Posts Tagged ‘art-making’

Cut-and-Paste: A Writing Coach Confesses

WE WRITERS ARE WORDY PEOPLE. We like to think in language, explain ourselves in words, describe our world in nouns, adjectives, verbs. But we can be so immersed in the power of words we forget that, to arrive at them, we have to translate what we see, feel, and think into their hard currency.

Imagine each word is a nugget of coal that must be pick-axed out of the coalmine of your brain every time you want to express yourself. It can be exhausting, right? I confess. After dragging up wagon-loads of words all week, my brain can feel like two stones rubbing together: dry, but unlikely to produce fire!

That’s why I make collage. My style (as you can see), is very loose. Lots of smearing, tearing, and scribbling. This nonverbal form allows me to be playful and creative without using language—the coin of my daily realm.

Then, when I return to the world of words, those verbs and nouns tumble onto the page like a shower of daisies. I don’t have to excavate them like a ton of coal!

This would be reason enough to take a break from language-centric creativity. But I get more from my collage-making adventures! After messing around with scissors, paper, and glue for a bit, I find I make wider, more unexpected connections when I return to the task of putting words on the page. I notice my language is fresher and my transitions between ideas are more dynamic.

Which, of course, is exactly how collage happens—by tapping unexpected juxtapositions and committing to them.

Make your own metaphor to improve your writing*

If, like me, you value such leaps of association, you might want to experiment with collage and see if it offers your writing similar benefits. But maybe that kind of wild abandon is not what you’re after in your literary pursuits. Maybe what you really want is to develop more orderly writing. In that case, you might try the precise patterning that knitting requires. Or, if you’d like to include more sensory detail to your writing, try cooking! Exploring the tastes and textures of a wide variety of ingredients in the kitchen might well result in more delicious  writing on the page!

While any nonverbal activity gives your word-making mind a break, you can amplify the positive effects of time spent off the page by choosing a creative practice you can see as an RX to heal what ails your writing!

Non-writing inspiration

If you already work in a visual medium as well as a literary one, you’re in good company! PRINT MAG’s article The Visual Art and Design of Famous Writers showcases the visual work of writers from Sylvia Plath to Rudyard Kipling. (And if you don’t have a non-literary creative practice, you might find this article inspiring!)

*I discovered the idea of creating a concrete metaphor for a desired end in Marsha Sinetar’s book DEVELOPING A 21st CENTURY MIND.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Cut and Paste: A Crafty Writing Prompt

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE KID, I was mesmerized by the sound of Captain Kangaroo’s scissors chomping through construction paper. I still love paper crafts—so it was a given that I’d love this LITERAL cut-and-paste writing exercise.

This prompt, which appears in poet Pat Schneider’s wonderful book WRITING ALONE AND WITH OTHERS, is a bit complicated—but, to me, the scissors and glue (not to mention the sometimes eerie results) make it worth it. (And, of course, it’s almost as cool if you do an electronic cut and paste!)

Writing prompt

STEP ONE: WRITE
Create (or dig out from your writing journals), two short poems, five to ten lines each. One poem should have a gentle, happy, or peaceful tone. The other poem should have an agitated, angry, or distraught tone.

Alternatively, you might use a paragraph (of equal-ish length) of two prose pieces. Again, one piece should have a gentle, happy, or peaceful tone, and the other, an agitated, angry, or upset tone.

STEP TWO: CUT
Cut your poems—or paragraphs—apart, line by line as they appear on the page (NOT sentence by sentence). Here’s an example from the beginning of a paragraph I found in my journal to demonstrate how/where to cut:

I wandered in my neighborhood today and saw that the Halloween 

cut here >  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

decorations were up everywhere, giving a sort of orange-and-black cadence 

cut here >  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

to the crisp October afternoon. This lifted my spirits, almost as if . . . 

cut here >  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

STEP THREE: PASTE
Alternating lines from your first and second pieces, paste them together to make a single new piece. Don’t worry! It’s not supposed to make literal sense. But the poetic sense the juxtaposed lines create can seem quite uncanny.

