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Hanger Dogs and Model Cats

My Photo Shoot at JRA Studios

By Mary Beth Beckman

Three women in full ballroom costume
It started with a dress—a “hanger dog,” as Jana called it—a dress so unremarkable on the hanger that no one would buy it. But Jana works in potentials, and she saw potential in the dress no one else wanted.

Looking at the finished result of our day together, it would be natural to assume that this was a look Jana had practiced and perfected, a piece of her arsenal so rehearsed it’s become rote. That assumption is partially correct; Jana has practiced and perfected the techniques involved in creating the look. But the end product could not have been less premeditated.

I made the drive up to Jana Rose’s studio in North Branch blasting Florence + the Machine and pounding caffeine (because what else do you do when you drive to North Branch before noon?) and wandered in at about 11:00. Upon entering the space, I knew I’d entered the world of an artist. A large open room was broken into different segments by carefully placed furniture and thematic elements, each component a work of art on its own. All those cute décor ideas you see on Pinterest and add to your list of things to do if you ever find the willpower to peel yourself away from Netflix? Jana actually did them, and made them better.

The process started with signing a standard model release and cramming cheese and crackers into my mouth while admiring all the little details of the studio. Jana and her assistant, Taysia, finished getting everything ready while I eyed the underwhelming dress they’d later stick me in. It certainly did not have rack appeal, but Jana has earned my trust, so I knew it would all be okay.

When I finally sat down at the workstation, it felt oddly like being at the dentist: bright light in my eyes, two people examining my face, a cart of intimidating tools, my head being pushed this way and that, the unspoken threat to stay still. One of the first things Jana said to me was, “So I have no idea what I’m going to do with you. We’re just going to wing it.” Again, artist.

Throughout the session, which took about four hours, Jana would stare at the dress across the room, stare at my face, stare at the dress, stare at her products, stare at me, stare at the dress. Several times, I saw the moment inspiration hit her. Jana’s face would go from relaxed and pensive to alive with energy, and she’d quickly turn to her tools to add the next element of the artwork she was creating on my head.

Is there a method to Jana’s madness? Kind of. She’s been at this long enough to know that the ideas will come, that as the process moves forward, the look will tell her how to proceed. In that way, it’s a lot like writing has always been for me. I almost never know how I’ll conclude, or even what the point is of the piece I’m working on; that process of discovery is most of the reason I write at all.

Creating is about having the tools and knowing how to use them. From there, it’s all instinct, and I’ve seen firsthand that Jana’s instinct for dancesport hair and makeup is truly remarkable.

Dress on hanger
The hanger dog itself, in all its meh.

Girl and mannequin
Taking a /#nomakeup /#nofilter selfie with the scantily clad mannequin at JRA Studios.

Girl with eyeshadow
The eyeshadow was styled based on the purple in the dress.

Girl with glittery eyeliner
The most fascinating part of the experience was Jana using eyelash glue to create eyeliner out of this pretty, opaque blue glitter (a perfect match for the blue in the dress) and traditional silvery glitter.

Girl with a rockin' do
We took a break from makeup to get the hair put together. Jana had originally intended to do a super-simple bun that even the greenest of newbies could accomplish, but then she saw how much hair I had and inspiration carried her away.

Girl with lots of makeup on
The last piece before donning the dress and stepping in front of the camera was getting the false eyelashes and lipstick on.

Girl with adorable cat
The star of the show was Cricket, Jana’s snuggle-bug kitty, a natural model who gave me a few tips on how to rock it. Even though cats and dogs are rumored to be adversarial, Cricket very much enjoyed the hanger dog. The camera liked it, too.