you my favorite artist from the book and my favorite photo.

Nastasi did an excellent job succinctly summarizing each artist’s career and cat relationship. The artist who completely impressed me, and I also had never heard of was Suzanne Valadon on pages 98 and 99:

“Any cat lucky enough to call nineteenth-century French artist Suzanne Valadon a friend was in for an adventure. The first female painter granted acceptance to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Valadon began her career as a circus acrobat. She became a respected art model, posing for well-known painters such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, and later married her own sitter, painter André Utter. With encouragement from friends, including Edgar Degas, Valadon began her own foray into the art world. She was known for her female nudes--a subject most women artists eschewed during the period. Her vibrant still lifes, portraits, and interiors often included cats. Several such companions took up residence in her studio over the years. The free-spirited artist used her finest fashions to create beds for them. Her kitties were lavished with beluga caviar on Fridays and kept company by a German sheep dog and a goat, which she fed her bad drawings to.”

Nastasi, Alison. Artists and Their Cats. Chronicle, 2015. Print.

I’m surprised no one has turned her fantastic life story into a Hollywood blockbuster. She sounds fascinating!

Now my absolute favorite photo in this photography-filled-book is on page 57, for Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martine Franck. It is one of those photos that seems lucky and genius all rolled into one. I’m unsure about sharing the image due to copyright concerns, however you can check it on slide 9 of this article/slideshow from Time: “Our cat Ulysses and Martine's shadow,” 1989. Henri Cartier-Bresson—Magnum Photos.

Small, but mighty at 6” x 8”...the book is very portable while still packing in the content. You can snuggle up with it on the couch without straining your wrists, and if your cat wants to join there’s space for both! They probably didn’t think of that when designing it, but its true. Katze proves it!

You can snuggle up with it on the couch without straining your wrists, and if your cat wants to join there’s space for both! They probably didn’t think of that when designing it, but its true. Katze proves it!

I highly recommend this book to any cat lover because it really does honor the cat-human bond in a sophisticated way, which is truly a refreshing break from the comedic treatments of cats we typically see.

Do you have any recommendations of books for cat lovers? I’m always on the hunt, so leave me a note in the comments! Or if you’re reading this post via email newsletter, reply with any suggestions <3


P.S. Here’s the official book description from the publisher Chronicle:

“Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo . . . so many great artists have shared one very special love: the companionship of cats. Gathered here for the first time are behind-the-scenes stories of more than 50 famous artists and their feline friends. From Salvador Dali's pet ocelot Babou to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's menagerie of cats, including Salt (who was black) and Pepper (who was white), Artists and Their Cats captures these endearing friendships in charming photographs and engaging text, and reveals what creative souls and the animals best known for their independent spirits have in common. In this clever compilation, art aficionados will discover a softer side of their favorite artists, and cat lovers will enjoy a whole new way to celebrate their favorite furry friends.”

#artistsandtheircats #chroniclecrush #alistasi


Classic Catnap

I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks about pets who are long gone. Marmalade is the ‘one who started it all’ for me. His memory certainly lives on in my home through my girls Katze and Jayla. What better way to honor a pet who has passed by opening up your heart and home to a new pet who needs love?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the keeper of my family’s photos. This photo of us together means more to me than I could ever express in words.

Photo of a baby and orange tabby cat sleeping together, Copyright Polar Bear Studio, LLC

One of the creative projects I’m currently working on is a visual exploration of my family’s long history of pet ownership and how it’s landed me where I am now. This is the first image for that project that has the working title: Forever Felines.

This photo inspired me to create a self-portrait photo shoot with Katze and Jayla that would honor Marmalade’s legacy.

Some things change, some things will never change. There’s just something timelessly wonderful about a catnap with your cat. In order to tell that story I resurrected my old passion for digital collage, which was my medium of choice for my senior thesis at Ringling College of Art & Design.

With cats, you can’t predict things. You have to assemble the image beforehand and hope they’ll react as you expect them to. However, cats love nothing more than to ‘help’ when you’re sorting through papers or photos, especially smelly old photos. 

