Creative Outlets

I was flipping through old photos the other day (sort of – browsing through them on my computer, but that doesn’t have as evocative a sound), and found myself missing my big camera, and the time when I took photos regularly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ease of my camera phone (even if the pictures do tend to have crappy quality), but there is something about seeing the world through my viewfinder that I miss. I’m hoping to do a photo shoot with the girls around Easter, maybe jump start my photography hobby again.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

I play around with a number of creative hobbies, without getting super serious about any of them. I quilt, but not brilliantly. Sewing clothing, same. I used to scrapbook, but haven’t in about … well, I think the last time was when Joy was a baby. And occasionally I like to stick my toe in the waters of sketching, though I usually pull it back out again at once because that water is cold. I like baking and cooking, though having to do them every day or else we don’t eat does tend to diminish their appeal. Knitting I pick up at the start of every winter and lay down at the end and consequently never finish anything that takes longer to complete than a scarf. I adore music, and one of my goals is to someday take piano and voice lessons again, because without them my voice has turned to a rusty squawk and the piano winces every time I get near it.

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie's Easter basket

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie’s Easter basket

And a pink skirt for Joy's Easter basket.

And a pink skirt for Joy’s Easter basket.

I used to feel kind of badly about myself, that I dabbled in so much without ever feeling the drive to become expert in any of it. Of late, though, I’ve come to think of it as a good thing. I think it’s good to have something, a creative something, one can do just for fun, just to relax, without ever feeling the need to perfect it. I work to perfect my writing. There’s my passion. The rest? They’re more like … palate cleansers.

Sometimes my mind needs a rest from writing. But it doesn’t want to veg, it just wants to relax a little. So picking up my niece’s baby quilt (yes I’m still working on that NO I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been it’s pretty well a standing joke by now OK?) as a chance to rest those creative muscles without letting them get all flabby? I’m pretty sure I’ve killed this metaphor dead, but you get the picture. IT’S A GOOD THING.

So yes, I will pull out my nice big camera soon and enjoy once more the creative effort of setting up and pulling off some great shots. And I won’t feel bad that I don’t feel so passionate over my photography that I could totally make it my life, yo. It’s a fun hobby, and it’s just fine if that’s all it ever is.

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Concept Art

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m more of an audible reader/writer – I don’t tend to visualize stories as I read them/write them. I hear them in my head, instead (one reason why I rarely bother to read to stories aloud when I’m editing them. Since I hear it as I write it, reading aloud is redundant).

This means that I tend to write my characters all in “white space.” I’ve had to train myself to write in background details for scenes, so that my characters aren’t all talking heads.

This also means that when I placed my sci-fi novella-turned-novel From the Shadows on a futuristic spaceship, I didn’t bother visualizing how the spaceship would look, its design, or anything beyond a vague “sleek and shiny.”

I knew I would need to get more detailed at some point, but when Amanda and I were discussing elements for the cover and decided that it needed an image of the ship on it somewhere, I had to buckle down and figure out exactly what it looked like.

This led to figuring out logistics as well, what parts of the ship did what, and a rough sketch of the outline to send to Amanda so she could see what I had imagined.

I never claimed to be a great artist

I never claimed to be a great artist

Somewhat to my surprise, it was fun, sketching it and plotting it and detailing it. (I have a rough plan of the inside layout of the ship, too, but that isn’t even close to fit for other people to see – I need to polish it up.) And it has helped with the writing, as well – knowing what the setting looks like in my mind helps me to unconsciously write more natural details into the scenes and keep the characters from being the talking heads I veer toward so naturally.

I’ve been toying with the idea of once in a while sketching out scenes from my books now, in hopes that it strengthens my ability to be a visual as well as auditory writer, and that it makes for more detailed writing and a fuller experience for the readers.

(Also, it makes me wicked excited to see how Amanda incorporates the ship into the cover art.)

Art

Right now, we have three Ralph Masiello drawing books (Farm, Ancient Egypt, and Fairies, which book I’m going to have to buy because my girls wail whenever we have to return it to the library and risk SOME OTHER KID borrowing it before we can re-borrow it and renew it a thousand times again), two Learn-to-Draw book (forest animals and farm), one Dover drawing book (flowers), and one Encyclopedia of Drawing scattered across the dining room table.

My girls would spend hours every day drawing if I let them, especially Joy. Most of the time they just want to scribble the same picture on a hundred different pieces of paper (which drives me MAD), but they are also very insistent on wanting to have all these art books around, JUST IN CASE they want to use them. And Joy is, in fact, using the Fairy drawing book even as I type, to draw a ballet fairy for her dance teacher. My brother-in-law’s Christmas present was a portrait of the Tooth Fairy to hang in his new dentist office, painstakingly drawn with the help of this same book.

They aren’t, generally, into coloring. We have plenty of crayons, markers, and colored pencils, but for the most part they only want to draw. Unless they are offered Mommy’s colored pencils, of course. That’s a horse of a different color.

I have tucked away somewhere Joy’s first filled sketchbook, Gracie’s first picture of people that actually looked like people, certain treasured drawings that they couldn’t bear to let me throw away. Most papers, however, get filled with drawings and then tossed out at the end of the day, or week, or whenever the apartment starts feeling like it’s overflowing with paper the same way Strega Nona’s home overflowed with pasta after lazy Big Anthony got hold of the magic pasta pot.

And it feels like a waste, like we’re destroying trees and wasting time and never going anywhere. “These scribbles aren’t helping them become better artists!” I fume to myself. “The 50th one looks exactly the same as the first! The drawings from this month look the same as the ones from a month ago! They aren’t developing.” (I am SUCH an American in my ingrained ways of thinking.)

Yet somehow, in my heart, I know that this has value, it isn’t just wasted time or paper, any more than time spent creating imaginary worlds and games is a waste, any more than hours spent in incomprehensible-to-adults play is a waste. I may not be able to reason myself into a place where logic makes sense of it and sees a purpose in it, but I can, at least, shut my brain off and leave them to create their own magic while I pursue my own affairs.

Which, ironically enough, often include scribbling how many words that might seem to many people to be a complete waste of time and space. Value, you see, doesn’t come from other people understanding and approving of our actions. And so without understanding, but with instinctive sympathy, I close my mouth and let them scribble.

And this spring, maybe, we’ll plant some trees to make up for the ones that’ve gone into all the paper we’ve used.