Friday, April 30, 2010

Artist Feature - Bonnie "Beautiful Jean" Burns

Bonnie “Beautiful Jean” Burns is an amazingly talented artist. She is the creator of Beautiful Jean Accessories, a performer, painter, instructor, musician, and an overall beautiful person. For her label, she makes one-of-a-kind feather hair accessories and jewelery that are too lovely for words. I bought one of her pieces about a year and a half ago, then bumped into her again when we decided to collaborate. I was able to interview her and spend an afternoon with her at her home in Santa Cruz. She is the perfect start to the Artist Series, and I feel truly lucky to have met her!

Rachel Zee: First things first: Are you originally from Monterey? Have you lived anywhere else? Please share any other background info that you feel relevant to your journey as an artist.

Bonnie Burns: I was born and raised on the Monterey Peninsula. I graduated from Monterey Peninsula College with an AA in Acting and emphasis in dance. I moved away from home at 23 as a Junior transfer to UC, Irvine to study Drama. I lived in Orange County for my Junior year then moved to Birmingham, England for a year to study Drama as a Senior. After studying abroad and traveling around Europe I returned to UC, Irvine for one quarter to finish requirements for a BA in Drama. I Graduated in 2007 and continued to live in Huntington Beach for two years. I soon discovered I had a dormant talent of painting. I worked full time at a fine dining restaurant while studying and performing dance full time (you name it I've danced it). My yoga practice became very important to me, so I then completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training in 2007. I devoted my life to be an artist in 2007 one day beautiful day while driving up the coast in Big Sur; windows down, I literally said out loud that I am an artist. It's my personal vow. This is when my life started to get really juicy (meaning transformative, amazing, creative, all and all...better). From personal experience, this is the magic of a dedicated yoga practice. Around this time I also started painting dancers for my first painting series, started studying child development and began teaching kids swimming, preschool sports and kids yoga at inner city schools grades k-6th. Beginning of 2008 I connected with an old friend, Shara Free from MPC dance school, and we agreed to start a theatre company. We moved to LA to produce avant garde dance theatre. Long story short, combination of fate and lots of daydreams we established our theatre company, ArtAvant, but we are currently based out of Santa Cruz. We work and live at the Tannery Arts Center. We turned our loft into a dance studio and rehearsal space for our up and coming productions. I also have a separate room as my work office where I spend most of my time crafting beautiful blessings for my label, Beautiful Jean. And so the story goes on...

RZ: How did Beautiful Jean start? Did you begin making the feathery little gems knowing that you were going to sell them?

BB: I unintentionally started Beautiful Jean one fateful evening, September ‘08 when I met up with a couple girlfriends to create costumes to wear at the "Earthdance" festival. I had just moved back to the Monterey Bay after living in Southern California and at the time feather earrings were popular in the underground art fashion (hip/trendy, not mass produced yet) scene in LA. I started making my own pair of feather earrings and my friend had to help me because I didn't have a lot of experience creating jewelry at the time. When I started making hair jewelry the creative spurt flowed out of me. Or rather I was inspired by my own creativity. I created two stunning feather hair clips for the festival. I still have my first piece. After the festival I started stocking up on supplies to design more one of kind hair clips with the intention to start my own booth at the local farmers market. I had a strong feeling after receiving compliments at the festival, and having a lot of encouragement from family and friends that I would be successful selling my work. It was a huge blessing because upon returning from a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat I found out that I had lost my steady job, so thankfully I had enough product to start my business. The journey has truly been one miracle after another.

RZ: I discovered Beautiful Jean through a trunk show at a local boutique. The attention to detail immediately struck me! They are truly little pieces of wearable art. Other corporate companies were putting out feather accessories at the time, but they were obviously mass produced and not nearly as pretty. What is the process that you go through in making each unique piece?