FOR EXAMPLE
I’ve created an example for you using two short poems—really just two ideas, only a couple of sentences each. The green lines are the first piece I wrote—the quiet one. The black lines are the second—the uneasy tone. I didn’t edit, just broke the lines apart and shuffled them back together. I did tweak the punctuation—and I’m not sure it improved matters. Maybe it would be better without punctuation?

Quiet now, neighbors gone to sleep, to rest.
The tension builds like paint; it flakes in scabs.
No more radio, backyard conversations
that reveal the raw red rash of remarks beneath
the buzzing tools that tame the yards,
the civility that is thinner than the peeling paint.
No more laughter
that chips when hands are extended to be shaken.
Only swaying branches, a quiet cloud,
or the window rolled down to wave, like in self-defense,
the bats dipping and silent on the invisible breeze,
the white flag of proximity.

If you’re struggling to loosen up your writing, this is a great way to lose control of intending a meaning and, instead, discovering the meaning that happenstance may provide.

Writing inspiration

The Dadaists, and then William Burroughs, created similar techniques. Check out the Cut-Up Machine on the Language Is a Virus site to play further with this and other writing games for grownups!

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review!

If the Queen of Wands Were Your Writing Coach: Some Tarot-Headed Writing Advice

IF TAROT’S QUEEN OF WANDS WERE YOUR WRITING COACH, she would be your enthusiastic champion, your star-spangled cheerleader! She’d laud your literary talent and encourage you to hold to your creative vision, even when others question it. You see, she believes your pen is your magic wand—that it brings to life the imaginative worlds that live inside you.

An independent sort herself, the Queen of Wands would advocate for your independence. She’s not a joiner, so she wouldn’t necessarily suggest you find yourself a critique group. But she’s a hard worker and would expect you to be one, too. In her no-nonsense style, she’d tell you dig in—and maybe hand you a bullet-point list like this one to show you exactly what she means:

  • Read widely in your genre—especially books that have been published in the last three years.
  • Check out blogs and YouTube videos that feature literary agents weighing in on what makes a book attractive to them and what doesn’t.
  • Take classes—online (Gotham Writers has a good reputation) or at your local community college, no matter. Just open your heart to how others approach the craft. Then, take what you like and leave the rest.
  • Create a writing schedule—and stick to it.
  • Finish a draft, then get a good reader to review it (you might hire a pro, ask the smartiest smarty pants in your book group to take a look, or trade for pet-sitting with a neighbor who talks regularly and intelligently about the books she reads).

And after you’ve done all that, the Queen would give you a high five, pat you on the back, and tell you, in her heartiest voice, to go back now and revise, revise, revise.

Writing inspiration

For some fired-up examples of literary Queens of Wands who dig in, check out Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Amy Tan’s “Angst and the Second Book,” from her essay collection THE OPPOSITE OF FATE (which I quoted in a post on surviving the writer’s winter).

* * *

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the Queen of Wands from the PHANTASMAGORIC THEATER TAROT.

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review!

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What Feeds Your Fire?

DO YOU KNOW WHAT FEEDS YOUR CREATIVE FIRE? While it might be as plain (or as stunningly gorgeous) as the nose on your face, sometimes it takes a mirror for us to see exactly what helps us thrive as writers, as artists, as creative participants in our lives.

MIRROR MIRROR: I’m taking an intensive creative challenge, ICAD (Index Card a Day), with Tammy Garcia of Daisy Yellow—and about 300 other fabulously creative, engaging, encouraging folks (600, if you include Instagram participants)! When I asked Tammy what I should sign up for next, she said, “I think you really thrive on the group interaction,” and suggested I choose another workshop with a dynamic group.

I don’t know Tammy well, nor have I known her for long. But she sees my preference for creating within a group as plainly as she does the nose on my face—which I can’t perceive myself without a mirror of exactly the sort Tammy kindly provided.

Tammy is right. I thrive in groups. Not only do I make art most happily in highly interactive groups, but I also

  • attend three busy yoga classes a week, as much for the friendly social interactions as for the fabulous instruction at Winter Park’s Full Circle Yoga,
  • create writing groups just to have others to write with,
  • am a happy co-author of two published projects—PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK and the reading guide for THE PORTLAND TAROT—and am currently co-writing a third book with two literary partners in crime!

