Mastering Flat Lays Without a Studio

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

We live in a world of creatives with impressive studios, fancy lighting and expensive camera lenses. While this picture-perfect situation is fun to pin or spend time in a day dream, it often leaves us discouraged, making us wonder: Can we still create with quality without an abundance of resources? The answer: A sure and strong yes. We can and should create where we are & with what we have; it is in these limitations where true creativity takes place. And, you're in luck since flat lays, knolling and styled photos in general can be done well with very few materials.

This past year, I worked with my local Anthropologie to help develop creative content for social media. Specifically, I created artistic flat lays within different themes for the store's Instagram. Despite the advantage of having an abundance of beautiful items to style and curate together, it was a learning curve to master styling these products without a formal studio. However, through the process I discovered a few simple ways to work with whatcha got, as they say. 

What you need: An iPhone camera, natural light and some 
styling props you have on hand 
(This can look like tissue paper, beans, greenery, scrap fabric, washi tape, etc.)

01 | Creating the Right Backdrop 

One can never go wrong with a sleek, white backdrop. But, due to space or lack of access to an ideal situation, this is not always possible. A few solutions: 1) Want to fake it? Use a couple of white poster boards (one laid flat, the other standing up to create "L" shape) or a large piece of butcher paper (secure top of sheet about 3 feet up from bottom of a wall and let drape onto ground). 2) Or, keep an eye out for different spaces in your area that may have the ideal backdrop. Whether that be the wood table at your local coffee shop or a nice floor in a shop, use it! 3) Lastly, texture is key when creating a well-designed styled shot. Utilize materials you have on hand - whether that be a rug, blanket or table runner - to help add dimension to your shot. 

Lacking something? Ask a friend or neighbor! Sharing creates community, even in the simplest way of expressing and meeting a need. 

02 | Make it Individual to You

If you are styling for a brand or business, it is easy to just focus on the products chosen for the photo. Yet, creating your artistic style requires putting your own spin on the circumstance. Add personal details to the flay lay that would be relatable to your audience. Whether it be choosing to work in your favorite magazine or having your everyday sunnies stick out of a bag, these little details make the your work individual and unique to you. 

03 | Add Some Life!

Incorporate a small plant or greenery, include a cup of coffee or add in that last slice of cake on a plate. Overall, make the photo more than just lifeless objects. By adding a bit of soul to the shot, it allows the branded objects to take on more movement and personality than they could alone.

Tip: Grocery store flowers are usually no more than $10 -- not only do they look great within a styled shot, but add a little more joy to your home, too.

04 | Remember the Art of Play

Styling is an art. And, I think as we grow up and continue to create, we forget the carefree and playful aspect that art should obtain. Give yourself permission to mess up a shot. That idea that just popped in your head that could-or-could-not look really cool? Try it. Let's try not to get so caught up in the desire for efficiency and planning that we forget the wonder of creating.

05 | Don't Forget the Finishing Touches

For all of these shots, I just used my IPhone to both shoot and edit. As editing goes, I keep it simple and personal to my aesthetic. I use the app VSCO to crop & straighten, bump up the contrast, adjust exposure as needed and fix any temperature or coloration problem. Then, I will softly layer a couple of filters depending on the style of the image and how it will be used (favorites include: A6, J2, Q2, M5; available to purchase within app). These final touches make a world of difference by curating images that are both stylized and uniform.

Join the Conversation: What are your tips to style creative content in imperfect conditions? And, how can we use these limitations to boost and grow our creativity?

Your Softness, Celebrated

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Image via Karissa Nickish
Sensitivity, softness, tenderness, gentleness... these are words that are very near to my heart, for they compose a good amount of it. For so long, I believed the lie that these attributes are negative and should be avoided to live life well. Still, that is far from the truth, friends. Our softness is needed in this world. To mend and to grace and to love the brokenness that surrounds our lives and those around us. It is a gift that is lovely and beautiful. 

I could go on, but sometimes borrowed words say it far better than I ever could. Here are a few thoughts from some wise individuals who celebrate and encourage our softness amidst a rigid world. Without further ado,

"I'm sorry if anyone ever said you needed thicker skin. Or to toughen up, man up (ugh, I hate this one the most), or get it together. Your sensitivity is a gift the world is searching for. Where there is thin skin, there is tenderness. Where there is tenderness, there is empathy. Where there is empathy, there is love. Stay soft this week."

