artistic

How To: Chinchilla Holiday Photography

One of our favorite ways to get festive during the holiday season is with winter-themed chinchilla photo shoots! This guide will go through my process with photographing LY Chinchillas on my own with no strobes or flash (basically, nothing fancy)! Be sure to have a fast camera (I use the Fujifilm X-T10 Camera because of the super-fast continuous shooting mode) and light sources ready to go!Koko Warm Posing XmasThe very first thing to check prior to starting the shoot is the chin-proof factor. Admittedly, the actual time on set is very short – and the rest of the time is spent coaxing your little one back on set or sending them back to their cage to nap off a hard 10 seconds of work! In those off-set moments, you’ll need to make sure that everything is completely chin-proofed to prevent any accidents, fur loss, or injury.Muff Sideways HolidaysThe next thing you’ll want to check are your ambient light sources – that means your natural light, ceiling lights, desk lights, lamps, floor lamps, whatever other illuminating tools you may have in the shooting area. This will help capture your chinchilla by allowing you to have a faster shutter speed due to more available light. Normally, I prefer a clean white light, but for the holidays, there’s nothing wrong with a warmer glow that comes standard in most home lighting.
Grab a portable spotlight if your natural lighting is low – ideally, this will be somehow diffused. You can do this by using a strong flashlight or adjustable desk lamp covered and tied down with a very sheer scarf. This will make sure that your light is not too harsh and capture your chinchillas in all their softness.Set design holidays 2016 The third step is to create your set: start out with a fun, safe idea and execute! Fleece is always great, but other textures can be visually pleasing too. For my holiday shoot this year, I went with simple silver and white tree decorations, along with a chunky knit sweater. It’s important to note that these decorations are obviously not safe for consumption, so I would not suggest this for anyone who is starting out with shoots; managing the talent on set is a huge part of the multitasking these types of productions require!Lulu Munching Warm HolidaysThe final step is to shoot away! I like to set up the scene, get the lights on, take a few test shots, and then plop them in one by one to see how they react. Normally, my chins are very confused at the new environment, so they’ll take 10 seconds to look around before dashing off. Those 10 seconds are crucial! With a fast continuous shooting mode, you can grab up to 8 images per second – more than enough to finalize at least one adorable final shot.Mitty HolidaysKnowing your chinchillas, staying very patient, and setting realistic expectations is key: after shooting for years with them, I know that Fifi will be tough to contain (she has a strong dislike for unfamiliar environments) – so during this year’s shoot, she slipped out of the roster by her own sheer determination. Remember, it’s your own selfish cute-loving self who happens to be encouraging them to pose for adorable photos, so never get frustrated if things aren’t working out. If someone is being a diva, simply save the shoot for another day. Or, if you know a shoot is coming up, hold off on safe chews and treats for the week prior and let them munch on set. If difficulties arise, the rule is: better safe than sorry, always! It’s not worth straining your relationship with your beloved chin over some images.Muff Holiday Warm EatingDon’t be apprehensive to reinvent the concept if needed. Sometimes, simple is better. A fleece backdrop and a chew stick can yield incredibly cute shots, too! Staying basic is an awesome way to start learning how your chins will behave in front of the lights and camera. It’s always truly just a buildup of trust, anyhow. We all wish you a very warm and happy holidays with tons of bonding and photography, sweet friends! Koko Cute Head Warm Holidays

Custom Pet Portraits!

So, are you guys ready for this? It’s time! I’ve opened a shop on Etsy for custom chinchilla and pet portraits!

Enchilada LYC2Disco LYC2Gible LYC2

In an attempt to encourage everyone to celebrate their respective pet love, I’ve combined my passion for visual art and my sweet, lovable pets to create these art pieces for your space.

Sweetie LYC2Molly LYC2

I use largely natural materials to create my artworks, which are mixed media pieces created with linen paper, homemade herbal paint, fire, charcoal, watercolors, acrylic paint, graphite, and ink. They are carefully created with lots of time and lots of love, and produce an awesome effect that is perfect for any home or apartment!

