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My Preteen Poetic Spirit

I wrote this poem when I was 12 or 13. Other “poems” of mine will never be revealed, and will be discovered in a long-forgotten folder after my death, because they had no meter or rhyme whatsoever. But this one amused me when I remembered it last night. 🙂

For many people

Springtime brings

A number of wonderful

Beautiful things

Like birds and trees

And flowers and bees,

But for me

Spring

Only brings

Allergies.

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Writing Tip # 11: Skip Ahead

Who says you have to write your story chronologically? It can be helpful–but then again, it can also get you stuck. If you know generally where your story is going, you can jump ahead to a less difficult spot, to a segment where you know which events happen and what the consequences are. Jumping ahead and working on a different part of the story could spark ideas for that trouble spot as well.  Anyway, the story is a draft, right? It doesn’t have to be a smooth read from start to finish that first time. 🙂

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Writing Tips for Perfectionists–That Elusive Perfect Standard

The problem with perfectionism is that it is both an extreme standard and a constantly changing one.  In the first place, no human being will create perfect artwork or writing.  We are imperfect creatures with imperfect ability, and perfection simply cannot come from imperfection.

In the second, place, your standard for perfect will always change, and the market standard for perfect (or simply for good artwork) will always change.  Say that you’ve gotten your piece of writing as nearly perfect as you can make it.  Finally, it’s ready for the world!  Then you take a quick look at it again.  You are going to see something you want to change.  And if you make that change and then look at the work again later, you’ll see something else that could be improved.  (Cue an indefinitely delayed publishing date!)

Even if this specific scenario isn’t a problem, you will grow and change and mature as a writer or artist.  And your standards for your work will constantly improve—meaning that your old stuff just won’t match that mark.  Remember, it’s not a matter of throwing away your standards.  Just of accepting that “perfect” is unrealistic because those standards will change as you grow and learn.  In fact, that change is a good thing—it means you’re  improving your craft and learning more about it.

So, recognize what is good about your current artwork.   Also recognize what is still good about that old art or writing that you wish you’d never shown to anyone.  Acknowledge that it was good for your skill level back then.  Now keep improving your artwork.

Not only will your personal standards for your artwork change, the market changes.  Constantly.  Grab a Dickens novel off the shelf and read a page.  (And if you don’t have a Dickens volume, get one.  A Christmas Carol is a good place to start.  :-))  Then read a page of Tolkien’s work, a page of Stephen Lawhead’s, and finally, a page of whatever YA book you happen to have on the shelf.  There will be marked differences between all four volumes.  Once upon a time, writers used run-on sentences, lots of narration, and multiple qualifier words.  Nowadays, writers can’t get away with that—at least, not if they want to be traditionally published (generally speaking).  Point being, pursuing perfection in hopes of being published is futile.  By the time you finish 10 years of revising and polishing, the market standard for good writing will have changed, and chances are, your novel will be dated.

Again, it’s not a matter of throwing away high standards for work.  Just of accepting that some of those high standards are unrealistic because the market changes, and because you will grow and improve in your craft.  Embracing growth is better than wrestling a piece of artwork into “perfection” anyway.  And guess what?  The more you learn and improve–the closer your work will be to your high standards!

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Overcoming Perfectionism While Drawing

This ties in to my first “Writing Tips for Perfectionist” post, though I’m applying the principle to artwork, not writing.  (But I’ll post about applying the principle to writing later!)  This particular post is a cross between a colored pencil walk through and an anti-perfectionism tutorial.  🙂

While reading about the triumph of the Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I got such a vivid mental picture of the scene–with such dynamic perspective and atmosphere– that I had to capture it.  The first sketch…

…only the angle didn’t match my mental image (from the perspective of a viewer looking up the hill at the crowd). After a few more attempts, I realized the drawing needed to be taller than wider.  Sketch #2:

Only that still didn’t match my mental image, which was as sharp as a photograph and as dramatic as any Romantic painting.

So then I considered what I ultimately wanted to capture. Definitely the contrast between the torchlight/smoke and the moonlight.  Also the colors of cool night clashing with red torches; and the grotesque, undefined shapes of the crowd; and the upward perspective (to emphasize the seeming triumph); and the Witch with her crown on.