-Sammi Harvey, via @sammiharveyco

Image via Karissa Nickish
"There are so many people who believe it is one or the other, softness or strength, when the truth is there is so much strength in being soft. The ability to go through life without turning cold is tough, and it takes a lot of courage."

-Leslie Tulip, via Darling Magazine

"Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel constantly shhh'ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don't let someone steal your tenderness. Don't allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to be truly affected by things."

-Zooey Deschanel

Image via Karissa Nickish
"I begin with an open heart, being honest about how I feel and what affects me, but then releasing it, handing it over to someone and something much bigger than me. This is both freeing and comforting. I wasn't made to carry too much weight, nor was I made to carry all the luggage alone. When I grab onto bitterness, it's as if I'm refusing to let someone else carry the bags for me; it creates more work and ultimately more pain. [...] There's a beauty in softness - a simple beauty that's both powerful and inviting. It's often the harder choice, but it's the wholehearted choice."

-Tori Schaulis, via


Oh, to be tender and soft and sensitive. I always have referred to it lovingly as a blessing and a curse, but learning that is more so the first. It is blessing to feel deeply, love deeply and be affected by life deeply. If you are are someone who resonates with this, a message from me to you: Keep being soft. Keep being tender. Keep being gentle and vulnerable and delicate. Here, you are celebrated.

Join the Conversation: Do you think of sensitivity and softness as a strength? And, how can we continue to show tenderness in the hard seasons of life?

How to Document Your Travels with Intention (& Giveaway!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago 
Our desire to share is innate, it seems. This is why when we experience something - whether it be a trip to your favorite city or the coffee shop that just opened down the street - we are quick to snap a photo (or a dozen if you are like me) and eager to show it off to friends. Traveling is one of those experiences that we cannot simply keep to ourselves - and, we shouldn't! Yet, if poorly executed or even over-done, capturing your experience can transition from a fun expression to an obligation or burden. While there are many stressors that contribute to our overall experience on a trip, documenting should not be one of them.

So, let's capture our travels the right way - here are five tips (along with some photos from my recent Chicago trip with some friends) to do just that with a little more intention and a little more fun.

*Also, stay tuned for an exciting announcement at the end of this post. Oh, the intrigue.  

Photo by Molly Sullivan

01 | Take Photos for the Sake of Remembering, Not Sharing

It is easy to find ourselves in the mindset of wanting to post this and share that when we take a photo or are thinking up an idea. Yet, it is vital to continually shift that mindset back to a more humble beginning. Yes, that latte you had at the super hip coffee shop is worth sharing. Heck, you probably paid six bucks for it; I think it is well worth a photo and share! Yet, the "picture-perfect" moments should not take precedent over the real and the raw moments of our lives. Capture the in-between moments, the stressful moments, and the just plain unexplainable moments.

Antique Taco, Wicker Park
02 | Forget the Rules

You should really only post once a day, someone once said to me. I quickly let out a snarky laugh and proceeded to post my third photo of the day to Instagram. Here is the deal, friends - there are no rules on what or when or how you should post. When it is all said and done, posting an image or caption is really just sharing an experience like we would in person, and therefore should be treated as such. When IRL with a friend, we naturally want to share multiple aspects of a trip or story while also being mindful to not over share.

Wicker Park
Chicago Art Institute
03 | Don't Worry About Getting it "Right"

We complicate the simple, travel being no exception. Often times, we think we have to take the "perfect" photo with the "perfect" angle or lighting to depict the moment. While, yes, those images may be more appealing and fit into the "aesthetically pleasing" category, it is not needed to communicate your experiences well. It is as easy as this: document what you like, what interests you, what sparks a reaction. (Example: I just about shrieked at that red door and could not stop gawking over the beautiful staircase at the Art Institute. See, interesting and simple and fun.)

