What Do You See?

As a writer, how do you PRACTICE describing what you see?

Following is one of my favorite poems that illustrates deeply seeing and then portraying what the poet observes.

Nude Descending a Staircase
© 1961 by X. J. Kennedy

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.
I appreciate this poem because it not only succinctly describes a nude woman walking down the stairs, it creates an imagery whereby I, as the reader, also see her.  And, in her descent of the staircase, I note the action of her walking, the movement.  This is a great feat in poetry.
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We’ve seen artists with their pencils and art journals sketching what they see.  As a writer, do you practice writing word sketches?  These word sketches can be used later on in other writing that you do or to simply facilitate your ability to observe.  Either way, it’s not time wasted.
Writing Prompt:
Here’s  fun exercise.  Take yourself outdoors to a park bench and sit with your pen, a  journal and notice people, your surroundings, the array of dogs?  Find the precise words to describe the flowers, trees, any movement.  What adjectives or metaphors come to mind as you allow yourself to really see someone or something?  Jot them down.  Practice doing a word sketch…or several.
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Thank you to X.J. Kennedy for permission to print his poem.
“From In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems (Johns Hopkins University Press), copyright 2007 by X. J. Kennedy.  By permission of the author.”

Frida Love–Why?

Recently, I purchased a copy of The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self Portrait…Alas Rojas.  Reading her diary, seems like eavesdropping on a very personal conversation in an otherwise quiet cafe.

Her drawings, her actual handwriting, her thoughts, sorrows, loves and fears, revealed to strangers, you and me.

As an artist, I am one of many who love to draw and/or paint Frida.  Her facial features are so distinct, her continuous eyebrows, her dreamy & fierce eyes–a congruity of beauty.  She was/is a figure of renown.  Her style of dress proclaimed loudly “I have arrived.”

Why do I “love” her?  I guess it is because she rose above what could have been a defining obstacle.  Her chronic and intense pain became a platform for her art. However, she did not personify “victim.”  In my estimation, she met her life head on with curiosity, courage and style!

Frida is someone who rose above adversity and created a life for herself.  And, admirably created art to be shared with others.

Wow!

Writing Prompt:
Do you know of Frida Kahlo?
Google her, read about her
and view her art for inspiration.

Frida.03.2018

A colored pencil drawing.
Not nearly  a perfected Frida
…but she’s a great face to practice with.
I’d love to see your Frida drawing/painting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Um…do we need paddles?”

Adrift2
Where on earth did these three cuties come from?  I set out to practice painting a small grouping of women, meditative and emanating peace.  My painting took a turn which I was compelled to follow.

Was it because life had become too serious once again, dragging me along in the wake of  too many challenges at once?  On a bit of overwhelm, perhaps?  I needed something whimsical, fun and colorful.  There is definitely a story here. Fellow artists offered captions for this trio.

Writing Prompt:
What caption would you give this little painting?  What is your first response?  Or, what’s the story behind this scenario?  Write it.  For the fun of it.

Share your caption under comments if you like.

Note:  Don’t writers see the story in everything…the story behind what is on the surface?

Art Challenge TV Show

I have been viewing a former TV reality show, “Work of Art,” via YouTube.  The show only lasted for two seasons.  The up-and-coming artists are given a creative challenge–i.e., explore the theme of movement, collaborate with a child’s work of art, visit a new place and paint a portrait of a local person, etc.  The judges choose a winner of the challenge each week and one artist who fails the challenge goes home.

As a viewer, I appreciate the unique and innate creativity that is part of each one of us.  I can almost see the inner wheels turning as these artists craft a concept into a tangible work of art.  For the artist (or writer) viewing this show, there is an inspirational boost.  You could take the challenge yourself–reframe it to your own genre–and give yourself a specified amount of time to complete the challenge.  If only for the fun of it!

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There is a cutting edge to creativity.  We repeat a technique over and over again (practice and patience) and in doing so, integrate this technique into our repertoire.  It has become part of our creative expression.  We have a conquest.

And then, another level of learning presents.  A chasm of sorts, something to leap across or otherwise navigate.  An artist or writer looks for the next creative challenge.  We want to grow.

Writing Prompt:
How’s the weather where you are today?  Is it a good day to be outdoors, sitting on a park bench with your journal in hand?  If not, how about a quiet little cafe where you can sit in a corner, sip your tea or coffee and play the observer.  Writers, notice the passers-by and try quick, one-sentence cameo descriptions…the goal is to capture something essential about that person…or place.  If you are an artist, try your hand at the sixty-second-sketch and then go on to the next person, place or thing that gets your attention.  Play!

 

sketch

Practice Doesn’t Mean Perfection

I’ve been practicing how to draw and paint faces.IMG_9403

As a ripening artist, I fall in love with each painting…even when it is far from perfect.  Like this one.  Learning a new technique taught by Sara Burch in Paint Your Heart and Soul‘s year-long online painting and creativity course, I realize that one eye is larger and a bit lower than the other.  Yet, this painting captures something for me that I was having trouble expressing in words.  This painting helped me to bring some disparate feelings together.

Learning and practicing a new technique was the primary purpose of this new-to-me process.   Perhaps there is a time and place to strive for excellence (rarely perfection?) or even one’s personal best.  As I am learning, there has also got to be plenty of room for play, experimentation and error…sometimes happy accidents.

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With writing, is it any different?  Writers strive for perfection as they craft their prose or poetry.  Do they ever reach it?  Levels of perfection are relative, it seems.  For with any final piece preparing to leap into the world, the writer decides, at some point, to let it go.  This is not based solely on whether a piece is “good enough”.  There is an inner sense of completion.  What wants to be said has been said in a way that is “kin” to the writer.  In using the word kin in this way, I intend that the writer has expressed him or herself in a way that is unique, particular or inherent.  When that goal is reached, then a painting or piece of writing can feel complete and ready to be launched.