Nala LYC2Oli LYC2Turbo LYC2

Celebrate your adorable pets with these unique artworks, which are centered beautifully on a 4-ply white archival mat board. The final size is 8×10″, with your pet’s likeness approximately 6×8″. Names and text can be inscribed in ink beneath your pet with a little linen paper plaque. These pieces ship fully assembled in a sleek black 8×10″ frame, and come with a pair of white cotton gloves for handling and care.

Sophie Charlie LYC2

Visit us today! We look forward to spreading art and love to as many awesome pet owners as possible 🙂

How To: Build a Custom Chinchilla Cage

This week’s post will be all about how to build your own custom chinchilla cage! Since last week’s post, I’ve had many inquiries asking how I built my own cage and the step-by-step process involved. So let’s get to it!

There are a few things to remember prior to making this decision:

  1. Building your own cage is NOT less expensive than buying a quality pre-made cage. In fact, it often runs more expensive in terms of items needed and time spent designing and creating the cage. Our cage cost roughly $600 to construct, and that’s an ongoing number as we continue to modify and improve it.
  2. Knowing your chinchillas well or caring to know about them well is critical to building a successful cage (although there will be many things you’ll learn about them as they discover new spaces). The whole purpose of custom building is to allow your chins exactly what they want and prefer out of a home, so it’s best to keep that in mind when making it the first time around.
  3. This process is extremely time and energy consuming, so it’s best to team up with someone that has some patience and strength! We built our cage in a single day, but we also were incredibly motivated at the time.

Step 1: Gather tools!

For the foundation:

  • Wardrobe unit or sheets of kiln-dried pine, fitting for your space and preference
    • Minimum unit size per chin should ideally be a 3 foot cube; when constructing your own cage it’s beneficial to offer them as much space as possible. Our single units are approximately 4 feet x 3 feet x 2 feet. We would love to give them each a much larger home, but we do live in NYC and have four full units for five chinchillas.
  • Jigsaw, chop saw, or skill saw
  • Hole saw, 4” diameter or larger
  • Drill with self-tapping screws, from ½” to 2” long
  • Drill bits of various sizes, from 1/8” to ½”

For the screen:

  • Mesh wire, ¼” or ½”
  • Wire cutters
  • Carpet trim, metal or wood

For the inside:

  • Kiln-dried pine for constructing ledges and platforms
  • Tubes
  • Hammocks
  • Food Bowls and Hay Racks
  • Dust houses
  • Chinchilla-specific huts, toys, and wheels
  • Granite or marble slabs

For the lighting (if you should choose to include):

  • Light fixture
  • Extension cords
  • Staple gun with ½” long staples

Accessories:

  • Lock
  • Bungee Cords
  • Thermometer
  • Water bottles

Step 2: Construct & Deconstruct the Foundation

This would be a lovely time to create a design for your chinchillas. Depending on how many single units you want to fit in your chinchilla complex, you’re going to have to make some decisions. Who goes where, what they love, who wants to jump, who likes to be lazy, etc. If all your chinchillas are amicable, I’d suggest creating something that could potentially be sectioned off into different levels later on, should any disharmony come into the group.

It’s important to note that most wardrobes purchased at most stores are wood veneer covered chipboard. It’s not ideal – the most ideal wood to use would be kiln-dried untreated pine. However, in my experience, my chinchillas will chew platforms and ledges prior to their cage frames.

So, take a look at the wardrobe you’ve selected. It’s time to mentally construct and deconstruct this guy! You’ll need to keep the frame but remove as much of the walls as possible in order to ensure maximal wire mesh coverage. This is so that your chins have a breezy complex that allows the passage of air through their living space at all times. It’s important for chins to have fresh food, water, and circulating airflow. I try to keep it all very zen and health-conscious in that way. In order to accomplish this, there will need be a sturdy frame and pillar or sections to keep the cage sturdy.

You’ll need to decide the overall structure of the frame prior to assembling or disassembling. It’s best to start out with drawings or sketches, and change as needed if you hit certain roadblocks. Once you’ve made up your mind, you can cut out the front walls, construct the cage and begin to remove certain elements.

