10 Things You Can Do To Be a Better Artist

Jennifer Thomas-581KAT 2As a composer/recording artist with four albums released and a growing music career, I am immersed daily in a global community of musicians that contains everything from amateurs to seasoned professionals.  I get to see a lot of really amazing stuff, some things that are maybe not-so amazing, and everything in between.

Before doing what I do now though, I performed in the world of Classical music (violin and piano) for about 20 years before discovering I wanted to have my own voice and compose my own music.  I’m now 10 years into my composing/recording career, and I only recently started finally feeling like I’m starting to get it – you know – this thing called the music business.

And while I know I’m definitely far from learning everything I still need to learn, I wanted to share with you what I HAVE learned thus far.

I’ve actually been wanting to write this blog post for quite some time – as I’ve jotted down thoughts in a journal regarding this subject. But here it is…

10 Things You Can Do To Be a Better Artist.


  1. Know that you will never be able to please 100% of the people, but you can be 100% true to yourself.

    Truth.  Even if you get those tens upon tens of thousands of Facebook or Instagram fans, or millions of YouTube views on our videos and you start to feel like you are hot stuff and the best at what you do – you still won’t please everyone.  Even if you write what you feel is possibly THE most beautiful song and produced to perfection, there may still be someone out there who will disagree and give you that aggravating thumbs down, or rude comment.

    I used to let this get under my skin when it would happen.  But you know what?  This is life.  Everyone has a choice of what type of food they love, what style of clothing they prefer, and what music they listen to.  They are going to love what they love. And YOU…you just need to have confidence in yourself and what you are putting out there and remain true to your own creative vision.

    I really like the saying “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.

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  2. Don’t put too much thought into “Likes” or “Dislikes” on social media.

    There was a time when I used to check my number of Facebook likes almost daily.  I would also pay attention if my number of Instagram followers went down after a particular post that I made.

    Oh man, I just lost some followers probably because I did a mommy post about my baby and they are only here to follow my music.

    I would say this to myself – because HELLO – I wanted to retain followers and goshdarnitt I wanted people to like me.  I became overly concerned about what I posted until one day I realized I shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they liked me.  What other people thought of me was none of my business.

    You can’t worry about what others think. You just have to be you.

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    Now I rarely have a clue how many followers I have. It’s exhausting try to care about it.

    First of all, do YOU unfollow people that are no longer relevant to your current interests?  Yes, of course you do.  And do you do it because you dislike the person or you think they suck?  No. I mean, not usually.  It’s personal, right?  It’s not really about them, but it’s more about whatever it is you are into right now and what you want to see in your social media feed.  So don’t take it personal when someone unfollows you.  It’s not about you.

    And as for Facebook?  Pshsh.  Don’t even get me started.  With how you have to pay to boost posts for your current fans to even see anything you post anyway, and how people can pay for fake likes and so forth…I don’t see the relevancy on number of likes anymore.

  3. Be a real human.

    I don’t have too much to say about this other than – don’t be someone who just pushes your music on people like a used car salesman.  Be a real human being with your fans.

    In all reality, people nowadays really just yearn to know about you and what you do outside of music, behind the scenes.  This doesn’t mean you have to disclose your inner soul, but just be real.  Don’t try to be perfect. Allow people to know that you are human, that you too wake up with messy hair, you have bad days, and you eat fast food.

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    One of my fans once told me that the biggest reason she followed her favorite artists on social media was not to find out about the latest music news or listen to links to their music, but to find out what they were doing outside of music.  The whole reason she was their fan in the first place was because she already knew and loved their music. That was a given.  But she wanted to know them as a human being.

  4. Be humble.

    I always tell myself that if I ever get to a point where I think I’m pretty awesome and better than others, then I need to check myself.

    Don’t ever think you are better than someone, or that you have it all figured out. Even if you have won multiple awards or have X number of albums out, you still have things to learn.

    And be humble with your fans too, btw.

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  5. Make your own dreams come true. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.

    I feel like there are so many artists out there who are waiting for some big record executive to discover them, offer them the deal of a lifetime so that they can go on to make lots of money and be super famous.

    Look, it just doesn’t happen that way. And if it does happen, it is very VERY rare that, especially in 2016.  Do you want to know why?

