Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A different look at the creative process

Yesterday, as I was implementing my free WiFi with one costly cuppa joe at the local Starbucks joint, it occurred to me that visualizing the fits and starts of getting back into illustrating would be good fodder.

I came to NYC just out of college with the intent to write and illustrate books. I underwhelmed a number of art directors with my portfolio. I illustrated one modern fairy tale book for an obscure press (with a tie-in to Sting, go figure) and a Darrell Schwitzer tale in Twilight Zone Magazine. I looked at my work and decided I had to learn to draw better. I took classes. My drawing got better but then I realized I was passable but never gonna be someone whose illustrated works I'd buy eagerly. I lost heart. I was not a genius. Plus life was becoming busy with learning how to be a book designer and starting a family and yadda yadda here I am, still drawn to drawing and wondering what to do with it.

So when a well dressed young woman sat down next to me and whipped out a shiny new mac book air I tuned my battered mac to google images and pulled out pencils and paper. Take that you newer toy showoffsky...

And I personified the whole mess.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The maze and amazment of research

Tonight I amused myself by searching for images of plants and animals on tiles. I need inspiration for a home page I'm designing. This divides into several paths: terracotta carved and polychromed tiles, majolica plates and panels as well as tiles, Edwardian illustrations hand painted on tiles, mosaics dating back as far as the ancient Crete and Rome, and some seriously ugly refrigerator magnets. Apparently the world is stuffed full of crafts and the people who are crafty.

Some of the most beautiful were old friends from the Topkapi Palace. Not that I've been to Istanbul, but years ago the first story I illustrated was Frank Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" which I took a week off work to research images from books in the New York Public Library and also peering at the illuminated manuscripts at the Metropolitan Museum. It's pretty cool that I can stay right here on my couch and do all the research with web searches.

All those artists making so many walls and plates and floors and baths with patience and enormously skilled fingers. People just need to say, I was here, even unsigned. With a leaf, a dragon, a lotus, a brilliant blue.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Silly brain and the creative process

Jim and I sit around and pretty regularly congratulate each other on possessing brains that have plenty of alternate route signs posted. If it weren't for all the road blocks, we'd never have become so adept at finding local lanes that offer unexpected visions. Some people might think it inconvenient to forget where you parked your to do list, or be incapable of following directions, but we have come to see it as an advantage.

Well, not always such an advantage. We don't have a swanky lifestyle. Jim isn't Emperor of Wall Street, I didn't become a CEO or investment banker... Hey, wait a sec, bunch of those folks will soon be out of work. They lost their jobs due to someone taking the quickest route to Greedyville. I quit my job so I could go slow. Slow myself into doing creative work. Work that requires me to deliver surprises.

So if you hear me say garlic when I meant ginger, or I get that misty look in my eyes that has nothing to do with needing to clean my lenses, you'll know I'm cogitating through the creative zone.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The thing about drawing maps

especially historical maps, is they take forever to do. I'm struggling a bit with all the new tricks Adobe Illustrator does, but that isn't the real problem... It's not the software but the sources. The dozen old maps I'm using were drawn over a span of 3 centuries by people of various skill, getting the pieces to line up is is kinda like jamming a puzzle that warped in the rain.

And you can't just cheat and use a Google map. Things change in 400 years, they do, rivers are dammed up or change course, town centers shift, cemeteries fill up, ponds disappear, land fills fill up, and wars change things. Plus modern highways and rail bridges obscure the sheep paths and hills that seemed to dictate the way roads happened back then.

I'm learning a lot. Bet most of you didn't know Walden Woods (of the famous pond) was a skanky hummocked tract of sandy unfarmable land, which is why it was a woods when Thoreau hung out in his cabin. Or that freed slaves moved there.

I didn't know that so many writers serially lived in one house in Concord that just going there should relieve writer's block. Here it is: The Wayside home to: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Sidney (who wrote the Five Little Peppers, I can't be the only one who ever read those books!). How many transcendentalists does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, they were lit wicks.

But I'll be glad to leave Concord when I'm done with the map. No offense. I'm sure it is a lovely town, even two centuries later. But I need to stop gawking at all the old sites.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The freelance life for me

It has now been one week since I last sat in an office and had to wear nice clothes to work. My cat and dog are delighted. The dog now sits by my foot at 3 pm because she knows this is when I'll take her out for a walk. Which is a brilliant way to deal with the afternoon doldrums, just follow dog, past windows and trees in the park, and pick up poop. The cat is gradually learning that piles of paper that I'm gazing at are not to be used for sleep or play.

I tried freelancing many years ago when the kids were little. Unlike the cat and dog they did not choose to sleep most of the day. I was torn between their needs and my deadlines. It didn't work out. I went back to an office job and hired childcare.

This time I'm ready and life is in alignment. The kids are now women attending college. I have more design tricks in my bag. Also Google is here, it's free, and it's good. I have set up a calendar, this blog, and plan to use their services to help me keep organized. Best of all, Jim is helping me to organize too.

I also recognize humans (me) are pack animals. I get that small talk and existing together in one room somehow soothes the lone beast. I plan to spend an hour a day at a local Starbucks with my laptop and do my writing (poetry, picture books, novel). I have invented the term "passive socialization" to describe the buzz you get just sitting near others who are also concentrating. I bet the term is already out there and I just nabbed it from the ether.

I really love working with my hands...of course my hands are connected to a keyboard, digital tablet and digital pen. It feels good to be back doing work I love best, designing.