The odds were certainly in my favor with this concept. Sorting through papers and photos is mentally exhausting work which also led to the story I wanted to tell of how my habit of cat naps with cats continues to this day. 

First, a close-up, and below it the whole composition.

Digital Collage Classic Catnap by Polar Bear Studio

I really enjoy the visual juxtaposition of the floral bed sheet in the 80’s to the modern floral sheets of today. I have the baby blankets in the shot three ways, in the original photo, underneath the photo, and in the modern interpretation, a constant visual element. A big fan of the daydreamy-movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I ensured a golden knob on my victorian-style trundle bed from my office shined through.

I used a tripod, remote, timer, and digitally painted the two images together with Photoshop. I’d work on the collage, let it sit for a day, and play with it more. I was content with the final image after 3 evenings of tinkering.

The Forever Felines project will be a personal project that I’ll continue to play with while also working on another project that I haven’t announced yet. It will require volunteer models again! I’m so excited about it, something totally unique and as far as I’ve googl-ed, it hasn’t been done before! I just need to update all the signup forms and finish the details before the announcement.

The Real Reason Why I Watermark My Work

We’re friends; we have a common interest of loving animals as well as loving great images of them. As your friend, I want to tell you a secret. Which is the real reason why photographers use a watermark, a logo or copyright notice overlaying the photo, and trust me it is not what you think.

The Real Reason Why I Watermark My Work

To keep things from getting TOO serious, I have my fur buddies Oscar (above), and Kalle (below) who will provide very shocked feline expressions for you.

I sense there is a misconception that a watermark’s sole purpose is to stop those who have had the photos taken from purchasing prints for cheap at the local 1-hour pharmacy, undercutting the photographer’s profit. That’s not the whole story, not even close. If you had a pie chart that would break down the reasons why a photographer uses a watermark, that would be perhaps 25% of the pie.

Finders Keepers
Imagine you’re in a parking lot, going into a store, and you find a wallet laying in the parking lot. You look around, and you don’t see anyone. What are you going to do?

If you’re an honest person who tries to ‘do unto others as you’d prefer others to do unto you’, you’ll look in the wallet to see if there’s any contact information to who it belongs to. Maybe go to the nearest store and see if anyone has reported the wallet missing, or you’ll go the police department and turn it in. Maybe if you’re a millennial*, born between 1980-2000, you’ll look up the person on Facebook and if you find the owner, you’ll message them that you found it. Regardless, with a wallet you’ll likely have a name for whom the wallet belongs to, a signature, and if you’re an honest person you’re going to try and do the right thing.

Now, imagine you’re in a parking lot, going into a store, and you find a 100 dollar bill. Again, you look around, and you don’t see anyone. What are you going to do?Honestly? How are you ever going to know who the 100 dollar bill belonged to? Short of asking for the store manager to review the parking lot security footage and hoping someone is recognized, there’s not much you CAN DO. It’s an orphan currency and its finders keepers.

Are you ready to take a leap with me?

A photo without a watermark posted anywhere online, might as well be a $100 dollar bill in a parking lot. Finders keepers.

If someone finds it, they can do whatever they want with it, and there’s nothing you can essentially do about it, because it’s an ‘orphan work’ with no one to claim it.

Pleading ignorance, the finder can pick up the photo for their next social media campaign that goes viral. Why bother signing up for a stock photography site to purchase a great image when you can find one for free, with no one’s name attached?

It happens all the time
I don’t want bad things to happen to my friends. The photos and images we create together are our ‘kids’ and they need us to protect them from people who would use them for misleading intentions, their own profit, or worse.

I know what you’re thinking. “But, it’s Facebook! I only have friends and family on Facebook, and they would never misuse my photos.”

Did you know that your profile photo and your cover image are public to everyone, not just your friends? That’s the only explanation for how this family’s christmas photo wound up on a billboard in the Czech Republic without the family’s consent.