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    First off – competition.  For every one of you, there are thousands more out there who are also trying to land a record contract or who are waiting for that bigtime producer to notice them.  So not only do you need to be talented, but you have to be EXTREMELY multi-talented, beautiful, young, and unique. And you need to have quality demos that basically sound like a finished product (which they will then take and completely change it to sound like something else).

    Second, the need for artists to have a record label in order to be successful is becoming more and more of a thing of the past.  It’s 2016!  Look at violinist Lindsey Stirling.

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    She is a successful self-made millionaire with record labels offering her contracts left and right, but she turns them all down. Why?  Because she has built such a huge system of fan support that they stand behind her and continue to help her have success – she doesn’t need a label.  And it goes without saying that with her huge success, aside from her talent and originality, one of the reasons labels want her so badly is because they see how successful she is and they want a part of that (with dollar signs in their eyes).  But I love how she continues to defy all odds and show the world that she is a force to be reckoned with.

    And P.S. with more and more artists becoming successful independents, the need for record labels continue to decline and many are not as financially affluent as they once were – thus making the number of new artists they sign fewer and fewer.

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    I truly TRULY believe that you can do anything you put your mind to.  You have to think outside of the box sometimes, but it is entirely possible.  If you have a dream, YOU can make it happen. You just have to work hard.  And you need to ASK.

    Do you want to perform with an orchestra but you don’t know how?

    Ask.

    Do you want to record a music video but don’t have the money, do crowd funding?

    Ask.

    People want to see you succeed.

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    My first album was produced on a really crappy keyboard with basic software. I did all my own artwork, promotion, and everything.  The only thing I hired out was 2 soloists, and my mixing/mastering engineer.

    My most recent album was recorded with a real orchestra, and a choir at one of the most prestigious recording cathedrals in the country and mixed and mastered with a Grammy award winning engineer, and my debut concert was at Benaroya Hall with full symphony and choir.  All because I ASKED.

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    And do you want to know what?

    That first album, despite it’s humble beginnings, is what got me onto Pandora, which then led thousands of listeners to discover me.  I now have  over 40 million unique listeners on Pandora (and it pays the mortgage.)

  6. Do invest in quality artwork and photos.

    You know how they say to never judge a book by it’s cover?

    Well that doesn’t apply to music albums.

    Your album cover will totally be judged as it is the first thing someone sees when they are introduced to your CD. And if you have really bad artwork or amateur looking photos, then they are going to assume that your music is really bad and amateur too.

    I’m super picky when it comes to this, and my biggest thing is fonts.  Even just the font you choose can make your cover look professional or amateur.

    Photography?  Hire someone.  It’s worth it, I promise.

    If you want people to take you seriously, you need to have some professional looking photos.  Put down the smart phone, and don’t try to manipulate that one photo that your friend took of you from 10 years ago to look like an album cover.

    (From my 3rd album – “Illumination”)

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    From my 4th album “Winter Symphony”

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    Make sure you have high-resolution photos.  Be sure the coloring is correct – you don’t want your face to be shadowed or colors to be weird (unless of course you are going for a shadowed face).  Also keep in mind that nowadays, most people will be viewing your album cover as a tiny thumbnail on iTunes or Amazon because most people buy digitally.  How does your album cover look as a 100×100 pixel picture?  Does it stand out?  Does it make sense?

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    And last of all, get opinions!  Ask people that you know and trust will give you their honest opinion. It’s better to have your cover reviewed by someone then to go to print and realize you ended up with this:

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    Or this:

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    This…

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    Haha…this…

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    or THIS.

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  7. Keep up the maintenance practicing.

    I am SO guilty of not doing this.  I am either in full blown performance practicing mode for concerts or not practicing at all.  And then opportunities will come to me while I’m on a “break” and will sometimes miss those opportunities because I’m not up to speed on my music.

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    I get it. Life is busy. I’m a mom of 3 little ones and so I don’t always practice every day. But DO do maintenance practicing, even just to keep your most popular songs in your fingers (or voice).

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  8. Do make contracts and agreements with people you work with.