BB: The process seems to always start with one idea or inspiration as what I want to use as my foundation or highlight of the piece. Like a desire to work with one specific feather. Layering is also a key component that has continued to make my work unique and oh-so-beautiful. I like to think I have a great eye for detail and quality craftsmanship. Although each piece is all about trail and error. I have had to do a lot of experimenting which is why I always work with a mirror. I constantly have to try the piece on, holding it against my head to make sure I like the way it looks. I never make anything that I couldn't see myself wearing in public. But there is always a point where I think I made a mistake and try to cover it up, and it then becomes a blessing in disguise. Each piece is like a beautiful mistake. My ego is always trying to be in control, but there is a point where I have to practice the art of letting go and let my creative soul do the thinking. Then it all comes together at that point. Each piece has to be created with love so in the end my ego can admire the beauty. When my ego tries to create out of fear or greed for example the wisdom of my soul chimes in, like a great parent or teacher advising the next step. I'm constantly practicing the art of watching my thoughts and trying to create from a place of inner peace. This is where good music, deep breaths and breaks are important. Each piece is a journey. It's funny after a year and over 1000 or more unique feather accessories I still feel like it's my first time when I start a new piece.

RZ: Just from reading your profile, I gather that you are a lover of the arts. I only know your feather artwork, do you make other kinds of art as well?

BB: My main love or passion is dance. Lately I've been studying and practicing modern dance, Argentine tango, salsa, east coast swing, hula hooping, fire hooping and yoga. I choreograph and perform for ArtAvant theatre company. Stay tuned for our new show "The Street", debuting in Santa Cruz September 2010. Original script, live music and dance. It's going to be epic because we finally have a producer! Before I started my business I had completed a series of paintings called "dance escape", 45 paintings of dancers. I did five shows throughout the Monterey Bay during 2008, and the remaining pieces are hanging for sale outside my studio at the Tannery Arts Center. I am currently painting on commission for my family, and working on a new series about Tango. I love singing, playing guitar and have played flute since I was nine. I really love collecting hobbies and trying my hand at new art forms. My new hobby is golf and new art form is mosaic furniture. My sister calls me a “jack of all trades”. Great compliment!

{Bonnie demonstrating her ability to do it all!}

RZ: Describe your personal aesthetic.

BB:In short, to make is beautiful!
I’d like to think my father who has done a lot to help me realize my personal aesthetic. He has called me Beautiful Jean since I was born because Bonnie means beautiful and Jean is my middle name. I have always enjoyed taking his advice so most of my thoughts about my personal aesthetic were conclusions I've made after conversation with my dad regarding my art.

I know above all I like to create wearable (everyday/any place) hair jewelry. Something you can wear at the grocery store or a posh party. A piece that will turn heads and inspire others to appreciate the beauty in this life. Subtle beauty with fine attention to detail. Like a flower; elegant, but never over the top. I love how the feathers form to the person's head, or framing the face, adding that special touch, like a single rose in a woman's ear. Each piece is meant to be a blessing in disguise. Experiencing beauty is a blessing because it makes you feel good and think positively. My latest slogan or work ethic is "be a blessing". This is what my father told me the last time we talked about my business.

RZ: What is your view on originality? In this day and age, it seems like every idea is borrowed from somewhere. This makes for a lot if inspiration out there, but Is it possible to be completely original?

BB: Alright please don't mind if I get too philosophical; Yes and no. This world is made up of duality. There is always an aspect of originality in everything because there are no two people (or feathers) that are the same. Although we are all made up of the same structure or source, tiny atoms constantly arising and passing away. We are literally all connected in this sense. Oh the joy of one love! My old college art teacher encouraged us to literally steal ideas. This was the point of studying art, to get inspired to use an idea and then make it our own. I love ripping ideas off, and if someone is claiming theft then they should probably check their ego at the door. :)

From Bonnie, I learned that blessings attract blessings. If you use your blessings for good and give thanks for them, more will follow. Bonnie has been able to follow her passions and dream big, which is a great lesson for all of us.

