Tuesday, December 4, 2018

I Didn't Win NaNoWriMo and That's OK--Really!

Image © Commonsstockphotos
Nope, didn't win. And I'm just fine with that, especially as my true goal this year was to write. Now if I had reached my goal of 50K, that would have been wonderful too, but more than anything I just wanted to get back into a daily writing schedule. 

I may not have been a winner this year (and huge congratulations to all of you who did win), but neither do I feel that I came home empty-handed. Not only did I have the fun of once again being part of an international month-long community of writers, but I also feel as if I won an entire basketful of door prizes, starting with:
  • A cast of interesting characters and a strong story outline for a YA mystery set in a remote mountain boarding school. Prior to sitting down and writing the words "Chapter One" I had no idea these people were even in my head!
  • I learned I still could do it. After what has been nearly a year of condo renovations, and then all of the discombobulation of selling my home and moving into said condo, I wondered if I would ever be able to write again. Fortunately the answer is "Yes, of course I can!" making me feel a lot more confident about heading into 2019.
  • I discovered some new places to write, my favorites being the downtown Albuquerque library and the Albuquerque museum. Very inspiring.
  • I returned to writing by hand and absolutely loved going "old school."
  • I discovered a fun set of exercises I used as writing prompts that I can use with my writer's group.
  • After each writing session, I went back to my also-neglected drawing and painting. Sketching out my NaNoWriMo settings helped re-orient me back into my creativity on many levels.
  • I bought some lovely new writing tools: a new notebook from Spain decorated with flower-laden llamas, and several varieties of smooth-writing pens such as Marvy's  Le Pen, and Pentel Energel (both in violet ink, of course!).
  •  I found I could most easily write in 300-word sprints, something I can continue to fit in anywhere, anytime, any place e.g., at my desk eating lunch, before work, waiting for my laundry to dry.
Best of all, I'm now recharged to return to my revisions on my novel, Ghazal, which was the whole point of joining the challenge in the first place. My NaNoWriMo story will have to go onto a back-burner for a while, and that's another thing that's okay with me. Before you know it, July's Camp NaNoWriMo will be here and I'll have a head-start on characters, plot, and setting. See you there! 

Tip of the Day: National Novel Writing Month doesn't end in November. No matter what time of year it is, you can always visit Nanowrimo.org to explore a wealth of tips, advice, inspiration, and motivational prompts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Big Move to Small Condo Life

Photo by ©creativecommonsstockphotos
We did it! Sold our house, finished renovating (most of) the condo, moved into said condo, and are now tackling the last of the to-do list, e.g., buying curtains and installing a new glass shower door. But other than that, we've got our keys, downstairs storage locker and parking space, and can actually find where (most of) our belongings are without too much confusion. We've even started taking the long-dreamed-of downtown walks I had so very much wanted to be an integral part of moving in the first place. It's all better than good; 845-square-feet have never felt more spacious, comfortable, and easy to clean. (Low maintenance being high priority for sure.) So. Here we are, settled, unpacked, down-sized, and happier than clams. (Why clams are happy, I have no idea, but maybe it has something to do with being cozy in their shells, an apt metaphor for our tiny but far-from-cramped new urban lifestyle .)

To celebrate getting everything into place after several months of constant anxiety, uncertainty, sore muscles, and a complete absence from the Internet, neither blogging nor tweeting or even writing a fraction of the emails I'm dreadfully behind on, I decided to go completely wild and crazy and sign up for . . . drum roll, please . . . NANOWRIMO! IT'S TRUE! Yes, I've gone completely mad, but I can't think of a more invigorating way to jump-start my sorely-neglected creativity than with a brand new manuscript, especially the one I said I would never, ever write. Ever.

One of the things that pushed me to go for NaNo this year was the wonderful opportunity I now have to write in not only downtown cafes and parks, but the local museums too, all of which are just a few minutes away by foot. And don't even get me started on all the great gathering spaces I have both indoors and out within the condo complex (including our very own library). I'm well aware that I have several other manuscripts I should be revising, editing, and preparing for publication now that I'm not focused on bubble wrap and paint chips, but I don't seriously think the literary world is going to implode if I take an extra 30 days for myself to freewrite, explore, and go for that always-exciting 50K goal. Besides, what else do I have to do now that I only have one bathroom to clean and a small balcony to sweep? Other than the day job and  collecting quarters for the laundry room, my time is pretty much my own once again. And that, dear reader, is better than all the clams you can shake a stick at, or whatever it is one does with clams besides make soup. 