My friend Hugh Holborn, the After Fifty Adventure Man, allowed himself to be a model for an ICAD portrait!

When I’m feeling stuck, having partners, or at least compatriots, fuels me. Their support, or feedback, or even participation fires up my engine again.

So, back to you: What fuels your creativity? Do you know which circumstances or types of support allow you to play fully and freely in your preferred forms of art or creative living? If not, ask three of your closest friends what they think gives you the juice you need. I bet they’ll provide you with a strikingly accurate reflection of your creative self (and your adorable nose).

I’ve Got No Talent!

I MET PAULA JEFFERY SEVERAL YEARS AGO in an online art group. The other day, we had a chat about how investing time (consistently) and effort (persistently) in any art form will eventually bear fruit—and she pointed me to this post, which she wrote for her own blog, but is graciously allowing me to share in an edited-for-length version with you. (And, yes, it’s about drawing, but really it’s about anything to which you’d like to apply yourself!)

* * *

I’ve Got No Talent
Paula Jeffery

Not long ago, I read THE TALENT CODE by Daniel Coyle. In it, he tells about a group of children who were monitored before and during the time they took music lessons. After a couple of months, as you would expect, some were doing really well, some not so well, and most were in the middle of that bell curve. The researchers looked closely for common factors between those who were excelling. They looked at things like the amount of practice they did, home environment, anything they could think of that might influence the children’s musical ability. They could find nothing. None of the factors they anticipated had any effect at all.

Until … bingo! Before they started lessons, all the children were asked, “How long do you see yourself playing music?” Their answers ranged from “until the end of term” to “a couple of years” to “forever.”  The researchers were amazed to find those answers sat perfectly aligned on the bell curve! The kids who saw themselves as musicians playing forever were head and shoulders above the rest, sometimes by as much as 400 percent—even if they practiced less! The kids who decided their music career would only last until the end of term were the same kids who were falling behind. The only common factor was their attitude to learning music before they even picked up an instrument.

This is not some mysterious, ethereal thing: It’s attitude!

Every now and again, someone on social media will say, “You’re so talented,” which is kind and lovely, but sometimes what’s unspoken is: “You’re lucky. You can just do this stuff. You were born with this ‘gift,’ and I wasn’t.” But I wasn’t a talented kid! I took art at school because I was lazy and it seemed an easy option. I wasn’t even allowed to take the art exams because my work was so bad. My adult life was spent happily stating I couldn’t draw a straight line.

Fast forward to 2014. I was 59 years old. Going off-piste one day on a visit to YouTube Land, I discovered art journaling. It looked like fun. You didn’t have to actually draw or paint anything recognizable, you could splash paint about and glue pictures from magazines. From there, I did a couple of courses (shoutouts to Tamara Laporte and Effy Wild), and I painted figures and faces. Then I did ICAD (the index card a day challenge: shoutout to Daisy Yellow). One of the daily prompts was “eye.” I hunted on YouTube for How to draw an eye and found a step-by-step tutorial. I followed along and, OMG, I drew a recognizable, not-bad-looking eye.

This was an aha moment. These techniques could be learned! Next, I drew an elephant, again from instructions! I was so excited. I thought, “I could learn to draw,” and there was no stopping me. I joined groups. Someone recommended Danny Gregory, and I joined Sketchbook Skool, founded by Danny and Koojse, and amazing tutors from all over the world opened my eyes and freed up my pen. I joined drawing memes and drew 100 faces, one each day, to see if it improved my technique. And guess what? It did! Now, I’m taking part in Imagining, the latest Sketchbook Skool Kourse (where our last tutor was the amazing Stefan G. Bucher).

For the last three years, I’ve drawn nearly every day. I’ve worked at it and studied hard. I try not to compare myself to others, and I absolutely LOVE what I’m doing.

Here are three sketches of my husband, Graham. I did the first in 2014 as part of my 100 Faces project. It was a massive improvement on previous portraits. The second I did in 2017, and I really pleased with it. The final portrait I just completed.

