Stand by for Breakthrough…

My breakthrough piece!

My breakthrough piece!

My formal schooling is in English literature and poetry, as many of you know. However, I’ve lately been dabbling in the visual arts, which I’ve done most of my life, but for the past few months, I’ve been very intentional about it, drawing nearly every day and sharing my work on Instagram.

The other day, I had a breakthrough—I let the work guide me.

Allow me to explain: because of my training in writing, specifically creative writing and poetry, I have a bunch of tools in my writer’s toolbox so to speak. What I mean by this is that when I’m stuck, I have methods of pushing through. Put simply, I know how to “play” with language. If a prompt isn’t speaking to me, I move to another. If I’m experiencing writer’s block, I repeat what I just wrote until a new thought comes. I’m fairly comfortable with my writing sounding terrible in the first draft because I know I have the skill set to fix it up. I’m not intimidated by the “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott so eloquently puts it.

But when it comes to visual art, I’m terrified by that shitty first draft. After all, when you make a mark with paint, you can’t just cut it out and paste it somewhere else (like the trash) as you can easily do with writing. What happens when a mark I make isn’t what I want? What happens when I don’t know where to start? How can I “play” as freely as I do with language?

Over the past few months, I’ve been working diligently to add some tools to my artist’s toolbox and have done so fairly successfully by studying the work of artists like Lisa Congdon and Shantell Martin on platforms like Skillshare and Creativebug. (For a more comprehensive discussion of how I’ve come to accept my art as well as information on the tools I use, listen to the fifth episode of my podcast here).

As mentioned earlier, I recently had a breakthrough. Like with writing, I think I finally learned to “go with the flow” of my art and let the process guide me instead of me making the art piece strictly what I wanted.

I was inspired the other day to try my hand at a profile because of artists I follow on Instagram. It started out as a person, but as you can see from the finished product above, it turned into a lizard girl.

See? Totally needs texture!

See? Totally needs texture!

When I started adding color, I first added a darker flesh tone on the forehead, which I liked. However, the more of that particular color I added to the face, the more I didn’t like it. So, I scrolled through my digital color palette and found a color I liked–green. Without hesitation, I slathered that on. But when I stepped back, I realized I wanted more texture, so I added some scallop scales and, voila, my lizard girl was born!

This is really the first time where I trusted the artistic process and wasn’t afraid to stray from my original concept. Normally, I have an idea in my head and force it, even when the piece is clearly calling for a different approach or simply isn’t working. When I was adding green to the girl, it was fairly easy to silence the critic in my head that was saying “Hey, people don’t have green skin!” The part of me that said, “Yeah, but let’s just see what happens!” was way louder. I think this is because I’ve been practicing my hand at other techniques, so my “letting go” muscle has been exercised enough in preparation for a moment like this.

Is this piece the best thing I’ve ever made? Nope, but I’m really excited about this breakthrough and can’t wait to see what else I make when exercising my “letting go” muscle in the future.

What My Grade-School Self Taught Me About Owning My Art

I wasn't quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

I wasn’t quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

When I was in first or second grade, my class read a book and then did an art project based on it. I don’t remember what the book was about, but I remember that the main character was a ho-hum-looking man. The assignment was to draw clothes on the paper doll version of the main character in the style of any activity we wished. Some put leather jackets on him, some made him a painter or a fighter.

Keep in mind that this was the early cusp of the 90s, so 80s fashion was still prominent. I decided to do something a bit different and outfit the guy in workout clothes—short shorts, lemon-yellow headband, and all.

IMG_1282

“Funky Doodle” Colored Pencil and Micron Pen in sketchbook

There are two things I’ll never forget about this assignment after seeing the bulletin board with all of my classmates’ paper renditions of this book character. The first is how awesome my friend’s outfit came out. She was known for being a fantastic artist, even at that young age. Her paper doll looked like he was ready for the cover of a J. Crew catalog. He sported a smartly cut-out leather jacket made of brown construction paper, complete with a drawn-on zipper. Her paper doll had swagger.

The second thing is this: I admired the bulletin board behind two of my classmates. They pointed out their own work, then began commenting on the work of others. I’ll never forget what one of them said. He swept his eyes across the bulletin board and exclaimed to his friend, “I like all of them…except that one.” He was pointing to mine.

I don’t think the two boys knew I was behind them. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even know the paper doll outcast one of them had just singled out was mine. All I know is that one sentence rung so deep in me because it pointed out something I already felt: I’m no good at art.

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Writing was a different story. That has always come fairly easily to me. My mom recently told me that around this same time in my school career, the stories I wrote during free time were shown to the principal because my teachers thought they were that good.

Yet I was hung up on that paper man. I knew that, technically speaking, mine wasn’t the best or most attractive of the outfits. But, dammit, I’d spent time on it!

I’ve gone back to this memory a few times throughout my life, convincing myself that perhaps it meant I shouldn’t pursue art in the public eye because people will react like my classmate: love absolutely everything out there except what I make. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that praise isn’t what truly matters (though it is nice). Community does.

And I now accept that paper man with short shorts and headband that I made all those years ago (though he doesn’t hold a candle to the snow lady I drew around that same time. She had a red bandana and nunchucks, a la Ninja Turtle style).

"Circle Study" Micron Pen in Sketchbook

“Circle Study”
Micron Pen in Sketchbook

In years passed, I’ve set out to make art more regularly and it never quite worked out so well. This year, I’m making it one of my goals to do a bit of art once per week, even if it’s a little doodle and even if I end up doodling a male Jane Fonda like my grade-school self did. And, dammit, I will own every last bit of it.

(Note: all photos in this blog post are part of this project so far. Already on a roll!)

IMG_1276Want to join me in owning your art? Include the hashtag #arteveryweek2015 on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There are no restrictions on the type of media you use. Just have fun! Let’s collect our creations via this hashtag and create a community of artists that says, “We love all of them!” No exceptions 🙂

Artist’s Spotlight – Elizabeth Catanese

Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features my very talented ekphrastic artist friend, Elizabeth Catanese. I have admired Elizabeth’s work for a few years now. She deftly combines two of my favorite types of media: words and paint. Enjoy the interview, which is quirky and profound—just like her!

artistphoto copy - Elizabeth Catanese

 

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Elizabeth Catanese: Humans are born symbol-makers and art has been my form of symbol-making for as long as I can remember. Currently I am making acrylic and mixed media paintings, but I have created conceptual art installations, sculptural work and photography. I also write poetry and fiction.