Wicker Park
Wicker Park
04 | Write it Out

Documenting is not confined to just visuals, but should include some jargon here and there too. As the cliche goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Nevertheless, they tend to leave out the little moments that are easy to forget (we are human, after all). Take a few minutes at the end of each day to stop and reflect. Write down your favorite moments, quotes, feelings. By taking time to pause, it allows us to be mindful and thankful of what we are encountering, only furthering our overall experience.

Hotel Hangs
Harold Washington Library 
Millennium Park

05 | Make it Physical

An experience takes on a  whole new meaning when it is not confined to our IPhone screen. It allows your stories have a physical home and be remembered more than just for the instant gratification of feedback. This can look a variety of ways, some of my favorites include: printing off 10 photos, framing your favorite, making a scrapbook or Photo Book, or creating a document of key highlights from journals or notes throughout the trip. Let's go the extra mile and make the digital physical to  salvage memories near and dear to us.

Do you struggle with capturing a trip, holiday, or moment well? How do you document with intention while still staying present in an experience?


I have partnered with friend and fellow blogger, Kristin from RoundTrip, to giveaway a few of our current favorite items that make both travel and the current space around you just a little more joyful. We will be giving away the following items to one special person:

01 | Mini Lightbox 
02 | Three travel-inspired prints
03 | Six travel-inspired stickers

To enter, visit THIS LINK, as well as follow along with updates and instruction on our social media (@cate.marg@round.trip). Also, Kristin's post on her four biggest travel regrets is found HERE. Best of luck!


En Route To Chicago

Monday, March 27, 2017

*This post is a lil' different and a lil' spontaneous for this Type A, posts-planned-two-weeks-out gal. But, switching it up is good and keeps us honest and free. This was written as I was on a train en route to Chicago for a little weekend fun with some friends - enjoy these quiet rambles.*

Image via Claire Nichols
The sun resting on my face through the window of the train feels glamorous.

I do not know if "glamour" is the right word, for it seems a bit overdone or doubtful; yet, as I close my eyes and let the burning yellow and red flutter through my eyelids, it feels warm and beautiful and special. (These colors we see as we close our eyes are called "phosphenes" according to ScienceLine. Curiosity got to me.)  

The soft mutter of the train as we pass through fields & urban homes alike fades dimly into the background. Its voice has become the soundtrack of this trip for me, thus far. (Not for poetic reasons, truly out of plain forgetfulness. My headphones are sitting on my nightstand at home. Rookie move, I know.) Friends are sleeping and strangers are doing their thing. Being a bit nosey seems a little more acceptable on public transportation. It's then transformed to "curiosity" and I'm into it. 

Image via Claire Nichols
 There is something about being on a train - or in a car, plane, bus - that makes me nostalgic but nonetheless still. That tension between "what was" & "what is" (and of course, the inevitable "what will be") rests softly together in this moment. Snuggled between other conflicting emotions - ones of joy & sorrow and ease & pain. I am making room for all these friends these days. Learning that they are, in fact, friends and should be kept close to recognize how human I am. ("So Very Human" I have said to myself lately. In those I-shouldn't-of-said-that, feel-that, do-that moments, I am & we are So. Very. Human. I think that should be a title of a book, someday.) However, "it's okay" & "be still" whisper their sweet voices around me, and I am choosing to listen. 

My eyes come to a close for an extended second once more, this time, surrounded by trees and a small stream... reminding me that all this, too, shall pass. These moments, as beautiful as they can be, are so very temporary. So I am choosing to feel it all yet grasp lightly, for better days lie ahead.  

Why You Should Still Create in a World Where Everyone is a Creator

Monday, March 13, 2017

Image by Karissa Nickish
As you scroll through Instagram, take an art class, or simply look to the person next to you, it seems that more and more people are creating something and putting it out into the world. Seeing this can make us feel a few things - some days it may be along the lines of yes, inspiration! and way to go, sister friend! While other days lean more towards really, another one? or even a what about me? thought. The latter of the attitudes leaves us feeling discouraged, compared, and ultimately believing we are unworthy of creating something, too. 

First things first - let's not feel shame or guilt for feeling these thoughts. They are natural and real. I have 'em, you have 'em, and most people who care deeply about their art do, too. Yet, also, these emotions are far from the truth and do not define who we are as a creator or person. 

