Lyndel Miller

Photo: Courtesy of Lyndel Miller

Diverse creative roles have been explored on Ordinary Artisans. Today’s story takes us into new territory with Lyndel Miller, a high-end product and food stylist. She has worked for print publications, commercial ads, and artfully arranged delicious-looking dishes on film (Swinging Safari [2018], Jungle [2017], and Netflix’s Tidelands [2018], among others.) An author, artist, and mentor behind The Styling Coach Sessions, Miller credits her versatile experiences with preparing her for where she is today. In a Q&A all the way from Brisbane, Australia, she tells the story of her journey from Naturopathy into styling, celebrating the creative challenges along the way.

How did you get started in the styling business?

I decided I would dedicate 12 months to trying to create a career in the industry. If I had no success or it wasn’t what I had hoped for, I would return to the Health Sciences and further my studies.

So, I studied, read, read a little more, practiced, practiced a little more and reached out to my community, speaking about what I hoped for. Not long after, a mutual friend connected me to a photographer who at the time was wishing to extend her portfolio in food photography. We met, hit it off and did a test together. Not long after she booked me for a commercial shoot. It was a rather ambitious one at that but we both nailed it. The rest is history, as they say. We’ve worked together ever since. I really have to say it felt serendipitous. Someone up there was looking out for me. It was just what I needed. I was off and running! Right place, right time.

Was this something that you wanted to do since you were little?

Ah, no, I always romanced the idea of being an artist, but I had no faith in the idea or myself. It felt out of my reach.

After high school I went on to pay for my own education, so when it came to furthering my studies I felt my choices should be pragmatic. At first, I studied Naturopathy as I had been cooking for leading health retreats. It seemed like the next logical step at the time. I had a lot of experience in hospitality growing up. I wasn’t interested in being a chef. Though I wish I had been encouraged to do so back then. I certainly did the hours. I did Graphic Design And jewellery making in my free time (I do bore easily).

I had a health clinic for several years but when I fell pregnant with my first born, I shut shop, with no intention on my mind of returning. I knew I needed something more. Different. I went on to study Interior Design and started painting and exhibiting my abstract nature inspired artworks.

Food styling always felt like a marriage of all my past experiences. All the past work granted me the necessary and broad range of skills I needed to work successfully in the industry. I also style product, interiors and lifestyle shoots. It all feels rather natural.

In retrospect I wish I did Bachelor of Arts, as I wonder what I may have achieved. But maybe I would be in exactly the same position.

Photo: Courtesy of Lyndel Miller

What made you interested in food styling?

I love food! I come from a family of foodies. I picked up an American book on photo styling, by Susan Linnet Fox. It was a page turner for me. I resonated with every page. It’s what motivated me to start in the first place. And food styling seemed like the perfect place to start. There also weren’t many around in Queensland. There still aren’t. But having said that, it’s a small industry.

What has surprised you the most about what you do?

The higher you reach the less egocentric the environment is. Thankfully. I found this rather surprising.

Working in film is a great joy. There is a real sense of teamwork and appreciation for each other. I value the opportunities highly and enjoy the comradeship.

Food styling is not as simple as it seems. Can you tell me about what takes place in each stage of production?

It’s not actually, not on a commercial level. It just ain’t all making pretty. What’s required for each stage? Mmm. I can’t really articulate stages. Each project is truly unique. It’s a process but very rarely the same one. It helps to be a multidisciplinary stylist. The more resourceful you are the better, and each job brings you another level of understanding, dealing with various individuals, their briefs (or lack of), client, logistical and budgetary restraints – all of which determines how you approach the job, meet and nail the brief. Stylists are also problem solvers. This comes into every brief. How to reach desired outcomes is at the forefront.

Photo: Courtesy of Lyndel Miller. Durham House, The Design Files, 2019.

You’ve styled food on films – Swinging Safari (2018), Jungle (2017), and San Andreas (2015). What is it like styling for a film?

Ah, I love it! Especially Swinging Safari! Meeting Production Designer Colin Gibson was a thrill, as he worked on Award winning Australian series Love My Way, which is my all-time favourite series, even now. Also, the amazing Justine Dunn who I’ve worked with on several jobs, San Andreas, and Tidelands. I’ve worked with some phenomenal crew.