RO: What first inspired you to art?
EC: My aunt Tricia Catanese Adler, a visual artist, would often have my cousins, Mary Anne, Tricia and me over to her apartment to make art. We did a variety of projects like sewing imaginative creature pillows, painting bird houses and making crazy hats. I liked being around her free spirit and having social time with my cousins, but I was also learning how art can be an important way to express individuality and engage with emotions. Many of my relatives are visual artists who taught me how to draw and paint as well as how to observe the world with compassionate, fresh eyes. I am surrounded by creative friends and students who always inspire me.

BrickFlameRO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
EC: My most recent favorite medium is mortar on canvas. I like it because it’s what masons use to close the gaps between bricks and this feels metaphorical to me. My art is about trying to both close and expose gaps in my life. For example, my painting “Red Brick House” is about recalling formative moments at my grandparents house (closing the gaps of memory) and also about the fact that these moments can never exist in their original form again (exposing the memories themselves as gaps). Mortar also allows me to stick a lot of stuff onto my canvases and it’s a really fun material to blend with acrylic color.

I have a lot left to explore with my current media, but I would someday like to learn encaustic painting.

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
erasureEC: My creative process for painting is a little bit different each time, but generally I go to the color-organized book shelves in my living room and pick a book to look at for a bit on my blue beanbag chair. It might be an photography book like The Lines of my Hand by Robert Frank or a painting retrospective like Cy Twombly by Richard Leeman. I might read poetry by Lynda Hull or Dean Young or even an excerpt from an old college bulk pack about Freud and the uncanny, medieval music or how to differentiate classroom instruction. I don’t look at the book for long. I’m really just trying to absorb some of the creative energy in the words and pictures created by others. Then I draw a spacial arrangement in my sketchbook. This is how I think shapes might appear on the canvas. After that, I go to my art studio and freewrite with permanent marker on the canvas. I might be inspired by the book I just looked but I am always ultimately freewriting to get at the “shadow” side of myself: whatever is going on in my life that I’m trying to deny. After that, it’s a non-cognitive visual process of putting shapes and colors on canvas and, at times, adding relevant textures. It’s also an emotional process because as I go, I learn what the painting is really about. When I’m finished with one session of painting, I wash my brushes and clean up to clear my head. Then I sit on the red couch in my studio and look at my work. I can usually tell why I’ve put that wire there or that patch of red in the corner or why the whole thing looks like a dress or a skeleton or a flame. I think about what I might do to the canvas the next time I return to my studio.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
EC: The longest time I’ve spent on a piece of art is eight years. That’s how long it took me to write my first (and only!) middle grade novel. I still have more to do! My conceptual art installation at Bryn Mawr college, “Once Upon a Time is Now,” was completed over three months with about five hours a day spent working on the art and another four to five hours reading for inspiration. These days, I usually don’t paint for more than two hours at a time, but I will often have many two hour sessions with the same painting or edit a painting even when it’s supposedly “done” and hanging on the wall in my living room. It’s only truly finished when it’s been purchased and is hanging on the wall in someone else’s living room!

healingRO: You are currently teaching. Do you incorporate visual art into your courses? If so, how? How do the students react?
EC: I incorporate visual art into all of my courses. In my Humanities 101 class, I just taught my students how to do formal analysis papers where they describe an ancient Chinese landscape painting of their choosing. In my composition and reading classes, I often take students to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts or the Philadelphia Museum of Art to work on specificity in writing by engaging with paintings. In my poetry writing course, there is a unit about ekphrasis, or writing about art, in my syllabus. We look at visual art and write poems based on the art.

Overall, students have responded well to studying art! In a world that is fast paced and all about multitasking, one of the best skills that can be taught to students is how to slow down and look.

I’m very grateful to work at Community College of Philadelphia. My colleagues have taught me a lot about incorporating art into the classroom, and the administration has been very supportive of my desire to create and deepen partnerships between CCP and local art museums. I love how open my students are to different ways of learning and thinking.

RO: How does your background as a writer inform your painting? Conversely, how does your background as a visual artist inform your writing?proust
EC
: Studying and making art always gives me something to write about and writing always gives me something to paint about. Having multiple projects going allows me to not feel stuck for long. I love creative hybridity. In addition to writing on canvas, I love graphic novels. I am currently experimenting with this form.

RO: You mix both writing and painting onto your canvases, which gives a nice layered effect and allows you to broach sensitive subjects at times. Is there a subject you have yet to approach/wish to approach in the future?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEC: When my work was in the Layers and Folds exhibit at the Therese A. Maloney Gallery at the College of Saint Elizabeth, a viewer came up to me and asked me where my words came from. I said “from my head” and suddenly realized that it was important to me to incorporate voices other than my own into my work. I began a painting called Mistakes, Hopes, Desires where I emailed people about mistakes they had made, hopes they had and desires they had. I recorded my voice reading their responses and played it in a loop while I painted. The mass of voices made for a cluttered canvas (even though the canvas is five feet tall!) I haven’t resolved that painting visually, but I’m interested in keeping at it. I want to integrate other people’s sensitive subjects onto the canvas in addition to my own.

There are so many subjects that I haven’t approached because I’m scared to approach them or I feel that doing so might betray others. Overall, I think it’s important to let myself approach those subjects whether or not I share the painting or the writing afterwards. I’m not always ready to be open right away.

firedress copyRight now I am painting a lot about the death of my grandfather, with whom I had a really wonderful relationship. It’s been a profound loss for me, and I’m thinking about how I wish I had told him certain things or spent more time with him. I have much more to paint about this.

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
EC: Yes! My favorite handmade object comes from the artist Arlene Gale Milgram. She is a very good friend and was my first art teacher. Years ago, she made me a wall hanging that was a small book made of handmade paper. On the inside it said “get crazy, find inspiration, fulfill your dreams.” I had an apartment disaster that caused me to lose all my stuff, and I wrote to her to tell her how sad I was to have lost this gift. Within a week she had made me a new wall hanging which I treasure just as deeply as the memory of the first.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
EC: I’d like to have the ability to fly powered by my own arms. To be clear, I would not like to have to flap my arms, I just want to spread them and soar.

I love being up high. As a kid, I loved swinging as high as possible on swing sets, and now I love balconies that overlook landscapes of any sort. I wish I could say that I want to have a superpower that will create universal harmony, or something that I think sounds more noble, but the truth is I’d like to fly because I think it would be the most fun thing ever.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?ElizabethCataneseRiver
EC
: I have learned, through making art, that being vulnerable and authentic with oneself can make life easier and happier. Art has made me more integrated as a human being (okay with both the outward presentation and shadow side of myself) and better able to form genuine connections with others. It has helped me become less anxious and more able to be present with others. In a lot of ways as I make art, art also makes me.

