Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Commonplace Book of My Own

Hello, everyone!  The last couple of weeks have been hectic for Dava Books.  Preparing Overtaken for a September 30 publication date is both nerve wracking and an occasion for celebration. 

After umpteen months of writing, editing, and endless rewriting, it's going to feel very odd to not have the Overtaken manuscript in my life anymore.  Every time I finish and release a book I go through a mini-version of empty-nest syndrome; a good reason to have a fun project ready and waiting to fill the void.  This time it's going to be starting my commonplace book, as well as doodling on some screenplay ideas. 

Over the weekend I used my store credit at a local indie bookstore, Page One, to buy this luscious journal for my first attempt at commonplacing.  I think it's the perfect choice:  a magnetic fold-over closure to keep the pages tidy; slim enough to fit in a tote or large handbag; a full-size cardboard pocket fitted to the inside back cover for slipping in cards and gallery notes; smooth, creamy, top quality paper.  It also just looks so inspiring.  The cover's old-world patina already has an antique feel that makes me think of magic, mysteries, and museums.  I can't wait to start filling it up!

On the inside:

However, as lovely as this journal is to me, I'm being strict with myself and refusing to even write a single line until Overtaken is in print.  I shouldn't even have taken these pics!  I've got a zillion things to do today, finalizing the Overtaken trailer amongst them, but I couldn't resist the chance to share my dreams with you.  Because isn't dreaming what it's all about anyway?

Tip of the Day:  Whatever creative project you're working on right now, be sure to reward yourself along the way for a job well done.  Don't just wait for the "end" to celebrate.  Reaching your weekly page goal quota, filling up a sketchbook, or writing "morning pages" for a month can all be reasons to treat yourself to something nice.  In the meantime, wishing you all a happy and creative day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Commonplace Book of One's Own

For many years I've been intrigued with the idea of the "commonplace book," a type of journal- or notebook-keeping system that dates back to the seventeenth century.  Two of my favorite examples from more modern times include E.M. Forster's Commonplace Book and A Writer's Commonplace Book by Rosemary Friedman. 

Basically the idea behind creating a commonplace book is to have a written record of meaningful or important instructions and reminders that you would not ordinarily find in any one place.  The two books I've mentioned above concentrate on the art of writing, but I've read others that are a wonderful hodge-podge of obscure and fascinating factoids, from graveyard inscriptions to medieval recipes for swan pie. 

If you're like me and have kept any kind of journal at all, you've probably unwittingly been creating a kind of commonplace book without even knowing it.  When I re-read many of my journals I'm always discovering notes on recommended book titles or a writing friend's best advice on how to create a scene or write a pantoum.  One of the reasons I've been reluctant to part with my journals is the fact that if I tossed everything out I'd be losing several volumes-worth of good advice.  Finding that advice when I need it, however, can be a major headache, especially when most of it is hiding between old morning pages, drafts for long-ago published novels and poems, and all the rest of the usual stuff that goes into a journal.  So here's my plan for separating the sheep from the goats:  Create a dedicated commonplace book! 

This first attempt, I've decided, is going to center around an art theme.  Some of the things I want to include are:
  • Information on new art supplies—with pages that give me a place to try them, record how to use them, or paste in the manufacturers’ suggestions and instructions.
  • Artistic quotes and phrases I like.
  • Colors and palettes I want to try. 
  • Lines of poetry about art.
  • Other people’s art—whether from magazines, exhibition catalogs, or postcards.
  • Museum/gallery notes and flyers. 
  • Wish lists of supplies. 
  • Lists of ideas and themes to work on in the future. 
  • Art-related books I'd like to read or buy. 
  • Notes from these same books. 
  • Notes from workshops I've either attended in the past, or will be attending later on.
  • Business and marketing tips and resources for artists.
A commonplace book is an excellent item to turn into a gift for someone special, either for now, or to be passed down through the generations.  You can include anything you want--there are no rules.  For instance, you might want to insert family recipes, favorite poems, or vintage photographs.  I'm defintely looking forward to starting my own book and seeing how it evolves.  Recently I received some gift cards from local bookstores, so there's no excuse for not finding the perfect journal to be my starting point.  Once I begin, I'll be sure to post some pictures to let you share in my progress.