I also had teeny parts on ABC series Harrow and Netflix’s Tidelands. Just cameos but all the same, it’s a joy.

It’s very rewarding even if it’s just the smallest of contribution, it’s a privilege to be asked to participate and support an Art Department with their bigger picture.

What are some unusual projects or highlights?

This year, it was a stunning still life brief for upcoming Regional Flavours Food and Wine Festival held in Brisbane. I was given creative license to present the regions fresh produce as an art form. It’s inspired me to create a print series which will be released later in the year.

Photo: Jessie Smith. 2017.

What is your favorite food to style?

I love to style oysters! I’m very drawn to the exotic… salads are also very satisfying. Setting a scene for a feast! The ultimate as I get to play more! Plus, I love a challenge.

What is the most difficult food that you have worked with?

Butter! Whilst it’s not the most difficult generally (or doesn’t have to be). My most difficult project was four days shooting in Hong Kong. We had many holdups with failing Airconditioning, power and refrigeration. One crew member cut them self badly, another had a motorcycle accident. On top of that, a very ambitious client. 100’s of butter curls and cheese pulls! It was a challenge and exercise in patience and endurance. We worked for 23 hours straight, but the crew was phenomenal. We managed to have a lot of fun, and many lifelong friendships were made. But, as you can imagine, it was exhausting. I fell in a heap afterwards.

This is a silly question, but do you take care to arrange your own food at home or judge the plating when you eat out at restaurants?

Haha, I am asked this so often. Weekly. So, it’s not a silly question. I’m pretty relaxed at home. I love fresh, pleasant style food, shared plates, when everyone just serves up their portions and dig in. I only lay it all on for special milestone birthdays and Sunday family lunches – I consider the plating and propping. And I’m not one to judge others. I am however disappointed dining out if there is no sign that the food presentation isn’t considered. Can’t stand wilted salad greens, and any short cuts. Food deserves time, and you can taste a lack of care. I love visiting restaurants when the chefs take the food to art.

You’ve authored two books, “Naked Cakes: Simply Beautiful Creations” (Murdoch Books 2015) and “Wild Sugar Desserts” with Skye Craig (New Holland Publishers, 2012), with recipes and whimsical, artistic cake designs. What inspired you to write and share some techniques?

“Wild Sugar Desserts” was a co-authorship. Skye Craig used to work as a graphic designer for my husband’s business. We had a mutual appreciation for each other’s work. I was an exhibiting artist at the time with a background in design. Skye initially engaged me as consultant and stylist a few weeks into discussion around the book production. We decided that a nostalgic approach was fitting for this genre.

Skye asked me to author the book with her. She contacted the publisher and her agent, I submitted some recipes, an outline and we got the go ahead. It was very exciting, but all very consuming for a good 12 months. I learnt a lot! I created and tested about 100 recipes in the process. It was labour intensive. The design process for propping and plating was an equally, if not more, exciting experience. I invested a lot into it, and who couldn’t. It was an amazing journey. It was very successful in Sweden. Go figure!

A year later I went on to produce cookbooks for self-publishers. I enjoyed the processes so much I wanted to assist others in creating their projects.

The second book idea I pitched to Murdoch Books. It was one of two pitches. To be honest I didn’t think it was the most favourable. It was a book idea for a gap I saw in the market for the growing and trending love for The Naked Cake. Many books came after mine, but it was the first on the subject.

I love a celebratory cake! I’m actually not a sweet tooth but birthday cakes have always been a big deal in my family. My kids get to choose the style of cake they want, the flavour profile, and the setting in which it’s delivered to the table. The book was ultimately about this. There were some aspects of the book that I was asked to produce (the crafty elements and D.I.Y. tutorials) that I wasn’t too keen on.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity! It gave me a great body of desserts in my portfolio. 70 odd. And extracts of the book were published all over the world thanks to my amazing publishing manager. It just wasn’t a true reflection of my style, so that’s hard to swallow. But it has been successful (for a nobody) and it’s been printed for UK and German market. It was a blessing(!) as I was just starting out as a food stylist. Having said that my first paid gig was a high-end kitchenware client, producing their annual Christmas catalogue.

Photo: Mindi Cooke. Kalka Homes. 2017.

