Tag Archives: writing

Happy New Year 2015

Happy New Year tag

Well another wonderful year has zipped by, and you will have noticed that I have not posted with the same regularity as in prior years – and then there was that couple months when I was hacked. The good part of all that is that I still have a very nice backlog of planned theme titles and creativity inspiration to carry over to this year.

The bad news is that with my current writing commitments, this blog will have to continue to take a back seat. That is not to say that I will not be putting out blasts and project ideas at all – I intend to post about once a month, and include more outside resources like websites. In fact if you join me on my Iggy Jingles Crafts Facebook page, you might find more recommended reading in the world of arts and creativity.

With so much of my focus on writing, I have been missing doing any actual making. I’ve decided, as a New Year’s gift to myself to craft a card a day, for a week. And if that works out, I’ll extend it to a card a day for a month. And maybe for another month, or a card a week, or some little easy-to-keep commitment, so that I have a nice stash of ready to use cards throughout the year. (Bear in mind that I am doing this on the dining table because my workshop is still not unpacked.)

That’s the theme for now, I guess – the idea that you can give yourself permission make a commitment to doing some little regular creative activity, keep it temporary and doable, and stay flexible. Start small with just a week, and let it be “scalable”, as the marketers say, and get larger IF it fits your life. You don’t have to make a huge, grand, scary Resolution, and then feel bad if (when) it is unsustainable.

Let me know on FB if you’d like to play along!

What you see here, is the first card of the week. Now, to whom to send it?

New Year handmade card

“Chalkboard” is still on trend, and I love layering. Tools: ScraPerfect Best Glue Ever and Embellie Gellie; Tim Holtz Tiny Attacher; Recollections Circle Punch; blank cards as the base from My Mind’s Eye, in packs of 50 found at Ross, of all places!

 

 

Criticism

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photo credit: Etwood via photopin cc

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in the last couple of months. That’s because I’ve been working on an important writing project, quite literally full-time. It was a creative non-fiction book proposal, with a sample chapter.

Now that the proposal is submitted, in this brief interlude before I begin the main project, I intend to get a little ahead on my Creativity Blasts.

There have been two valuable parts to this project so far. The first is the deadline, which forced me to organize my process. I didn’t have time to procrastinate, and even though I needed to research, I couldn’t use that research to procrastinate.

The second part is the critique that I originally received when I first handed in something of a rough draft. It was very emotionally challenging to be told how far my work was off the mark at that point. It made me realize the lack of clarity in my writing, and forced me to think a little harder about point of view. What I’m working on is in the realm of creative nonfiction. There is still narrative, character, and the need for engagement.

The people who were the most rigorous, almost brutal, with their criticisms, were the ones who helped me the most.

“The first draft of anything is shit”. ~ Ernest Hemingway

It was hard to hear. It was even a little embarrassing. But the contrast between that first attempt, which I acknowledge was unfinished, and the work in the newly written chapter is enormous.

It was crucial that I stay open and acceptant. I chose acceptance. Even though my initial emotional reaction was defensive, I set that aside and asked for more criticism. I wanted specifics – specific problems – because these would help me more than generalities.

The great thing was that in the process of doing the next draft, if I found myself recreating those particular issues that had been raised with me, I was able to see it occurring. My own discernment was raised from the process of accepting criticism. That too is, and will be, invaluable.

So this week my challenge to everyone is to be acceptant of criticism of your creative work, to be open to the information, and to push through your own emotional resistance and self-defense. It may be that on reflection you disagree with the critique, but that isn’t what happened to me this time.

And this time I learned a great deal more from criticism than from praise.

“Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending”  ~ ActII;Sc3, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

5 Questions – About your Philosophy

Certain or Seeking?

Here is the next in my intermittent “5 Questions” series. How do you determine you core values, or your philosophy about life? How do you express that in your life? These questions are deliberately vague. They can be facetious or deeply serious.

Your answers can be a few words or essays. If you explore why you felt an answer, it may lead to new insights.  Even if they seem like one word answers, perhaps they aren’t.

