Tag: johntenniel

Music is Great

As I type this, I’m listening to music. The three cockatiels who live in the cage behind me are chirping their approval. They chirp loudly whenever I sit at my computer to remind me to play some music for their entertainment.

I don’t always work to music. However, it’s nice to do sometimes. Music seems to make it easier to tap into that timeless, emotional, artistic part of my brain.

Sometimes I worry that adding a soundtrack makes me think my work is better than it is. I think that maybe I’ll use the music as a crutch, and neglect to add the emotional cues to my work, relying on the music, even though the reader won’t have that benefit. I always make sure to reread my work without listening to music, just in case.

There is no denying that music adds to my creativity. I do most of my brainstorming for my cartoons at my children’s orchestra and choir concerts. There is something about live music that just makes it more alive and electric somehow. Listening to recordings just isn’t the same.

Recordings are great too, though, when live music isn’t available. It’s nice to have music on demand. Often, I just want to hear a particular song or three, and it’s so nice to be able to listen to it right then. Technology can be awesome.

Music can be a comfort, a support, an encouragement. It reinforces memories and influences emotions. It’s pretty powerful. Of course, music is an art form itself, and musicians are artists. Speaking to emotions, the heart, the memory, is one of the things that art does best.

Since artists are people too, the art they experience affects their emotions and in turn affects their art. I believe that just as music can inspire me and others as we write, paint, and create, there are musicians who are influenced by writers and painters and other artists as they create their art. Seeing, hearing, experiencing the work of other artists is inspiring.

So, if you are seeking for a boost of creativity, listening to music is a great place to start. Which music? Well, whatever music you find inspiring. I assume that depends on what you need at the moment. I know I listen to a variety of different things at different times.

Do you listen to music as you work? Does it boost your creativity? What kinds of music do you like to listen to?

Don't Miss a Post!

You haven't subscribed yet?! Type your email address below and friendly elves will let you know via email when Summer creates new content.

Join 129 other subscribers

My Drafts File

I think a drafts file is an important writing tool. What is it? It’s the file where I keep unfinished stories and blog posts. Most of them are only a few paragraphs long. Why keep them? Well, that needs a longer explanation.

When I write a story for my blog, I start with an idea I find interesting. I think about it for a while until I can imagine where the story will go and maybe a few scenes or lines of dialogue. And then I sit down and write and see where it goes from there.

Sometimes it doesn’t go where I expected. That can be interesting, or it can be a problem. Sometimes as I’m writing I realize that what I had planned just won’t work. Or that it’s too similar to something else I wrote. There are many reasons that my writing stops in the middle.

When I’m not sure where to go next, and I’ve given myself a little time to think about it, I give up on whatever I’m writing. I copy it into my drafts file and save it for later. And while I’m there, I look at the other unfinished stories and see if there is one that I have some new ideas for that I can write instead.

Strangely enough, there often is something that will work. I’ll read a story fragment and I’ll see a new path to an ending that I didn’t see before. Sometimes, I’ll start writing and have to stop again and copy the new, slightly longer fragment to my drafts file. Then I’ll try something else. Usually, however, the new path works and I have something else to write and post.

I also keep a story idea notebook and some comic sketchbooks that I use for ideas. One of my rules is that when I have an idea, I need to add it to the book without judging it right away. Often, I think that an idea isn’t very good at the time, but later I like it much better.

It works the same way with my drafts file. The stories that I have abandoned as broken often turn out to be fixable. It’s just hard to see the fix when I’m stuck and can’t continue writing the story in the direction I initially planned.

Life is like that sometimes I guess. Problems sometimes need time and patience and a different perspective. Things that we can’t seem to fix right away may have a fix we can’t see right now.

June Johnson once said that she was late picking up her husband and felt terrible. She was sure that this was a problem that couldn’t be fixed, because she couldn’t travel back in time. But, when she arrived, her husband was just getting out of his meeting. The meeting ran late, so she wasn’t late picking up her husband. The problem was fixable in a way she hadn’t expected.

In a parenting class, the teacher once told us a story from the French Revolution. I’ve since searched for the story, but can’t find it, so I don’t know if it’s true or not. A mob of citizens had gathered to protest in the town square, and a soldier was sent by his superiors to fire on the rabble. If he refused, he would be killed for treason. If he fired on the mob, he would be killing townspeople that he knew well.

It may seem an impossible dilemma. The soldier, however, saw a third option. He went out, and announced, “I have been ordered to fire on the rabble. However, I see many good citizens among you. Would the good citizens leave, so that I can fire on the rabble?” The mob dispersed, and when no one was left, he fired a few shots in the air and left, duty done.