Tip of the Day:  This one's easy: get on over to National Novel Writing Month, sharpen your pencils, and start your engines. Your novel awaits, as do all your potential writing buddies. In the meantime, Happy Halloween!



Monday, July 23, 2018

Urban Sketching Survival Tips

Earlier this year my local urban sketching chapter spent a Saturday morning in downtown Albuquerque. It was the first time in ages that we actually went somewhere that wasn't rural and surrounded by mountains, trees, adobe ruins and all the dust and bugs one could ever wish for. I was excited by the prospect of sketching concrete and steel for a change: all those modern and mid-century designs, unique architectural details, secret cafe courtyards . . .  What I didn't bargain for was to be so overwhelmed by my surroundings I would promptly fall  down a flight of cement steps as soon as I had parked my car. Ouch.

My first impulse was to give up and drive right back home where I could tend to my badly-cut knee and spend the rest of the day reading. I felt terrible; my clothes were torn, my shoes scuffed, and my collapsible painting stool broken beyond repair. Worse yet, the city buildings seemed huge. No way could I capture anything but an inferiority complex at my inability to fit more than perhaps a tiny picture of a trash can into my sketchbook. Yet here I was: I'd paid for my parking without any chance of a refund; other urban sketchers were arriving one by one, cheerily greeting each other at the start of what was promising to be a beautiful day; I even had a full thermos of coffee. Going home didn't really seem like much of a solution. Deciding my best option was to stay, I limped to a quiet, shady corner of the street, got out my sketchbook, sat on a low wall, and just tried to do my best, all the while thinking of what I would do differently in the future:
  1. Dress right. Old clothes only! Fortunately the jeans and shoes I ruined were not my favorites, but they also weren't quite ready for the trash. Next time I'm not going to worry about fashion or appearances, just comfort and being prepared for the worst.
  2. Bring something to sit on that won't break. A solid plastic footstool is a much better choice than the flimsy collapsible model I'd brought. It could also make a good side table if you happen to find a park bench or similar to sit on instead.
  3. Limit your art supplies. It's tempting to bring a set of 72 colored pencils and all the watercolors in your possession, but do you really need them? Despite bringing a packed-to-the-brim pencil case, by the end of our sketching session I'd only used two pens: one black ballpoint and one Faber-Castell soft brush pen.
  4. Don't try to draw everything in sight. As much as I had longed to draw a detailed city-scape, I had no idea how difficult it would be. The best I could do was to:
  5. Focus on one small piece. I thought I'd solved my dilemma by choosing one view of one building, but even that turned out to be too much for me. Next time I'm planning to concentrate on a single doorway, a lone window, one interesting detail and that's it. One way I could have done this would be  to:
  6. Divide my page into a "montage." For instance, I could have created a small, general sketch in one corner, and in the other found an interesting lamp post, roof detail, or even an object in a store window to make a complete and attractive page.
  7. Always bring two sketchbooks: one large, one small. I did this solely by accident, not realizing I had a moleskine sketchbook in my purse when I left home, but it turned out to be a real bonus when I got too hot out on the pavement and went inside a hotel lobby to cool off. Which leads me to my favorite tip:
  8. If the weather gets too hot (or cold), find somewhere to go inside. My choice turned out to be the Hyatt Hotel, and I had the best time ever spending a half hour people-watching. I was also able to sketch some hotel guests as well as furniture and hotel decor. Having a comfortable chair after my earlier mishap turned out to be a real life-saver.
  9. Take photos. There's just so much to see in an urban or any other setting that you can't draw it all at once and in a limited time frame. Photographic references can flesh out your initial sketches in a way that nothing else can, reminding you of the way a beam of light hits a pane of glass, or how a group of pigeons pecks at a box of spilled popcorn on the pavement.
  10. Use toned or pre-toned paper. To avoid "white page syndrome" I often paint some watercolor washes onto a few of my sketchbook pages: usually a page of two of blues and greens, and a couple more in warmer shades of browns, golds, and oranges. If I don't have time for that, a gray or tan sketchbook like the one I used for my larger sketch works almost as well. I also thought it would be helpful to bring a variety of paper sizes--from fairly large to small scraps that could be worked into a collage at some stage.
  11. Don't be shy--show what you've done! I don't really like the drawings I made that day--but to my great surprise, I received many compliments on them regardless of my own negativity. My first impulse was to once again go back to my car and hide everything as quickly as possible, but that seemed horribly un-sporting of me and I didn't know which would be worse: showing work that embarrassed me, or pretending I had spent a morning doing nothing but sight-seeing.
  12. If you like someone's technique, let them know, and then try it yourself. The main point of sharing isn't to show off or invite public shaming, but to encourage, inspire, and offer new ideas to each other. Despite seeing my own drawing as "a failure," quite a few people came up to me later to say how much they liked my use of ink and toned paper, things they wanted to try using themselves. I was thrilled that I had something to offer.
By the end of the day, I was glad I stuck with the program and didn't drive back home. Best of all, I liked being downtown so much I decided to move there! Which is why I can't display my drawings here: my sketchbooks are currently in storage as I prepare to make the Big Move to my new condo. More news about all about that in my next post.
Tip of the Day: Take a few minutes to learn your terrain--go slow! My main reason for falling was that I didn't look where I was going while my mind was a million miles away envisioning what I would sketch first. I was staring at the skyline, not where my feet were. I didn't even realize there were stairs in front of me until I was flying through the air. Whether you're downtown with broken sidewalks or out in the countryside with rocks and mud puddles, don't let your imagination run wild until you've taken a few minutes to figure out where you are.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Last Week I Took an Illustration Class . . .