    I actually have really fond memories from my first album where I knew everyone that was helping me with it – we were friends – and most of them were just doing it for free to help out. I was so grateful and I loved the feeling of trust between everyone.  We did not do any agreements or anything, because honestly at the time it never even crossed my mind.

    But 10 years later, as my career has progressed, I’m learning how essential it is to have these agreements set in place before starting a project.

    I have had several experiences where I worked with people where we never made a formal agreement or a contract and then later on something came up where it seemed we weren’t clear on an issue, or another situation where perhaps one person didn’t feel that they were compensated enough.

    The people you work with want to be protected, but you also need to protect yourself. It goes both way and is mutually beneficial.

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    And read and consider everything before you sign an agreement too. I tend to be the type where I just want to trust everyone and I think “everything is going to be just fine!”.  Because ALL projects start out blissful. But I’ve done projects where I agreed to an amount, and then as it turned out it ended up taking 100 more hours to complete than I thought it would and I didn’t put anything into my contract about being compensated for extra hours or a bajillion extra editing sessions – so by the time I finished the project I felt like I actually went into debt for it instead of being paid – haha.

    And to be completely honest, I still reeeeeeally dread the “money conversation”. Part of me wishes that I could always just have that friendly nice working environment that I did like on my first album – where everything was bliss, no problems arose, and we were all friends. But even sometimes working with friends, misunderstandings happen and it can be so awkward. So having the “money conversation” needs to happen and so does a written agreement.  And trust me it’s so much better to have this all done upfront so you’re not left in the dark later on. I’m speaking from experience on this one – where I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve been the person that someone was upset at, and I’ve also been the person who felt like I worked way more than what I was being paid for.

  9. Don’t vent on social media.

    In case you haven’t learned already, being present on social media is a must on every artist’s to-do list.  The better you can become at it, the better you will be able to be present out there to people who love your music and will prospectively come to love your music.

    So DO be present on social media.

    But for heaven’s sake do NOT vent, publicly bash, gossip, or belittle someone on social media. There will probably be times when you get frustrated with a project, or maybe someone you are working with – but tweeting about it only makes you look like a jerk, and it will also ruin relationships. Keep your head and your cool, and be professional.70b37bc4765f5a39e931c6b6c569984e
    I know an artist who had a bad experience filming a music video and while that person stayed 100% classy, the person they worked with went onto twitter and posted a tweet that was extremely derogatory towards this artist.  I’m not sure if this person didn’t think that the tweets would be seen or what, but the artist cancelled the video and it was never finished and obviously those two will never work together again. Not to mention the person who put out the tweets got a bad rep as being volatile and rude, which probably ruined some possible prospective projects for them as well.

    Unless you plan to vent about something that could have a positive outcome – i.e. a cause you believe in, or something silly that will make people laugh but is of little consequence – just. don’t. type. it. Period.  Put the phone down and walk away from the computer and vent to your best friend in person instead.

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  10. Thank your fans.

    Please do remember to let your fans and the people closest to you that support you know how much you are grateful for them.  A little “Thank you” goes a long ways.  Without them, you would probably be performing to an empty room so make sure you let them know that you value them and their presence.26382753-Thank-You-Word-Cloud-in-vector-format-Stock-Vector

    And besides, people who support the arts are just basically some of the coolest people I know. 😉

Beauty and Photography Tips

This is a blog post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, but knew it would be time consuming and so I kept putting it off.  But no more.

I’ve received quite a lot of questions from my fellow female friends who have asked “Where did you find that dress?”, “What type of foundation do you use?”, “How did you get your hair to do that?”, Etc.

Here it is – a whole lot of beauty/fashion tips and secrets that I’ve learned through having to do many photo shoots, stage performances, and red carpets. I am NO EXPERT, but here is what I know

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Before I start, I just want to say that I used to be of the train of thought that “You are what you are and there’s not much you can do about it.”  But then usually someone else has come along (a beauty professional) and shown me that I don’t have to just “deal” with what I have, but there are tricks to improve oneself, or hide things, or what have you.  And since I am far from perfect, here are some of the things I’ve learned.

MAKE-UP TIPS

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#1 – Properly prep your skin beforehand.  The best way to get awesome looking skin is to have your “canvas” all prepped.  The biggest thing is exfoliating all the dead skin off and moisturizing afterwards.