 

 

Elizabeth, thanks so much for sharing your creative process with us! To check out more of Elizabeth’s work, visit her website.

Artist’s Spotlight – Mike Brennan

Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features talented multimedia artist, Mike Brennan. I’ve known Mike for a few years now and am continually inspired by his dedication to his craft (he posts at least one sketch just about every day!). Enjoy his enthusiasm in this interview!

Mike Brennan

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Mike Brennan: I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember. Drawing was my main go to, mostly pencils and ink. In high school I was introduced to chalk pastels too. I really loved the vibrancy of them. I was fortunate enough to have exposure to a variety of mediums along the way, and so I feel like for me it’s trying to figure out the best (or most interesting) media for a particular concept.

RO: What first inspired you to art?1286_10151559958660958_1936653038_n (1)
MB: My earliest memory of creating art was making cards for family members. And I also used to trace comics from the Sunday newspaper, Comic books, and when I was a little older I also remember recording cartoons on my VCR, pausing them and taping paper on the TV so I could trace them. I wasn’t aware of light boxes at the time 🙂 Tracing helped me understand lines and shapes.

From there I took as many art classes as I could in High School, and started to gravitate towards graphic design. I knew I wanted to go to art school for college, so I was fortunate enough to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology earning a degree in Advertising and Design, and then the School of Visual Arts majoring in Graphic and 3D Design. 

That set my career course in graphic design. Sadly with each passing year I did less and less personal drawing and painting, because really, who has time for that when you are creating all day for someone else? I also convinced myself somewhere along the way that I really couldn’t draw because I couldn’t do realistic renderings. I swallowed that lie until I didn’t even try anymore, until I read an important book last year by Danny Gregory called “The Creative License”. 

RO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
MB: Watercolor has been my media of choice lately, but I’m starting to experiment into mixed media a bit too.I still like drawing with inks, pastels, colored pencils. I try to mix it up from time to time, but not at the expense of being a jack of all trades master of none, 😉

1470246_10151871997180958_552693694_n (1)RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process? 
MB: It depends on what I’m working on. Lately, I feel like I’m trying at adapt and change my process as I continue to learn new things. Sometimes I get inspired by photographs, or books I read, other art. I tend to try to collect ideas BEFORE I need them. I use an app/website called Evernote. It lets you collect and organize your ideas so it’s easy to find them later. Once I want to move ahead on something, I usually start with a sketch or loose idea and begin developing as I go. Most times I just give myself over to the process to see what comes rather than have an established final image in my mind I’m trying to force myself to create. Happy “accidents” (and even not so happy ones) can be great learning opportunities.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
MB: I’m pretty impatient and get bored easily. Most days I spend an hour to three on a piece, before I feel like I need to move on. When I was attending the School of Visual Arts, I had the opportunity to design a 3-D skeleton based on the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. I designed a life sized skeleton made of dog biscuits that was selected for a show in the Whitney Museum in NYC. It took me several weeks to create. That piece was a turning point in my art & design. The basic thought going into the design process was to come up with a strong concept, then figure out how to do it. In other words, don’t let cost, knowledge or skills, materials or anything else be a deterrent from a strong creative idea.

RO: You make a habit of taking art courses (a habit that is certainly admirable and 1525098_10151935307620958_212921335_nnecessary for any artist!) What is your favorite art class you’ve taken recently and why? In that vein, do you have any plans to perhaps teach a workshop in the near future?
MB: I hadn’t taken any art classes for years until recently. There was a million excuses of no money, no time, no energy, etc. What broke me out of the cycle was just deciding one day that if I really wanted to reembark on this creative journey aside from my day job as a graphic designer, I needed to do something different. I enrolled in a printmaking class. It was great because it put me in a place where I was experimenting just for the fun of it, meeting new people who were artists too and peaked my curiosity on new techniques and processes.

From there, I’ve taken a few watercolor classes as well. I really have loved those. It’s been a great mix of learning techniques, being in art community and setting myself up with challenges to grow and learn.

Even if you can’t enroll in a class at a local art center, I would advise checking out Craftsy.com. I purchased two art classes for around $20 each, where you watch a video instruction at your own pace and there’s even a place to ask questions and upload your progress.

The bottom line is if you really want it, you will find a way.

As far as teaching – I would LOVE to do that at some point. I’m always watchful to see what opportunities come my way, so who knows, maybe one day. It would be great to combine my love for art and my people-oriented heart.

1601030_10151929659680958_1095639281_nRO: You recently opened up a wonderfully quirky Etsy shop. What lessons have you learned from running the shop? Any advice to someone who is thinking of opening an Etsy shop?
MB: It’s a big undertaking, honestly. I started mine as a way to keep me doing some of my art, and have an outlet to sell some of my photographs as well. It’s like anything – what you put in, you get out. I haven’t been the greatest on keeping up with all the promotion that should really go into it. I find that I lack the energy/time/focus when I’m done creating my art to switch hats to PR and marketer.

RO: What subjects are your favorites to sketch? Any subjects you’d like to sketch more of in your work?
MB: Mostly people – Men, women, faces, poses, feet (much easier for me than hands). I also like to sketch dogs, birds, fish…I suppose it’s the organic nature of these subjects. I was just talking with someone the ether day about how I hate to do buildings, or mechanical objects, basically anything that requires me to be precise and controlled in my art.

My faith is a big influence in not only themes of my work but also in how I do my work. But not in a propaganda or preachy sort of way. I want to create art that engages people, moves them, makes them think, smile or see beauty. For me all those things trace back to my Creator.

I also have to be authentic in my art. Hence, doing what’s important to me or had influence 1607049_10152021340435958_1970299082_nin my life. That’s what led me to the Star Wars themed greeting cards I have on Etsy – combining two things that had tremendous influence in my past as a child.

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
MB: I feel like I should say yes…But honestly, the only thing I can think of are 2 things: 1. I have a picture that hangs by my desk at home from my youngest daughter Faith that says “Daddy, I enjoyed being with you”. That reminds me of how important it is for me to stop working and just be with my daughters, as well as a reminder for me to spend some time with my Heavenly Father like that.

The other is an illustrated note that an artist friend of mine had sent me during a difficult season. She’s a fellow old soul.

