Watching her Uncle paint in his Tuscan studio, a very young Cristina Colli was entranced by the fusion of colour and form which brought beauty to a blank canvas.
And so began her love affair with the “process of creation” underlying her role as still life stylist and photographer, inspiring her to find new ways of capturing and expressing the world around her.
In her work for local businesses, she merges her former life as interior designer with still-life photography skills to produce exquisite images showcasing her clients’ products and services.
“Presentation is everything, and I use my creativity and skills to create a scene that tells a story, reflecting the brand and image of my clients”, Cristina told ECN. “I like using natural elements, vintage finds, and textural backdrops in my images, showing products in a lifestyle context.”
Liaising with small and medium-sized businesses, Cristina relishes helping them grow and establish a real presence in the market, both online and in magazines.
“I listen to my client’s requirements, brainstorm ideas with them, and share my creative input every step of the way, helping them grow and succeed. I treat every project as unique, giving it the individual attention it deserves. For me, it’s all about quality and giving a professional service with an easy and relaxed attitude, and showing off my clients’ products at their best.”
Rising to the Challenge
Both of Italian background, Cristina and her husband Paolo Valteroni, lived in Dublin for eight years before finally settling in Chippy. Cristina actively involves herself in community events, having styled the Town Hall for the first ChipLitfest, and lent a helping hand at the two most recent Fibre Festivals.
“When we moved to Chipping Norton, we liked the fact that it was a real working town”, Cristina says. “We love being able to shop locally and help the town thrive. It’s also nice to get to know the people behind the local businesses, and support each other when possible.”
Victoria, of Chipping Norton Teaset, was her first local client. Cristina brought her delicate touch to the styling of the vintage china and delicious cakes which Victoria was keen to promote as perfect fare for weddings and celebrations. Both were thrilled to see the final images published in magazines such as Cotswold Life and Four Shires.
“I usually work from home, where I have a great space with plenty of natural light, but I remember once setting the scene for a Summer garden party in Victoria’s garden, under a gazebo”, Cristina says. “We started setting the scene under a dull April sky, and then the weather went from light drizzle to heavy showers. By the end of the photoshoot the rain had managed to seep through the gazebo and all the cakes and props were starting to get soaked… I had to improvise and protected my camera using a shower cap – call that creative problem solving!”
The vagaries of the British weather are a natural hazard in Cristina’s work, as clients often wish to use natural light and settings to show off their wares. Yet she is now adept at ringing the changes.
“We had been photographing another client’s beautiful wedding stationery in my back garden, as she wanted a natural backdrop of ivy and foliage”, Cristina says. “We managed to photograph three different scenes, but then the weather suddenly turned and we went from sunshine to lashing rain and wind. We had to rush inside and change our plans – obviously! All went well in the end, and I suppose that’s why I prefer shooting indoors, where I can control the light and the weather!”
A Picture Paints a Thousand Words
Cristina believes in the saying: You don’t take a picture, you make a picture, and her aim is to create an image that tells a story. This is essential, she feels, in inspiring potential customers to buy her clients’ products or use their services.
Starting her current business from scratch, she gradually blended her growing photography skills with her formal work in interior design. Pushed by her parents to study accountancy rather than art, her first career was in banking, but she soon abandoned this in favour of her own creative pursuits.
“Beautiful photographs are vital for professional-looking websites, brochures, catalogues, social media campaigns and magazine advertising”, she says.
“I also create floral and botanical still life images and sell them in my online shop as wall art prints for home, office and commercial décor. All images are printed on museum quality paper with archival inks, and can be either framed or mounted on several substrates. Alternatively, images can be printed on canvas too.”
At the moment, Cristina is working on a series of limited edition prints which will soon be available in her shop.
“I’m looking into creating a range of stationery such as cards, calendars and journals”, she adds. “I welcome commissions in this area, and I’m happy to create a specific range of prints and/or stationery which is unique to an individual business.”
The Simple Things in Life
Cristina has immersed herself in social media, using the technology to reach new audiences and market her work more widely. Adept in the use of Twitter and Facebook, her personal favourite is Instagram.
“I post at least a photo every morning, and last year Instagram added me to their Suggested User list, which was an unexpected but very pleasant surprise” she says. “I love the sense of community of Instagram, and in January I launched my own hashtag project: #12monthsofhappystills.”
“This is a monthly challenge to create still life images that capture all the simple things that make us happy in that particular month. It’s an invitation to slow down, take time to appreciate the beauty and grace that surrounds us, and create more of that. It’s my way of giving back some inspiration to the wonderful community I found on Instagram, and also to challenge and motivate myself and constantly improve my work.”
Cristina has also started using the Stellar app, which allows you to create stories with a mix of text, images and videos. The user can embed the story on their website or blog.
“Theoretically, I could work with a client without ever actually meeting him or her!” Cristina says. “From video calls to emails, to social media, all contribute to connecting us in so many different ways. I suppose the trick is finding a balance, and taking some time away to relax and just be. The creative process requires some time alone too, and I make sure to regularly recharge my ‘creative batteries’.”
The Power of the Past
Growing up in Grosseto, in Southern Tuscany, Cristina’s fondest memories are of summer holidays in the countryside with her grandmother, searching for wildflowers, picking blackberries and making jam. Often visiting Florence to absorb the art and architecture, she also spent hours watching her Uncle paint, fascinated by his mixing of the colours and ability to create something from nothing.
“Photography has been a hobby of mine for a long time. Since I was a little girl I always had a knack for arranging things in a pleasant way, from flowers to food to ornaments. Having been an interior designer, I now prefer working on a small scale, and creating still life images that capture and enhance the beauty of the subject.”
So what motivates this Chippy artist?
“My love for beauty, I suppose, and my desire to add more beauty to the world. Beauty has a positive impact on our wellbeing, and I like to know that I’m adding a little of that to the world around me. Also, knowing that what I do helps and inspire my clients is a wonderful feeling.”