My make-up artist usually has me apply a vitamin serum, moisturizer, and under-eye cream.  The under-eye cream helps the makeup to not settle into those fine lines. It also works great to pat on even after you’ve put your makeup on for touch-ups.  I had to do this when I was filming in the desert for my “Requiem” video shoot.  After 3 days of shooting and not getting enough sleep and having the dusty desert sand get all over my face, my eyes were looking really “tired”.  Noelle (my makeup artist) dabbed some under-eye cream and it fixed the problem right up.

#2 – Use a good HD Foundation for a flawless natural look.  I was only introduced to “High Definition Foundation” last year when I was in Los Angeles.  And now I’m hooked.

Because most cameras all film in HD now, the clarity of the way peoples skin shows up on camera is super enhanced.  You don’t want to look like you are wearing cakey foundation.  But you also want to still get coverage for little flaws.

These are a couple of my favorite foundations and I’ve used them for the last year, so I know they work really well:

Givenchy Photo Perfexion

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Smashbox HD Healthy FX Foundation

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I also use this foundation “prep” formula underneath, which helps prevent the makeup from settling into fine lines as well. A “BB cream” is actually something you can wear alone without foundation – it is a combo of serum, moisturizer, SPF and it’s tinted so you can wear it as a sheer-type foundation. OR you can wear it underneath a foundation for more coverage, as a base.  It has been used in the Asian market for years, and a lot of women actually use it as their cream and it has improved wrinkles and dark spots.

Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream

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#3 – False Eyelashes.  Use them.  They make a huge difference in your look.  Being a fair-haired person myself, my eyelashes are very blonde and short.  I have to wear a whole lot of mascara to get them to stand out, and even still they are not very impressive.  So if I’m doing a photo shoot or an event, I will use false lashes.

Katy Perry has a great line of false lashes that I’ve used many times before, and they are definitely some of my favorite.

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Here is a great shot where you can see my eyelashes (and Viktoria’s too). We are both wearing Katy Perry false lashes in this photo shoot.

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#4 – Don’t be afraid of the “Wet Line”.  I admit I feel really dumb saying this, but I only just learned how to do this a few months ago when I did my photo shoot for “Illumination”.  The eyeliner “Wet Line” look.

Typically I’ve always applied my eyeliner underneath my eyes close to my under eyelashes and above the top eyelashes.  But there is a certain dramatic look you can acheive by applying the eyeliner to the wetline of your eye – especially if you’re going for a smokey eye look.  The key is to using a quality eye liner, preferably with beeswax.

This is the type of look I’m referring to:

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Here is a fantastic eye liner that works great for this and actually stays on the wetline for a long time before wearing off (as you usually have to touch it up quite often, especially if you have watery eyes like me).

Loreal Extra Intense Liquid Pencil Eye Liner

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#5 – Applying shadow in the right places.  You can add years to your face by applying eye shadow incorrectly. But you can also reverse your age by applying it correctly.

You open your eyes up more and look younger if you put a lighter shadow in the upper outer corners under your brows, like this:

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It depends on your eye shape, but sometimes when you put a lighter shade above your eye with a dramatic color in the crease of your lid, you can sometimes look older than your years.  This is a beautiful model, but I just wanted to demonstrate the look I’m talking about (see below). I think the reason is it creates a sort of heaviness to the lid.

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I actually had to look extremely long and hard to find an actress in today’s Hollywood with the above makeup look on the red carpet (lighter shade on eyelid, with dramatic shadow above it), and after looking at Google images forever, I did find Ashley Greene:

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Here is Ashley Greene again but with a darker shadow on the eyelid. I think she looks much more youthful in the 2nd look:

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#6 – Rule of Thumb:  If you have dramatic eyes, less color on the lips and vice versa.  If you want to have a dramatic smokey eye look (like Ashley above), then you need to do a pink or nude lipstick.  You never want your eyes and lips to compete with each other, or else you will look like you should be working the street corner 😉

The same goes for if you want to sport some really red lips, you should do a simple eye look.  Here are some great examples:

Big dramatic Eyes, Nude lips:

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Luscious red lips, minimal clean eyes:

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#7 – Best way to Conceal...I have always had stuff to “conceal” on my face.  For example, I was born with a birthmark on my chin.  Even though I had it “removed” via laser surgery when I was 14 yrs old, some of it has come back.  And so I’m always having to conceal it on my chin (or later Photoshop it out).