1464695_10151805099480958_709725966_n (1)RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
MB: That’s a tough one. I loved so many different super heroes when I was younger (and still do). These days, maybe teleportation. But perhaps that’s a byproduct of living in the traffic infested NY/NJ area. When technology catches up to offer this, I’ll want to renegotiate.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
MB: Ok. Can’t decide on just one, so forgive me…

Be in it for the long haul. Don’t look for shortcuts. They will only hurt you in the end even if they advance you in the immediate.

Practice your skills but also put time into figuring out who you are so it impacts the art you create. The world needs YOUR art, but it needs to be YOURS, coming from the unique blend of who you are – your skill set, interests, influences, experiences (including pain and “dark” seasons of your life).

Never stop learning. Read. Observe. Asks questions. Be in community. Take a different approach to something that you consider yourself really good at.

Do the next best work you can do right now and don’t worry so much about being “successful”. Make art because you HAVE to. Because to not do it would stifle your soul. 998792_10152008955150958_99723871_n

Establish a challenge for yourself. I decided to do a daily drawing or painting for an entire year. It’s been tough at times, and sometimes i only manage a five minute line drawing, but the experience and journey is something that could never have happened apart from putting in all that time. April will be the year mark for me and it’s also fun to look back on my Instagram feed to see my progress over the past year.

Invest in a sketchbook and draw something daily. If daily sounds too daunting, just do something more than what you are doing right now. Then in three months increase that again. Just keep moving forward.

Have Fun and figure out how to make your art a GIFT to those who experience it!

 

Mike, thanks so much for sharing your heart for creativity and people! If you’d like to check out more of his work, visit his blog, website, and Etsy shop.

Artist’s Spotlight – Dave Williams

Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features an artist and blogger I’ve been following for a few years: Dave Williams. I never quite know what to expect from Dave’s blog, and I love that! He was gracious enough to let me interview him. His answers feature his delightful simplicity and humor.

DaveWilliams

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Dave Williams: In the mid- and late 90s, I wrote a lot of fiction—but then stopped to focus more on graphic design, which was paying the bills. About five years ago, I started drawing cartoonish stuff and writing silly poems in the attempt to make my twin daughters laugh (some of it was actually successful). Doing this led to the wonderful habit of sketching and writing regularly. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a paintbrush after one of my daughters was finished, and I really enjoyed painting with it, so I bought some acrylic paint and canvases and did some more. Then, a few years into my blog, I rediscovered writing through flash fiction. By simply having fun creating things, my kids inspired me to try out my personal creativity rather than just using it for client projects in my graphic design work.

Underwater-LightRO: What first inspired you to art?
DW: I had a couple of influences as I was growing up (although some would say I haven’t done that yet). Having an artistic mom who creates beautiful artwork and who encouraged my brother and me to draw was a huge influence. She still continues to come up with projects that amaze me. The other big influence was growing up working in my grandparents’ bookstore. I filled many an hour with my nose stuck in a book when there were no customers in the store. That was usually in the middle of the day, as we were in a beach town, and all the tourists were soaking up the sun then (some possibly reading as well). All that reading caused me to fall in love with the stories and adventures of books. And it made me want to become a writer to make up my own stories.

RO: What types of media are your current favorites?
DW: I feel most comfortable with a ball-point pen and a sketchbook. These help me turn down that inner skeptic that throws doubts at me while I work. With lots of sketching, I’ve grown to enjoy making mistakes. They become part of the process. Screwing up over and over has helped me avoid striving for perfection or “just right” and instead focus on simply drawing and writing, and then seeing what comes up. There are surprises and frustrations in that. I keep coming back for the surprises. The frustrations are just part of the deal.

engarde_avantgardeRO: Your blog is not only delightfully quirky, but also has a great name: Zooky World. What inspired that name and what does it mean to you?
DW: I wanted my blog to be something different from my name, so it might be easier to remember. I first thought about calling it Chewy, since that’s the nickname my daughters have called me for many years, and it’s more fun than my name. But since a large part of my effort to make money with my own work has been through t-shirts, I worried if Chewy T-Shirts would cause people to scratch their heads and wonder if the shirts were supposed to be edible. Zooky World came out of my wish to have something easy to remember and sound fun. A wide variety of animals at the zoo, and a variety of projects I publish on my blog. It reminds me of my want to keep pushing myself to create new things.

RO: As mentioned in the previous question, your blogs a very unique flavor to it. That is in part because of the name, but also because the entries range from flash fiction and poetry to cartoons and photography. Is it difficult, delightful, or a mix of both being able to work carnivalswingswith so many different types of media? Is there one medium you feel you work best with or is a personal favorite?
DW: Delightful, for sure. Since I started working on my own projects, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different formats of expression. There are times I like getting outside with my camera and seeing what my eye is drawn to that day and taking lots of photos. Or I’ll draw for a couple of hours. I probably draw more often than work in the other formats. Ideas hit me when I’m at a sketchbook or walking or driving or any time, and it’s a curious journey to see in what form these ideas will end up. Some drawings I jolt out, and I like how it looks. Other times, the ideas I thought would be a simple cartoon shifted, as I continued drawing, into a strange illustration that was different in mood than when it began. Working in these various formats has helped me keep asking questions of how I feel about things, and they give me avenues to come up with different answers. Lately, I’ve been trying to blend formats. Could an illustration or photo with a sentence written on it become more like flash fiction and give a hint of a larger story that the reader conjures? Things like that.

As for favorites, I’ve mentioned sketching being comfortable. Beyond that, my favorites would have to be writing and painting. These are the ways I’m most likely to fall into the page (or canvas), like how the writer in Stephen King’s novel Misery described. When the work clicks right, I lose track of time, and my focus immerses in the project. It’s a beautiful thing. Doesn’t happen every time I’m working, but it’s a great high when it does. And I’m usually proud of the result that comes out of it.

fishman-atpartyRO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
DW: It all begins with sketching. Throwing down ideas lets me capture the things bouncing around in my head. Lots of sketches aren’t used later, as I’m not satisfied with how they look. Yep, a lot are corny and childish as hell. The ones I’m satisfied with are published on my blog. Often, an idea leads to another idea, and I explore some “what ifs?” and the second and third images are more interesting than the initial one. This is a big reason why I enjoy working in different modes of expression, as an idea can go in various directions, and I can try them out and see which sticks. I suppose the process in a nutshell is try, try, try, and make tons of mistakes until the project resonates for me on some level. Could be a simple laugh or could be making me think about something in a way that’s different than before. There’s the hope it will resonate for someone seeing it, but that’s a whole different matter.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
DW: I spent many, many months writing a novel in coffee shops. This was in the late 90s, and I never finished the novel. It was a very personal thing, and it helped me work out some of my feelings about different relationships at that time in my life.