2014

2017

2019

 

So, when someone tells me I’m talented, with an undertone that suggests they couldn’t do it, I am tempted to sit them down and gently tell them that “Yes, yes, really, you can.” Their next line is usually “I’m too busy.” So busy there is not time in the day to take five minutes to draw something, anything? I learnt a lot about “busy” when I studied for my Open University degree with women who had three kids under school age and wrote their essays at the kitchen table in the early hours of the morning. And got their degrees. If you really want to do something, you will find the time.

Then the argument can shift to this: “Well, I’m too busy doing other things I prefer.” That’s fine. That’s an “I don’t want to,” rather than an “I can’t.” (Occasionally, I hear an “I’m too busy” that really means “What I do is so much more important than your little scribblings.” But, hey, for those, I just nod and smile, nod and smile.)

Apart from my immediate (and very lovely) family and friends, social media has been the biggest catalyst for my artistic achievements. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have continued without the support of Facebook friends and groups. Inspirational, supportive, and non-judgmental art groups are amazing and always offer the message Yes, you can!

Now, I’m not afraid to say, “I’m an artist,” with no apologies (and no “amateur” in the mix).

Paula is an artist, writer, and self-publisher, who lives in the middle of England. Visit her site, PaulaJeffery.com or on her Amazon author page.

Congratulations Station

VERY HEARTY CONGRATS TO TWO ARTIST PALS: PAULA JEFFERY on her recently published collection of dog portraits, DOG DAYS: The Art of the Dog, available on Amazon, and JADE HERRIMAN on being tapped to illustrate the upcoming personal style book DEAR CONFIDENCE, now funding on Kickstarter. (P.S. The bonus waiting for you at the bottom of Jade’s home page, her free journaling ebook, contains 25 fresh ways to get your thoughts and feelings on the page!)

* * *

Kudos, too, to SHARON SPANO, PHD, on the completion of her new book, THE PURSUIT OF TIME AND MONEY, which can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Congratulations Station

JOAN MANSSON’S been busy! She’s published both her beautifully illustrated FINDING YOURSELF THROUGH COLLAGE and her charming LITTLE BOOK OF REIKI this month. Way to go, Joan!

* * *

MAXINE WEINTRAUB has assembled a lifetime of personal stories in her collection THE MAYONNAISE JAR. Friends and family will be delighted with her humorous, appreciative take on these special moments in her life.

* * *

Big shout out, too, to ALAN ZEMEL on receiving his Tai Chi teaching certificate from the Institute of Integral Quigong and Tai Chi!

Sometimes Art . . .

12191752_796580270470921_1313248362431253998_nDSCN0534IF REVISION* WERE A DOG, it would wear a hat and be foolish in public, because revision would want to get the most DOG out of each moment that it could. If revision were a fish, it would be out of water and dragging its school behind. If revision were an interior decorating scheme, it would cry out for spangle-y pinks and purples—unless it wanted the heat of reds and oranges—unless it wanted the cool underwater of blues and greens.

Sometimes art is the answer—but sometimes it’s revision. Sometimes it’s about seeing your work-in-progress as so many puzzle pieces, which you have to turn and match and try to fit. But sometimes it’s about diving deeper.

Sometimes revision wants to be smacked around, which can be a little scary—unless you have a safe word, and sometimes revision does have a safe word, in which case, it’s okay to play rough, which, sometimes, revision likes.

Revision’s about re-visioning, it’s about looking at what you’ve already done and asking what else you can do. But revision’s not “editing.” If writing were an injury, revision would be surgery, not massage.

Revision is a bit of a shepherd’s crook, tugging you off the stage when you think you’re ready to be out there. Revision knows when you haven’t fully paid your dues. Revision wants you to work harder—it’s stubborn like that. But revision will reward your work with a bag of gold so full you’ll be able to scatter coins far and wide, feeding the entire populace of your life—once you’ve done what revision wants you to do.

* * *

* The art illustrating this post is a before-and-after of a piece I created in one of my art journals. It’s easy, often, to get stalled at an early stage of a piece of art or a piece of writing. Difficult, sometimes, to push through to the next level. Risky, always, to do so.

