On Sunday, 10.12.14 I made a guest appearance in the Season 6, episode 13 "Sorry, Not Sorry" of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
For those who know me well, you're thinking... "Wha?"... Performing under the spotlight has never been quit my forte!
But in this special episode, the spotlight is all about my client, Amber Marchese, who made her debut on the show this season. So how did this all come about?
While most of you get to see major drama on the show, the real drama was taking place off the air, as Amber awaited her 5 year-breast cancer prognosis.
That's where I came into the picture (or to make the picture I should say).
A few months later, I received a call from Jim Marchese. He asked to meet and discuss how he could commission a portrait series for Amber by me.
Jim described the importance of this 5 year milestone for them, as she vowed after 5 years of growing her once-lost hair, she'd donate to Locks of Love. I was so touched by their story, I immediately accepted.
Jim wanted to surprise Amber and we set plans into motion.
First, Jim had described Amber's "Angel Wings", the breast cancer surgery scars on her back which were so imperfectly beautiful. We thought they would be an amazing way to raise awareness about breast cancer, real beauty and hope.
He also talked about things she loved -- family, travel, wellness, traditions, and her love of horses. He described that her positive outlook on life and her faith were the reasons she overcame breast cancer. This was to be their 5 year rebirth. My head swirled with ideas...
Around this time, I had just begun creating my fine art painted boudoir portraits...the DreamWorld Collection. I showed him a few examples.
Jim's jaw dropped (I was so flattered!) and he was so inspired that he challenged me to come up with the ultimate DreamWorld portrait that reflected Amber.
But, if you don't know the Marchese's there's one things to know... They go big or they go home. One portrait turned into six...
This was not going to be a typical boudoir session. This was an intimate set of portraits that meant so much more to her, and to cancer survivors.
"Really Jim? Six fine art portraits, we have a gallery now", I told him quietly. Suddenly, more ideas took shape.
I called Frank Leahy, owner of the AJ Dillon Gallery of Art, who exhibits some of my work in his gorgeous Atlantic Highlands gallery. Frank was ecstatic when he heard Jim's ideas for Amber, and generously give Jim an entire gallery wall to show Amber's portraits.
For weeks, behind the scenes,we planned the photoshoot with Amber. The paintings however, remained a secret. She was to be the Muse...with the ultimate reveal by Jim over a private candlelight dinner.
Like any woman, Amber likes to be well prepared. We called in her beauty dream team, the fabulous Denee Lockhart for hair (Instragram: @DeneeLex), her makeup artist Amy Malkoff, some gowns from Castle Couture and Ralph Lauren.
I also asked my styling and lighting assistant Bella Ferrante to be master of my Ice Light for the day, with the goal of keeping the horses calm without flashes.
For such an emotionally charged shoot, we had a blast and lots of laughter. It was important to me that she'd be comfortable because...
Let's just say it's not easy being Amber, topless, in a 50-degree horse barn with a room full of people.
...But she was sort of hilarious and we had a lot of fun with it. The horses gave us a sense of zen. And...well, I'll admit some wine was involved. (For warming purposes, of course).
As Amber waited in the barn doorway for Jim, I quickly posed her like a powerful goddess, with her paintings in the back of my mind.
She had no idea, but she looked every part the muse, nonetheless. As an artist, I was secretly screaming with joy.
At the end of the session, Jim and Amber shared some tender moments and tears. That is truly when I witnessed the magnitude of this journey.
For two months, I stayed up late and painted Amber's portraits. I poured my heart into every stroke for them.
I then turned to my master printmaker Jonathan Penney to give me the ultimate canvases and framed prints -- nothing less than the best.
I have to admit, when Jonathan sent me my final finished works I was floored. I called Jim Marchese to meet me at the gallery, and he too was speechless when he saw them.
Jim then worked with Frank & team at the A.J. Dillon Gallery of Art and Ronnie at Christine's Italian Restaurant next door. Togethr, they created the dream reveal for Amber. Private chef, roses, candlelight, private art show...Dedication in the most literal sense. It doesn't get more romantic.
What you saw on this episode, in those tender moments between Amber and Jim, was THIER reality.
It was months of imagination, dedication and inspiration, by all of us, in a labor of love to celebrate the bravest of victories.
I am so happy that through art, the Marchese's had something truly special to commemorate Amber's blessed recovery. These are the Marcheses that *I* know. This is the kind of client work that makes my job so meaningful, and I feel honored to be a part of moments like these.
PS - Stay tuned for Amber as she appears on the daily talk show "The Real" on October 17th, to discuss breast cancer awareness issues and her own experience.