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?redrhino
DW: Loads of artwork done by my daughters. I love their creativity and their willingness to run with it. A cartoon of an alien creature who devours princesses? Check. Mobiles of neon pipe cleaners? Check. Jackson Pollock-type abstracts? Check. Anything seems possible in their art. I want to keep encouraging that. I fear the day they say, “Nah, that doesn’t make sense” and start putting limitations on themselves, the kind that seems to come with growing up.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
DW: The ability to fly. I’m seriously jealous of those damn birds up there.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
rivercurvesDW: Creating art has helped me see things literally and figuratively. In drawing and painting something, I’ve noticed details I didn’t see before. That was first the case when I painted a sunflower, and the design of the flower’s center stunned me. As for the figurative “seeing” part, art has helped me explore questions to work out some of my feelings. There’s certainly a therapeutic aspect to it. I recently read Miriam Engelberg’s graphic memoir, Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, and it’s a good example of this. Miriam used the combination of handwritten text and simple, direct drawings to simply, directly convey her experience of undergoing treatment for breast cancer. In it, she talked/showed about how others in cancer treatment were finding comfort in activities like meditation and yoga, but these didn’t click with her. What did click was drawing. I think she was brave for publishing her artwork. It was open and vulnerable, and it resonated with me. I bet it resonated for many others, too. My thought to share would be that creating my own art and viewing the art of others has been wondrous on many levels. If you try it, don’t worry if it doesn’t look “perfect.” Push for something genuine instead of perfection. Have some serious fun with it.

Dave, thanks so much for sharing. Love your perspective on art and the creative process! If you’d like to see more of Dave’s work, check out his blog, Zazzle store, and Society6 prints.

Artist’s Spotlight – Nancy van den Boom

Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features talented painter, Nancy van den Boom! She and I took part in an artistic challenge last year, and I was always blown away by the texture and expression of her pieces. Enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at her craft.

Nancy_Artist Photo

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Nancy van den Boom: As a kid, I was drawing all the time, like my Dad did. I looked at him a lot when he was sketching in his free time. I am painting since 2009. Before that I did clay modeling and filming. When I discovered painting, I was hooked! I used pastel, too, and acrylics.

RO: What first inspired you to art?
NVDB: Is it ok I answer I just love to paint? It is part of my system, my life. It’s my passion. I have to pick up that brush and paint! It makes me feel good. That is inspiring!

IMG_6214RO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
NVDB
Oil paint is my favorite type of medium. I feel most comfortable with it. Lately I am working with acrylics too. It is so different.

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
NVDB: I look outside, and I think the light is wonderful, or the skies are dark and tempting! I decide to paint outside! Nature and being outside are big inspirations.

I prepare my “shopper on wheels”! I need to take a lot with me: canvasses, paint, medium, brushes, cloths, field easel. Oh and I need to take something to drink and eat too! I wear my painting coat, which looks like an abstract painting after 2 years of painting outside. I am very fond of my coat! I am getting impatient, the paint is calling me….

IMG_2082I take my gear in the car and start looking for a good spot to paint. It is lovely to do that search and when I find the right place with an interesting composition, I  get excited and put the easel up in the field. I prepare the palette, looking at the landscape and sky. Outside I work quite fast actually. I use a big brush to keep it loose and quick.

Painting a portrait is a lot different of course. I paint a portrait from a live model or with a picture for reference. Preparing a portrait starts by sketching with charcoal, but quite fast I take the brushes and paint! I like to find out during painting and not filling in a sketch. With portraits I build up the painting more than painting outside, but mostly I paint wet-in-wet, which means I paint the scene or portrait in 1 session. Sometimes I work on the painting some more in the studio, when the paint has dried a bit. For certain parts of the painting, that is better possible when it is a bit more dry.

RO:. What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
NVDB: I think when I got my first commission on a portrait of a family, consisting of 5 people. It was quite big, 120 x 100 cm.

I wasn’t very experienced and it was quite a struggle but I enjoyed it a lot. I worked for 10 days on it. Very different from painting outside, when I work about 2-4 hours maximum on a painting of about 30 x 40 cm.

BaaiRO: Your paintings are so vibrant and wonderfully textured, whether they are the result of you painting outside or in your studio. Do you find you that you have a preference for painting either indoors or outdoors?
NVDB: Painting outside I prefer definitely! Being outside, in the space where we live in the Netherlands. Often I look for a lonely place. It is just wonderful. Standing in nature, choosing my subject, seeing the sky changing all the time, and the light is wonderful. And then, on top of that, paint what I see!

RO: What is your favorite subject to paint? Is there a particular subject matter that you would like to paint more of?
NVDB: I like lots of subjects to paint: animals, people, landscape, interiors, still life. I would like to paint more of portraits, landscapes, seascapes, dogs, ….. 🙂

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?Drie-palen
NVDB
I own handmade pieces of my family: my kids, my parents, my father in law, friends…I cherish these works. I collected quite some during the years. In December, we added a wonderful impressionistic work by Hans Versfelt to our home collection.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
NVDB: End wars and starvation, for obvious reasons.

Brug-over-de-DeijeRO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
NVDB: I have to be patient to prepare before I start painting. Often I start too quickly (passion!). When I prepare the composition with more attention, or look better at shapes and colors than I thought I was already doing, it improves a lot. It’s all about looking hard and taking time to be at the spot where I am. That is just wonderful in itself already!

Thanks for sharing, Nancy! If you’d like to see more of her artwork, check out Nancy’s website and Etsy shop.

Musing on Three Years of Waiting

dearsister_newcover_1

Image courtesy of AK Press

In December of 2010, my poem “Smooth as Scales” was accepted to an anthology titled “Dear Sister.” At the time, I knew that the manuscript didn’t have a publisher. So began the wait.

But let me back up a bit—
I should mention that the subtitle of the anthology is “Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.” Before I submitted to this anthology, I’d gone through an event that qualified me to submit. I tried to convince myself that nothing had happened, but my nightmares and panic attacks told a different story. Looking back on that part of my life, I’m reminded of Jennifer Percy’s quote: “…The imagination of the event is so often more terrifying than the reality.” I know this is not true for everyone, but it was for me. I kept replaying the event constantly in my mind. In some ways, I think that rumination on the negative made me sick and my nightmares worse.

