I am so thrilled that Julia of Humphrey and Grace will be hosting this month’s Creative Session on Photo Styling for social media & e-commerce. It’s going to be wonderful. I’m always inspired by Julia’s beautiful images, so today we take a peek inside the garden studio where she creates her work…
Julia Smith first discovered her love for photography as a teenager. But life, as it tends to do, led her in other directions for a time, until a change in circumstances brought her back full circle to a creative rediscovery. Julia’s business, Humphrey & Grace, has grown organically from the different strands of her work into a renowned photography and styling business.
“I studied fashion at university, though I didn’t complete my degree, realising at the end of the first year that the industry wasn’t going to be for me in the long term. After some time working for a large fashion company, I relocated to the other end of the country and found myself in a series of fairly stifling office jobs,” she describes. After two children, a couple more relocations (Julia describes herself as a wanderer at heart) and with a lot of life experience gathered, new possibilities became apparent. “I started to really question the path I wanted to take going forward. I was craving something more creative, with the freedom to work in a way that suited me. When my third child was born eight years ago, finding myself at home I filled some of the ‘spare’ time with my camera, posting daily to Instagram – way back when it was a different place entirely. It wasn’t until my youngest went to nursery that I had time to fully explore the possibilities of photography for work,” she explains.
Trying her hand at social media influencing, Julia found that this was not for her – instead, her interests allowed her to follow alternative opportunities that Instagram brought, offline. A combination of creative craft projects, photography and styling work have evolved over the past six years into what is now Humphrey & Grace, and Julia works with many small businesses on images for their websites and social media.
As Julia’s business and family life continued to evolve, working from the dining room table became less and less convenient – she needed a space that was out of the way of family life. “Packing up my photography equipment at the end of every session, stuffing props and backdrops into any available space, and sometimes having to replicate a setup to reshoot or create a series of images that worked together was time consuming in all sorts of unproductive ways,” she reflects.
Plans for a dedicated studio space in the garden had long been in the pipeline, but alongside major home renovations, it took time to see these plans to fruition. “When we bought our house nine years ago there were a pair of ramshackle sheds in the corner of the garden, one we patched up repeatedly and the other caved in on itself,” says Julia. “We had always planned to eventually replace them with a single building to maximise the space they occupied. We built the studio with my work in mind and designed the building ourselves, over several months, and with a few different versions along the way.”
Long past their best, the two sheds were replaced by a modern timber frame building on a concrete base. As Julia’s family home is in a south coast seaside town, local tradition was incorporated into the exterior design with treated timber panels painted black – a nod to the black barns and fisherman’s huts seen in the area. “This is a decision we are really happy with as it sits so comfortably in the shade of the trees,” says Julia.
Adding an Arada wood burning stove has ensured the studio is warm and cosy in any weather and the building is designed for year-round use. The roof is finished with composite tiles that are lighter than slate and more resilient, “The building sits beneath a pair of tall Scots pine trees and pine cones drop frequently from them – slates would possibly last about a week without damage!” Julia laughs.
Though the garden building project was not as intrusive as the home renovations Julia and family have undertaken in the past few years, it took much longer than they had anticipated. “The build started with digging out foundations in autumn, then we had two builders on site for seven weeks – this got us to a point of full construction, a plastered interior and working electrics. After the builders left, we fitted the decorating in amongst everyday life, and finished the exterior and deck during summer – finally, the wood burning stove was fitted the following autumn.”
Inside, light has been maximised to aid Julia’s photography work: “The light can be controlled with curtains and blackout blinds, so I can adjust it for different styles of photography. The walls are kept white – using a blank canvas approach in the studio is really useful, as having coloured walls would cast a colour into my photographs. Instead I have introduced a few elements of colour through soft furnishings and furniture which can be moved or changed easily if needs be,” Julia explains.
Julia moved into the building in early 2018, and is often accompanied there by her ‘shed companion’, Dalmation, Maud. “This was my first dedicated workspace in around 15 years!” laughs Julia, “It is a luxury to have a dedicated space in the garden, I know, but it has made a huge difference to everyday work and stress levels. We call it ‘the shed’ – a habit that is hard to shake because of what went before.” Although primarily a studio and workshop, Julia designed the space to be more multifunctional, with a projector and pull-down screen to create a home cinema, whilst also offering quiet space to retreat to. It has even hosted several teenage birthday parties and sleepovers!
Having a dedicated space means that Julia can work on a project over a longer period and keep the same set up and lighting ready to go. “Props are now to hand, lighting can be set up and left in place, so my use of time is much more efficient,” Julia describes. “The layout is easily – and regularly – changed around. As well as photography, I use the space for sewing. Humphrey & Grace began life as an online shop selling my handmade creations and although it developed into photography, I haven’t stop creating in other ways and I often have more than one project on the go.”
In all her creative projects Julia’s love of the natural world is evident, giving her aesthetic an authentic, gentle style. “I do love a Scandinavian cabin, and I like the idea of my studio being something like a cabin in the woods. I’m inspired by nature, by colour, patterns and textiles. I have been collecting inspiration since I was a teenager in various forms and having a back catalogue of images to refer to does highlight both fads and features that I consistently return to,” she says.
“Locally, I am inspired by a few places, most notably Charleston Farmhouse, which is only ten minutes from my home. I never fail to feel creatively inspired after a visit. And the gardens at Great Dixter are another local favourite of mine.”
Julia has a ‘magpie’ approach to sourcing furniture and accessories, finding characterful pieces she loves at antiques fairs or online. “I always look for unique items, so pre-loved, handmade or vintage are often where I begin searching for new pieces. The cupboard and large table in my studio were eBay finds, and I painted the cupboard in Cuisse de Nymph Emu by Edward Bulmer paints. The studio’s smaller table and chair were from Nutley Antiques and another wooden chair came from Closet and Botts in Lewes – they are one of my favourite shops for homewares and props.”
A favourite finishing touch of Julia’s is her macrame wall hanging by Juniper Weaves, which has a sculptural feel and adds texture, along with the pretty vintage silk and cotton rug from Weft by We Are Here Now.
Reflecting on her style choices, Julia reveals that this has evolved into a process that’s instinctive and uncontrived, “It took me many years to realise that I didn’t have to follow fashions or trends, and that I could choose to decorate and furnish with things I like. I know this sounds logical, but it took me a while to really understand and live this way, to create spaces which are comfortable for us as a family. Ultimately, I love the interior wisdom that suggests you should fill your space with things you love, rather than fads and fashions.”
Julia will be sharing all of her photo styling knowledge during our online Creative Session on the 17th June, so make sure to book your ticket.
Discover Julia’s handmade creations at www.harrietpink.co.uk