1. Where would you rather be?

2. Who are they and what do they want?

3. Are you certain or seeking?

4. What does your work mean to you?

5. Who should take charge?

It’s great to create answers as collages, drawings, sculptures, assemblages and photo montages too.

Have fun!

 

Five Questions to Start Your Memoirs

Hong Kong Memories 001 (640x639)

1964

My mother had led a fascinating life. It was full of travel to exotic places and strange coincidences. Whenever she told a story, people were amazed. Over and over again people made the same suggestion: “You should write your memoirs”.

My mother-in-law led a fascinating life. It too was full of travel to (different) exotic places, with extraordinary adventures. Her life too was full of remarkable meetings, and adventures.

Both these women were the same age, and both are gone now. They lived through a period of time when pretty much the whole world changed. From being young girls during WWII, to seeing the start of the atomic age, the Cold War (my mother took me behind the Iron Curtain when I was a toddler – now there’s a story), the worldwide eradication of smallpox, and the rise of new media. When these two mothers, living on opposite sides of the world, were young hardly anyone had a television in their home, and if you wanted to contact someone in a hurry you looked for a phone booth or sent them a telegram.

Scrapbook layout - The Long Story

Scrapbooking – my mother and I in 1970

In my own living memory there have been just as many miracles. That Iron Curtain – once such a huge part of how the world worked – is gone, as is apartheid. When I went to school we were told we would not always have a calculator in our pocket, but now not only do I carry a calculator, but a stopwatch, a television, a comprehensive road map, a typewriter, an encyclopedia, and a computer with more computation power than was on the Apollo moon landers – in my pocket. If I want to contact someone in a hurry, I send them a text.

My daughter is growing up in a world where information is at her fingertips. She can stay almost as connected with her friends that live across the world, as she did when they lived across the courtyard.

As much as I love science fiction, and the predictive powers of futurists, there really is no way to tell how the world will change further in my lifetime. Where are the flying cars we were promised, eh? Still, if we don’t tell the stories of the past, our stories of how we lived and how our world changed, the fascinating information will be lost. My mother never did write those memoirs, and there is so much more I would like to know about her life.

Memoir vs Biography

A biography is the usually chronological telling of a person’s life story, usually the whole thing.

A Memoir is the story, with usual story structure (beginning, middle, end) of a particular event or period in a person’s life. The sequence of events in one period of the life might be linked by a recurring theme, or the natural bracket might be the beginning and end of an event. The time my mother spent travelling in Asia could be told as a memoir. “84, Charing Cross Road” is a memoir about the author’s connection with that bookstore over many years. Other events in her life are alluded to, but are not the focus. Added together a bunch of memoirs can become chapters in an autobiography.

A biography can be a big undertaking – I know, I’m working on one right now – with lots of research. Memoirs can be much smaller, worked on in manageable chunks. The editing into a “volume” of some kind can come later.

In getting started you might have a theme in mind already. This could be something that you want to record for posterity, or an expression of your hopes or deeply held beliefs. You might keep a journal, and have a wealth of material ready to collate. You might never have kept a diary for a minute, and rely on your memory and repetition of old stories. Memory does funny things, turning a whole period of time to a sequence of moments, flashes,  a montage with the transitions gone.

Practical Matters

How will you do this writing? My husband prefers dictation. He speaks his stories into a recorder for transcription later. That is fast, by the way. Other people prefer to type directly, or even write by hand. Making notes in a journal in point form, or description are a good start. I like to type.

The Questions

If writing memoirs seems daunting, perhaps these five questions can help you get started.

1. What are the most significant events or moments in your life?

I encourage you to start easy – with the familiar stories that come out at family gatherings. Or perhaps the big events – your wedding, the birth story of your child – see where these lead. Try mind storming, look for the links between events.

2. What happened?

Simple, isn’t it? Start with the events. Record who else was part of them.

3. How did I get to that point?

The background may become the story. Why you were there? Memoirs are less concerned with hard facts, dates or addresses, and more with your recollections, feelings and reactions. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t double check your dates, but if the information about which flight I took to Tahiti is not available, that doesn’t really matter in the story of my year spent there.

