Donna Gurule | the butterfly queen

My experience with Amanda was amazing, fun and unforgettable. I was nervous about having a photography shoot because I thought I would look silly or unnatural, but Amanda made it so easy. Everything about the experience, from the makeup, to the wardrobe prep, to the actual posing was enjoyable. I could not have asked for a better artist to help me step out of my comfort zone. Now, I have beautiful mementos to pass on to my family.
— Donna Gurule


Fantasy photography is something I’ve always admired, but had not fully attempted. The work of Kirsty Mitchell and Miss Aniela have inspired my imagination and encouraged me to think in a different way about photography. There is something beautiful about stylized photography sessions that feature one-of-a-kind wardrobe and locations. Earlier this year, I woke at 2 a.m. from a dream of a woman dressed in a gown made of butterflies. I was so inspired, I did a sketch and vowed to make it happen.


To the fabric store I went, and returned with a bolt of white tulle, blue tulle and spools of grosgrain ribbon. Great. Now what? I decided to try hand sewing the blue tulle, and got as far as gathering the material into a quasi-skirt, but needed to figure out how to attach a waistband. I didn’t have a dress form, so I stuffed paper bags into a canvas bag, then perched the whole thing on a microphone stand. (Hooray for using what you have!)

I’d never sewn on a sewing machine, but I had been left my Grandmother Oralia’s WWII era, Singer 99 clone. It had been sitting in my closet gathering dust, unopened for years. If I was to make this gown happen, some learning needed to happen. I pulled down the machine, opened the case and gasped at the beauty of the vintage machine. I knew I probably needed to clean and oil it, so I owe a debt of gratitude to YouTube and the lovely men and women with a love for vintage sewing machines.  After cleaning and oiling, the next thing to do was to call my Mom and ask for her guidance. After a solid lesson, I completed the blue skirt as a test. On to the white! The white tulle skirt came together quickly after having figured out what to do on the blue. That part was done. I had ordered a blue, gold and faux leather corset, so I just had to wait for it to arrive.


When I had the dream, it was of a specific woman. She was a beautiful and elegant woman I’d known for years, and whom like me, represented Santa Fe as the Queen of the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe. Luck would have it…Donna Gurule, the woman I had envisioned as the Butterfly Queen contacted me out of the blue to schedule a photography session. I was beside myself with excitement! After chatting with her about my fantasy photography shoot idea, she was totally on board.  I decided to do the shoot outside at my studio in Santa Fe in an enclosed courtyard. A date was set, and the race was on to get the gown finished!


Next step was to create the butterflies. I thought a paper punch to cut through more tulle would work, but the material was too thin. I ended up punching over 500 paper butterflies (528 at final count!), cut off the antennae (they would tangle the fishing line), punched a small hole in at the top of the body and hand tied each to clear fishing line, which then was sewed on to an elastic waistband. I also found butterflies made of feather and mounted on thin wire, which would be attached to the skirt and held in the model’s hand. Loose, silk flower petals would also be used to create motion and depth.


The day of the shoot arrived, the weather was gorgeous, and Santa Fe skies were an incredible shade of blue. My hair and makeup artist, Katie Douthit, styled Donna with a natural, but slightly shimmery look. She paid particular attention to her eyes and added a layer of highlights to her cheekbones, collar and shoulders. My videographer, Greg Jackson, filmed the whole shoot beginning to end. As my assistant, Angelina and I helped her get into the gown and laced up the corset, my hands were shaking with excitement. It was just perfect! We went outside and set up the shots. Angelina used balsa wood dowels to lift the skirt and butterfly strings. I had Donna blow the flower petals from her hands and for other shots, Angelina floated them towards her.

In the end, it was so wonderful to see how much fun Donna was having in front of the camera. Like a majority of my clients, she is not a professional model. She’s a wife, mother and Santa Fe business owner…but for that day, she WAS the Butterfly Queen. <3


Photographer/Stylist: Amanda Quintana-Bowles

Hair/Makeup: Katie Douthit

Stylist: Angelina Quintana

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