I thought about this event so much that I felt I had to write it out; otherwise, it threatened to poison my body. “Smooth as Scales” came to me. I read it to a dear friend of mine, and she later encouraged me to submit to “Dear Sister.” When my poem was accepted, it was like being told, “What you went through matters no matter what anyone else says.” It was a validation not only of my poetry, but (perhaps more importantly for me at the time) it was also a validation of the pain I had endured.

Spring forward to Winter 2012: Myself and the rest of the anthology’s contributors got an e-mail saying that the anthology was going to be published! Following that e-mail and swell of happiness were proofs and bios and media kits. It was all worth it. The anthology was published by AK Press on January 15, 2014.

Dear Sister Box of Books

In these past few years, the less-than-pleasant part of my story that appears in “Dear Sister” has simply become part of my life’s tapestry. I’m in a very different place now than I was when I wrote the poem. Seeing it in print, I think, has helped me close a chapter. I’m healed…now it’s time to pass that healing on to others.

Since the contributors of this anthology are far-flung across the nation, we were all encouraged to set up our own events. I held a poetry reading at Bernardsville Public Library this past Sunday with some lovely readers from Adanna. We all read works that revolved around the theme of healing and grief. Below are the lovely ladies I read with.

Adanna Dear Sister Reading

Stepping behind the podium to welcome everyone to the reading was an incredible feeling. Everyone read beautifully, and I loved speaking with each person at the small gathering. It reminds me of a quote from the last section of the anthology: “Forgiveness is a possibility that happens in conversation.”

If you’d like a copy of “Dear Sister,” e-mail me at roaringout@gmail.com. I still have some copies. Each copy is $10. I’d be happy to mail one out to you!

In the Spotlight: Checking Off a Bucket List Goal

When I write a goal down, I have a vision for how I’d like it to look. Because of this, I didn’t realize I had accomplished one of my bucket list items earlier this year. I’ve always wanted to take part in a performance in New York City, and this summer, I did.

I am a teaching artist with an organization called Arts! by the People.  I’ve taught creative writing workshops with them as well as helped with jewelry, craft, and playwrighting workshops.  The experience over the past few years has been wonderful, so when I was offered the opportunity to take part in a multimedia performance with fellow teaching artists in January, I jumped at the chance.

In 2012, Arts! by the People put on a performance called “Across the Platform.” I was moved by the originality and message of the piece (which, to me, was that you need to be yourself and not conform to what others want you to be, particularly in the 9-5 job world).

This year’s performance was called “Tipping the Playpen,” and our main theme was “cerebral clutter.” As artists, everyone involved wanted to represent the creative process journey they’ve experienced. We wanted to represent the craziness of the beginning stage, the lovely moment when an idea comes together, and end with the fact that creativity is an ongoing cycle; a “finished” product does not necessarily equal a neat resolution.

The cast of "Tipping the Playpen" taking a bow

The cast of “Tipping the Playpen” taking a bow

Our performance incorporated dance, fine art, video, cello music, and, my specialty, poetry.  The process of putting this performance together took about six months. We debuted our finished work on June 9th at Dixon Place Theatre in New York City. (To see a highlight reel of the performance, click here).

One aspect of the piece that everyone was excited about was the built-in audience participation. For the first 15 minutes of our hour-long piece, the audience was going to be out of their seats and part of the performance through participating in dance, art, and poetry recitation, as well as through watching a video while standing up.

Our piece was very well received, thankfully.  I had a few friends attend, and they all said it was definitely different than anything they had previously experienced. Participating in this performance was different for me as well, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

To see the video we showed the audience as well as pictures of the performance, click here.

Artist’s Spotlight: Jeff Maksuta

So, remember when I started the new feature of the blog called Artist’s Spotlight?  I’m bringing it back to stay this time!

Here to revive the almost-gone-but-not-forgotten section is animator and cartoonist, Jeff Maksuta.

The professional shot

The professional shot

The artist in his natural state: playing!

The artist in his natural state: playing!

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what mediums?
Jeff Maksuta: I’ve been drawing since I was little, but I would have to say I didn’t really get serious about art until late in the game, which is around when I was 21.  So 7 years. As far as the mediums I work in, I like to start my work using an HB pencil and some computer paper.  Then once I get my drawings to a good point, I scan them into the computer, and ink and color them digitally.  When I shift over to the computer, I use a Wacom Intuos 2 and Adobe Flash.

CucumberMan_final

Cucumber Man

RO: What first inspired you to art?
JM: I was raised on video games, cartoons, and comic books, so those things really inspired me to start drawing.  I remember collecting those 1990’s Marvel Cards and being really fascinated by all the different superheroes and villains.  Reading up on their back stories and powers, in combination with their visual appearance, I thought was really awesome.  The Mortal Kombat games also had the same effect on me.  Each character driven by their own reasons to enter this fighting tournament, and want to kill each other, was/is pretty freaking cool.  So really, it is this combination of visuals and story that I’m passionate about. Sure, art is good on a strictly aesthetic basis and writing a story can be fun, but the combination of the two…well, let’s just say I nerd out pretty hard.  I could list a bunch of cartoons and other things that have inspired me over the years, but my biggest inspiration has come from my good friend Marc Basile.  He is the one I really attribute to helping me open that door to becoming serious about my art.  I cannot thank him enough for how much he’s encouraged me and how much he has taught me over the years.

RO: What mediums are your current favorites?
JM: An HB pencil is where I like to start (Staedtler Mars Lumograph is my favorite brand).  Sometimes I’ll start laying things out with a non-photo blue Prismacolor pencil.  As I mentioned earlier, I like to draw on copy paper and then bring it over to the computer.  If I was to do everything minus doing it digitally, I would finalize my work using Prismacolor markers and/or Micron Pens.  When I go digital, I feel most comfortable using Adobe Flash, because it gives me exactly what I like; I can get graphic with it.  The brush tool in the program, in conjunction with the Wacom tablet, can be compared to a brush tip marker.  I usually work in a limited color gamut; often times, I use flat colors with some minimal cell shading.  I’m also a big fan of applying heavy, black outlines to my figures.

