Serendipity

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Here’s the story behind this book.  A good friend recommended it over the summer.  I had trouble interloaning it from the library and forgot about it.  Another friend randomly bought me the book you see here.  What’s the connection?  Serendipity!

I’m calling 2013 the year of possibilities.  I’m also searching for my “style.”  This book has helped put it all in perspective.

Favorite quotes from this book:

“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.”  –David Bowie

“Start copying what you love.  Copy copy copy copy.  At the end of the copy you will find your self.”  –Yohji Yamamoto

(I love Monet.  See my attempt at copying his style here.  But in the end, is it Monet or is it me?)

“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”  –Jessica Hische

“Avoiding work is the way to focus my mind.”  –Maira Kalman

(See the result of my procrastination here.)

If you’re an artist and unsure of yourself or just unsure of how to begin for the day, read this book.  I highly recommend studying the diagram on pg. 83 😉

I will leave you with a quote from author/illustrator Shaun Tan.  He was a keynote speaker at the SCBWI conference in NY this year, which I was unable to attend.  I would have loved to sit in on his session on “Developing A Personal Style.”  Luckily, someone tweeted about it.

“Your deep style is the intersection of all  the other styles you adopt.”  –Shaun Tan

Now it’s your turn.  Tell me about a “happy accident” you had either in art or in life. 

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All Its Birds

brush and ink

“the universe takes care of all its birds.”
Wonder by R. J. Palacio

I recently read Wonder by R. J. Palacio, and I highly recommend it to everyone.  It’s the story of fifth grader Auggie, a boy who was born with a facial deformity, and how he faces the challenges of transitioning from home school to mainstream school.  As I said in my Goodreads review, I think reading this book will help humans learn how to be a little more humane.

When I attended the SCBWI summer conference in L.A. last summer, Gary Schmidt gave the last keynote speech.  He offered the writers in the room some serious advice, which has stuck with me to this day.  And yes, I’m going to quote him once again.  😉  He said, “Write stories to give kids more to be a human being with.”  I think Palacio has done that.  We can, too.

Getting back to the book, my favorite chapter is only one page and is titled, “The Universe.”  The narrator of this section is really questioning how the universe could allow kids like Auggie to exist in the world.  Why do some people get all the luck and others none at all?  I guess it depends on how you look at it and what you define as lucky.  Auggie is lucky enough to have a loving family and support network to protect him and serve as his nest.  He’s also learned to be very strong and brave in his own way.

Here is my favorite quote from the last lines of the chapter:  “maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end.  the universe takes care of all its birds.”

This can be a hard concept to accept sometimes.  But I think the more that we believe this and strive to embody this in our world, the more we can make it a reality.  It is our choice.  We all have a responsibility to take care of each other.

“The Terrified Eye”

brush and ink

I’ve been curious about “the terrified eye” (which I kept calling “the terrible eye” and “the terrific eye” by mistake– Don’t you just love “eggcorns” ?) ever since I read Gary Schmidt’s book Okay for Now.  How can you not be concerned with the outcome of this eye?  Which in this case belongs to 8th grade narrator Doug Swieteck, who’s having trouble at home with an abusive father.  He finds solace in art, particularly in viewing Audubon’s illustrations for The Birds of America.  “The terrified eye” both represents the main character’s own situation and that of one of the pictured birds: The Arctic Tern ( Plate CCL).

What is even more interesting is that Schmidt seems to have been fixated on this eye for quite a while now.  It shows up in several of his other books!  In the aforementioned book’s predecessor, The Wednesday Wars, 7th grader Holling Hoodhood is constantly getting the evil eye from his teacher.  She has the habit of rolling her eyes at him, which is not a very teacherly thing to do.  😉  Our other narrator, good old Doug Swieteck, shows up in this book with a BLACK EYE.  And then there are the rats, which just happen to be named after two characters from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.  I love this line: “I looked back, and there were the demon rats, racing with their scabby paws toward me, their eyes filled with the big M–Murder!–and their pointy heads bobbing up and down with each leap.”  How’s that for imagery?

