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J. T. Glover

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Welcome! [Dec. 18th, 2029|08:01 am]
I'm J. T. Glover: reader, writer, and librarian. If you're looking for information about my publications, it's here. I blogged at this LiveJournal from August of 2006 to March of 2012, using it to chronicle my day-to-day activities, primarily connected with writing and reading. Any future posts along these and other lines can be found at http://www.jtglover.com
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Learning What's Essential [Mar. 4th, 2012|10:41 am]
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""...[S]election of the significant and suppression of the non-essential... often gives to a few lines drawn quickly, and having a somewhat remote relation to the complex appearance of the real object, more vitality and truth than are to be found in a highly-wrought and painstaking drawing, during the process of which the essential and vital things have been lost sight of in the labour of the work; and the non-essential, which is usually more obvious, has been allowed to creep in and obscure the original impression."

-- Harold Speed, The Practice and Science of Drawing, p. 32.

If I had read this a year ago, the way I go about drawing and painting might be significantly different now, and perhaps better. On the other hand, last year's efforts gave me a body of experience that enabled me to appreciate the truth of the above. I got The Practice and Science of Drawing as a gift late last year, and as I'm reading it now, there are epiphanies to be found on almost every page. For every bit of commentary, I can compare it with some work or moment and understand what may have led to success or failure. The above passage also explains why a drawing I worked on for many, many hours last year is worse--and a less successful representation of the same subject--than one I did this year in under thirty minutes.
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Cross-Training for Writers [Feb. 20th, 2012|07:15 am]
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[Current Mood |sleepysleepy]

My experiences with the visual arts over the last year or so have been energizing, and purely enjoyable in their own right. They've also led to analogic understanding, as I've seen principles that seem to hold from one medium to another. I've tried to think of the right way to express the connection I've felt between my writing and my drawing & painting, and cross-training seems like another good way to think about it.

One cross-trains to combat weaknesses in a particular kind of training--things that the base form just can't do effectively. Plenty of writers out there pursue no art forms other than writing, but then, there are plenty who do. They paint, sing, dance, drum, and strum the guitar. Often their "side art" isn't anywhere near as good as their "main gig," but it's still interesting to see them stretch in another direction (Stephen King the guitarist, Tennessee Williams the painter, etc.).

Some of the things that I would like to think are helping my writing that I've learned from drawing over the last couple months include, for instance:

* Finish one stage before moving on to the next. We all get this advice with our writing: finish the draft, then polish. This is indeed what I was already doing, but still; fine advice, pointing out a variety of problems that can ensue from not working each stage fully, like the problem of focusing so tightly that one develops values or colors in one part of the image that aren't right for the whole.

* Use all of your senses when planning a drawing in order to make it come alive. We went for a silent walk at one point during the class to see what we observed, taking in all of what we saw and trying to incorporate it into some concepts. Writers are told to use their senses all the time, and I do try, but it was a nice reminder. This weekend when I was working on a scene, that walk came to mind, and I think it helped with a description.

That's just a smidgen, but it's striking how many comparisons emerge during instruction. "Read a lot, write a lot" could be rewritten "Look at art, make art," and it would be as true. That Ira Glass quote about beginners making not very good art is also as true for painters as it is for writers. Putting skill to work in the service of ambition is tough when your skills aren't yet well developed.
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Jam Every Other Day [Jan. 16th, 2012|07:49 am]
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Weekends like the one past, I miss home more than ever. Facebook is full of Seattle friends' pictures of the snow, along with all of the predictable jokes about grocery shortages, buses not making it up hills, etc. Currently it's 20 degrees in Richmond and will be 65 on Tuesday. The pogo stick thing gets old.

My drawing class has gotten off to a good start, and it meets again tonight. We started off with blind contour drawing and went on to do a bunch of (non-blind) timed drawing exercises with charcoal. Interesting, not least because I usually draw with pencils, and I've repeated some of the exercises on my own. Just focusing on contours, or gesture, is tough for me to do, given I think about shading so much... but perhaps that's part of what I'm in class to learn/unlearn.

Just finished reading Icon, the 1998 Frank Frazetta retrospective that covers his work from early days on, though more paintings and drawings, fewer comics. I was curious for more about Frazetta's working methods, and frankly I haven't gotten anything yet that I haven't from other interviews, Frazetta: Painting with Fire, etc. I'm also reading a biography of Egon Schiele (NSFW), Egon Schiele: The Egoist. I'd seen his work in past, but I specifically sought him out this time because of his skill with contours.

