Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Doodling in Three Acts

This past weekend I had a huge clean out of old artwork: old workshop assignments,  urban sketching experiments, lots of "let's just try this" paint-on-paper sheets that had served their purpose but weren't worth saving.  Among the items I found--and had forgotten about--was this crazy little set of sketches I've posted above. At first I couldn't even remember what they were and then I had one of those "oh, that's right!" moments when I recalled they were from a class I took several years ago on illustrating dogs and cats.

The point of the exercise was to think of drawing and telling a story as a series of three: 1) set-up, 2) action/conflict, and 3) conclusion. In other words, beginning, middle, and end. In the class we were given fifteen minutes to dream up three related scenes following these three steps and then quickly sketch them out. The instructions were to first draw a character (dog or cat) and then have something happen to that character. Finally, there had to be a reaction to the event--and with a twist, something unexpected. In fifteen minutes! Stick figures allowed, but . . . fifteen minutes!

For my first "scene" the best I could do at short notice was place a dog in a park next to a tree with a bird. Okay. That was my situation, or, Act 1. Second scene: the bird leaves the tree and flies onto the dog's head, giving us conflict and Act 2. My last and third scene illustrated the reaction: another dog comes along and admires the first dog's new head-wear: "Tres chic!" How stylish! I guess the dogs were in Paris.  

So there you go, three scenes; a simple little exercise that I then put away and never really thought about again. Which was very silly because it's absolutely what I need to use as I prepare the text and illustrations for my picture book WIP, The White Pony.

This is why: One of the main difficulties I'm encountering is stretching out my initial idea for the story into a traditional 32-page picture book. Now, however, weaving my words and pictures into groups of three is changing all that, helping me to think in terms of story motion and story conflict.

For anyone who's ever wanted to write a children's picture book but didn't know where to start, using this three-scene method might be just what you're looking for. To get started, first:
  • Choose a theme. It can be an original idea, or one based on an old, well-established public domain tale: Sleeping Beauty, Billy Goats Gruff, Little Red Riding Hood.
  • Next decide on a single medium to sketch out your ideas: pen and ink, graphite, watercolor pencil.
  • If you do want to add color, use a limited palette of three to six colors. Keep it simple.
  • For your three scenes, you can use either single sheets, three pages in your sketchbook, or one large piece of paper showing all three scenes.
  • Begin your first page or scene with a character and situation. In the class I took our focus was on dogs and cats, but don't let that restrict you. "Character" could be a chicken, a ferret, a Martian, or an actual child! After choosing your characters and their situation (playing a game, waiting for a bus, going to bed) on your second page draw a "conflict" event. On your third page, end with a resolution to that conflict.
  • If you like, add words or dialogue to any of the pages to tell the story more fully.
  • When you're finished, rinse and repeat! For instance, you could continue to sketch out several more stand-alone 3-scene stories, or you could keep working on your first idea, using your next groups of three to create a full 32-page picture book like I'm doing.
Keep in mind that using a quick three-scene sketch technique doesn't have to be about just writing children's books. For instance, how about trying it as way to work out a tricky part of your novel or screenplay? It can also be a method to liven up your journal or next Urban Sketching event, or simply be a fun creative exercise. The main thing is to have fun and not stress about so-called artistic style or ability.

Tip of the Day: If the thought of sketching anything at all is too terrifying, don't give up--photographs and magazine cut-outs can work just as well to tell your story. In some cases, they might also serve as excellent prompts to get the ideas rolling for your next set of sketches. See you next time.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Happy 2020!

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2020--I can't believe it. I've been anticipating this year for a long time, ever since 2000 to be precise when I was teaching self-publishing and writing at the International Women's Writing Guild summer conference at Skidmore College. One of the perks of teaching was that instructors got to take classes before or after their own workshop sessions. I loved all the classes I took: poetry, memoir writing, landscape drawing, collage and cooking (!), and a stand-out workshop that combined creativity with what can best be described as "visionary thinking and planning." As an initial exercise to introduce ourselves we were asked to write down where we would be in 20 years time and what we saw ourselves doing.

I'll never forget what I put in my notebook: I wrote that I was living in Europe creating teaching plans for the United Nations! Well, who knows, there's still 350+ days to go, LOL--I might get a phone call any day now! But seriously, what I believe I was trying to express was that I wanted to a) live a life that centered on croissants and art galleries, and b) I wanted to share my organizational and teaching skills. In many ways I feel that's exactly what I'm doing right now, right here. Albuquerque definitely has a European flair, and the Internet has offered me all kinds of unique ways to explore, and share, my creativity. As the title of one of my favorite books states: Wherever You Go, There You Are. 

With that in mind, my goals for this year are very simple. By year's end I would like to have:
  • Completed a final, publishable draft of my current work-in-progress novel, Ghazal.
  • As well as a final, publishable draft of my picture book, The White Pony, including illustrations.
  • A way to sell my bead-, clay-, and artwork as a professional artist, whether through a site such as Etsy.com, or maybe just through my website.
Above all else, though, I want to enjoy what I'm doing, not look upon any of it as a second job, or a "must-do or life has no meaning" kind of vocational call. To achieve that end, my word for the year is going to be Relax, as in, go slow

I want to write and draw and make jewelry without pressure, without deadlines, and especially without hurrying, scurrying, or worrying. The best way I can think of doing this is to create a simple schedule and keep to it because I want to, not because I should or "have to," e.g., write blog post drafts on Mondays; work on only four manuscript pages at any given time, use my weekends for artwork and sketch walks. It's going to be a good year and I don't want to waste any of by cramming too much into my day. One slow and thoughtful step at a time, I feel, is going to be better for me than dozens of scattered footprints in the snow leading nowhere. Who's with me? 

Tip of the Day:  What can you do to rein in the near-universal tendency to "hurry, scurry, and worry"? One simple solution might be to look at everything you do as play rather than work. Instead of saying "I'm so busy working," try, "I'm so busy playing!" Even cooking dinner or walking to work can be a chance to play. Until next time, thanks for reading; wishing you a brilliant New Year!