But we’re not done yet.  The eye shows up in an even earlier work, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy In this book, 13-year-old Turner Buckminster, a minister’s son mind you, starts out in a new town by getting into a fight.  An elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hurd, gives him some advice on how to handle someone bigger.  “You were supposed to hit that boy in the eye.”  Later on, Turner comes face to face with a whale while out in a boat.  Schmidt not only describes the whale, but also highlights the main character’s deep connection to it.  “Its great fins slapping the water.  and its eye…its eye.”

I decided to study my own “terrified eye” for this sumi-e painting.  I’m drawn to this eye.  Aren’t you?

“Friday Evening Experiments”

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One of the most intriguing parts in the book I’m reading, Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields, is about frog levitation.  “What?” you say.  You heard right.

Scientist Andre Geim was conducting such experiments.  He and his colleague Konstantin Novoselov conducted all kinds of improbable experiments, which they called “Friday Evening Experiments.”  Did they really hope to make frogs levitate?  Maybe.  But what they were actually pursuing was creative abandon.  The genius that comes from asking a lot of questions and letting go of  preconceived notions and the need for particular outcomes.  Not all of their experiments were successful, in fact some failed wildly, but at least one of the “Friday Evening Experiments” resulted in the two researchers winning the 2010 Nobel Prize.

So here’s your task.  Start a few “Friday Evening Experiments” of your own.  See where they take you.  Don’t be afraid to take chances.  You never know what you might discover about a character, subject, or idea…  And who knows, you might even make a frog levitate.  I know I just did 😉

Tailspin

brush and ink

The inspiration for this picture was actually a line from the book The Writer’s Journey under the section titled, “The Wisdom of the Body.”

“In fact,the secret of drama may come down to control of the audience’s breathing, for  through the breath all the other organs of the body can be regulated.”

The fish I drew is in a complete tailspin, which can be defined quite literally as a “rapid descent…in a steep spiral.”  A tailspin might also refer to a “loss of emotional control.”

But to me, this sumi-e painting is not meant to be dramatic.  After all, this move is second nature to the fish.  The loss of control is symbolic of freedom.

You might feel like the fish is spinning out of control, but what you don’t know is that the fish is actually leaning into the spin.

According to Taosim.net, “Zen means being in the flow of the universe.”  Therefore this fish is experiencing a moment of pure zen.

Self-control is defined as “the ability to exercise restraint or control over one’s feelings, emotions, reactions, etc.”

We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.

Every time we create something new we experience uncertainty.  But according to Jonathan Fields, author of Uncertainty, we need that element to create anything truly unique or innovative.  “Your ability not only to live with but lean into and proactively seek out risk, judgment, and uncertainty…will play a huge role in your ability to create genius in every aspect of your work….”

So keep the drama in your creations.  Let the audience feel it.

Want less drama in your life?  Don’t forget to breathe 😉  Flow with the universe and let everything else go!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

brush and ink

“Trust the Path”

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

One of my writing critique partners recommended this book to me, which I received as a Christmas present.  Somehow I decided to read the last chapter first, and boy am I glad I did.  The author relates a personal story about getting lost at Big Sur while on a journey to find himself.  The story suggests that we need to stop looking for the “right path” and instead trust the path that we are on.  I was just discussing this in my guest post on my friend’s photography blog.

Taking a look at the cover image, a labyrinth, makes me see the idea of the path in a whole new way.  We’re always worried about ending up on the wrong path.  But perhaps there is only one.  If all paths are connected and intertwine, then we don’t have to be concerned with being stuck somewhere we don’t want to be.  We can simply go in a new direction.  Or better yet, we can trust that by moving forward, taking action, and staying in the present moment, that we’ll end up where we need to be regardless of the path we take.

I’m reminded of the fantasy movie “The Labyrinth” with David Bowie.  The main character feels like the path she is on continues forever without leading her anywhere.  She gets a little help from a tiny worm who suggests that things aren’t always what they seem.  Why not walk through walls?  Maybe there’s an opening.  But even when she does, she still has a choice to make: left or right.  The tiny worm sends her in the opposite direction, which, unbeknownst to her, actually leads her away from the castle.  Is she on the wrong path?  OR does she need to make this journey.  The best part for viewers is watching her overcome obstacles while discovering herself.  Making it to the castle is just a reflection of all her hard work and how far she’s come.

So I encourage each of you to TRUST YOUR OWN PATH.  And who knows, perhaps we will see each other along the way.

Walking the labyrinth in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA

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