Michelle Gibson is a force of nature. With experience in editorial, brand narrative, and commercial work, the Toronto-based photographer specializes in storytelling. When tasked with shooting an instructional water coloring book by artist Sara Funduk, Michelle was given just half a day to complete the work by Quarto Publishing Group.
Emma Clayton, the senior art director at Quarto Publishing in the UK, found Michelle through Wonderful Machine. She gravitated to Michelle’s bright and fresh portraiture work and the Canadian’s ability to capture extremely detailed documentary photography. However, Michelle brought more than just her portrait experience and eye for detail to the shoot.
Emma provided me a priority list of ‘needs’ and ‘nice-to-haves’ in case there wasn’t enough time to get everything. The focus was Sara for various portraits, documenting her doing her craft and holding her work, along with images of the work environment and highlighting some of her finished pieces.
This included images of Sara doing some specific brushwork and close-ups of her watercoloring in general. Michelle had to strike a balance between capturing Sara, profiling and highlighting the tiniest of brushstrokes, and photographing Sara’s tools and in-home studio. Ensuring each priority was given enough time with enough variation could have been tricky with such a short shoot.
Freelance photographer Ramon Vasconcelos assisted Michelle. He kept her on track with her priority list and helped to move lights and organize the workspace quickly when needed. This was crucial to completing the project on time, but just as critical was Michelle’s need and ability to connect with the subject authentically.
The book, titled Playing with Paints — Watercolor, featured artist and mother Sara Funduk, descriptors often used for Michelle, who understands the challenge of having to balance work and motherhood — sometimes simultaneously. When Sara’s son wandered into the middle of their shoot, Michelle was excited to be able to utilize him and showcase being a professional artist with children at home.
Sara’s son Stanley came in, and I wanted to incorporate him into some of the photos even though it wasn’t one of the needs or wants on the list. I think this is real life anyway, balancing a mom’s work with kids at home. It felt like it was another personal touch that we needed.
Having a child in the room while shooting for an instructional book added another layer of authenticity to the shoot. It also allowed for Sara to remain connected to the heart of the project.
I felt like I was part of a ‘labor of love’ project. I think it was very personal to Sara.
The book itself is meant to aid beginners in all aspects of watercoloring, including practice exercises and the many rules of thumb. You can’t help but think that an artist taking her experience and time to help others start their artistic journey is a bit of a love letter — to the craft, to her fans, and, of course, to her son.
Being around colorful artwork, a cheerful studio space, and working with another female artist who is also a mom was amazing. We had a great rapport, and it was nice to spend time relating to each other.
Michelle claims to have felt inspired, not only by the space and the artwork but by Sara herself. The real inspiration, though, seems to be female artists who quite literally do it all: business, artistry, and motherhood. The two creatives worked together to produce a book that inspires and educates while being very easy on the eyes.
Seeing the finished piece come together in a book was the greatest feeling. I absolutely loved seeing the end result of how the images were put together with the text and layout. I’m happy and honored to have been a part of the project.
Playing with Paints — Watercolor is available in the US, UK, and Canada.
See more of Michelle’s work at michellegibsonphoto.com.
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