The first physical step will be to cut out the front of the cage. The front walls are typically doors, so you’ll need to use a saw and remove the meat of the doors, leaving a frame which will be fitted with wire mesh. The best way to secure mesh is to start tightly from one corner and work your way out, securing with screws as you go in both directions.

Then, you’ll need to construct the frame of the cage, leaving out the back panel. Typically, it will be the back walls that will go completely and the shelving that will stay in some way. You can remove the entire back before it has even been affixed and fit it with mesh instead.

The side walls and ceiling, after the frame is constructed, can contain many unique window cutouts that can be fitted with wire mesh or plexi from the outside. All wire mesh should be affixed from the outside, so that your chinchillas will not have access to biting the sharp edges (which can’t help but stay sharp unless you weld it in some way). Same with plexi, as eating plastic is never chin-healthy. Luckily, some of my chins have an aversion to eating plastics, so based on my personal experience with them, I allow some to have plexi platforms.

As your cage comes together, you’ll notice that the wire mesh is quite unsightly. To solve this, you can purchase lengths of carpet trim in either metal or wood, whatever fits with your theme best. This will serve to cover the edges of the wire mesh, also helping to secure them neatly.

So, at this point, your cage should be fully structurally sound and fully formed. It’s all about moving on to the inside of the cage and personalizing for your little babies.

Step 3: Interior Design

Platforms first! Getting the larger basics down will help section off your space and make for safe, fun levels. I suggest keeping platforms 6-8” apart height-wise just for safety. Any higher, and a fall could potentially hurt your chin. Also, platforms should be around 4-5” wide. Platforms can be secured from one side to the other, or just act as a large ledge protruding from the left, back, or right of the cage.

Don’t forget ledges! Fun rounded shapes for corners, sides, and all around. Sizes can vary, from 3″ upward. We started with cutting a plethora of ledges or preparing appropriate chin-safe wood branches and then went around, screwing them in with hardware from the outside.

Personally, I never worry about ledges or platforms getting dirty or worn down. Kiln-dried pine is relatively inexpensive and easy to replace when you have a custom-built cage, so the chins are encouraged to destroy and munch as much as their little hearts desire.

Great things to incorporate into your cage are bedding pans! I’d suggest powder-coated metal with a drawer mechanism, although for now we are using Vitakraft ECO bedding and creating little litter corners for the kids. It works for us for now; we have had a tough time finding custom pans for the kids, so we’ll wait until we’re ready to create custom metal pans.

For our cage, we went with aluminum tubes – my chins don’t even show the slightest interest in chewing metals (although if yours do, this is not a safe option). They’re very sturdy and a year in, they look as new as the day we got them. There are many different sizes and shapes for chins who love to cuddle or just relax on their own. I know many people use fleece-covered PVC or cardboard tubes; that’s a great addition too.

Fun additions are little chin-holes for traveling between units! This works great for chins who want a little space from a friend, or some time to reflect on which unit is their favorite. We did this for our kids early on; when they became inharmonious together, we simply closed off the adjoining holes and brought back some peace to the family.

As far as food provisions go, we use PVC tube coverings (they look like little bowls) with a screw through the bottom, which then connects to a drilled hole at the bottom of their cage. The bowls are easy to remove and stand-alone, which is pretty cool. Everyone except Muff gets this PVC, because they know not to chew plastic. Muff, on the other paw, has a glass bowl for his food. We still use physical glass bowls for hay, because our chins don’t have any respect for hay racks.

We also screwed down a few slivers of pine to affix granite slabs in their place, so they can freely be placed on a platform without a worry of being shifted. We have never had a problem with our chins and screws, because we use a countersink method (which means the screw falls flush or deeper than the wood).

Hammocks, huts, wheels, and toys are final additions for the kids. Some use these items more than others; it’s a great chance to personalize each area for each chinchilla. I personally don’t let them have individual dust houses, but that’s only because their cage is in our living space (so it would be wildly messy – even more-so than the crazy cleaning schedule we have now) and I also enjoy handling and bonding with them each and every day when they receive their dust baths. It’s a nice daily ritual we have, and it works for us.

