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Art

Art is: Making Images; Faith & Belief; Narnia & Heaven & Europe

“…it was really that they could not make their own images.” 🤯💛

This is so wonderfully clear– I love teaching writing/theatre/storytelling with kids best because each experience gives them a landmark and an anchor point of knowing they CAN make their own images, and what that feels like.
This also reminds me of how confused I was that you’re supposed to stage a house in order to sell it… Because people can’t picture what it could look like! And I always preferred an empty house because other people’s stuff cluttered up my images and visioning of how I could make the room look.
I don’t believe not every person has this ability– why? Just because the thought is too sad? I guess it’s something I can’t imagine!
But really, what child doesn’t play? What kid, with nothing more than a stick or a pinecone to entertain them doesn’t imagine– make images– of something else??
And what pairs so well with this is Tom Guald’s Edison quote:
“My so-called inventions already existed in the environment. I’ve created nothing. Nobody does.”

Like atoms, like matter not being able to be destroyed, only reused, ideas and images and inventions all exist around us. So being an artist, a poet, that is to say, a healthy and reverent human, is SEEING THE INVISIBLE THAT IS ALWAYS AND ALREADY PRESENT.

If you’re an artist or inventor, then you try to make the invisible visible. But everyone can see it, and they only stop seeing it through training or trauma.

What I want to do is make sure no one loses it entirely. I want every kid (and thus, person) to know where at least one secret doorway to Narnia is within themselves and always be able to find it again, even if they don’t go through daily or often at all. It’s like how Europe was for me in my podunk, I-don’t-quite-fit-here childhood: knowing it existed was a balm, a magic token. A bully could only hurt me superficially because I held within myself this whole other marvelous world, even when there were long years between trips.

I’ve always thought that it’d be nice to have Faith– Christian belief that I really believed. It’s interesting that this faith in Europe isn’t so different as believing that there is a Heaven, that someday we’ll all belong and live in beauty and peace.

Isn’t faith holding in one’s mind and heart the image (the living image) of something invisible yet tangible? And in both religion and art aren’t we charged with making “Heaven on Earth?”

You have to see it and keep believing in it.

Images are Symbols

How to draw my cat, Per.

I just realized that for me, drawings are symbols / touchstones / hieroglyphs– they don’t tell all of the story, that’s what the words do.

Not only that, but they don’t have to show all of the story / information, either!

Here’s some insightful mirroring from my dear friend, Kelsi:

Don’t do realistic! Your gift is making the fantastical seem more real/relevant/truthful than Reality.

And a great example from Tom Gauld’s Instagram:

(He cartoons for the New Yorker, so clearly he’s not the only person who believes illustration doesn’t need to be photo-realistic to have value).

What I have always loved about oral storytelling is that I get to give suggestions of the characters, setting, lighting. The listener fills in the rest– which produces an experience better than any movie because it is collaborative, because the listener is making their own Magic.

This is my job. This expression is a touchstone and a doorway to someone else.

Why on earth would a picture book be any different? Leave space for the reader’s Magic. (And don’t sweat the details).

How to Give Creative Feedback

A friend just joined a writing group an mentioned that feedback can feel so personal. Here’s what I told her:

Writing groups can be so tricky, I think, because English classes teach us that the way to give feedback is through pointing out the problems, but that can be stifling in the early creative stages of a project.

If I’m at the very end or am stuck then I totally want someone to just tell me how to cut it up, but if it’s in a younger stage that feels so harsh and generally not useful.

I have always liked the 4 step feedback method I learned from storytelling coach Doug Lipman. It’s up to the writer/receiver how far to go in the steps. Even if you only do the first one it’s really helpful to hear from multiple people what they like about the story.
*First: reader says specific things they like (might be plot element, language, imagery, tone, etc)
*Second: writer asks questions of the reader (ie, Was it clear that 1 year had passed? What did the main character look like to you?)
*Third: reader asks questions (ie, What feeling for you want the reader to have at the end? How old is the main character?) This step can be tricky because readers want to give suggestions but phrase them as questions.
*Fourth: reader gives suggestions; I think phrasing them as “what ifs” is best (What if you start with a flashback? I think you can cut the part about the dog).

Learning (or Unlearning) to Draw

I’m so excited to have finally, finally (but surely not for the last time) convinced myself that simpler is better.

