Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why I Write

I love bringing home old magazines from the library. They're where I find the majority of my writing prompts, drawing references, and materials for collage and art journaling. But sometimes I just love them for the articles, especially when I come across a copy of a magazine I don't often find, such as the December 2010 copy of Poets and Writers I was able to salvage over the weekend. 

One essay I particularly liked in this issue was titled "Why We Write" by Laura Maylene Walter. In the piece, Walter outlines her struggles and successes as a short story writer. In one paragraph she lists some of her reasons for continuing to write despite numerous rejections and setbacks: for practice, for fun, to discover, to explore, to play. And also: "I wrote because I was never more content than when I was sitting quietly at my writing desk, churning out pages."

All of these reasons, and more, resonated with why I, too, write. The article got me so inspired that as soon as I had finished reading I had to run to my journal and create my own list:

Why I Write
  • To find out what happens.
  • Because if I don't write it down, the story keeps me awake at night.
  • I love the Zen quality of a daily discipline.
  • I love being in a community of writers.
  • I am drawn like a magnet to journals, pens, pencils, sketchbooks, and anything that makes a mark.
  • I enjoy the problem/puzzle-solving each new story provides.
  • Writing gives me a voice.
  • Writing provides a platform for so many spin-off activities: creating book covers and book trailers; making tote bags, T-shirts, and bookmarks; illustrating my scenes, settings, and characters. So many avenues for fresh creativity.
  • Writing, aka "creative daydreaming" keeps me from needlessly (and unproductively) worrying about "real world" problems I can rarely, if ever, change.
  • I can live vicariously through my characters--all those clothes, all that travel!
Going over my list, I was a little bemused that I hadn't mentioned things like "I write to sell books," or "I want to make tons of of money," or even, "to be super-famous." Maybe I should be thinking about those things, but that just isn't me. I write because I have to. On top of that, I can't think of a better way to use my time than to write, or to create artwork and other projects based on, or related to my writing. Which reminds me, I have a story to start from yet another series of magazine cut-outs I just collated . . . see you next time . . .

Tip of the Day: You don't always have to have a reason for writing or for any other creative outlet, but sometimes it's helpful to clarify exactly why you've chosen to do what you do. Set aside some time and journal pages to write down your answers, and be sure to leave an idea or two in my Comments section!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Value of a Five-Day Challenge

My inspiration for writing today's post comes from a great magazine out of Australia that I discovered via my writer's group: Womankind. It's a lovely mix of artwork, personal essay, and interesting articles on all sorts of things, from the meaning of happiness to living in Tuscany (which I'm sure would make me pretty happy.) I bought my first copy several weeks ago, and one of the articles that struck me the most was a collection of progress-reports from readers who had taken a "Five-Day Creativity Challenge." When I first saw the heading of "Five Days," my initial reaction was one of skepticism. Like, "Anybody can do five days of something. Try NaNoWriMo or the A-Z Blogging Challenge if you really want to test yourself and suffer!"

But after I'd read the various entries on what readers had done with the challenge, I became intrigued: five days seemed like an excellent amount of time, just right for tying up loose ends starting something new, or returning to a neglected project. It seemed exactly what I needed to motivate myself into finishing half a dozen little personal projects I had set myself over the years and then subsequently abandoned in favor of bigger, more important efforts.

The first thing I did to start off in the right direction was to purchase the storage basket pictured above. I liked the way the inside fabric was printed with old letters and stationery, and I liked the way it was already labelled "storage."

My next step was to gather up the six projects that have been driving me nuts and making me feel guilty each time I start something new. I put some of them in plastic bags for safe-keeping, and then put everything into my basket.

Then I chose one project to finish:

The story behind this sketchbook is that I initially ruined it before I'd even sketched on a single page. I had read in an art journaling magazine that a good idea was to a) put watercolor washes down on every page before starting anything, and then, b) spray the pages with fixative. The watercolor washes were a great idea. But the fixative? That was a very bad idea. Oh, what a bad idea. The plastic-coated pages were completely resistant to most media. The only thing that sort of worked was watercolor pencil, but when it came to adding any detail, forget it, as I found out when I tried to draw a little cardinal and the beak just kept growing bigger and bigger. To salvage whatever I could, I started collaging and experimenting, and thus a little book of sorts began. I called it my Silly Little Book of Silly Little Birds:

I actually found myself enjoying the challenge of how to make those impossible pages work one way or the other, but after completing about 32 out of 56 pages, I just stopped. I'm not sure why. Maybe I became bored with birds, or I finally grew to hate those slippery-slidey pages to the point of admitting defeat and quitting. That is, until the five-day challenge!