When you write about someone, you look for the dissonant detail.  Perhaps this is also reflected in your greater body of work–that you allow the dissonant details into your writing thereby,  making a work your own.  Those details–which could be seen as imperfections–mark your work in some way.  Those details reveal to the reader “your style”.  Offering your work, with all of its perceived blemishes, does make one feel vulnerable.

Contemplation:
Do you find fulfillment in practicing your art or craft?  Are you tolerant of “mistakes” as you learn? Are you patient with your development as a writer or artist?  Can you spot the dissonant details in your work that make it stand out as YOURS?

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“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take
if we want to experience connection.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Leading Questions

When I paint, when I write or when I get stuck, I ask a leading question. Where do I go from here?  What would my protagonist do or say in this circumstance? Where does this poem want to go?  Or what color wants to come onto the canvas? Which line or mark can move this piece forward?  What if…I do this or try that? Then what? For it isn’t always flow, but sometimes a stumbling step, then another tripping step and then a fumbling move forward. Even a dreaded mistake can take you to the next level. It’s all part of it…this grand, unpredictable creative process.

As a beginning painter, my desire was often greater than my ability.  What did I do with that?  I continued the questioning.  And sometimes, I took a brush and black paint in frustration and swirled lines across my painting in process. Frequently, to my surprise, something new emerged from which I could move forward.

Basically, you become CONVERSATIONAL with whatever you’re doing–writing or painting. 

Life itself is really about “I wonder what is next?”  Because as much as we think we’re in familiar territory, we don’t know what the next moment might bring.  It is about fully trusting the unfolding creative process.

It also helps to see what you are doing as practice. You cannot know what you don’t know.  Through questioning, you remain open to discovery.  The faces that I drew and painted two years ago laid the platform for the faces that I draw and paint today.  I had to begin somewhere and to be patient with my development as an artist.  I spent time with faces. Today, I actually enjoy the challenge of drawing a three-quarter turned face.  I steeped myself in images of three-quarter turned faces–eyes, noses and lips in that profile position.  I memorized them, traced them, tore them from magazines, drew them, made tons of wonky faces.  And I learned from my mistakes.  I often asked, “What happens if I do this?”  These very words imply trial and error…and successes too.  And, I’m not there yet!inner2 (1)

WRITING PROMPT:
Revisit a work in progress that has been stalled (writing, painting, drawing) and begin a conversation with it.  Ask leading questions and respect the response(s) that you get. Allow the uncertainty and take the faltering steps as you move your work along. Allot yourself a sufficient amount of  time with this and see how leading questions work for you.

 

Creativity Breeds…CREATIVITY

I have been writing since I was age 27… quite awhile.  In 2014, I grew tired of words. Words engage inner patterns and I found myself going in circles with my thinking and writing.  I abandoned words…for a few years.

In the place of words, I found intuitive painting.  For the first time in my life, I wielded a paintbrush as a tool for self-expression.  I was a total beginner!  I engaged in a wordless conversation with each new painting.  Playing with color, shapes, imagery and symbols, opened inner doorways that words alone had not.  I discovered that I had the courage to allow a painting to unfold and become what it wanted to become.  I also discovered that the creative process is the creative process regardless of the way it expresses.  While I came up against obstacles or blocks as with writing, I made marks on the canvas that moved me through them…and I found the flow.

In these few years of not writing, I realized that I missed words.  I enjoy creative writing and considered how I could marry words and images, poetry and paint. I realized, experientially, that one creative expression enhances the other.  Often you think of yourself as this or that…writer or painter or crafter. When, in fact, you have access to any creative opening out there at any time. You only have to choose it and then, as with writing, show up and practice it. Today, I plot and write a blog and I make other art. I knit or craft or cook a gourmet meal.  It’s summer here–I walk in the forests and beside the lakes and take photos.

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You broaden your creative repertoire, not necessarily to become a famous artist or writer.  You do this because it expands you (it feeds your hungry, vast and expressive psyche) and your writing.  It really is about giving yourself a playground to explore all sorts of other media of self-expression. These days, there are many online art classes…many wonderful teachers. The art journal, mixing words and images, is an interesting and fun way to engage with both words and imagery.

Walking this morning, I encountered a woman I hadn’t met before in this small community. A conversation ensued & suddenly she stopped and beheld a field of flowers. She said “I love the way the light and shadow are enhancing the colors.  Isn’t that beautiful!” My response was “It is beautiful. Are you a photographer?”  It turns out that she is a photographer.

When you draw (or paint or use color or sculpt or take photos), you notice things in a deeper way.    This way of noticing makes you privy to nuances of color, light, shade, line, form, texture, etc….these are translated into descriptive elements for the writer or poet. This can only improve your writing.

WRITING PROMPT:
What other creative activities inspire, expand and enhance your writing? Gardening, cooking, sewing, crafting, knitting, pottery, playing a musical instrument, woodworking, jewelry-making, doodling?

In your WRITING journal, draw something.  Sit down in front of an object of your choice and draw it.  Use a graphite pencil and draw the lines–no judgment.  Don’t erase.  If it’s not quite right, play with it until it feels complete to you.  Then write about your process of drawing…your feelings, comfort or discomfort, the lines and shapes, the object itself, whatever you discover as you draw.

strawberries.drawing

WRITING TIP:
Drawing develops your focusing ability as it challenges you to render what you see. Drawing helps you to really see something and notice things that you might otherwise overlook.

*The first online art class I took, BRAVE INTUITIVE PAINTING, was taught by Flora Bowley.