That I do not need to be able to draw realistic hands/feet/whatever. And that tracing paper is a totally valid illustration medium!

This fall is going to have a lot of picture book/middle grade experimentation…

Medicine Friends

My grandparents’ house was sold at the end of the summer. This was a Century Farm, meaning it had been in the family for over 100 years; my grandpa was born there. My grandma moved half a mile from her childhood farm when they married.

They each had their own gardens (as did her parents). The story I’ve heard is that they needed their own spaces to plant what they wanted. Both gardens were magnificent in my childhood: my grandpa grew roses, my grandma grew everything else.

I’ve only discovered my dormant green thumb when I bought my first house: all of a sudden I was digging and moving rocks and dividing plants… and transplanting. That first home in St. Paul presumably still has the cousins of my grandmother’s peonies growing out by the front door.

When we moved into the bed and breakfast in 2013, I began the process of recreating my grandmother’s garden once again, though I didn’t realize that was what I was doing at first. There was already a hardy perennial flower bed here with peonies, day lilies, some tiger lilies, and irises.

But there weren’t flox or echinacea or black-eyed Susan.

So when I found out that, a few years after my grandma moved into an apartment, her farm had a buyer, I made sure to go dig. A year later, they’ve bloomed. Next year they’ll be bigger.

Perhaps once they’re established, I’ll be ready to try my hand at roses.

Bed of Roses

More playing around on my phone, drawing on pictures.

I checked out the library’s iPad… but immediately felt like I would have to DO REAL ART, so I decided to trick myself by messing around on the phone instead.

I’m discovering how much I enjoy drawing on photos, because there’s so much background already in place; I don’t have to construct it all. And I can tell I’m becoming more aware of highlights and low lights. I’m curious to see what happens when I try out [analog] paints.

Digital Drawing: Coraline’s House

A group of picture book illustrators stayed at the B&B over Memorial weekend. I had met one of them at a SCBWI conference in Chicago last year, and she pulled a group together and headed north.

First of all, I LOVED that each of them led a workshop. It was so much more fun than being at a big conference where everyone is feeling shy and hurrying from one session to the next.

Emily led book deconstruction and reconstruction (or corruption, as my son referred to it).

Emmeline led us through chapter book illustration. We read the first chapter of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” and made notes of what we could draw for the full page and for the “spot,” a smaller image. (I discovered that though I like having a picture of the setting, I otherwise choose small tokens that aren’t necessarily important to the plot; others drew the characters right away, but I like to leave that up to the reader).

Alicia showed us her iPad Pro and Apple Pencil… and so began my conversion.

I’m pretty crotchety about technology; I dig my heels in and don’t like new things– i.e., I was totally anti iPod for years– and then I do a total 180.

I should have seen it coming given that I kept asking them, “But don’t people think it’s cheating to go back and forth doing your art on paper and on the computer?”

Nope, not cheating. Not cheating to use the computer, to make multiple photocopies of the “good” sketch, or to use tracing paper.

So, I tried the magic Apple Pencil (which responds to pressure, in addition to having a ton of cool options). And I was in LOVE.

It was so EASY! There was a BACK BUTTON!

I took a picture of my sketch of Coraline’s house…

 

And started messing around, just using the basic photo editing app on my (android) phone. I loved that I could take pictures along the way. And I discovered that in the digital medium it felt much easier to do background layers– something I seem to forget about on paper.

And here it is: Coraline’s house! Drawn on a phone with my finger!

 

I’m so grateful to join these lovely ladies, and to discover a very accessible way to illustrate. I’m inspired to illustrate some of my own picture books, and I’m starting to research digital drawing pad options.

My son has really enjoyed drawing on photos. Here’s “Miss Glurkel-Glurk:”

 

For some reason, he didn’t think it was quite as funny when I drew on a photo of him… Doesn’t this look like a fun character for a story?

Wooden Giants

Yes! These hidden giants by Thomas Dambo (from Denmark) are delightful!

Have a look at all of them.

p.s. I suggested, half-jokingly, that we should put some of these up on Artist’s Point in Grand Marais. Sounds like I’m not the only person who thinks that would be cool, so, maybe I’ll go have a chat with the mayor

p.p.s. if you write a story about meeting one of these in the woods and it coming to life, let me know.