Study for The White Pony

. . . And now I can't stop drawing! 

Taught by multi-published, award-winning author/illustrator, Neecey Twinem, the week-long workshop was one I had signed up for a few months ago, thinking I had plenty of time to get my life, supplies (and brain) together before class started.  I couldn't have been more wrong. Before I was even halfway organized we were at our tables, pencils in hand and working on our stories. Talk about jumping in at the deep end. 

While the vast majority of my ideas for picture book illustrations were (and still are) floating around in my mind at the visualization stage, most of my fellow classmates had pre-written stories just waiting to be turned into full-fledged books. That was fine with me; I'm not in a race, although it would be nice to have a final draft in about a year's time

Despite my ideas being somewhat ambiguous, my main goal for taking the class was to get a fresh direction for The White Pony, my proposed children's picture book based on an ancient Chinese poem of the same name. Not only did I reach that goal, I also learned some excellent points on composition, the importance of value and line, and the huge necessity of leaving enough room on the page for the story text (something I forget ALL the time). I also found out:

How to use a template for "thumbnails" and story-boarding. Rather than messing around with a ruler, T-square and a lot of erasing, Neecy suggested drawing around a small rectangle. My husband made me this nifty little model complete with a handle for easy use. I love it!

I especially enjoyed learning more about gouache, or opaque watercolor, one of my favorite mediums. For a long time I kept trying to make it work like transparent watercolor, but now I have a much better understanding of what it can, and can't, do:

Going back to my story-boarding template, one of the elements I want to add to the book is showing the pony throughout the four seasons of a single year. To get a feel for how this might look, I experimented with splashing some color into four rectangles. I liked how they turned out, also proving that you don't always have to use words or even pictures to create workable thumbnails: 

Best of all was finally being encouraged to use transfer paper, something I've avoided for no reason other than it always seemed a bit like cheating. However, far from being a "lazy way to draw," transfer paper allowed me to make a detailed sketch on a rough piece of paper and then trace and transfer the basic shape/design onto some mixed-media sheets I had previously washed with watercolor. One version includes reins for the rider, the other leaves them out. I'm not sure what I'll do with them yet, but the technique now allows me to explore possibilities without ruining a good piece of paper with multiple erasures or changes.

All round, Illustrating Children's Books was a worthwhile experience that will stick with me for a long time. Great class and a great way to spend a hot week in June! Now for the next one . . .

Tip of the Day: Support your local instructors; take a class. Writing, art, whatever you've always wanted to know more about: workshops and classes abound. This particular workshop was offered through the New Mexico Art League, but there are literally hundreds of classes offered through your local college continuing education programs, libraries, and recreation centers. Sign up, meet new people, learn or improve a new skill. What could be more fun?