Take a look back at our Wittefini 2018 Year in Review

Twenty eighteen was an explosive one for Tina and me. ❤️ 

We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary which we spent traveling to NYC and then celebrated again to a late-year trip to Paris.

Professionally, we crushed new goals, photographed 33 interiors, delivered 20 professional promotional videos, photographed 100s of portraits (corporate execs + personal projects), expanded Wittefini adding Nikhil as a part-time employee + employing a handful of contractors, created more vLogs (42!), garnered new accounts, traveled more than ever for work, and I started cutting my hair shorter. 😄

We put together this 2018 Year in Review, which features some professional highlights from last year, but as I reviewed it, I can't help but regret not including EVERY project with EVERY client. We don't have the resources (yet) to produce a twenty part mini series with only three of us. So if you don't see yourself in this Year in Review, I'm as frustrated as you are. 😂😅 We'll take aim at 2019 and make due. 😃

To all of you, thank you thank you thank you thank you for your continued support and love. Let's make 2019 way better than 2018 ... together!

Are you scared to death? Good!

From The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

And another:

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Every time I create something or I complete something, the fear of sharing it is so terrifying, it's crazy.

Primarily if it weren't for Tina's encouragement and cheerleading, I probably wouldn't share any of my work. I wouldn't try to create vLogs or even blogs.

Then there are inadvertent encouragers. There are people on Facebook and other social media who put their work out, publish it, share it all the time. They have way more likes than I do. Way more followers than I do. And all these factors create a bubble of fear, indecision, paralysis, and depression.

I'm 42 years old. Until I was about 38, I vowed never to call myself an artist. Calling self an artist is either validated by some form of success or it's hackneyed nomenclature.

And then something clicked. Calling myself an artist became a necessity. It became a battle over fear and rejection, self-doubt and self fulfillment. If I don't call myself "artist", I will never be one. If I don't accept it, despite doing art since I can remember ... waiting until I'm dead won't help.

I'm a full-time creator. A full-time artist. I make my living as a photographer and filmmaker. If I don't accept that, than I'm a waffle in an iron getting burned to the crisp. 

And then there's social media.

I've had a long love hate relationship with social media, this blog, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc. This blog used to be somewhat popular. Now it's not. I don't care. Now is my time to revitalize. To do, not say. To take back what was mine. To look forward. Not back.

I have to mind the cues I get that sharing work on social media is somehow going to make me a Rembrandt or Degas or Van Gogh or any other so-called successful artist. That's not what it is. The dopamine thrill of "one more like." Nope. The perception of success is bullshit. Success is start to finish. Success is developing an idea, executing it, and then, sharing it. Over and over and over and over and over and over.

"I finished X," declares the artist. "Time to celebrate?" asks the artist?

"No time to celebrate," responds the mentor. "It's time to start Y," says the mentor.

The likes and approvals of others aren't the reason for sharing, it's the process. Everything that came before sharing is what makes happiness and fulfillment. Whether people like it or not, that shouldn't always be the goal. Although the voices in our heads often try to convince us of that.

I'll leave you with this other quote from Pressfield:

“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.”

Wait, genius means what?

A couple nights ago, I read Steven Pressfield's the War of Art. I flew through it. It's as inspiring as any concert, any museum, any art gallery I've ever been to.

The crux of the book is to discuss the obstacles that prevent creativity or the pursuit of a goal and inspire, encourage, warn, man-splain ... how that person should jump off the woe is me train and onto the Airbus/space shuttle/galaxy destroyer of creativity ...

I haven't been this inspired in a long time.

Gosh, I remember as a kid going to church and feeling like I should be inspired by church sermons. And sometimes I took nuggets here or there. But never did I feel wow'd by sermon speak.

But this book, holy shit!

Maybe it's the Whole30 diet Tina and I are on and the clarity it's giving me. Maybe it's reading it on the coattails of Tribe of Mentors. But holy damn. I love this book and want everyone to read it and love it.

Pressfield describes the antithesis of art as "resistance." Anything that prevents you from doing you: resistance.

This makes total sense to me.