I'm working on a couple different short stories right now, and they each are rather different, so I'm switching back and forth between drafts. The mood of the one (tentative, hopeful) should not leak into the other one (hopeful, terrified), and I'm trying not to cross the streams. After these two are finished, I have a couple things waiting in the wings, and the year rolls along.
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Where Am I Going, Where Have I Been? [Dec. 28th, 2011|08:52 am]
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[Current Mood |chipperupbeat]

In 2011 I read, wrote, drew, and painted. In 2012 I'm going to strive to do all of those things better, and in greater quantity. Howzat? Setting goals, among other things. Also, I'm cutting back on the number of books I have going simultaneously. Last year my reading was fragmented for a whole bunch of reasons, so this year I'm moving toward focus.
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Plateaus and Congruencies [Dec. 21st, 2011|08:06 am]
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The Fourth ViewWhat a strange year it's been. I've written various stories, some of which are now floating around in slush piles and some of which aren't. Skull-Hame has gone as far as I can take it right now, and we shall see what comes of it. Angels did not sing and trumpets did not sound as a result of any of this, and I think that's partly because my writing has plateaued. There are various ways to get past plateaus, and I'm working on them, but in the meanwhile I've learned a variety of useful lessons while painting and drawing. All of them I've learned in some form while writing, but encountering them in a different medium reinforced them. A few examples...

Playing around is useful.

This painting is kind of a mess, but it's pleasing to me, and it happened almost entirely by accident. Three "learning experiences" are buried underneath what you see--a flying woman, a cloud, a star-eating bird--and all of those experiences were intentional. Last night, tired and frustrated because the flying woman was not what I wanted her to be, I nuked it: smeared the last of the paint on my palette onto the board. Then I squirted some craft-grade paint onto it and smeared that around. Then I carved into it with a painting knife... and something charming came out of it. I didn't expect the colors underneath to show as well as they did through the paint on top, and now I have something new (to me) to try intentionally with a planned painting, if I so choose.

You can always start over.

I considered throwing away the board that this was painted on because I so disliked the first painting on it. Really, I buried it under a stack of papers and ignored it for five months. Then, just for kicks, I decided to paint a cloud on it. It was all right. Then I covered that with off-white and used it as the ground for a painting of a flying woman. (I could go into detail about my goals and lessons from each of those, but they aren't the point). Then I did the thing you see above. Each time, I began again, building a new city on top of the city that had been there before, and something good came out of it all, even if the previous city had fallen into ruin.

Don't throw away what can be recycled.

It wasn't merely that I started over on the board, but what had come before was reused in largely unexpected ways. I could not have foreseen the above painting when I was working away at the bird.

Persist.

I've talked about this before, but in essence, I need to remember to keep going. At some point the work will be so ugly and yet-to-be-born that I will want to throw it out. Eventually that will pass and it will become something better.

Flaws can become strengths.

The last painting underneath this one was bright. That was intentional, after a fashion, as I was going for cartoony brightness (inspired, if you please, by the often surprisingly well painted backgrounds on a certain animated television show), and for a form modeled without any blending whatsoever--just bands of different values to indicate the shadows and highlights. It didn't work, partly because I just don't have a good enough grasp of anatomy, let alone with no reference, and partly because the painting had ALL OF THE COLORS ALL OF THEM EVERYTHING I COULD SNATCH FROM THE RAINBOW. This was intentional overreach, as a painting last month had problems for similar reasons, and I wanted to try something similar but different... and it ended up not mattering. Without that "mistake," I would not have had all of the colors that peek through the slashes in the overall yellow-green of the foreground of the painting that resulted. Something went wrong on the previous journeys, but they led somewhere useful, even if it was not the intended destiantion.
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A Year Without Lists Is Like a Carrot Without Rouge [Dec. 20th, 2011|06:53 am]
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Last year I didn't keep a reading list, and I miss it--enough so that I plan to do one again for 2012. I've read a lot of art technique/theory books over the last year, and I expect they are probably of interest to less than five people reading this, but that's five more than zero, and it would be useful to me to keep track. Many of those books I read as if in a fever, reading this book on composition to completion and (literally) dropping it where I stood to grab for a book on color theory, and so on.

Part of the problem is that I look back on the year and wonder, what have I read that I liked? Well, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities for one. Thomas Hart Benton's An American in Art: A Professional and Technical Autobiography. Some comic books?

Looking back over a year's tagging in LJ, I also see...

* Re-read of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys
* Animal Love Summer, by Marion Peck

[But wait! Do I include books that are 90%+ reproductions of artwork in my reading? Two years ago I would have said "no," but my interests have changed, and so is how I "read" images.]

* Historical Lovecraft (multi)
* Literary Brooklyn (Hughes)
* Duma Key, re-read (King)
* The Cabala (Wilder)
* Mr. Shivers (Bennett)
* Engines of Desire (Llewellyn)
* The 37th Mandala (Laidlaw)
* Patriot Games, re-read (Clancy)
* The Steampunk Bible (VanderMeer, Chambers)
* The Enterprise of Death (Bullington)
* Full Dark, No Stars (King)
* Gone, Baby, Gone (Lehane)
* Old Man's War, reread (Scalzi)

There were others in there, but many disappointments, honestly. I tried (multiple times!) to like Ivy Compton-Burnett, but her locutions were so periphrastic, her characters so unpleasant, I couldn't manage. I have just given up on The Cold Commands--which is sad, because I liked The Steel Remains, but this one just doesn't have a central narrative conflict, at least as of page 158.