I’m grateful to Tammy Garcia—creator of Daisy Yellow Art and the extraordinary Daisy Yellow Facebook group—for her continuing inspiration. The lessons I’ve learned from Tammy and crew have helped me be more courageous on the page.

 

Writing Prompt: ICAD at Daisy Yellow!

SINCE JUNE FIRST, EVERY EVENING, after all the rest of the world is (reasonably) quiet, I sit at my art-making table, pull the next blank index card from a pile numbered 1-61, review the ICAD prompt, and start making something.

The brainchild of Daisy Yellow’s Tammy Garcia, ICAD, which stands for “Index Card a Day,” is a two-month challenge—complete with an awesome online community for encouragment and inspiration. The idea is simple; the practice, challenging. Starting June 1st, create something—anything!—on a 3×5″ index card, then lather, rinse, repeat—every day for 61 days. Missed the starting gun? With Tammy’s blessings, whatever day you start is your own ICAD #1. Just number 61 index cards and have at it.

static1.squarespace.comNot sure what to do? That’s part of the fun! Each day you face a teeny, tiny blank page. As Tammy says, Anything goes. Make flash cards to teach yourself Russian. Paint with acrylic paints. Drip india ink. Dye with espresso. Practice origami folds. Stitch. Sketch. Doodle. Stamp. Collage. Cut up, then weave the pieces back together. Write Haiku poems. Document your paint collection. Just dig in, using what you have and having fun!

When I asked Tammy about writers participating, she said, “Writers are welcome to join the ICAD challenge; it is a creativity challenge rather than an art challenge.” So if you don’t want to make visual art, use the daily prompts for character development, free-writing, or poem-making.

Writing Prompt

Get yourself an index card (or 61!), then visit one of the links in this post and find an image or a prompt to kick-start a teeny, tiny work of awesome.

Writing Prompt: Cool Tools

I LEARNED TO PLAY BASS on an old, semi-hollow body—devoid even of a maker’s name. With her short-scale neck (and the constellation of diamond-esque rhinestones I glued to her chunky black self), she was perfect for me. Sure, she fed back, but I just stuffed her full of newspaper and thrummed away.

Once I joined a band, I needed (I thought) a cool, grown-up bass—a Fender Precision bass, to be exact, like the one Aimee Mann played. So I bought a too-big, too-heavy bass that I never enjoyed. And gave the little black bass away.

Sometimes, an imperfect tool is actually just perfect.

The 2009 rockumentary IT MIGHT GET LOUD is a paean to the perfect tool: In it, Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack (Oh-My-God) White spend ninety-seven on-screen minutes playing dueling guitars and reminiscing about Axes of Christmas Past.

But more to this point: As the film opens, a black-and-white Holstein moos at Jack White as he hammers nails into a plank, secures a length of wire down the plank, shoves a juice glass under the wire, and attaches an electronic pick-up to the contraption.

Plugging in to a handy front-porch amp, Jack whacks at the newly-created thing. As the resulting fine, big, garage-worthy noise sends his bovine onlooker galloping, JW glances at the camera and gruffs out, “Who says you need a guitar?”

When writer/designer/bookstore co-owner/technophile/nano-shaman Writing Wench found herself stranded at work, tarot-less and needing answers, she, too, improvised. Imagining the objects scattered across her desk as symbols, signs, omens to be read, Wench invited a response. What called out was a tiny, broken-handled, toy-sized pair of pliers she’d found in the office parking lot. MsgAttachment

Giving this awkward little tool her attention, WW heard: Use the tools that are given to you—even if they seem too small, even if they appear broken—because the tools that come naturally have been designed especially for you and your work.

Writing Prompt

Start by making a list of tools in your life that don’t quite fit the bill: Car window stuck in the down position? Monitor too small? Still using a not-very-Smart phone? Let your annoyance to rise as you create your list—then pick the most irritating not-quite-right tool in your life and give it a voice. Allow it to tell you why it’s exactly what you (or your character) need at this moment.

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