4. What happened next?

Perhaps you will find a link to the next story this way.

5. What have you kept hidden?

There might be an unpleasant moment or annoying relative who always turned up at these things. In writing a memoir, you don’t have to tell the world, but you should tell the truth to yourself. My mother kept many secrets, of which I know only a few. Some were burdens, other were made trivial by the passage of time. She might have felt freer had she written about them somewhere, even if she burnt it later.

On the other hand, sometimes you just forget things until you start writing.

Write your memoirs

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Memoirs I Love

 

If you find these questions useful, please let me know. I don’t have comments here (due to ridiculous amounts of spam) but I’m on Facebook or here’s a contact box:

Aristotle’s Emphatic Dramatic Values

Nail Fence

When I was in college we learned about art criticism using these five emphatic dramatic values, interpreted from Aristotle’s writing in his Poetics, where he discussed poetry, theater, and music. He wrote of six values, including one called  “melos” or melody relating to the Chorus that was so important a part of Ancient Greek Theater.

His belief was that art works contained all of the values in different degrees of balance, but that especially for Tragedy Plot was most important followed by Character. He placed Spectacle at the end of the list. Rather than assign a judgement to the relative importance of each Value, I prefer to use them as tools that help me to understand a work as a whole, including defining genre. It is how the Values interact that ends up defining the worth of an undertaking or project.

In looking at each of these values, rather like the Elements of Design, it’s useful to consider the Principles of Design in reference to them –  Balance, Unity, Progression, Symmetry, Contrast, Harmony, Dominance, Repetition. Each can apply within a value, as well as how the values relate to each other.

In no particular order the Values are:

  • Spectacle
  • Plot
  • Language
  • Character
  • Theme

Dramatic values poster

The Values are so interesting to use for dissecting and understanding all kinds of works of art – and they work especially well when examining or critquing film.

Under the banner of spectacle – the visceral enjoyment of action, the art direction, the emotional sweep of music.

The plot or story – how the narrative engages us, perhaps surprises. Twists and turns, or a logical progression.

Language – how words are used. Simple or rich and melodic. The importance of dialect. How language reflects time as well as place. Poets focus on this value. Shakespeare emphasized language, by intentionally using Iambic Pentameter. 

Character – the participants of the story, their motives, their history, their interactions. How we identify with them, or not. Portrait painters investigate character.

Theme – the meaning and importance of a piece. The moral of the story, or the absence of a moral.

The Values as Inspiration

As an artist moving forward with intentional design, it is just as important to be aware of the Values as it is to be aware of the Elements of Design. Much of this is obvious in considering screenwriting – but there are equivalents in all kinds of artistic endeavor. For example, consider the “Grammar of Ornament” by Owen Jones –  elucidating the language of visual design.

Sometimes the values are easier to see in failure. I’m sure we are all familiar with a movie that is all spectacle (eg special fx) without much substance or story, or books where the author is so involved with his own use of esoteric language that the characters are unknowable.

Personally I don’t enjoy atonal music. It seems to me it all about using the stripped back language of music, with mathematical precision as the overriding theme, at the expense of the spectacle of an emotional range or any story. It doesn’t take me anywhere, but I know other people love it.

Sometimes a piece isn’t working out, but we can’t put our finger on what’s wrong. Examining the Emphatic Values might winkle out the problem.

In planning your project, you can list the Values and plan how you will realize each, as well as determine the emphasis of each one.

  • How will you incorporate or show each Value?
  • How will this affect the other four values?
  • Will this make the piece feel unbalanced?
  • Is it worth it for the pay off for the audience/reader anyway?

Here’s an exercise:

Take a simple, familiar personal story, such as a family memory or recent event. Maybe it’s the same old story that your Uncle trots out at every Thanksgiving dinner that starts with “Remember when…” Maybe it’s a story that you haven’t thought to retell – how you met your beloved, or how you chose your pet, or the time when something different happened at a familiar place.

