my (visual) story building process…
Posted in behind the scenes, stylists August 30th, 2013 by pia

PJB_piasoffice_IMG_2388the chaos of my working space – there is no room for neatness in my creative world…

It occurred to me while composing the behind-the-scenes blog post for Country Style this week (the post just went live, you can read it here), that you guys might be interested in my story & styling process… as a writer/stylist, perhaps it’s interesting to know how I start with the topic for my monthly column with the magazine, the writing process along with the story concept, styling and the shoot. It’s a different method to styling on its own, or writing on its own – it’s all intertwined and it’s a practice of creating that I really enjoy.

First of all some of you who live outside of Australia might not be aware that I currently write a monthly column for a magazine here called Country Style. It’s a beautifully edited and popular publication that features gorgeous homes from coast to coast, country artisans, recipes by country chefs, as well as craft and decorating features.

I’ve been writing for them for about a year now and was given the simple direction by editor-in-chief Victoria Carey to write what I’m inspired by, in line with my  ‘enhance the everyday’ aphorism.

Composing my column is quite a long process from start to finish, and begins 6 months prior to the story release.


First, I present the story outlines for 6 month’s worth of stories. Fran and I brainstorm these with the seasonal theme guidelines given to me by art director Giota Letsios. To come up with the story summaries Fran and I talk about our current interests and inspirations, as well as aspirations for things we’d like to make, artisans we’d like to meet, things we’ve made, or seen, or done. If something grabs me as we talk – if I start to be able to visualise an idea as a styled story, drawing together props in my mind while creating colour palettes, we stop and work through that idea. If the story continues to unfold visually in my mind as we talk it through – if I get a stronger feel for it – then I write it down as we talk, do some quick sketches and move on to the next theme idea. If the idea doesn’t develop visually in my mind as we talk, we leave it be and move on as well, coming back later to see if I can further sketch it out. Coming up with 6 stories in one go is quite a challenge for me, and often one or two ideas can be knocked back by the creative team so then we need to start again. This initial process can take about 4 weeks. By that time we have 6 clear story ideas that we all agree upon.

In the lead up to the scheduled shoot day (with the aim to photograph all six stories in one day) I then present six storyboards to Giota so that she gets an idea of what is in my head. Here is an example of one of my past storyboards…


It’s very simple and loose as although the idea of the layout is strong in my mind, I’m not certain which props I will use on the day. But it’s a good exercise to decide on colour backdrops, whether it will be a horizon shot (an image with a horizon line) or an OTT (over-the-top camera shot), along with a rough idea of the materials I plan to use.


Then I start collecting. In the weeks leading up to the shoot I keep each story idea in my mind as I walk through my home, around the neighbourhood, and while gazing into windows of beautiful boutiques as I walk with my baby girl. I spend less and less time surfing the web for my shoot ideas these days. Because even though there are more and more visual aids like pinterest for creatives, I find it hinders my creative progress as it tends to suck up the short time I have available to prep.  I find that when I need fresh, new material, I need to look within rather than without. So, I pick up bits of bark, string, and flower petals as I wander. I collect things I have in my home and make little samples of ideas along the way. If I really like something I snap an image of what I’ve created or collected and build a mood board of images to send to the art director so that she gets a clearer visual impression. Just before the shoot date I brief my assistant Julia on the stories we will be shooting. She then collects props at her home that she thinks I’ll be inspired by on set, and she sources the flowers I’ve requested from the flower markets and Grandiflora. I source extra props as well as backdrops from some of my favourite places like Major + Tom.

setting up the prop tables on set

Next comes the shoot. Julia and I, with our cars full to the brim with props, meet with photographer Craig Wall at the magazine studios. We discuss the storyboards and props and sets needed.

As a stylist, I’ve slowly evolved my style over the years to seeking a looser, less-styled approach. I like to infuse each story with a spark that comes to me ‘in the moment’ – I set up the shot while Craig sets up the lighting, then I relax into it and ‘let loose’. For this issue’s paper love story, Julia and I made the paper pieces there on the spot, only using what we had. We fashioned a crown from a piece of bark and string, making little flags and feather-like sticks to adorn it. I love the rawness of  this style of working, it’s a process I am adapting and enjoying more and more.


After the shoot, we cart all the props back to our homes and to stores if we’ve borrowed some. My props usually stay in baskets in my office for months before I get to unpack them these days.


I don’t write the piece until a few months before the issue is released. That way I’ve allowed some time and breathing space between stages which I find important for the way I work. I use the photograph created to guide my thoughts and reflections. I write the piece in about a day though I’ve spent a few months thinking about it and making mental notes about the direction I want to take the piece. I’m a slow writer. And yes, from this detailed blog post you might gather I’m a slow creator! But I think that’s because everything today has to be faster and faster (that’s what I tell myself!).