Last week I gave myself five days to work solely on silly birds, several pages a day, with the goal of completing the book once and for all. Here's a small sample:

I finished on Friday, and now I only have five projects left in my basket. I might not be tackling another one for a few weeks yet, but in the meantime, the guilt over my little forgotten birds is gone and my "creative burden" is definitely a whole lot lighter. Feels great!

Best of all, I learned a lot from working on this project: I learned I could persevere through difficult conditions; I learned about picture-book layout, something that has always interested me; and I learned I really love birds! So much so, that I'll be adding them to many more sketchbooks and paintings in the future. A whole new take on Anne Lamott's classic Bird by Bird, for sure.

Tip of the Day: Five days might not seem a lot, but it's amazing how far they can go toward helping you start, finish, or continue a creative project. For example, how about a Five-Day Query Letter Writing Challenge? A Five-Day Outlining Challenge? Or a Five-Day Beading Challenge? Short and sweet and infinitely practical. Let me know how it goes for you.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Goal Check-in: One Book, One Picture at a Time

For today's post I thought I'd share how one of my goals for the year is going: Use one art book at a time completing ALL the lessons.

The book I'm starting with is How to Draw Buildings, by  Ian Sidaway. I chose it for a number of reasons: 
  • It dovetails nicely with my other art goal and theme of drawing and painting doorways, especially those connected with my current WIP, Ghazal.
  • It give me a good foundation (no pun intended) for my weekend outings with Urban Sketchers.
  • I really, really want to learn how to use perspective better/correctly.
  • Being familiar with buildings and architectural detail will help me with some ideas I'm tossing around for illustrating picture books.
  • The more buildings I draw for practice, the easier it will be to sketch in my travel journals.
  • And more than anything, I just love buildings!
I particularly like the way this book is structured. Each lesson is divided into three: first is the main example with several pages of instructions followed by the suggestion to "Try Another Medium," and ending with a third prompt, "Try Another Building." 

The first chapter, and the one I've completed, is all about drawing simple small houses, beginning with graphite on white paper. I used a new 9 x 12 inch Strathmore Recycled 400 series sketchbook I bought for just this purpose:

Once I'd finished the drawing, I then moved on to Part II: try another medium. For this I chose to use an ultrafine black Sharpie on a heavier sketchbook page (Strathmore Visual Journal) that I had already painted with a background using my Japanese Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors:

The last section, "Try Another Building" provided a photo of what the book called a "stern little house," which it certainly was. For this piece I chose a sheet of student-grade watercolor paper that I had previously experimented on last year by placing a piece of crumpled wax paper face-down on the surface and then ironing the whole thing with my craft iron. After removing the wax paper and letting the watercolor sheet dry, I then painted it with a light wash of Prang watercolors (my super-favorite, ever-so-cheap but excellent brand for art journaling, etc.). The result was an interesting resist pattern resembling bare tree branches that also matched the photo in this last part of the lesson. 

I drew the house and filled in the "trees" with Faber-Castell Polychromos color pencils and white charcoal--doing my best to make the whole thing as stern as possible.

So there you are, three houses, three ways, and all ready for the Three Little Pigs to move in! Another interesting option might be to write a story or vignette based on each of these settings. Anybody want to try?

I've set aside Sunday afternoons to be my "class time" using this and my other how-to books throughout the year. Next Sunday I'll be moving on to Lesson 2 and two-point perspective (the example shown on the cover of the book above). Already I'm feeling nervous which is exactly why I'm using this step-by-step approach. No more just buying books, looking at the pictures, and working on the "easy" parts. Instead, I'm "building up my courage" to go straight through from cover to cover, lesson to lesson. And because I've put that in writing, I'm now honor-bound to stick to my goal! (Taking a deep breath.)

Tip of the Day: What difficult phases of the creative process do you find yourself frequently avoiding and therefore never learning to the degree you want? For me it was never attempting the "advanced" lessons in my art and other reference books. I've found that breaking a task down into easy steps is a good way to overcome and/or work with anxiety. For instance, gathering all your needed supplies for a project a day before you start can be be one step. Setting a timer to work on a portion of the project for just twenty-minutes at a time can be another. Whatever you do, keep in mind that the only way to learn anything is with steady practice, not "instant genius absorption." Good luck and have fun!