Tip of the Day:  What subject interests you enough to start a commonplace book?  Keep in mind that you can mix subjects, too, sometimes this makes the books even more interesting to read.  If you're stuck, brainstorm a list of topics, e.g., genealogy, the paranormal, sewing, French cuisine.  Who knows--you might want to start and keep half a dozen!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life Lessons From a Drawing Class

On Tuesday night my experimental drawing class came to an end.  It was both sad (no more Tuesday night socializing with like-minded new friends) and liberating:  "Okay, you've learned all about mixed media--now go make art!  You can do it!"

Besides acquiring a whole arena of fresh knowledge regarding techniques and materials (I absolutely fell in love with Pan Pastels and Stonehenge paper) I feel I learned several important lessons that can apply not only to drawing and painting, but to the way we approach any creative pursuit--including the art of living!  Here's my top twelve:
  1. Be patient.  There is no magic button.  Life—and especially creativity—is not a foot race.  Take your time; trust that the process will work--it will.  Eventually!
  2. Work on several pieces at once.  While you’re waiting and deciding about how to continue or enhance a piece, start working on something new.  Ideas will seed each other, bringing inspiration and giving you a strong sense of productivity.
  3. Start.  Stop.  Wait.  Start.  Then stop again.  It’s a good idea to break your work into segments.  Once you’ve added a new element to a piece, let it sit for awhile before you rush to the next “improvement.”
  4. The marks we make clue us into our natural direction.  Because I’m a writer, I tend to love line.  Cross-hatching with a sharp pencil, swirls of charcoal depicting hair and fur, I enjoy elegant mark making.  A knitter in the class gave her work the smooth, even order of a “knit, purl” pattern.  Another woman, a beader, worked with circles.  Art reveals our natural rhythms and preferences.  Go with them. 
  5. Instead of saying you don't like a piece, say "it's not finished."  Which is another way of saying “don’t give up.”  It’s a journey—not every stop along the way is going to be "oh, wow!"
  6. Put your work on the wall and live with it for a while.  Along with #1 and #3, let everything you do sit for a while and breathe.  Ask the piece what it needs (if anything).  What does it want to say?  Listen and don't rush to judgment or completion.
  7. Your work is sacred, but it's not precious.  Honor the process, but don’t be afraid of letting the work go when it's time.  Most pieces and drafts are simply stepping stones and tools to guide you toward a more important work or truth.  Once they’ve served their purpose, thank them and move on.
  8. Just make a mark.  Start.  With anything.  A red slash.  A green dot. A woman in a shopping mall.  Add a feather.  A leaf.  A crying baby.  Find the story.  One idea really does lead to another.
  9. Be comfortable with awkwardness.  Appreciate the adolescent in your artwork or manuscript:  nose and ears too big for the face; gangly arms and legs, excruciating shyness—we were all thirteen once upon a time! And guess what? We all grew into swans and flamingos and eagles in spite of thinking we’d never be anything more than frozen turkeys.  Recognize your work will go through the exact same life stages we all do—every one of them special and engaging in its own right.
  10. Take risks.  You’ll never know unless you try.  Throw that paint! Put a poem in Chapter Seventeen!  Write from the dog’s point of view!
  11. You can't ruin anything.  There isn’t a single piece of art or writing that can’t be fixed.  Even the worst "accident" (torn paper, spilled ink, smeared paint, the dog’s POV didn’t work) can be turned into the starting point for a new—and often more exciting—direction.
  12. There's plenty more where this came from.  We are all creative beings with limitless access to a universe of possibility.  Never fear running dry, or feeling you have to hoard your ideas and skills for “the real thing” (whatever that is).  The universe is simply bursting with grand ideas, and all of them are yours for the taking.  Give everything you work on your total best, your full attention, your most interesting angle—the well will be refilled long before you could ever possibly reach “empty.” 
Tip of the Day:  As the people around me can testify, I did a lot of complaining during the early stages of this particular class:  "It's nutty!  Everything I do looks like dog vomit!"  It took me nearly all eight weeks of class time to believe that any of the above lessons were true, let alone usable.  In the end I finally threw caution to the wind.  Here's the result:

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