There is a path. In the story or painting you’re stuck on. In the problem you can’t solve. In the decision you need to make. It may take time and patience and prayer and a different perspective. You may need to set it aside or ask for advice. There is a way. Even if you can’t see it yet. That’s why I keep a drafts file.

Do you keep a drafts file? An idea file or notebook or sketchbook? Do you find that you can fix a broken or stuck story or picture if you leave it alone and come back to it later?

Don't Miss a Post!

You haven't subscribed yet?! Type your email address below and friendly elves will let you know via email when Summer creates new content.

Join 129 other subscribers

Looking At Art

It’s interesting to look at artwork made by other people. It’s inspiring to see how well other people create. But not every artwork is meant to convey technical skill. So what am I looking for when I look at work that isn’t photo-realistic?

One of the first things I look at is the title. It can sometimes give a clue on what the artist was thinking. How does it relate to the artwork? Does it seem like there’s a connection?

Some artwork is telling a story. Are there characters that might be doing something interesting? Does it look like something is happening? What could the characters be thinking about?

Other artwork is meant to convey feeling. How do I feel as I look at the work? Do the colors or shapes suggest ideas or emotions? How are they placed withing space? How does that make me feel?

Art can make a statement. Does it seem to relate to a relationship or current event? Is the content strange, off-putting or controversial? What do I think the artist is trying to say?

Of course, I don’t always have any of this in mind when I look at a piece of artwork. Sometimes the artist will write a thorough explanation and post it in a guide book or right next to the work. Then I can choose whether to factor their wishes into what I think of the piece.

And I can choose to think whatever I want. My opinion of the artwork doesn’t have to be based on the artist’s intent. Once I view it, I am participating in determining the meaning for myself.

Perhaps for me the meaning of a particular painting is that cats are scary. Or that eating in bed leaves crumbs and is a bad idea. Or I could decide that the red painting is far too angry and I’m not going to look at it much at all.

I could decide that modern art is boring, and no one can tell me that I’m wrong. They can say that not everyone thinks that, and that can be true too. It’s part of the fun of looking at art.

When art is hidden away with no one to look at it, it has a lot less meaning than art that other people can look at. If art has lots of different meanings, that just means that it’s been looked at and thought about often. So, don’t be afraid to have your own opinion about what you look at.

I think that the more meaning you find, the more interesting a painting is. But to find meaning, you have to spend time with the painting and give it more than just a glance. That’s when looking at artwork made by other people becomes interesting and inspiring.

What is your favorite artwork? What kind of art do you like? Why? What do you look for when you look at art?


The Joy in Participation

Don't Miss a Post!

You haven't subscribed yet?! Type your email address below and friendly elves will let you know via email when Summer creates new content.

Join 129 other subscribers

Art is different when you create it. You notice things, tiny details that you skip over as a member of the audience. I think this is true for all kinds of art.

Last weekend, I sang in a choir. We spent months practicing a dozen or so songs. Within a matter of hours, the performances ended, and we turned in our binders. In past years, I listened in the audience to this same choir perform. The experiences were very different.

Spending months with the songs, I learned the words. I learned the intricate harmonies and how they fit together. The songs stuck in my head between practices, and I hummed them as I washed the dishes. By the time we performed the songs, it almost seemed anticlimactic. I still hum the songs as I wash dishes. Though the performance is done, the music isn’t over.

As an audience member, I thought the music was lovely. Listening to it sparked so many ideas! I didn’t always understand the words, but that didn’t matter. Though I quickly forgot how the music sounded, I remembered how it made me feel and the impression of its loveliness. It was not the same lasting experience as singing in the choir.

When I copy an illustration I admire, I discover so many overlooked details, hidden faces and patterns and figures.

I find myself admiring an expression or the shape of a hand or a lovely combination of colors. “Oh, that’s how you do that,” I realize.

When I make just the right line here or match the right shade there, it feels like victory. You learn so much by doing. Copying art forces me to slow down and focus on details, one at a time.

I admire my favorite artists more after carefully trying to recreate their work.

This does not mean that I have to make a perfect copy or sing all the right notes to appreciate art. I make mistakes much more often than I like. I think the joy comes from putting in the effort and spending time seeing the intricacy revealed when you spend time in careful study.

A special joy comes when I create something of my own. Even if it turns out terrible, during the moments that I’m totally absorbed in writing or painting or singing, I feel outside of time. Completely focusing on how to make something work is a joy of its own.