He discusses the origin of the word genius, which is not necessarily a person who is superior in his accomplishments because they make everyone else look un-genius. According to wiki:

In ancient Rome, the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of a person, family (gens), or place (genius loci).[3] The noun is related to the Latin verbgenui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce", as well as to the Greek word for birth.[4]

"To bring into being, create, produce." That is powerful stuff. In no other time in history have we had so many ways to, not only create and produce, but share it. And in my world, I've got a fire under my ass to not only create and produce but share. This takes focus, organization and deliberate attention to ambition and accomplishment.

It takes recognizing that Resistance is the asshole who wants to stand in my way, and doing everything but being polite to get Resistance out of the way.

Pressfield writes:

“A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center.”

On this blog in the past, I've written several times about thoughts I've had that artistry and certain religious beliefs are impossible and incompatible bedfellows. At some point in my career as a student and then as an evolving artist, I kept running into blocks that were religious in nature, and I was forced to let go of religion and replace it with unfettered passion for production of art.

Never have I read someone else who comes close to validating that perspective (emphasis mine).

Pressfield writes:

“The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals. Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself. But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil One, seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven? The fundamentalist hates and fears women because he sees them as vessels of Satan, temptresses like Delilah who seduced Samson from his power. To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

As a teenager, I followed in the footsteps of the legacy that preceded me. I found solace and love in evangelical things. But I was miserable doing it. When I noticed that all I was doing was finding out what was wrong with everyone else and finding the need to tell everyone else how sinful they lived, it made me into a person with his gaze always fixed on a backwards perspective. Backwards in its different meanings.

As a collegiate, I started seeing more as a progressive and a forward thinker. Every time I looked backward, I became consumed and overcome with excuses for why I wasn't growing as an artist. When I finally started looking forward, I learned how to pursue dreams. Resistance, though, is awful and wanted me to hold on with clinched fists to the past. So I turned to shitty habits of alcohol or even reading web sites or hanging with people who weren't helping me look forward.

Right now, I'm a zealot for positivity and for focus. I'm impassioned by creation and for self exploration.

It's a better vessel for me to ride on. I love it.

I leave you with this last quote, as it says so much about what it means to be an artist.

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation. The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”

What do you think? Is it possible to be an artist and a "believer"? What things do you do to remain on task and move around or past obstacles to pursue your goals, art or whatever?

I've got the munchies for mini advice from strangers.

I've been reading Tim Ferriss' book Tribe of Mentors. It's a collection of responses from many different individuals on the same eleven or so questions. It's an inspiring read.

For this post, I wanted to include a few quotes. These first two deal with finding your art or, perhaps, your purpose.

First, from American Writer on Business Practices Tom Peters in response to advice to students:

They say: “Think big! Have a compelling vision!” I say: Think small. Do something super cool by the end of the day! I write about “excellence.” Most see excellence as some grand aspiration. Wrong. Dead wrong. My two cents: Excellence is the next five minutes or nothing at all. It’s the quality of your next five-minute conversation. It’s the quality of, yes, your next email. Forget the long term. Make the next five minutes rock!

And the second, from writer Keven Kelly:

Don’t try to find your passion. Instead master some skill, interest, or knowledge that others find valuable. It almost doesn’t matter what it is at the start. You don’t have to love it, you just have to be the best at it. Once you master it, you’ll be rewarded with new opportunities that will allow you to move away from tasks you dislike and toward those that you enjoy. If you continue to optimize your mastery, you’ll eventually arrive at your passion.

I loved these two quotes for multiple reasons.

One. Selfishly for moi.

Two. Selfishly for Tina.

Three. For you.

I love to aim at perfection. And sometimes, I fail. Sometimes I fail on purpose, because if everything is "perfect" then one perfection might impede on another part of my schedule, so I need to be choosey about what gets "perfected" and what does not.

But in regards to the first quote, I love how he recommends being passionate about the next five minutes. Sometimes I'm on the phone using my computer. I'm talking to my mom or brother or best friend and I have to slap my own hand from surfing the web or working on a job while talking. And then when I remember that they're the most important thing, right now, right for the next five or ten minutes, the conversation is better. I'm less distracted and more engaged. I listen with action. I don't butt in. But my responses are more strategic and productive.

When I try to "think big," it often paralyses me. For instance, if I try to come up with the best new idea in the world, I retreat into a world of fear. That fear prevents me from doing anything at all. It's that sisyphean complex of aiming at impossibilities rather than possibilities. Drawing one small picture. Making one small photo. Writing one small page. One meal. One thing at a time. Add them all together and it's a body of work! Instead of thinking big all the time, think smaller actions that get many good responses rather than one big coup!