Here is me before a video shoot (for Requiem) with absolutely NO MAKEUP on, and you can see the two little red spots on my chin from my birthmark:

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Here I am (with Noelle – my makeup artist) after getting my hair halfway done, and my foundation/eyes done. Notice birthmark is no longer there:

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The only way I’ve found to cover up stuff like birthmarks (or zits, or whatever) is to put a little more concealer on than you THINK you need (because it comes off), and make sure to powder it afterwards. The powder will set the concealer and hold it on longer. I like to use a colorless powder (usually “white”).  And then my biggest advice after that is just DON’T TOUCH THE AREA. 🙂

HAIR TIPS

734329_10151183712396689_1706873005_nMy hair is the thing that I get the most comments on.  I have a TON of it.  Not only is it long, but it’s thick and I just have an ample amount of it.

My hair is naturally curly and so I have the option of wearing it curly or straight.  It takes a LOT of effort to straighten my hair though, and so I don’t usually wear it straight very often.

Some of my favorite hairstyles have to do with curls, and so I will share some of my tips and tricks to get great looking hair.

#1 – Curling Iron + Pinning = Awesome curls.  Over the years I’ve curled my hairs all sorts of different ways from using a curling iron to hot rollers.  But probably for the past year or so I’ve been just using my curling iron because I discovered a new way of using it that creates really great shaped curls.

I used to roll my curling iron from the ends of my hair up. This way of curling is okay for the underneath layers of hair that people aren’t going to notice. But for the top layers and the front of my hair, I use a technique that is shown here in this awesome Target hair ad:

Basically, you take strands of hair and about halfway down start rolling the curling iron and slowly turning as you go, then pulling the ends up and around.  What you achieve is a very rounded out spring curl. AND as you will notice in the video, the stylist pins some of the curls to her head. This is my best secret for getting great hair!  After each strand I curl, after taking it out of the curling iron I roll it back up and then use a bobby pin and pin it to my head.  I do this will all the outside curls and leave them pinned up until I’m ready to get dressed and go.

#2 – Herbal Essence Spray Gel to Hold Curls.  I spray my dry hair with this stuff before I curl it, and it is my best secret for getting curls to last all night long.  I’ve used this product for like 10 years and I swear by it.

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#3 – Teasing – To get some volume to my hair, I usually take a comb and tease it underneath.  For ponytails, I will tease the hair before I put it into the pony, and then afterwards I will also tease just the top layer of hair in the pony (next to the rubberband). You always want to be sure to sort of comb down the tease afterwards so your hair doesn’t look too messy.

CLOTHING STYLE TIPS

I admit I am a total bargain shopper.  There are SOME things that I am willing to fork out a little more cash for (like dresses), but for the most part I like to find deals. And even still, my definition of “paying more for a dress” is still pretty inexpensive compared to some women out there.

And because I am a mom of two little energetic boys (who do NOT do well inside department stores), I do most of my shopping online.

Here are a few of my favorite places that I usually find really cute clothes from:

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ideeli.com – This is a sample sale site.  They only have whatever clothes are available for about 24 hours and then they move onto the next designer.

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The white silk Nicole Miller dress that I wore for my Illumination CD Release concert last Fall was a dress that I bought off of ideeli. It regularly sold $1100, and I got it for $250.

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I also bought the red dress from my Illumination photo shoot off of ideeli.com. It’s a wrap dress that you can wear like 20 different ways.  I bought a red one, and a turquoise one (that I wore at last year’s Indie Music Channel Awards).

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promdressesol.com – This is a site where I’ve gotten MANY dresses from.  I try to stay modest in my dresses – which means I need them to have sleeves, backs and fronts 🙂  This website has THE most variety of “modest” dresses that I’ve ever found, and they are not the cheesy bridesmaid kind either (you know what I’m talking about, right?)