Several of my illustrations. I love some of them and don’t love many of them. But they are mine.

It feels like the joy of solving a problem or putting together a puzzle. It’s that moment when you put another piece in, and it fits. There are many more pieces left to go, but in that moment when you realize that this one piece is in just the right place, there is that “aha!” of recognition. “Ah, I see. This is how it goes. I thought it did, and I was right! What is the next piece?”

I love to go to concerts. I love to look at artwork, even when I don’t have the slightest idea of where to begin to recreate it. I love feeling inspired. There is so much joy in finding loveliness in the world, and you can find it in so many places.

Yet there is a special joy found in participation. I think it enhances my appreciation of art when it’s my turn in the audience again, because I’ve learned to look and listen more closely. If I’m in the audience next year, I’ll probably enjoy the choir numbers much more than I did last year. But, after the hard work and practice I put in this year, I honestly hope that next year I’m in the choir.

Have you found joy in participating in art? What do you enjoy doing? Do you think it helps you better appreciate the work of other artists?

Prep Work

Don't Miss a Post!

You haven't subscribed yet?! Type your email address below and friendly elves will let you know via email when Summer creates new content.

Join 129 other subscribers

Sometimes, I can just sit down and write, draw, or paint. However, sometimes art takes preparation. I suppose practice itself is a form of prep work. What other preparation do I need?

With writing, I keep a notebook of writing ideas. Once I’ve chosen an idea, I sit and think about it. I like to at least have a beginning and an ending and some scenes in the middle planned before I start writing. If it’s a complex or longer story, I like to have an outline to follow. It’s usually not especially detailed, but it gives me some direction.

A page of one of my story ideas notebooks.

I still get surprises as I write, and sometimes I have to change my plans or do some rewriting when the story veers off course. Having a plan keeps me from having that awful moment where I realize that I have no idea where I’m going with this. It also makes it easier to just keep writing. It works for me.

In Toastmasters, we practice planned and impromptu speeches, because life has both types. In my drawing, I practice drawing the picture in pencil, making sure to get all the proportions right, and then drawing over it in ink with more detail or looser lines. I also practice sketching in ink without any prep work. I think both help train my hand and eye in different things.

Each step of my reproduction of Quentin Blake’s “ABC” Ss. Reproduced by me on 2-4-19

Painting requires the prep work of a mise en place just like when cooking. In addition to gathering and placing tools and fresh water and paint, the painting surface also must be prepared. For example, watercolor paper needs to be taped or stapled to a board.

Then you can draw an outline of the image you want to paint in pencil, or project it from underneath using a light desk, or project it onto the surface with a projector. Many believe a device similar to the projector, the camera obscura, was used historically by painters such as Vermeer. It’s really helpful to have a guide to follow so that you get all the proportions and distances correct. It’s horribly discouraging to spend hours on something and then realize that because you were working as you go, a small error led to everything looking wrong in the end.

I love recreating the illustrations John Tenniel drew for “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice through the Looking Glass.” 

In a watercolor class I took last spring, the teacher talked about this kind of prep work, and said that she often has students who get really upset when they hear about it. They say that it destroys their view of art and artists to learn that they might use projected images or other kinds of painting aids. I wonder how they feel about outlines for writing or recipes or sheet music?

For my graphic novel pages, I draw a thumbnail sketch. It’s small so that I don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of time on it or work out all the little details. It’s for planning out the flow of the panels and their content. The pages themselves are drawn in pencil, then inked, then erased, then scanned and colored digitally.

Step by step through one of my graphic novel pages, from thumbnail to publication. Click here to read my graphic novel, “Isaac’s Illustrated Adventure.”

In some ways, the pages I’m posting to my website are prep work. If I prepare them for publication at some point, I will redo them using the pages I have now as prep work for more polished, better done pages.

Planning ahead usually produces a better end result. It’s true when packing for a trip, or buying groceries for the week, or teaching a lesson at church. It’s also true in art. Knowing that I’m prepared also helps me feel calmer and more confident as I work. I like the times I just sit down and draw or paint, too. Sometimes the results can be surprisingly good. Unfortunately, they can also be surprisingly terrible. Preparation gives me more consistent results.

What kind of preparation do you do for your art? Do you always prepare in the same way? Do you sometimes skip the prep work? How do the results compare?

Don't Miss a Post!

You haven't subscribed yet?! Type your email address below and friendly elves will let you know via email when Summer creates new content.

Join 129 other subscribers