So, here is the deal: despite these thoughts, we should still create. We were made to, it seems. Why? Check out a few reasons below.

01 | We Have Much to Learn from One Another.

Though our work may seem similar or the "someone has already done that before" thought streams our head, we, too, have a unique voice that should be shared. That is the beautiful thing about art - that not one person executes it the exact same way. Whether it be writing, painting, styling, photography, or any creative medium, we all bring something to the table. 

02 | Creativity does not Simply "Run Out".

Maya Angelou famously states that "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” I think she is right - and we should remind ourselves of this truth often when we are tempted to tell ourselves that there is not enough space for another artist, blogger, photographer, etc. in the world. 

03 | At the End of the Day, Create for Yourself. 

It is fun to get positive feedback and an abundant of "likes" or "shares", yet to create well we cannot simply only depend on the outcome of our shared work. The original work itself - the process of getting that photograph just right or perfecting that last paragraph - brings great joy when restrained to just creating for creating's sake. 


In an article from Into More Productions, author Ryan Wekenman writes, "Some of us like to create with our hands. Others use words. Or cameras. Or instruments. Or insights. Or computers. Or conversations. We were all given the ability, desire, and responsibility to create. Which means it doesn’t matter how you choose to create, simply that you do. This is one of the key ingredients to living a story of more."

His words, for me, take the pressure off of making something "perfect" and instead simply push me to just create something. I hope and pray that we can use our natural ability of creating to cultivate living that "story of more". 

Why do you think we should all keep creating, despite our doubts or the fact that "everyone" is doing it?

A Playlist of Hope & Light with Sophie Roads

Sunday, March 5, 2017

We are back again with the monthly playlists, and this one being no exception to the beautifully curated ones Sophie Roads created for us last year. (For past playlists, click HEREHERE, and HERE.)

And, a note from the music-curator, herself:

"Hello, sweet listeners. February's playlist was one that I tried my best to fill with emotionally promising songs. My personal favorites include Sampha (Honestly, just check out that whole album. The man has a voice like butter), Whatever You Want by Vasser, and The Isle of Arran by Loyle Carner. Carner is another one I'd highly recommend delving into further. Easy listening and highly motivating. To those listening, I hope I succeeded in creating a soft-spoken playlist with undertones of hope and light. Happy listening, folks."

"To those listening, I hope I succeeded
 in creating a soft-spoken playlist 
with undertones of hope and light."

What are you listening to this month?

Lainey Berlin's Quirky and Thoughtful Photo Series "GIRLS"

Monday, February 27, 2017

Lainey Berlin is a fellow college student from Dallas, Texas who "strive[s] to capture authenticity, natural beauty, genuine hearts and timeless memories through [her] photos." Her photo series entitled "GIRLS" embodies that vision for her creativity, yet also proves something much greater. It provokes a strong message around the idea of what it means to be womanly in this day and age. Lainey describes this as "capturing the nature and beauty of femininity", and here at H&H we are all about learning and listening to others on this topic many of us hold dear.

Therefore, today we get to chat and dive a little deeper with the girl behind the project. 


Habit & Heart: Where did inspiration come from for this project?

Lainey Berlin: Inspiration for this series came from a compilation of different photographers, musicians, artists and magazines that I have followed and appreciated over the years. Some names including Lauren Tepfer, Petra Collins, Tavi Gevinson, the 1975, Lorde, Ryn Weaver, Darling Magazine and many other Instagram accounts and Tumblr photographs built up in my archive. However, if I were to pinpoint one source of inspiration, I would have to say the book Babe by Petra and Tavi really opened my eyes to a whole new side of photography and power that I was unaware of. Babe is a collection of photographs reflecting feminism while exploring female identity in midst of our objectifying and degrading media world. More than thirty female artists came together to contribute to create one voice. It wasn’t until I flipped through the pages of this book when I realized I too could use my passion of photography as a voice to all girls around the world who are growing up in the society that I am. I have always dreamed of creating a photo-set that not only held a story, but a powerful message. It wasn’t until recently when I started to become confident in my photography, that I decided to make this project a reality.

H&H: How would you describe femininity and being a woman?