With that in mind, I refined the sketch, primarily the landscape and the key figures.

I fiddled with the composition to make sure the Witch and the stone table stood out…

The background crowd is just scribbles, because detailed depictions of each creature are not the point.  The sheer mass/numbers of them are.

I also held the sketch up to a mirror to reflect the image backward and check that nothing was abnormally crooked.  (The Witch was a little crooked, but it wasn’t noticeable unless you were looking for it, so I left the pose alone.)

I added the base colors and colored and rendered the stone table.  The color palette will be cool and dark with most of the detail on the Witch and the stone table.  (The dark green lines are there to remind me of the steepness of the hill so that I can shade it properly.)

The main light source is the moon, but I scribbled red over the crowd in places to show reflected torchlight.

Once the base colors were in place, I started darkening the sky (you can see the shadows in the upper left-hand corner).  The mass of creatures remained loose scribbles.  Later, I picked out highlights here and add shadows there to suggest creatures all grouped together, but only a few figures in the foreground were detailed.

An added bonus of knowing what I ultimately want for this drawing is that I’m not second-guessing my colors and composition.  Or pausing to assess how “good” it is–all I focused on are the colors and values and general composition.

The sky and torches are finished; the crowd got a little more rendering–though they’re still just varied scribbles at this point, except for the giant to the far left–and the stone table and the Witch have gotten a little more detailed.  I also started adding shadows under the stone table.

I somehow got green pencil shavings under my fingernails.  It’s both funny and perplexing–it’s never happened before!

Here, I added more darkness and shadows to the crowd, darkened some of the reflected red light, and began to pick out very general shapes near the front of the crowd.  You should be able to tell that it’s a mass of people grouped together, and that they aren’t ordinary people due to the giant on the left and the spider-shaped thing on the far right.  But you can’t see any detail when you look closely, and that’s okay.  I’m still going for a general atmosphere rather than photograph-sharp clarity.

I darkened and rendered the slope of the hill and added details to the Witch’s hair and robes.  The crowd got a few more shadows and a few highlights–I realized that the creatures under the moon were  darker than the ones on the left, further away from the moon.  Oops.  So I erased the right-hand crowed a bit, added the red highlights and deeper shadows to indicate contrast.  Still no detail, just general light and shadow.

And this drawing actually doesn’t have the dramatic angle perspective that my mental picture does.  But that’s okay, because I’m pleased with the colors and atmosphere!

After this stage, I set the drawing aside for the night and looked at it again the next morning.  The crowd needed a bit more rending to further suggest a group of creatures, and the atmosphere could use a few more torches.  The Witch also needed more detail–but not too much, since she’s so far away from the viewer.

I scribbled carefully in the crowd to suggest more shadows, and I added some torches and smoke in the background (they turned out very dark red/black, as I had to draw over the indigo sky).  Then I tried to render the Witch a bit more–but  detail was actually impossible, because she’s so far away.

I managed to erase the details I’d tried to draw, and I added a few red highlights on her hair and dress.  I also added a faint red mouth–but that’s all the detail that figure needed.

I then darkened some of the red highlights on the crowd.  After that, it seemed that the picture could use a little more tweaking…but since I didn’t know specifically where, and since the drawing had the atmosphere I imagined–I decided it was done!

 

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Writing Tips for Perfectionists – Of Artistic Vision

I think it’s obvious by now that I am a meticulous planner/outliner and a perfectionist. I’m forever trying to get the artwork on the page to match that perfect vision in my head. Just imagine the nights of anguish when time after time, that didn’t happen.

But I’ve learned to fight (and occasionally conquer) my perfectionism. It’s not a matter of lowering standards–merely of approaching them from a different direction. Because here’s the thing: we perfectionists have incredible artists’ visions. We have drive and discipline (when we’re not procrastinating out of fear, that is). We have the willpower to make those visions a reality. And that’s a good thing.

What’s not a good thing is poring over the work so long that it never sees the light of day.  Or driving yourself into the ground. Refusing to finish in pursuit of that elusive perfect standard. The whole idea of making good art is to enjoy it, right? Creating something for you and others to admire. But that cannot happen if you refuse to let it go.