So that’s it! I send my finished written article to the creative team at the magazine, they make very minimal changes, if any, which I’m very thankful for. And a month before the issue goes to print they send me a proof to read over and check.


« « « Leave a comment » » »


  1. cathy says

    Thank you so much for sharing !!! What a wonderful process. Always so excited to read your posts…take care c

    August 30th, 2013 | #

  2. mel@ loved handmade says

    Gosh, such a complex and involved process. I get so caught up in romanticising about the creative side and how fabulous to do something you enjoy, what fun! Now i appreciate your work even more. Thank you for sharing, I’ve loved this peak into your story building..x

    August 30th, 2013 | #

  3. liane says

    i appreciate this outline of your process and a peek into styling and magazine work. i often wonder if i could round out my work and creative life by using some of my energy to do something similar in addition to the “making” i already do. thanks for the inspiration pia! -liane

    August 30th, 2013 | #

  4. this brown wren says

    What a remarkable adventure this must be. Thanks so much for sharing what is a wonderful insight into a fascinating way of creating. I found my creativity really blossomed when I stepped away from pinterest and the like and slowed down in green and growing spaces. The natural world is a constant source of inspiration. WIshing you a lovely, slow weekend xx

    August 30th, 2013 | #

  5. Angy Braine says

    Loved.. loved… LOOOOVED reading this. It has not only been an insightful but also quite inspirational – trying a new perspective or tactic can always be helpful when it comes to creating and I have found myself in a bit of a rut lately. I am definitely going to try a few of your approaches Pia. I am such a “on the spot” person and planning (nor patience) is my strong point – Thank you for demonstrating (so beautifully) your “means to an end” – I will let you know how I go!! ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ PS – Your page in CS is always a fave!!

    August 31st, 2013 | #

  6. lisa | renovating italy says

    Pia thank you so much for sharing this, and I love your slow organic process and thinking. Also can totally relate to the work space and I love having a visual diary. My son brings home all kinds of treasures daily.

    For a visual hit I just need to step outside the door and into the borgata it is medieval. You have just reminded me that everything I need is right here within and around me not online.
    thank you again

    lisa x

    August 31st, 2013 | #

  7. Sarah-jane down the lane says

    Morning Pia!
    Such a lovely insight into your approach…I am finding more and more that the writing is where the magic happens for me…but then a simple bramble branch heavy with fruit artfully bent in the hedgerows sends me hurtling home for my camera…I am so contraire!
    wishing you a lovely weekend,
    Sarah –x–

    August 31st, 2013 | #

  8. Csevenm says

    Great insight into the creative process of your work, thank you for sharing and have a great weekend

    August 31st, 2013 | #

  9. CoraMurphy says

    Thanks for sharing this process Pia.
    It was a lovely read (and insight)
    A relief to know your baskets tame time to empty too!
    When I.m preparing workshops or outdoor painting sessions I.m full of gusto but can.t bear the unpacking! There should be an app for that!
    All best wishes, Cora

    August 31st, 2013 | #

  10. Glenniah says

    Thanks Pia for your generosity in sharing this. It was a very interesting read.


    August 31st, 2013 | #

  11. Corrina Tough says

    Pia, thanks for your generous sharing. I am slowly embarking on writing stories for my photography- I stress slowly! This was good for me for two reasons– my process has been similar and I don’t feel so bad now that I am working in that way. Taking the time to get it right and to portray the idea that has ben born in my mind.
    xx Corrina

    August 31st, 2013 | #

  12. Tian says

    thanks for sharing Pia!
    I always find your blog so inspiring…
    keep up with the great work,
    looking forward to hearing more about you!
    your fellow blogger, Tian

    September 1st, 2013 | #

  13. Francesca Muir says

    Wonderful Pia – so original and I love the organic feel to it all – such a simple delight every time. F xx

    September 1st, 2013 | #

  14. Mary Jo Hoffman says

    i love this post; visually beautiful, useful information, and warmly personal. it’s like a little gift. thank you!

    September 7th, 2013 | #

  15. Pink Ronnie says

    This was an absolute joy to read! So inspiring to read about your creative process… absolutely love that paper crown.
    Thank you so much for sharing with us so openly & honestly.
    Ronnie xo

    September 9th, 2013 | #

  16. Catalina says

    Thank you for sharing! this is beautiful and so interesting!

    September 24th, 2013 | #

RSS feed for these comments. | TrackBack URI