LB: I could spend days coming up with characteristics and phrases in attempt to conclude with one truthful definition of what I believe being a woman means, but thankfully I don’t have to. Being a woman isn’t confined to one single definition. Instead, being a woman means exceeding expectations, breaking barriers, proving power while at the same time remaining unapologetically confident and secure with who you are as a female. There is not a single woman who sets the example of how every girl should live and look, despite what the media suggests. Darling Magazine says it best, women need to realize “beauty apart from vanity, influence apart from manipulation, style apart from materialism, sweetness apart from passivity, and womanhood without degradation.” Women need to support other women. Women need to love other women. Women need to look out for other women. But most importantly, women need to come together to prove their power. I mean, girl power, can I get an amen?


"Women need to support other women.
Women need to love other women. 
Women need to look out for other women."

H&H: I noticed you switched up your editing style with these photos, using pink and cooler tones. Was this choice intentional?

LB: My editing choices for this set were 100% intentional. Personally, the pink and blue tones evoke a sense emotion that would not be successfully created with any other colors. I feel as if the aesthetic of the photographs properly convey the message I was hoping to get across. I have also carried this aesthetic into my other Instagram photos. I like how it sets my pictures apart from what people typically see when scrolling through their feed.

H&H: What other artistic choices did you make when creating this project?

LB: When I was in the process of taking the photos, I came to realize that there was a very fine line between being getting the project done and allowing myself the time to truly love what I created. Although GIRLS is composed of only six photographs, I took about 100+ photos and had 12-14 final products to choose from. In fact, the original six photos I was planning on posting where either retaken or replaced by another idea the week I published them. I worked on this series for about two weeks until I was 100% happy with it, forcing me to be patient. I challenged myself not to settle, but instead I wanted GIRLS to be something I was proud of. 

"I challenged myself not to settle, 
but instead I wanted GIRLS 
to be something I was proud of."

H&H: As noted in your artist statement, what is the overall story you have created through GIRLS? And, what is the individual meaning of each photo?

LB: I understand I have been quite vague with the story created through GIRLS, but there is a reason for that. I strongly believe that not all art needs an explanation. This is derived from my experiences throughout school, specifically English class. Almost every time we were asked to analyze a poem or piece of writing I never had the same answer as my classmates. I became very insecure and questioned why I saw things differently, essentially making myself believe that I was wrong. Because of that, I strive to create something open-ended. My art has no “right” answer. My art is challenging, mysterious, and limitless. I want someone to look at a photo and see something different than the next person. Just how there is no single definition for women, there is no single story in GIRLS.

H&H: Do you have other ideas in the works? What is next for you creatively?

LB: Believe it or not I have a growing list of ideas on the Notes in my phone for more photo series.  Some major topics I plan to capture in future projects include our society’s obsession with technology, specifically cell phones and social media. I also plan to disprove the common assumption that there is a correlation between sensitivity and weakness. I am constantly inspired every single day by even the littlest of things, so there is so much more to come that I don’t even know - yet, how thrilling is that?


That's a wrap! Thank you so much, Lainey, for sharing your heart behind GIRLS and letting us feel allllll the creative feels (it can't just be me!). You can follow along with Lainey through Instagram and her website.

February Roundup: Celebrating Creative Community

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Image by Karissa Nickish
A new tradition starting here on Habit & Heart is a monthly roundup of inspiring reads, interesting articles, and overall creative content. For the month of February, we are focused around community. Each of these messages showcases the need for an encouraging community surrounding us to build up and challenge us each day.

01 | To Read (Digital): "The Real Reasons we Compare on Social Media" via Darling Magazine

An Interview with University of Missouri Professor (Miz represent!) Dr. Jennifer Lewallen speaks volumes to a popular problem in this day and age - comparison. She emphasizes why we compare both in real life and online, and more importantly, how certain social comparison can actually benefit us.

Image by Karissa Nickish
02 | To Read (Print): Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read this book over my winter break this past year, and boy did it refresh my creative soul. And, because Liz (that's what I call her to make her sound like a friend) says it best:

"A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself."

Right on, Liz, right on. 