A work in progress - Predator

A work in progress – Predator

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
JM: Usually my creative process begins with just a simple idea.  Then in this almost automatic, ADD kind of way, my brain runs with the idea, throwing in nonsensical twists and filtering through “what if’s”, which ultimately leads to a point where its spun into something I like.  So the story aspect is built on this snowball effect.  As far as the visuals go, I like to start off by designing my characters, and then once I figured out their look, I start roughing the story out with some thumbnails to get a feel of what the overall composition is going to look like.  Once that reaches a good point, depending on the project, I start the full-sized pages or storyboards.  Then I’ll scan everything, and digitally ink and color.

RO: If you could spend the rest of your life focusing on one art form, what would it be?
JM: Any form of sequential art.   As I mentioned earlier, I like the combination of art and story, it’s what I get really passionate about. So as long as I’m making cartoons and/or comics, I’m king of the world.

RO: I know you are a part of a comic group you helped start called Sideshow Comics.  Can you talk a little bit about what led you to create this group?
JM: Well, I remember talking to my buddy, Chris Mitchell, about wanting to create a web comic, and being that Chris is like a bother to me and knowing he has a great sense of humor, I asked him if he would be interested in creating a website together where we can post funny comic strips.  He was all for it, and so Sideshow Comics was born!  Actually we were having a hard time coming up with a name for the site.  I remember Chris said something about how it would be cool if we had a name like Sideshow Comics and we were both like “Alright…yeah -that sounds good!”  Haha. So yeah, me and Chris write and draw our own comics that we post on Sideshow.  We’ve also had Marc Basile and Joel Casimiro contribute some of their work to the site as well.  As of right now, Sideshow is slightly on the back burner, but it’ll be rockin’ socks once again…by which case I mean, it’ll make people explode because they can’t handle the awesome, which usually happens when I just walk down the street and people look at me.  But that’s a story for another day.

Mortal Combat Haiku - from Sideshow Comics

Mortal Combat Haiku – from Sideshow Comics

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
JM: Actually the longest I’ve spent on a single project was about 3 months.  It was an animation I did for my thesis project, titled Onion Boy.  The whole process from writing the script to animating the visuals took a good chunk of time to finish.  But I had a lot of fun with it, and I am thankful that my very talented friend, Dan Kypers, could hop on board and do all the voice acting.  So overall it was pretty time consuming project, but seeing everything complete and in action is an amazing feeling.

RO: What do you enjoy when you are not arting?
JM: I like to eat bags and bags of cheese doodles…Haha, nah other than arting, on my free time I like to watch a good movie, read comics, play some video games, be a dinosaur, fly a spaceship, make a burrito, eat that burrito…mmmm Taco Bell. I don’t really like fast food, but T-bell is one of those guilty pleasures of mine; just like Ghost Adventures, which is actually the only TV show I watch…Well, now I’m going to put my sunglasses on, because I realize how cool I sound!  Free time well spent.

RO: Do you have anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?

Last Laugh

Last Laugh

JM: Not to talk so much about my own art, but it’s really nice to hold onto old sketchbooks.  Thumbing through them not only helps me realize how much I’ve progressed over the years, but also it helps me appreciate a lot of great memories through the art I’ve created.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
JM: I think its really important to set deadlines for yourself.  It’s something that I need to do, otherwise I’ll procrastinate like crazy.  Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to get started on a project.  Once I get going, I don’t want to stop; I have a very obsessive personality.  So setting deadlines kind of forces you to take on this challenge of pushing forward with your initial idea instead of being tied down to a strictly mental projection of the project having to be some grandiose masterpiece.  Other than that, I’m going to reiterate the famous artistic proverb of draw, and keep drawing!  (Or, do the art you enjoy most on a consistent basis).  It’s important to build a good foundation, studying things like anatomy, perspective, lighting, texture, etc.  Study your favorite mediums; study artists who really speak to you.  Most of all though, have fun with it.  Don’t get bogged down by not creating something perfectly or not producing exactly what’s in your mind onto paper.  Sometimes we have great ideas in our heads, and it just doesn’t come out quite right on paper, but that’s okay.  This is part of the challenge and the fun of communicating ideas visually.  You’re having a dialogue with the page and coming to an agreement.  If you feel your art work hasn’t turned out quite the way you wanted it to, start again and try approaching from a different angle.  Also, whether you like it or not, a part of your personality is projected onto your artwork, so if you feel you’re “failing” at imitating a particular style, that’s okay. It’s in your own personal approach, your touch, that really makes your artwork yours.  I could keep going and get all artsy fartsy on you, but blah blah…just art.  ART!

And now for a quote:

“Bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?”

……………………..*Cough*……

Alright fine:

“The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the love and whatever skill you have, and it will come out.” -Chuck Jones

Thanks for sharing, Jeff!  To see more of Jeff’s work, check out his website at: www.jeffmaksuta.com.

Muddled with Color: Working with Pastels

After a studio art drought, I decided to jump back into that realm today.  I’ve been wanting to get my hands dirty with oil pastels for a while as well as use a new art book I got in Florida back in March.  So I broke out both today.

A few months ago, a Louisiana friend of mine uploaded the following photo of a sunrise:

The inspiration behind my piece

The inspiration behind my piece

This image has stayed with me ever since he uploaded it, and I wanted to try drawing it.  Since it was such a pretty day out, I decided to print out the picture (in black and white since my printer doesn’t do color) and head out to draw among the cool breeze.

The printed reference I worked from

The printed reference I worked from

I will admit, I was a little nervous about sketching from a black and white photo since the color in the original is so brilliant.  But as I began laying down the color, particularly for the sky, and smudging, I realized I had a new freedom in picking the colors I wanted the sky to be, rather than painstakingly trying to match the color to the photo.  All of the little nuances of color and quirks were mine, and I liked that.  I know artists can do that with a full color reference too, but it’s something I struggle with.  Working with a black and white image freed me from my inner art critic a bit more.

When I first started the piece, I didn’t really like how it was turning out (as per usual).  But the more I smudged and added and got my hands muddled with color, the more I liked my rendition of the original image.  I hope you do too!

Almost there!

Almost there!

Finished piece!

Finished piece!

What is your current art project (in any medium)?

Adventures in Acrylic

The art class painting away!

The art class painting away!

Back when I was a kid and classes took a regular trip to the room with paint-splattered tables, I remember loving acrylic paint: the smell, the feel of it messing up my hands, the smoothness with which it colored the canvas.  But I remember the medium not liking me very much.  Even as a wee artist, I knew I didn’t have the best sense of proportion, shading, or dimension, though I couldn’t name these terms yet.