Step 4: Lighting and Accessories

We’ve tried a few different lighting techniques for the cage. It’s easy to lose the kids in a dark background (especially if your chin’s fur is dark as well), so lighting is a great option if done safely. We always use low power LED lights that don’t generate any actual level of noticeable heat, fixed to areas that the chins can’t reach – such as the cage ceiling or on the outside, near but not on a window. The lights we have now have a switch for easy on/off. We use extension cords to power the lights and used a staple gun to adhere the wires flush to the outside of the cage, creating a clean look. We always unplug the light if we aren’t using it, or are out of town for a day or two.

Finally, we have bungee cords at the top and bottom and a lock in the middle! The bungees are to keep the cage doors flush and quiet when they wall jump; the lock is to keep the entire cage secure. Also, there are two glass water bottles adhered to the outside of the back of each cage unit, just in case one water bottle goes wonky. We also placed a thermometer on the cage so we know exactly what the temperature of their environment is, and can adjust accordingly. We never let the room get higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step Five: Kick Back and Enjoy!

So, there you have it! The long, arduous, and very rewarding process of building your own custom chinchilla cage! It’s incredibly easy to make changes to your cage once it’s up and running, and your chinchillas will never look back at their old cages. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly time, energy, and money consuming, but it’s a really great experience to feel as if you’ve given a part of your creativity and design to your babies. Admittedly, there are many different avenues to feel this way; this is only one!

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We leave you with a sweet video and wish you a wonderful holiday week!

Custom Chinchilla Cages

This week has been busy! I’ve been all around the city, catching up with old friends, meeting with clients, and planning for the holidays with the fam. Needless to say, it’s been full of fun and festivity. One major thing I’ve set out to accomplish prior to the new year is to re-customize our custom chinchilla cage.

Chinchillas love change! To encourage mind and body stimulation, I love to move around parts of their cage from time to time – and that’s the best part of having a custom built cage. Everything can be modified simply with new pieces of kiln-dried pine (or other chinchilla safe woods) and just a couple of screws! Since each chin is different, getting to know your chinchilla is critical when it comes to modifying their cages and allowing them the safest & funnest habitat possible.

Cage 2013 2014

Last year, my boyfriend and I custom-built a cage based on the size and preferences of our chinchillas. For most of 2013 into 2014, we had only four chins, so the single custom armoire cage made perfect sense. When Koko came along in the latter half of 2014, we modified and combined two smaller wire-based cages to create a spacious multilevel loft for Mufftoneous (it was best at that point to separate the boys from the same cage complex). Prior to that point, we had a few wire cages in storage and the other as a playtime wheel for the kids, containing a water bottle and wheel for free use. Now, we keep the wheel with Muff because he has been deemed the unstoppable athlete – everyone else gets their energy out at playtime, but Muff just keeps going like the Energizer Chinchilla.

Below, you can see the most recent updates to our cages:

Over the course of the year, there were many small changes and modifications to all cages. But the desire to switch it up even further has officially arrived. So, onward! The process we use to make changes to the cage involves taking the chins out one by one for playtime and modifying cages one at a time. Typically, I start with the oldest chin’s space and work my way to the youngest, although there are always slight aberrations to that selection method. Since I constantly observe my chins in their environment, I have noticed their changes and preferences as they get older, bigger, and more curious. Their cages have always been able to be a reflection of their personality, and I’m happy to be able to be hands-on with it.

Since Mitty [located in the bottom left tripartition] loves organization, he received a few large shelves, VIP bedding area, and a custom house (not pictured). He was also given Muff’s hammock, since Muff used it more as a platform than a relaxation tool. Muff [located in multilevel wire cage] had that hammock replaced with sturdy pine shelving in large and small sizes to keep him entertained. Since I know Muff loves wall climbing and tight spaces, he received a long pine wall to scale and squeeze himself up and down (don’t worry, it’s not too tight). Lulu and Fifi [located in the bottom right tripartition] received a spacious 3-way aluminum tube so they could snuggle together and new platforms to stretch their legs on. Finally, Koko [located in the top tripartition] received Mitty’s old hut and the girls’ smaller tube. She also got a few small ledges to prance around on – she’s not a jumper, so height has never been her preference.