What happened? Consider how it might be told with each of the Values emphasized, and played with. If you normally tell it in straightforward prose, try turning it into poetry, or a series of single emotive words. Draw it, collage it. What if it were told like an action sequence in a movie? what if the setting were described or illustrated in great detail? What if it were seen as illuminating the character of each participant in turn? If you were to set each moment to music, what would you choose? Now choose something entirely different. Instead of telling the story, show how the story illuminates your family values or philosophy.

It’s not a short exercise, is it? But it could be a valuable one. You might come out with any number of different art or written pieces just from one event. You might gain new insights to your own reactions, or to how other people might be experiencing the same event.

Let me know in the comments if any of you choose to take this on. I’d love to see the results. Remember to follow me on Twitter!

Element of Design – Texture

Encrusted beading on art doll

Texture is a tactile experience, or the visual illusion of a tactile experience. Texture is characterized by changes in the surface, or the apparent absence of changes in the surface. Texture is about adding interest and the sense of layers, so that we wonder what lies beneath that so interesting surface.

Texture functions emotionally to generate desire – you want to touch and feel – or to repulse – something is scary, dangerous or uncomfortable. It’s not that it tastes bad, it’s that the texture is unpleasant in the mouth.

Texture is a continuum, from smooth or shiny through to rough. It is partly defined by how much friction it would generate. .

To paraphrase Horatio GreenoughTexture follows function. In nature it’s all about surface area in a limited volume – bumps, pores, folded shapes. Think of villi in the intestines, the surface of a tongue, spines or scales, the shape of pine needles, fur to capture and hold heat.

Human design also uses texture for surface area, to generate or eliminate friction, for practicality. Think of knitwear (“warm and fuzzy”), rugs and home insulation, the old “cottage cheese” ceilings, aerodynamics in aircraft and cars.

Flip Doll

Texture becomes more important when other Elements of Design are simplified – a monochromatic color scheme for example, or when simple shapes are repeated. Texture can add the sensation of depth.

Monochrome heritage layout

Texture in Art – Texture as Illusion

In visual art there is the implied visual texture within the images. Think of old masters painting the lush velvets, encrusted embroideries, glowing skin of their royal patrons. But brush strokes – the mechanism of the art – were hidden and minimized as much as possible.

Then came the explosion of Impressionism and later Expressionism, making texture serve an emotional meaning. Then with the rise of Modernism, Texture became a primary element. The qualities of the paint itself, no doubt influenced by the invention of new paints including fast drying acrylics and the new acrylic “oils” – are revealed by intentional brushstrokes. The art increasingly shows the artist’s hand and thought processes as more important than whatever the subject of the painting might be.

Here’s my little bit of controversy – because I don’t care for the Wikipedia definition of Abstract Art. I’m recalling instead discussions of art theory we students used to enjoy back when I was in college.

I prefer the definition that Abstract art is taking a personal point of view, personal vision of a subject away from realism to find the soul or express an attitude about that subject. The subject can become abstracted to the point of being totally unrecognizable, reduced to geometry or just color and texture.

Non-subjective modernism, often misnamed as “abstract art” embraces the qualities of medium entirely. It is about the paint, the texture, the color – without narrative content (supposedly). Ah humans – we tend to want to construct stories and make connections no matter how much the choreographer says “don’t feel, just count”.

Think of sculpture which for thousands of years has been about manipulating a hard, dense material to create the sensation of soft, pliable surfaces. In recent times, artists making soft sculptures have used fabrics and flexible materials to visualize the opposite.

Rolled and inked paper roses

Surprises

Sometimes the visual appearance belies the texture and the viewer gets a surprise on touching the object. Or distance mystifies the amount of texture in a surface. Think of electron microscopy revealing the unseen textures of surfaces beyond our imagination. The smooth steel of a knife blade revealed as pitted and layered as a rocky sandstone. Here is the fractal universe displayed.

Texture might be a function of randomness – spraying, splattering, combing, cross hatching.