Seriously? The Real Reason Why I Watermark My Work, by Denise Mueller

Do you remember the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ Twitter campaign that went viral last year? The ‘face’ of that campaign was a photo of a girl from Guinea-Bissau** who was not abducted and who lived more than 1000 miles away from Nigeria where the girls were kidnapped.

A ‘well-meaning’ individual misappropriated photographer Ami Vitale’s photographs, which had no watermarks on it, added their own watermarks for the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign and posted it online. Once it went viral, there was nothing that could be done to take down hundreds of thousands copies all over the various social media platforms. Several big mainstream tv news shows had shown the images on their broadcasts before Vitale was able to speak out and make herself heard.

Put yourself in that girl’s family’s place. Can you imagine seeing your daughter’s portrait on the news representing girls that were kidnapped in another country?

Pinterest Spam
Ethically allergic businesses will take your pet, wedding, family, and baby photos, popular Pinterest categories with high click rates, and upload the photo as a pin and have the source link go towards their business. A modern bait and switch. Which, by the way, if you ever see that happening, Pinterest has made it pretty easy to report the pin as spam. If I find a pin to a spammy site, I report the stinker right away. It’s the best form of tattling ever!

Misleading Followers On Instagram
Instagram was designed and intended to be a platform where we share our own mobile phone photography. Businesses are clamoring to promote themselves on Instagram by any means necessary. Any means necessary includes grabbing a cute pet photo online that has not been watermarked, our metaphoric $100 bill found in the parking lot, and sharing it on Instagram. If the business does not mention who created the image, it is generally assumed that the image is from their marketing department or they’ve purchased the rights some other way.

I’ve seen one pet company from Australia in particular post images of SEVERAL different pet photographers that I admire, one American, one from the Netherlands, and they did not source or credit the photographers whatsoever. They’re misrepresenting the work as theirs and promoting their brand with images they have no right to use. The company’s followers ‘liked’ the images, and some followers even took the time to comment how awesome they were. It makes my heart ache for that photographer.

Ultimately I ended up taking screenshots and emailed both photographers. I felt the photographers deserved to know that a company on the other side of the planet is marketing itself with their photography without their consent. If the photographers had watermarked their image, perhaps the incident could have been prevented, or at least induced the business to think twice.

Bottom Line
Watermarks are a flag for ‘This image means something to someone.’

I know watermarks aren’t pretty. But they’re necessary. Watermarks are your friend, not the enemy. It's the only tool we have to fight back against misrepresentation and misuse, unless you don’t want to post photos online at all.

Yes, bad people will do bad things regardless of any preventative measures. Watermarks are not going to keep a determined, clever, bad person or ethically allergic business from misusing an image. It will make their task more difficult though, which is somewhat comforting. However, watermarks do make it easy for an honest person and ethical business to do the right thing.

Save yourself some heartache, make a photographer smile, and leave the watermark alone.

Recommended Reading For The Curious
• First, I want to give a shout out to Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge, one of my favorite blogs for years, who bravely posted about the related subject: 50 SHADES OF GREY: COPYING & CREDIT IN DESIGN. I have had this watermark topic in my list of blog post subjects for almost 6 months. Grace’s post motivated and encouraged me to finally use my voice and write!
• Also, I love what Counsel for Creatives had to say in response to Grace’s post, specifically the section: “Outrage Versus Action: Dealing with Copying and Credit in Design.” If you see someone’s work being misused or misrepresented, before calling the business out on social media, contact the artist privately and let them know, preferably with a screenshot. It’s the best thing you can do for that artist.
• Millennial*: To read a PDF publication “..part of a Pew Research Center report series that looks at the values, attitudes and experiences of America’s next generation: the Millennials.
• Guinea Bissau**: To see Ami Vitale’s fascinating photojournalism as intended of the girls from Guinea Bissau**, Africa, click here to visit the Alexia Foundation site, which includes the article “Tradition, Women's Rights and Circumcision in Guinea Bissau, Africa.” The black and white images are from her original trip in 2001, and the color images are from 2011.

Questions? Did something confuse you? Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below! I’d love to discuss this!



Show me more!