So here’s the deal: recognize that your vision for your work is good. That your high standards for your art is wonderful–because, let’s face it, a lot of mediocre work gets put out there. (Fantastic Four remake. That is all.)  So congratulate yourself for having high standards and the willingness to pursue them.

But then assess what is most important about your artistic vision.  In the case of a writer–is the goal to write beautiful prose, or inspire, encourage, make readers think?  A watercolor artist–is the goal to have every detail perfect, or to capture the emotions of the viewer?

That’s not to say details should fall by the wayside, but you should assess what your ultimate goal is for the artwork, and what you can realistically do.  And then pursue that rather than focus on making every aspect perfect.  The good news is, the more you work, the better you’ll get!

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Artwork Wednesday – Back to Watercolor!

Before my watercolor painting frenzy began, I drew a couple of pictures with dry media.

I drew this in the car.  The highway was a long smooth stretch, and so I was able to sketch without worrying about bumps in the road.  And without getting car-sick, which is the real miracle.  🙂

This is my character, Mary, (from the semi-western story) and half of a quote from Pinterest.  The full quote says:

“Typical MBTI Description: INTJs are the cool-headed geniuses of the 16 types.  With their love of objective reasoning and  uncanny intuition, no one can fool this intellectual mastermind.  Actual INTJs: Where are my socks?”

Which is definitely Mary, so here she is, a bit confused.  Although she does use objective reasoning and generally points out the principle or detail that everyone else missed.

I started this one weeks ago, got extremely close to finishing, and therefore, didn’t bother finishing until now.  *headdesk*  Yet another victim falls prey to the “Oh-there’s-plenty-of-time” mindset.  Anyway, I absolutely loved painting all that mist in watercolor–it was difficult keeping an eye on the paint to make sure it didn’t drift into an area where it shouldn’t–but the work paid off!

A tulip tree blossom.

Some daffodils that didn’t turn out quite as detailed as I’d hoped.

But while painting the daffodils, I watched The Fellowship of the Ring–and got a sudden urge to paint a Shire landscape.

So I did.  This is a very small painting, maybe 3″x5″, but that may have actually helped me not go overboard with detail.

That’s all for now!

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So, About My Steampunk Story…

Apparently, I’ve made some readers curious about this work-in-progress by featuring Lennox in two Beautiful People link-ups.  So, time for a full disclosure, eh?

First off, it’s not really steampunk.  I dubbed it that before I understood what this genre actually meant.  And what that term means is…actually a little crazy.  Steampunk.com says the term can refer to a lot of tropes, from the Industrial Revolution aesthetic to a lack of technology altogether in favor of supernatural/paranormal aspects.  Whereas Writersdigest.com defines the genre more generally as built around the idea that technology never advanced beyond steam engines.   When I mentioned all this to Chris, he and I both thought it was a little silly to have an entire genre limited by steam technology and Victorian aesthetic.  We continued calling the story “steampunk,” to convey the idea of anachronistic technology in the 19th century, and not because my story actually conforms to the genre.

After further research, we concluded that my story is actually a cross between alternate history, social sci-fi, hard sci-fi, with maybe a dash of steampunk thrown in (depending on which definition of that genre you like best).  See why calling it “steampunk” is easier?

The story starts in 1891.  The setting is the typical late-Victorian London with strict social norms, but with a twist: scientific dabbling is a popular hobby for the rich.  And “secret” labs in the basement are an essential part of any grand house.  Lord Fredericks is a brilliant, self-taught scientist, who can’t capitalize on his skills because he is also an aristocrat and not supposed to do manual or tradesman’s work.  His ward, Susan, will inherit a fortune when she comes of age, but she can’t find an endeavor worthy enough to support because of the complacent attitudes in society.  Henry is a doctor passionate for his work and research, but he can’t get the wealthy hobby scientists interested enough in his ideas to fund his experiments.  (He is also torn between giving his services to the poor and needing income from his practice.)  And Lennox is a young man who teaches classics at Cambridge, and therefore can’t get anyone to take him seriously as a scientist.

When Lennox comes to London to live with his grandfather, he hopes to meet influential men of science and to have opportunities to test his ideas and do further research.  To his frustration, these hopes seem misplaced due to the strict traditions holding London society together—yet when he meets Lord Fredericks and another-influential-character-who-doesn’t-yet-have-a-name (I’m so organized), these five characters are drawn together to combine their ideas.