Jayn at Hearst Castle

Photo Credit: James Coburn

Texture in Music

When I think of texture as it applies to music, I think of layering of instruments and the repetition of motifs or phrases with different instruments. Perhaps resonance is an equivalent of texture, or vibrato in a voice. Anything that adds interest and depth to the music might be termed adding texture.

In Writing

I like to think of texture in writing as creating a sensory experience with the words. Texture might be filling in visual background detail (but not so much that it detracts from the progression of the story) or imbuing minor characters with different voices or quirks. It is a way of adding interest.

It also might be created through manipulating word sounds – so that it is revealed viscerally through reading aloud. Read “Harry Potter” aloud, or indeed any of J.K. Rowling’s work aloud. It changes the experience. The addition or absence of sibilance, the repetition of certain sounds or words, the cadence of dialects revealed – that is texture at work.

Creating Texture

Sometimes texture is inherent in the material like marble countertops, granite building blocks, woodgrain, or honey comb candy. If not, and it is desired for interest and depth, then it must be added.

The illusion of texture can be created with lines, including cross hatching, shapes and repetition, and shadowing or shading. I have created the illusion of texture with lighting – using gobos and angles to cast shadows.

Multiple textures actual and implied

Actual texture can be created by adding material, removing material (think carving or burn out lace) or manipulating material, either in the construction process (like crochet or tatting, weaving or impressing into clay) or with a finished base (like ironing in pleats, gathering or folding).

Layout using textures and vintage photo

Texture added with pleated paper, crumpling and sequin embellishments to the sense of texture created by the differently scaled prints.

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Embrace Randomness

Marbled paper

Embracing the random was one idea that I’ve included in a past newsletter, and I want to revisit it. Randomness doesn’t replace Design – which is an intentional process to solve a specific problem. But it can be a great creativity jumpstarter, and a component of your design process. I mean just think of Scrabble!

Surprise effects with projects like tie dye or paper marbling are not the only places where randomness can produce delightful results. Many people are familiar with the idea of opening a book at random to find an “answer” to a problem. It is really a way of resetting your old thought pattern – the answer actually comes from within, from making mental connections.

Sandra Dodd sells Thinking Sticks, a thought and word game designed to encourage players to make connections between ideas that initially seem unrelated. It’s to show that learning can be free ranging. So can creativity.

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

~ Albert Einstein

Here are some happy accidents in the field of science and invention.

Here are some ways for you to use serendipity as creative inspiration:

  • Open a book or magazine at random and press your finger to a page. Use the first words you find as a writing prompt, or to inspire an illustration. Ask someone to think of a number and then turn to that page in a book. Imagine creating a painting or sculpture of the events on that page.
  • Set up a situation where unconnected objects are brought together. Close your eyes and reach into your bead container, or button jar, and pull out three or four items. Use the colors or shapes (or repetition) to inspire a sketch or stacked mini sculpture.
  • Try spinning a color wheel and using only the color on which you land for a drawing, collage or mood board.
  • Paint some pages and tear them into strips. Close your eyes and collect strips from different pages – arrange them into a pleasing collage.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Make up a nutty story about the first person you pass (in your head).
  • Point and shoot your camera every 10 steps. Turn the images into a digital collage, or look for repeating colors or shapes.
  • Go to Wikipedia and start clicking on links randomly. Look at the Wiki Commons images on a page that is several pages along from your start point. Will the picture inspire a story, poem or art work?

Embracing the random within an art piece or project.

Usually the parts of the piece that are unpredictable still come within certain parameters. It’s the detail that is random. For example when we pull the letters out of the bag for that game of Scrabble, we expect wooden letters, not a pickle or a peppermint. Random has it’s limits.

  • Tie dye, whether with crumpled fabric and bottles of dye, or using the actual tied resist method creates beautiful random effects.
  • Throwing balloons filled with paint creates amazing splatter.
  • Making monoprints with gel foundation, or on a hard surface, can create somewhat unpredictable results.

Mistakes

Errors don’t have to be tossed away. My friend Kelly calls mistakes “learning-takes”.

  • What can you do differently next time?
  • How can you embrace the unexpected result this time?

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If anything turns out to be useful to you, please let me know in the comments.