Friday, June 21, 2013

Streetside Art

As children, most of us used to color sidewalks with soft, crumbly chalks. That need to grab a stick of color and start marking our surroundings, that joy from self-expression is something we might've inherited from the distant, murky time of caves and cave dwellers. As children we loved the powdery feel of chalk under our palms, and the lines that flowed from under our fingertips like silk from a spider, we used to revel in the sensation, we used to feel so much pleasure in the simple act of drawing on the pavement... But as we grew up, we also grew out of our childhood fantasies and, often, out of our childhood joys. Street painting festivals let us recapture that forgotten feeling of abandon, of freedom, of once again being a kid with rainbow-smeared hands and pure, overflowing joy of drawing from one's imagination.

Modern street painting hails from Europe. In Britain, pavement artists were called "screevers" from the writing style (often Copperplate) that accompanied the works of pavement artists since the 1700s. The works of screevers were accompanied by poems and proverbs, lessons on morality and political commentary on the day’s events. They appealed to both the working people of many, who (on the whole) could not read or write, but understood the visual images; and to the educated members of the middle-classes who appreciated the moral lessons and comments.

In Italy, such painters were called Madonnari. Madonarri were often poor soldiers returning from the military campaigns, who wished to express gratitude for their safe return by recreating images of the Madonna in front of the churches. Madonarri  were also itinerant artists who worked on the cathedrals and often recreated the paintings from the churches on the pavement in the hopes to earn a few coins from their audience or attract wealthy patrons. For centuries, many Madonnari were folk artists, reproducing simple images with crude materials such as tiles, coal, and chalk. Others, such as El Greco, would go on to become household names. In Germany, the artists were called a more prosaic Strassenmaler, literally -- street painter.

Pasadena Chalk Festival organized by the fantastic Light Bringer Project (a Pasadena-based non-profit organization dedicated to "building a community through the power of the arts and education." How awesome is that?) attracted over 500 Madonarri, screevers, Strassenmalers, chalk painters, in short -- versatile, original, wildly imaginative folk who used sidewalk as their canvas. It was wonderful to see the tradition of street painting alive and thriving, so many artists choosing to interpret something as boring and uninspired as pavement into colorful, joyful pieces of art. I saw adults and children alike get excited about the art -- from chatting with the painters to photographing their chalk masterpieces. Nice.
Troy and I decided to join the fun -- a term that can be only very loosely applied to standing on hands and knees in a sweltering sun! on a melting asphalt! -- and create pavement art of our own. We chose the cover for The Land of Joy and Sorrow as our piece and spent the next two days bringing it to life. It was a challenge, a grueling work, an incredible bonding experience, and, surprisingly, heaps and heaps of fun. When all was said and done; our faces sunburned and our bodies hurting in places we never suspected had muscle, this is what we created.
Our own sidewalk "masterpiece"...
Troy hard at work...  
Best partner/husband ever...
...and here are some works by wonderfully, scary-talented chalk artists...



Friday, June 14, 2013

Inspiration Boards

In art school, what feels like eons ago, I was introduced to the concept of mood boards aka inspiration boards. We were encouraged to use collages of images, text, objects, art, anything at hand, really, to illustrate and develop our ideas, explore our styles and sensibilities and communicate them to other students. You guys, the boards were a revelation!

Up to this day, I use various incarnations of them whenever I need to organize my thoughts or breathe life into my worlds or spark new ideas when I'm in a rut or just help me visualize where I'm heading. Mood boards are great tools to capture that elusive "feel" of your story, to lend it such lovely tangible qualities as color, texture, shape, heft and weight, to put some "meat" on its bones. They are also treasure-mines of inspiration and creativity. Palettes of emotions. People are such visual creatures, our brains are stimulated by what we see -- a picture is worth a thousand words, in a sense that it triggers a stream of associations that leads to new sensations, new ideas, even bursts of creativity.

Here are some of the lovely, lovely mood/inspirations boards...




images via Pinterest
A woman searches for inspiration, 1898 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Words Don't Break

The idea behind this blog is to follow the writing of my fantasy novel -- the Land of Joy and Sorrow -- and see what becomes of it. To make mistakes and to stumble, and then to pick up the pieces and dauntlessly stumble towards more mistakes. And in the process, to have fun telling my story, inventing my characters, finding inspiration to create new worlds and new beings, and (as an extra bonus) maybe even to learn a thing or two about writing, the kind of thing that you can only learn by trying and failing and trying and failing and trying a little harder and longer and with a little more passion.

I've been writing all my life, as Russians would say -- "in-the-desk" (in reference to manuscripts that never see the light of day) -- or in my case, under-the-nightstand. When, after ten years, the heap of handwritten papers spilled out and over, making it difficult to squeeze to my side of the bed, and the ideas kept coming, I decided to turn them into a book and thus clear some space and appease my ever-growing need to write. All I had to do was find a place to begin.

Ah, the beginnings!

the fortune cookie ALWAYS speaks the truth

To me, they are always equal parts excitement and terror (with a smear of awesomeness). They are unrealized possibilities, blank canvases, untraveled roads. I used to craft each word in my head like a delicate piece of jewelry before I would deem it worthy of a scrap of paper or a laptop screen or my USB drive or a chance at becoming an idea. To treat my sentences like precious, breakable things. They had to be perfect, pristine, just-so, soldiers, all-in-a-row, and more often than not they came out dull, strangled of all life, utterly robbed of any spontaneity and spark and fun. I would imagine these gorgeous, breathtaking scenes and write them down in gorgeous, well-thought-out words, and when I would read them later, they were just -- meh. Awful, actually. It was all very discouraging, not to mention -- tiresome.

So I told myself to loosen up. To reign-in the need to control and simply let the story spool freely and wildly, be what it wished to be, rather than try to wrangle it into submission. To not be shy about writing too many similes or using outrageous imagery or improbable premises. To have fun with my metaphors, my verbs, my adjectives. To be rough with my words. To enjoy myself rather than worry about ruining my masterpiece, or making mistakes -- words don't break! That's the beauty of them. You can always go back for revisions, rewrite to your heart's content. Every single word, if you so desire.

Now, I find writing those first few sentences (paragraphs, pages, chapters) of a novel, less like fine metal smithing and more like a plunge into an icy, mountain lake or a snowdrift -- headfirst. It's best to just breathe great, quick lungfulls and go for it. The more you hesitate, the less likely you are to actually do it. And if you walk away, you might always regret an opportunity missed. You might always wonder what could've been. And the story would remain trapped inside of you like bubbles of unexhaled air. So wasteful. And selfish. Also, unhealthy.

So don't hesitate. Have tons of fun. Be spontaneous. Be messy. Enjoy it. After all writing is so, so much more rewarding than jumping into frigid water or stinging snow. It is interesting, it is funny, it teaches you things you would've never learned otherwise. It's kind of like going on a scavenger hunt, or dreaming-while-wide-awake. You never know what you'll find or see. You never know what you'll gain. Just like in dreams, you can be as fearless, as bold, as daring, as adventurous as you wish to be and still walk away unscathed. What can be better, I ask you?

So here it goes. My plunge. My experience. My novel.

and some inspirational quotes to help along the way...

"You might not wright well every day,
but you can always edit a bad page.
You can't edit a blank page."

— Jodi Picoult

"I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done."
— Barbara Kingsolver via I Love Reading and Writing!  
Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.
— Susan Sontag via the writer's den
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair; the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names or can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page."
— Stephen King ~ "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" via I Love Reading and Writing!

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."

— Sylvia Plath via BrainyQuote