All the characters have scientific specialties (except the unnamed one; still working out his role and personality).  Lennox’s is chemistry and maybe physics.  He’s also an artist (though not a very good one, he says) because he learned to paint from his artist father.  Henry’s expertise is biology (naturally); Susan’s is natural science of any kind, and she’s picked up a bunch of information about other sciences through reading and through helping Lord Fredericks with his own research.  And Lord Fredricks is a jack-of-all trades, interested in nearly anything, but he specializes in electromagnetism and mechanical engineering.

Keep in mind that all this is subject to change—I’m still taking notes and playing around with concepts.  Inspirations for this project have been Jekyll & Hyde (both the book and the musical), Batman Begins, Inception, The Prestige, the inventions of Nikola Tesla and other experiments with electricity and electromagnetism in the final decade of the century, photographs of clock towers and lamplit streets at night, and my own thoughts and theories about science and art.

Shots of the (secret!) character boards:

Lennox’s board:

Henry’s board:

Lord Fredericks’s board:

Susan’s board:

I do not own these images!  I use them solely for personal inspiration; no copyright infringement is intended.

One last thing: I’m not actively working on this story.  It’s still in the concept/idea-gathering/note-taking stage.  I fiddle with it when I get burned out on other projects.  Or when inspiration hits.  🙂

Still, if anyone would like to know a little more about it or about these characters, leave a comment and let me know!

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Writing Tip #10: Take a Short Break

Say you’ve spent hours planning, plotting, writing, and rewriting a portion of your story.  When you’re not at the keyboard or hunched over the notebook, you’re thinking about the problem during other activities.  Desperate to get this snarl worked out.  I know the feeling.

But it often helps to walk away from that portion or even that whole story for a little while.  Work on another story, or pick up a hobby you haven’t touched in a while.  Getting stuck is natural to writers.  Getting unstuck comes with time and a little brain break.  🙂

For instance, I was recently stuck over a portion of my outline–I couldn’t specify or articulate the conflict well enough to keep plotting.  I spent maybe a week playing with ideas, pushing forward, and pondering the problem in my off-time.  Then my family and I were busy over the weekend, and I had no time to think about the story.

But when I came back to my notes, the problem wasn’t that bad.  Sure, the conflict could be more specific, but my notes were actually clearer than I’d remembered, and they gave me enough information to continue plotting.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m a planner.  🙂

Point being, when you get stuck (and you will), it may work to just walk away from the project temporarily.  This gives your mind a break, and you can return to the project and assess with a clearer head.

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Artwork Wednesday — Finally Back!

Finally!  Yes!  It’s been way too long!

This week, I went back to pencil-and-paper artwork, and it was so good to draw again.  🙂  Before picking my pencils up again, I spent a good deal of time crocheting….

In my last Artwork Wednesday post, I showed the start of a new stitch I was learning.  Here’s what I made with that new stitch: another potholder!  It was good practice for my next project…

…a baby blanket!  This is for a friend at church, a mother that my sisters regularly babysit for.

Then I made another blanket…

…for my brother Emmet.  It’s a Lego blanket–can you tell?  🙂  I had so much fun making this!

Then I started another blanket…

…this time for myself.  🙂 It will be a Christmas afghan.  I actually made one years ago, but that was before  knew what I was doing!  So it was high time to re-do it!

Then I picked up my pencils again and embarked on a fun frenzy of drawing characters from one of my works-in-progress!  Not the steampunk story, but my semi-western.

Okay, I’m tired of calling it that.  The working title of this semi-western is Gentle Fire.  Working title, mind; I’ll probably change it later.  (I’m terrible at titles.)

This is Wilson and Mary, Durant’s brother-in-law and sister.  (More about Durant and his family here and here.)

And here’s Durant!  He’s doing secretarial work of some kind.  Or maybe writing a letter; he handles most of the family’s correspondence because neither Mary nor Wilson care much about that.  Nor do they have much literary talent (Mary is educated and articulate, but can’t be bothered to write anything down).

Have I mentioned desert sunsets are my new favorite subject to draw?

That’s all for now!

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