We had a great time modifying our kids’ cages this time around, and it’s always an exhausting pleasure being put to work by the chinchillas! I know they’ll be happy for a few weeks to come. Remember, a chinchilla owner’s job is never truly done – it’s onward, and upward, always!

Stay tuned for our weekly Wednesday blog posts by following via email. Also, subscribe to us on YouTube and visit us on Facebook! We leave you with a sweet video and we hope you all have a great holiday, and spread that furry chinchilla love to your friends and family. Cheers!

How To: Chinchilla Photography

As a professional photographer in New York City, I’ve had my share of dramatic clients – fussing over hair and makeup, complaining about angles, and throwing out last-minute conceptual changes. Yeah, sometimes high fashion and editorial work can be extremely particular, but if great minds come together to accomplish the task, beautiful imagery can result.

Chinchillas, on the other hand – well, where to begin? They are inherently adorable (to me, they are the cutest animals on this planet) and can do no wrong visually. However, they won’t come together with you on a photo shoot. They won’t say – oh sure, I’ll swipe my tail 45 degrees to the left and wink at you while holding up an apple stick with my right paw. If only! Chins are hard to get ahold of, and even if you have a non-reactive chinchilla (like my Koko), photographing them can be tough. They’re drama queens in their own right!

Flash photography is the easiest and most practical type of photography to use when snapping an image of a high-speed, high-energy animal. It freezes them in frame instantly, and most of the time won’t have blur. That means you can capture them jumping, twirling, turning, or performing any onslaught of energetic feats – but the image won’t be soft or cuddly, like we know our chinchillas to be. Along with diminishing their furry details and barraging their colors with an unsightly whitewash, flash photography will likely cause you to put in some post-processing time; you should expect to use a photo-editing program to get those tiny red eyes out of your photo.

Chins look best when photographed without flash, as most standard non-diffused flash units will be too harsh on their fluffy details. The problem with studio photography is that it typically requires more setup time, careful planning, and safe treats on hand! As far as camera settings go, you’ll need a slower shutter speed (or a super-bright lighting system). I like to maintain a low ISO on all my photographs to keep images less noisy, meaning my settings will slow down overall processing speeds even more.

As far as personal photographic tastes go, I’m ALL about natural lighting. Give me the morning sun, sulking half-light, or a heavy sunset. I love it all: the emotive depth, the searing contrast, the daring illusory effects. For all my clients, I suggest going natural. It’s more challenging (so to say, more interesting) than a studio shoot and lends a level of professionalism that supersedes the senseless ‘pro ideal’ of a $20,000 camera set and a 3,000 square ft NYC studio (although wouldn’t we all love to bathe in such fanciness ~ as the chins love to bathe in dust). I believe strongly in natural lighting, it shows in my work.

As far as chinchilla photography goes, I’m ALL about just surviving the shoot! Natural light is still the best for beautiful images, but studio photography accomplishes what natural lighting can’t – being able to be done at any time of the day. I’ll still grab my Nikon for the playtime sessions with the kids, but if I’m looking for some high-quality commercial-level imagery, I’ll overwhelmingly choose a studio set.  That means I’m gonna put in 20 minutes to get the lighting right but only end up shooting for a minute or two. Sets should be simple and clean, allowing the focus to be on the chins – adding in a colorful fleece background or sprinkling marigolds can brighten up the scene without detracting from the furry spectacle.

It’s imperative to prepare for the skittishness of the babies. Since chinchillas are nocturnal, their eyes perform better in low light, so I’m sure the brightness of the set becomes irritating very quickly. Chins have such little patience when it comes to waiting for human error to correct itself, so it’s best to be ready with a tripod and set your camera to high-speed continuous shooting mode, and give it your best!

Remember, patience and effort are the main components to great chinchilla photos. It doesn’t hurt to have a photo assistant to collect escaping chins or a chinchilla-safe treat on set to coax them into staying still – if only for a moment! 😀