Regarding the second quote: In my search for my art, I have had to give up on a lot of passions. I've had to find things I love and concentrate on them. I LOVE to draw and make paintings, but I've had to let that passion slide over the years and concentrate on others.

I LOVE to cook. And developing cooking has become one of those little things to feel creative on. When you take the time to discover a new recipe, shop to find ingredients (pre-production), assemble ingredients (learning to cut, chop, mix, etc.) complete the meal, serve it and see the face on your audience (of one or many). That to me is art expressed in less than two hours. You can do it daily. And it can fulfill so many inner needs ... on so many levels.

We need to eat to live. Many of us need to make art to live.

I'm doing my best to live by the philosophies of Make/Share, Do More and focus. All of these things fit into a small accomplishment zone.

And finally, I'm going to leave on a quote from too-good-to-be-true, French entrepreneur, creator and humanitarian Jérôme Jarre. As I reread it, I realize how my 18-year-old-self would red flag this quote with honking/blinking red lights of woo and blasphemy. My 22-year-old self stumbled on the idea of "mini-gods" as I was doing my senior thesis and became okay with it. My 42-year-old self is completely good with it and inspired by it.

I'm not sure the exact question on this, but let's say he's answering advice to students.

A belief: the belief that we are all mini gods. I mean this in the sense of creators, in a way that should not feed our ego but our consciousness. This means the entire universe is not just outside but also within us. We have unlimited power—the power to solve any problems facing us or facing others. We get to create our realities. It’s a simple and small belief, but it can change the course of humanity. Being mini gods means we never lack. We know we already have everything. We don’t need a million dollars. We don’t need a trillion followers. We are complete. We are full. So full that we can give without counting. The day we will all start acting like mini gods is the day there will be peace in the world.

This quote also corresponds with some other woo I have printed next to my computer since last July, which is the abundance thinking bullet list:

  • Believe there is always more where that came from.
  • Share their knowledge, contacts, and compassion with others.
  • Default to trust and build rapport easily.
  • Welcome competition, believing it makes the pie bigger and them better.
  • Ask themselves, How can I give more than is expected?
  • Are optimistic about the future, believing the best is yet to come.
  • Think big, embracing risk.
  • Are thankful and confident.

Testing the lights, solo.

I recently did some light tests based on an idea I've been bouncing around for years with my old studio partner Bill Whitmire.

We saw this one setup in the book Light: Science and Magic: in which you place a black background behind a bottle (or subject) and then a wider soft source like a silk behind that. 

Essentially the light wraps around the black and creates a thin rim around the subject.

I finally tested this recently with myself, but would love to do someone else.  Keep in mind, I was by myself in the studio so getting the camera to trigger and be in focus using my Hasselblad was a little tricky. 


From Timothy Ferriss’s Tribe of Mentors, venture investor Steve Jurvetson writes:

“Celebrate the childlike mind.” From what I can see, the best scientists and engineers nurture a childlike mind. They are playful, open-minded, and unrestrained by the inner voice of reason, collective cynicism, or fear of failure. What is so great about the “childlike” mind? Once again, I highly recommend Alison Gopnik’s Scientist in the Crib to any geek about to have a child. Here is one of her key conclusions: “Babies are just plain smarter than we are, at least if being smart means being able to learn something new. . . . They think, draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations and even do experiments. . . . In fact, scientists are successful precisely because they emulate what children do naturally.”

Love this quote!

You know what else babies aren’t bogged down by? Dogma. Government. Politics. Religion. Race. Obstacles and barriers.

Those things are distractions and learned superfluous ideas.

Revitalizing a Robust Productivity Boom after a Creative Depression

Midway through 2016, I found myself in a Creativity Depression. I could not pinpoint when it started exactly. But when I realized it, there was a correlative Creativity Paralysis. 

Perhaps the Creativity Depression had followed a Creativity Repression that had seeped into the Economy of My Mind. 

While our interiors and corporate commissions continued as usual -- if not growing leaps and bounds over 2015 -- I felt a bit of a void regarding personal projects. Personal projects tend to be the mouth of a fire hose for where I discover new approaches to commissioned work. That fire hose can either be on full blast or barely dripping anything at all. 