Yesterday, I took an acrylic painting class at Art Uncorkd in Whippany, New Jersey. I walked in and found it was a nice, small gallery space with a custom framing section and plenty of room for a painting class You’re even allowed to bring a snack and some beer/wine if you like!

The class was two hours long, and the instructor was great.  She took us through a step by step process of making our own interpretation of a picture very similar to this painting:Photo Jan 22, 7 13 19 PM

I decided to do something a little different.  I essentially cut the picture in half and only painted the right half (all of those fish were intimidating!).  At first, I thought I messed up right off the bat because my light half circle of water in the middle was not blending in to well with the rest of the color I put down.  But the instructor gave me some tips to smooth it out. The rest of the class and painting all the fishies was a lot of fun!

When I first sat down in front of my blank canvas, I was prepared to create something that, while fun to paint, wouldn’t live up to my perfectionist expectations. But for the first time, I pleasantly surprised myself!  Here is my finished product:

Koi Pond_LV Watermark Koi Pond_Side View

And here is a group shot of all the participants with the finished pieces:Photo Jan 22, 8 46 19 PM

I’m so happy with my finished piece!  So happy, in fact, that I worked up the nerve to list it in my Etsy shop, Lady Velociraptor.  Check out the listing here.

What is something new (or old) you have tried recently?  Did you like the results?

25 @ 25: Artist at Work

I’ve gotten quite crafty over the past month or so.  See?

This week’s 25 @ 25 features a picture of me getting my hands dirty with an X-acto knife, glass, scrapbook paper, and craft glue:

Want to know a bit more about this 25 @ 25 project?  Check out the post that started it all here.

The Link Between Grief and Song

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between grief and singing.  I know these can be thought of as pretty disparate concepts; one is filled with anguish and the other is (usually) associated with beauty.  And yet I can’t help but think they are inextricably linked.

I’m reminded of a poem by Jane Hirshfield called “If the Rise of the Fish”.  In this poem she writes, “If the leaves.  If the singing fell upward.  If grief./For a moment if singing and grief.”  I love these lines.  What would happen if singing and grief existed together in the same space for a moment?  What would that look like?  Would it be a mixture of light and dark?  Would it look gray and muddled or luminous?  I’m not quite sure but I love the fact that Hirshfield plays with this concept.

As far as my own creative process is concerned, I tend to write when going through a hardship.  Tension, living in the gray and unknown is what moves me to write.  And this creative process is helped along by music.  Most of my process has been influenced by the belief that tragedy is not necessarily found in the process of enduring a rough time; the real loss would be doing nothing to turn hardship into something beautiful.

There is a song by RED that I find myself going back to.  It’s called “Hymn for the Missing.”  Although these guys are pretty hard rockers, they compose some beautiful instrumentals.  And I think this song illustrates the concept of melding grief and beauty really well.  The lyrics clearly convey loss: “Where are you now?  Are you lost?  Will I find you again?  Are you alone?  Are you afraid?  Are you searching for me?  Why did you go?  I had to stay.  Now I’m reaching for you.  Will you wait?  Will you wait?  Will I see you again?”  So many questions.  I can’t help but think of this verse as depicting the bargaining stage of grief.  The uncertainty leads to questions, but questions don’t always lead to answers.  And still, we put them out there.  In the backdrop of this song is a beautiful piano arrangement that crescendos into an absolutely gorgeous, full instrumental – a reminder that grief and song can complement each other in the most heart-breaking, stunning way.  Listen to “Hymn for the Missing” here:

Hymn For The Missing

 

As I mentioned before, Red is a rock band so I wanted to showcase what they can do.  Check out their face-melting performance on Conan back in February:

Transcribing by Hand

Patrick Rosal recently told how he asked his students to transcribe one poem by hand.  He was right there with them on this assignment and posted his written transcript of Celan’s piece “Death Fugue”.  He then invited anyone who was willing to join in on the fun to post pictures of their transcription.  Here’s my attempt.  I transcribed Jericho Brown’s poem “Again”.

 

 

 

I’ve read this poem aloud a few times, but hand writing the piece was a completely different experience.  I noticed aspects of the poem I had somehow skipped over in my previous readings, such as the fact that each line begins with a capital letter.  I was also more aware of each line as its own unit, rather than rushing through the line to get to the end of the sentence.  It was in this head space that I became fascinated with the line “For my feet. In the dark/”. Here is the end of one sentence and the beginning of another. But as a unit, these two phrases are really engaging. What is for your feet in darkness? What does it matter since you cannot see your own feet in the dark? I pictured losing one’s way since the next step cannot be seen.  Or, maybe, this is freeing since there is no prescribed path; this presents the chance to carve a different path.

Perhaps the most surprising turn out of this experience was the urge to read the poem backwards, line by line. Here is one section of the poem as it is in the original poem:
Give a man a minute.
She’s asleep and I’m typing it
all over again. Everywhere
A man is shifting a bit
To make his woman comfortable
In his arms.

And here is that same section typed backwards (I’ve changed the punctuation a bit for the sake of flow):
In his arms,
To make his woman comfortable,
A man is shifting a bit
All over again. Everywhere
She’s asleep and I’m typing it.
Give a man a minute.

The backwards version has a different, almost cryptic, meaning compared to the original version. But it’s a great exercise to extract different syntaxes, explore different word arrangements. I found this to be a great prompt. I’m definitely going to start a poem with the line “Everywhere, she’s asleep.”

 

5 Writing Prompts to Get the Fire Going

My brilliant fellow poets in the MFA have their first packet of the semester due soon.  I know that the stress of a deadline sometimes creates writer’s block, so I’ve collected a few prompts from various sources to help ya’ll get un-stuck (or just for a fun exercise):

1. Write a poem answering the question: What would you find in your grandmother’s purse?

2. Think of a rule you grew up with.  Now, write a poem in which you break that rule.

3. Write about a body part without using its name or function.  For example, if you’re writing about the stomach, you cannot use the word “digest”.

These next two prompts riff off of poems by the poets featured in the last two “Poetry Monday”s: Michael and Matthew Dickman (yup, they’re brothers).

4. Write a poem answering the questions posed in Michael Dickman’s poem “Nervous System”: “When you look down/inside yourself/what is there?”

You can find the excerpt of the poem I generated this prompt from here.

5. Matthew Dickman’s poem “Grief” begins “When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla”. Use this statement as a starting point, but fill in the blanks for yourself: When _______ comes to you as a  __________   ___________ .

You can find the full text of his poem here.

Here’s to writing with plenty of fire!