See current work and become a fan of Beautiful Jean on facebook here. You can find Bonnie's pieces at the Monterey Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays, Santa Cruz Farmer's Market on Wednesdays, or at these local boutiques:

Ambiance at Capitola Mall
Idle Hands on Pacific in Santa Cruz
Footsie at the Barnyard in Carmel
Black Cat Boutique in Los Gatos
Heaven and Earth in St. Helena coming soon!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Note on the Artist Series

I have taken on a project that I am calling the "Artist Series". I will be interviewing and photographing creative people (artists, musicians, writers, etc.) and featuring them individually on my blog. I wanted to discuss my creative process with this project, but I realized that I don't even fully understand it yet. I know where my motivation is coming from, but I can't tell you exactly how it will turn out. I guess that's exactly why they call it a creative process! The project will unfold as I do it. So here is what I know so far...

In going through the process of making Rachel Zee Photography an official business, I have had to reflect on my goals for my business professionally and creatively. Finding the identity of Rachel Zee Photography so that I know where to focus. The deeper I get into studying my God given gifts and talents, the more clearly my purpose as an artist has been revealed.

I recently realized that there was no way I could accomplish everything I wanted in life on my own. I was focusing too much on my worldly goals and not seeing the bigger picture: serving our creator. He made me, so of course he knows what is best for me! I needed to stop trying to do it all, and focus on what I was created to do. I put my entire life in God's hands and asked that in whatever I do, I'd be able to serve him. Immediately, the Lord then started to work within me reveal to me his purpose for my life. I came across this verse:

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace on God.” 1 Peter 4:10

In this verse we are told to use our gifts to help one another and pass on the blessing to serve the Lord. God gave me the talent and interest in photographing people, so it makes sense that He would want me to use my talent. He has also shown me the uniqueness of each person that ever has been, is, or will be on this Earth. There are no duplicates. God did this for a reason, because we all have different purposes and jobs to fill! I am a lover of the arts, and I can't think of a more expressive group of individuals to focus on than people who define themselves as artists. My purpose for this project is to highlight what makes each person unique, focus on their gifts, and help them in making their contribution. And if you think about it, we are all artists of our own lives!

As I said, I don't fully understand it yet. I am looking forward to seeing this project grow. But I have to give thanks, because without the strength and inspiration from the Lord, none of this would be happening.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Revisiting Past Photoshoots

It's always nice to go through old files from past photoshoots and find something that I previously overlooked. Editing right after a shoot with a certain idea in mind gets the job done, but then another look with a new perspective can produce surprising results. My skills always improve with time and my aesthetic is always changing... one week I'll be into contrasty black and whites and the next week I might be feeling airy and colorful. Model is Carmen. These were taken two years ago in June and I just now had the inspiration to edit and post them. Funny how that works.

Hope everyone enjoyed the beautiful weekend!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I'm gonna give all my secrets away.....

{well maybe just one.. for now.}

Because of the bad weather last weekend I had to reschedule two shoots. I was expecting to have a load of work to do finishing them up this week, and now I've got too much time on my hands, and no material to post!

As a photographer who gets her joy out of taking pictures of people, times when people aren't around and I've got the creative itch, are tough! That's where the self-portraits (above) come in. I could go out into public, there are always people there, but I'm shy. I'm sure if I practiced talking to strangers on the street it would get easier. But it's just that first one, that breakthrough (or disaster) that I'm scared of.

I'll let you in on a little secret. I've had this project brewing in my head. I want to approach complete strangers on the street, interview them and take their picture, and post it to share. That is one of the goals for RendeZvous, and a big part in why I chose the name. Each post will be short "rendezvous" with people that you will probably never meet otherwise. And any insights or wisdom that they may share you would have never known.

So pray for me to have the courage to do this. I am starting a similar project that will hopefully be posted soon. Off to work...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Andrea's Portfolio Shoot

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of working with the gorgeous Andrea! We shot at the Naval Postgraduate School which had a lot of great backdrops to choose from. They keep peacocks on the campus which I was hoping would want to make a cameo during the shoot, but all they did was squawk (if you can even call it that) and scare the heck out of me while I was concentrating on a shot! We laughed pretty hard about it though :).

We shot three different outfits: casual fashion, dressy, and casual headshots. So here they are, enjoy!

If you'd like to contact Andrea for modeling, email me at and I'd be happy to get you in contact with her. Or if you need some photos taken of yourself, use the same email and we can get to work!