If I had to pinpoint any blame, I might highlight the political atmosphere of 2016 into 2017 that dominated news cycles and overwhelmed my Facebook feed as well as a seeming uptick in violent events at home and abroad. I also blame myself for not doing more to ignore/overlook/eschew obsessing over political, national and international events. I tend to shake, lash out, and/or cry when I hear about a mass shooting or terror event. And 2016 offered no shortage of reasons to burst into emotional flames. 

Thanks to some forced changes within my approach to the consumption of the political climate and terror events, I've refocused as much of my attention toward creating new art and I have pushed myself to pursue some personal projects, including a couple photography projects, a few new motion picture projects, an increased amount of donating time to charitable work as well as taking French classes. 

The French classes are in anticipation for another upcoming trip abroad this spring. 

When approaching a personal project, I have found it's always good to start small. So my first project was an open call to friends on Facebook to stop by our studio for a portrait sitting. A few people asked if I bought new toys that I was trying out. "No," I said. "It's to get out of this damn Creative slump I've been in for too too long." 

The lighting I used was actually some of the first lighting I've ever used in my own work, which was a light behind the subject with a reflector in front. It's simple. Easy, and it's used quite a bit in films and TV that I love. 

I'm posting the photos I took for this series below. Roberta Jacobs is the first photo and she was the first to sit for me. Her sitting informed how I would approach the rest of the project, so you'll notice that her lighting is different from the rest. Otherwise, the differences all come from how different skin tones react to the same light. I also I wanted to use a very shallow depth of field of f2.8, which on medium format looks closer to f1.8 or f2. 

My hope for some of my upcoming projects is more of a "sketch" approach. That's to say, thinking about creating art that may not be fully realized but it contributes to a larger piece that will eventually take shape from a bunch of smaller sketches. 

Thanks to (in order of appearance below) Roberta Jacobs, Tabitha and her mother Emily Moskal, our lovely Tina Serafini, (then myself) followed by Kari Johnsrud and Miles Couric. 

Keep an eye out for other personal projects to follow.



Wilmette, meet Wittefini. Wittefini ... Wilmette.

We loved pops of color; the oranges, the magentas, and the blues in this Wilmette home featuring designs by Parker Jones Interiors. There is a sense of whimsy in the decisions throughout this home, and it spoke volumes for the way the principals at Parker Jones approach the vast variety of their projects. 

Photography wise, It was fun to integrate how lavish the sun looked as it beamed through the windows. The designs reflected the owners of the home, who quickly made Tina and me feel like we were part of their beautiful family. 

Enjoy a slide show of images below. 





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A beautiful home in Lincoln Park

A little over a week ago, Tina and I photographed a beautiful home in Lincoln Park for the very talented Parker Jones Interiors

It was a fun home to photograph with lots of inspirational design and some beautiful builtins. 

Enjoy the photos below. 

Davis Showroom at NeoCon 2016

For the second year in a row, the Wittefini team photographed and videotaped in the Davis Showroom located on the third floor of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. 

We love Davis's aesthetic of clean, modern lines and use of color. One reason I enjoy working on this project is because it's all available light photos. Typically, I add light into most interiors photos, but Davis takes a lot of pride in how they've lighted their space. It certainly gives me a chance to concentrate on the photography. 

Enjoy these images. 

Beautiful near west side Chicago apartment

In March, Tina and I photographed a beautiful near west side apartment for designers Steve + Filip, who are a married interior design dynamic duo based in Chicago. 

We admire and look up to Steve and Filip, because they, like us, work and live side by side, practically 24/7. We've been able to share experiences and stories that affect our worlds in similar ways. Between business ideas and personal, we find our similarities help us with a solid and strengthening bond. 

Steve usually photographs their spaces, which look amazing. Check their site above. But they've used us more and more on projects that might need our expertise on. One reason Steve + Filip chose to work with us is because views outside the windows and the desire to expose the photos with the gorgeous Chicago skyline visible. 

To achieve this, we do a variety of things, namely we try to even the light inside to what it is outside, which is very difficult to make look natural. We also shoot a variety of exposures that we blend together in post. Retouching these photos is incredibly intensive. But the results are worth it. 

We're incredibly proud of the work, and I wanted to publish a few of our favorite photos from the shoot below.