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Here are a few of the dresses that I have gotten from promdressesol.com:

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Both Viktoria’s and my dresses are from this website in this photo:

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I also just bought one more from them for the ZMR Awards show that is happening on May 11th. I won’t show you which one though – just to keep it a surprise 🙂

Casual Clothes

Alloyapparel.com – This website has some pretty cute stuff on it, and usually for good prices.  I LOVE long maxi dresses, and they always have a lot of those. And I love that they are super long – because sometimes they just don’t always make them full length for us tall people (I’m 5’7″).  I recently bought this red maxi dress from Alloy…

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Express.com – LOVE Express. Probably one of my favorite stores in the world.

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DorothyPerkins.com – This is a new site for me that I just discovered not too long ago, but they’ve got some really cute stylish pieces on there for low prices.

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TIPS FOR THE RED CARPET

Again, some of these things I feel dumb for not knowing before, but all I can say is there are always solutions to “problems”! You just have to be “in the know” 😉

#1 – Spanx.  Wear them.  Even skinny girls sometimes need them. Katy Perry even wears them!  I own like 3 different kinds of Spanx. One with shoulder straps, ones without, and ones that are like a tank top that you just wear underneath a shirt.   Spanx totally hold you in, and get rid of any wierd curviture that just should not be there….like the following model who was brave enough to show us all the difference:

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I will also say that I have tried many different kinds of brands of these types of “things”, and Spanx is the only one that really works.  A lot of other roll down, stretch out, rip, or don’t cover all the right places.  Just trust me and go with Spanx.

 #2 – Sally Hanson Airbrushed Legs. ‘Nuff said.  I have used this on my arms to get rid of freckles or “red dots”.

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PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

All right. This is the last thing I will talk about.

My friends are always telling me “Jen, you are so photogenic.”  I am actually NOT, but I just have learned the best way to pose for pictures and some great tips on how to look better in photos.

#1 – Stand up straight.  It makes a huge difference in how you look in a photo, and will also make you look thinner if you aren’t hunching over.

#2 – Create some space in between your arms and your waist.  In other words, if you want to LOOK like you have a waist, then don’t let it disappear into your clothing or arms.

A great example of both #1 and #2 is this photo that fitness model Amanda Adams posted on Facebook a while back.  These two photos were only taken a few moments apart, but look how different she looks based on two different poses. She is totally slouching on the left and holding her arms close to her.  In the 2nd photo, she is standing up straight, hip out, and created some space between her arms and waist.

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#3 – Take photos where the camera angle is HIGHER than you.  A big mistake a lot of people make is having their photo taken from an angle where the camera is below them.  This is not the most flattering angle for anyone! It only accentuates anyone’s double chin.  Here are two examples from a photo shoot I had for my first album:

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#4 – Pose Correctly. When standing, I’ve found the two poses that make me look the slimmest (because let’s admit, I’m a curvy girl!) are the following:

Hand on Hip – great way to make waist look smaller

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One Foot in Front – Great way to narrow hip and leg area

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#5 – Know what you want, and don’t be afraid to say so.  I think a lot of people get photos back and are unhappy because they didn’t express their ideas or concerns to the photographer.  If there are certain angles you don’t like, be sure to bring those up.  If you favor one side of your face over the other, then if you do profile shots make sure you tell your photographer that.

#6 – It’s also a great idea to do a run-through of your hair, makeup and your outfit BEFORE you do an event.  For example, the dress that I wore in my Illumination Paramount Theater photo shoot – while it was a GORGEOUS dress, I didn’t take into account that it didn’t work well when I sat down at the piano.  It completely POOFED out and made my stomach look pregnant or something.  So you will see that there ended up being no official “sitting down at the piano” shots from that photo shoot because the dress just didn’t function well sitting down.  This was something I didn’t exactly practice doing with the dress before the photo shoot.

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Anyway, I’m going to stop here.  This is a lot to take in.  The most important thing to remember is that YOU are beautiful without all the makeup, hair, and fancy clothes. 🙂 Truly you are.  But if you must get all dolled up one day for anything special in particular, I hope that these tips help you out. These are all things I wish someone had told me a LONG time ago. 🙂

P.S. If you have any more questions about anything I didn’t cover, please leave a comment below!