03 | To Watch: CreativeLive: 30 Days of Genius

If you are wanting to be inspired everyday for an entire month, here you go! Created by Chase Jarvis, 30 Days of Genius is composed of 30 interviews with various creatives from all walks of life and styles of work. Once subscribed (you can HERE - it's free!), these videos will drop into your email everyday ready for you to watch.

Image by Karissa Nickish
04 | To Listen To: "Community Not Competition" with Nate Snell via Sounds Good Podcast

Brandon Harvey does a fantastic job at interviewing interesting, inspiring people each week over on his podcast, Sounds Good. This interview with Nate Snell, owner of Pip's Original Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon, highlights the beauty and success of working and uniting together rather than keeping gain to oneself.

05 | To Follow (Instagram): @britandco

Brit + Co is self-described as "a media company that inspires, educates and entertains real women with a creative spirit." AKA, hello, that is us! Based in San Francisco, this team of creatives will encourage you through their meaningful yet aesthetic images & captions to value the community around you. Brit + Co truly embodies this truth: that, if used well, even social media can be a platform to gain inspiration, support, and learn from one another.

What content are you consuming this month that you are loving?

Three Ways to Create a Digital Mood Board

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Via @catemarg on Pinterest
Mood or inspiration boards have become more and more popular for creatives to utilize in their homes, office, and any space one can get his or her hands on. I have always loved creating my own mood boards since it creates a visual representation of what I am currently inspired by - from art to style to colors, and everything in between. Though physical visuals* can make the space around you more artistic, many of us do not have the space to create and desire to be surrounded by said inspiration at all times. Therefore, there are many digital forms that allow for expression on the go.

Here are three ways you can curate a well-designed mood board from your phone or computer.

01 | Instagram Feed and Saved Photos

Via @cate.marg on Instagram
Via @cate.marg on Instagram
Though Instagram can be used for all sorts of platforms, you can easily create a mood board through your feed. The best way to do this is to plan out your grid! Darling Magazine recently wrote a great article on "4 Things That Zap Your Creativity on Instagram" that you can check out to take your Instagram feed to the next level.

Additionally, you can create a mood board through your saved photos. This feature is new - and is quickly becoming my favorite! In the bottom right on each photo, there is a bookmark icon that you can click. Then, it saves it to a board only you can see on your profile (far right icon next to "Photos of You"). This is where you collect photos from a variety of people you follow on Instagram that you're constantly inspired or encouraged by - this way, you can easily look back each day, week, or month and can visually see how your artistic eye is evolving. 

02 | Photoshop

Created by Claire Nichols, Instagram HERE 
Using Photoshop would be most preferrable for someone who enjoys the creative freedom to design their own layouts. Through this software, you can form your "board" in whatever style you like - whether super layered, clean cut, or a combination of the two. Plus, look at what a different a little typography here and there makes! Count me in. However, you can get these creative vibes a few ways...

a) Through Purchasing the Software on your Computer. You can pay a one-time fee or choose a monthly plan. Plus - if you are not sure you want to commit just yet, try a free trial HERE. (Oh, hey students - there are great deals especially for us, too!)
b) Purchasing Similar Apps on your Smartphone. A few of my favorites include Diptic, ABeautifulMess, and even the Photoshop app. All of these options give you the same creative freedom to create or choose from unique layouts and add in design elements.

03 | Pinterest
Via @catemarg on Pinterest
Last but not least, we cannot forget about Pinterest. Though probably the easiest way to gain and sort through inspiration, it may come as a surprise to some that it can be used as an intentional mood board. You can do this through...

a) Creating very specific boards. Not just "style", but "winter style". Not just "home", but "the kitchen". By creating detailed boards, it will naturally become more curated and specific in content. Yet if you do not prefer having a multitude of boards to sort though, you can opt for option b.
b) Adding just one more board to your account for inspiration. If the first option seems too daunting, this may be for you. Create a separate board specifically for your mood board. From here, you can pin  or re-pin your current favorite images to create a cohesive, artistic space.

Do you create digital mood boards? If so, what format do you use?


*This post is the first of two focused on creating mood or inspiration moods. Later this month, we will learn more about how to create the ideal physical mood board for your surroundings. Get excited!

by mlekoshi