On Instagram you’ve mentioned that you collect vintage glassware. Why do you love colored glass?

What’s not to love ! Vintage glasses offer eye-catching colors and an array of shapes and patterns, unique decorative accent that recalls craftsmanship of times past. Colour also offers another layer and interest. And most importantly they are usually smaller in size and make for a more user-friendly prop, for stills anyway.

They also just add to a dining experience. I’d rather sip from an alluring vintage glass than a regular highball. Who wouldn’t? I’m a hedonist. It’s all about pleasure. It is also a nod to sustainability.

What are some standout pieces in your collection?

I love them all, but the standout? A pair of mid-century brandy balloons with gold trimming. These were gifted to me by my mother. I think the artist is Brownie Downing. I’d love to know who made them. Maybe one of your readers may know. I have my Friday night Gin and Yuzu cocktail in them. They are a treasure. They are playful and well, I’m sentimental. I won’t use them as a prop, they are just for me. I’d die if I broke one.

I also have some rather space age looking martini glasses. Much like the ones you may have seen in the recent Starwars: The Rise of Skywalker movie and club scene. Designer Tom Ford has a similar range out now, reminiscent of the 60s.

Photo: Mindi Cooke. New Farm Confectionary. 2019.

What is your favorite era of food styling and why?

Right now! We are seeing a resurgence of still life, echoing the Dutch Masters but with restraint. This excites. But I’ve always dreamt about working on a massive food scene like the ones you see in Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. Big budget! Mountains of produce and detail.

Having said that, working on the movie Jungle with Daniel Radcliffe was extraordinary. That brief was demanding which I thrive on, stimulating and enjoyable. I got to sleep on the set the day prior at Versace also. Smiling widely. Dream job! Dream crew.

What are your upcoming projects?

I can never give away what’s up next, but it’s a mixture of food, product, and lifestyle stills and TVC’s. Business as usual but I’m finding the caliber of work I’m receiving is exciting.

I’ve also just recently launched ‘The Styling Coach’ sessions. They are crash courses in photo styling. I’m not one to rest on my laurels. I love to have a few projects on the boil.

These 1:1 sessions are geared for small business startups wanting to learn how to better style their products and images for social media content. And, for corporate hotel groups wanting to give their marketing teams insight into the craft of food styling and how they can up their game plan for their social media posts. It’s been a great success.

I’ve also vowed to myself to produce more personal projects, which I haven’t done for years since my last book. I’m collaborating with a few photographers this year to create print series for interior decorators/ designers and public alike. I’m returning to my art. Painting. This time not just making photographic backgrounds for camera.

I want to spread my wings a little more this year and make time for my own creative urges. I’m writing more and always trying to up-skill.


Justine Dunn

You may not have heard Justine Dunn’s name, but chances are that you have seen and admired her work.  Her Art Department credits include diverse titles, Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Anna and the King (1999) among them.  She has been a set decorator, props master, and senior buyer for major films and acclaimed television series’.  The artist played a major role in bringing the world of Orphelin Bay to life in the Netflix series Tidelands (2018).  Dunn, and the entire creative team, portrayed the gritty, working-class fishermens world against the glamorous mystery of the island L’attent.  The thread of folklore, and a romantic web, hung between the two settings in the script and in the visual design.  Learn more about Justine Dunn and her work on Tidelands in our Q&A below.      

How did you get into the world of production design?

Originally, I studied for a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at Queensland University of Technology and specialized in Stage Design in my final year. As part of my course we had to participate in work experience, which lead me into the world of TV commercials where you have 30 seconds to tell your visual story. The planning and detail of every shot by the Art Director and Director of Photography was fascinating. I didn’t even know such a job existed. After a short stint in the TV commercial world, I realized I was more interested in the bigger, more meaningful stories of Film and TV Series where you can develop whole worlds based around the script and its characters.

What drew you to scenic design?

The Production Design and Set Decoration roles are part of the story telling process. I have worked in many different roles that fall under the Art Department umbrella – On-Set Standby Props, Props Master, Buyer – but through Set Decoration we can build on a character’s background with the things we place around them in the set. The set decoration and background set should complement the story with colour choices, fabric, wallpaper and textures, lighting, furniture choices etc. For example a film set in the 1800’s will be researched for appropriate examples of what we know about the character i.e : age, occupation, gender, class, family history, Nationality, economic status.  But if we don’t have much information from the script, we create a backstory that helps us make the creative decisions for each set.

Dunn working on set.

Describe your most memorable projects:

“Anna and the King” filmed in Malaysia in 1999, starring Jodie Forster and Chow Yung Fat. Designed by Luciana Arrighi, it was nominated for an Academy Award in Production Design. It was the first film that I had worked on that was on such a grand scale, but still with amazing attention to detail.  With the restrictions of filming a story set in Thailand, but actually building the film sets over the border in Malaysia (a very different aesthetic and culture from Thailand), 1000’s of extras, elephants carrying actors, dinner parties for 300 people, it was epic. We had to smuggle statues of Buddha over the border into Malaysia for filming, as we had to re-create the Emerald Buddha Temple for the final scene of the film. I was based in Thailand as the Props Buyer, sending props and dressing by the truck-load over the border into Malaysia. I used to spend every Saturday with a wad of cash the size of a house brick at the ChutuChut Markets looking for fabrics, carvings, furniture, ceremonial and religious items, lighting, boats … 

If you could live in one of the sets that you’ve worked on, which one would you choose?

Great question and I often think about that when I’m working on a set ‘What would I do if I was living / working / hiding here?’  Probably the Jones House in “Swinging Safari” (2018). It was a cool party pad with sunken lounge and shag-pile carpet. It had a massive deck and a pool and a great record collection.

“Tidelands” premiered on Netflix here in the United States last December.  You were a part of the production team.  What was the creative vision for “Tidelands” before the show came to fruition?

It was writer Stephen Irwin who came up with the story and concept. We were given a detailed character breakdown, which gave us a lot of history and backstory for a realistic, grounded approach to a fantasy genre. Production Designer Matt Putland and I wanted to create a world that felt like the Tidelanders could have been living amongst us for centuries unnoticed. The actual commune of L’attent, we wanted to feel historical, symbolic and have strong links to the sea and water. We wanted the rest of Orphelin Bay to be grungy and look functional, like the Devil’s Tail, Bill’s Boat, and the Fish Co-op.

Is the premise of the show based on a particular myth or legend? 

It is a world created from the imagination of Stephen Irwin (the Writer and Co-Producer) then fleshed out with the input of Tracey Robertson, Nathan Mayfield and Leigh McGrath from Hoodlum Productions. Because Stephen is a novelist, he wrote the backstory for us and we received an extensive dossier of the Tidelanders history. 

The set is very imaginative.  L’attent (the island where the sirens live) could have been a cliche beach-y design – all tan and turquoise.  Instead, the island feels like an otherworld.  Adrielle’s house on the island is a very rich setting.  Lots of velvet and dark wood.  What was the inspiration for this?

We wanted to show a history and tradition of the Tidelander people.  So, we wanted the house to be historic, not modern. The colour palette was a selection of sea greens and dark, inky blues with flashes of silver, like an underwater effect. We placed water elements throughout the set and used all practical lighting which always looks moody against the glossy dark wood. We knew there was going to be a lot of bloodshed…

How long did it take to create Adrielle’s house?

From construction drawing to completely dressed…9 weeks and that is 3 different departments with slight crossover: Construction, Scenic, then Set Decoration. 

Where did the inspiration for the stainedglass window come from?  Also, who made it?

Matt Putland oversaw the Design Assistant Stephanie Brooke, who drew it by hand then transferred it to digital. It was symbolizing the matriarch of the Tidelands with her people at her feet.  It was actually printed onto vinyl in full scale then transferred to glass, each section stained individually, then edged with a substitute to look like lead-light. It had to be reworked a few times as one of the first versions was ‘too busty’ …LOL !

What was your favourite feature on the set of “Tidelands”?  Furniture, wall color, etc.

Definitely the sparkly wallpaper (From Zepel Fabrics) in the Foyer of Adrielle’s house… but I also really loved the 5m drop waterfall drapes in the main hall …and the bespoke resin filled dining…and … 

Follow @justdunnthis on Instagram to learn more about her work and see behind-the-scenes images from Tidelands and her other projects.