Next year? Next year I want to spend more time reading...

1) What I like to read. Sounds awfully silly, but there it is. This year I worked diligently to expand my horizons in various writerly ways, and much of what I read just didn't float my boat.

2) Books and stories I don't re-read regularly. Do I need to re-read Lord of the Rings? I do it every year or so, and I could do it this year, but maybe, just maybe, it's time to re-read The Silmarillion

3) More books by authors I know that I like. Why haven't I read every Chandler novel? No good reason. Why haven't I read The Sundial? No good reason.

4) Things that engage me within 50 pages. If I'm actively turned off of it beforehand, I'll dump it, but if I'm not into it by 50, out it goes. There's not enough time to plod through uninteresting books for the sake of pleasure.

Here's to a year full of good reading.
What do you want to read next year?
Authors you've been wanting to sample?
Series wooing you with multi-volume immersion?
Got any recommendations?
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"I'm going to ramp up my blogging now." [Dec. 19th, 2011|05:46 am]
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This post could be subtitled "a phrase one usually does not hear." The last week has involved various obiter dicta about the nature of blogging as of December 2011.

* This morning I was poking through the usual run of art blogs and saw an artist talking about stepping away from his journal just until he gets this one book done, and I had to smile, because I hear it all the time from writers. The nice (?) thing about artists' blogs it that they have something of an out in that they can post a pic of work in progress and it will be (to some, anyway) interesting. For any number of reasons, writers don't tend to post the same way, and generating fresh content takes time.

* Late last week I was talking with a friend at work about blogging and mentioned that I'd been blogging with waxing and waning devotion for some seven years. I mentioned I was on LiveJournal and she did the eyebrows-flying-off-her-head thing and opined that it obviously had been a long time "because, you know, LiveJournal." How odd it seems that I started this in the summer of 2004, on a lark, curious about this whole thing that brassratgirl was always on about. Now, many years later, I can't go a week without someone saying "it's a ghost town around here," though there are enough people that it just isn't true. The hard core of LJ-folk is still there.

* Early last week I was in a virtual meeting (webcams! streaming images! Living in the Future!) where the subject of online communication channels arose, and one colleague said that he had "kind of come and gone with blogging, mostly gone," which honestly feels about right for a LOT of people. Casual social blogging? The 'graf-and-a-link folks have mostly gone to platforms that let them do that more easily, and those platforms are burgeoning.

Some people keep doing clever things with LJ -- if asakiyume stopped LJ-ing, the quality of my FList would decline precipitously. The "mostly gone" thing particularly applies if you aren't putting out content on a regular basis, as all "good" bloggers are supposed to, and few people actually seem to do anymore. Those who do (sartorias, jimhines, nihilistic_kid, etc.) have something that amounts to a regular "beat" that they cover apart from promoting their own work, whether it be Lego geekery or lit/genre rumbles. Is blogging no longer a thing? Or is it just that it's no longer a thing among the people for whom it was a thing five years ago? LJ has made the news several times for being a bona fide Voice of Freedom in Russia, the target of takedown attempts by people who want to silence debate--so clearly it's happening somewhere. The news talks about "bloggers" all the time, but what they mean by that is not always clear.

Why ruminate about this? Doing some stock-taking earlier than usual, I guess, and trying to decide how to do what I do better next year.
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Three Naked Ladies, Two Different Tribes, and A Quiet, Sexy Handyman... [Dec. 10th, 2011|09:18 am]
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[Note: All links in this post should be considered NSFW.]

Last night I watched Sirens, a 1993 movie currently available on Netflix Instant. It stars Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, Sam Neill, Portia de Rossi, and Elle Macpherson, among others, and they do a lovely job, but all that is beside the point. It's a gloriously rococo depiction of bohemian life in Australia between the wars, and parts of it are like watching a Pre-Raphaelite painting come to life before your eyes.

The story revolves around Norman Lindsay, a controversial Australian painter known for the frank sexuality of his work, and controversies arising from public display of his work. That's a horrible summary, but the movie rambles wildly through a bunch of different plots (Ebert said it had "no particular plot"), and it's hard to summarize. The story is actually touching in many ways, but watch it for the character interaction, the costumes, the bohemian oasis of Lindsay's home in Australia, and the spectacle of women out of Godward or Alma-Tadema (or Lindsay, natch) walking through rough country towns where they are unwelcome. There's a lot of stuff lifted whole from paintings and survival-of-superstition stuff like The Golden Bough. On the whole, the movie feels like they took it out of the oven ten minutes early. I'd watch it again, and I'll probably wind up buying it, but it's a good movie visibly straining for something it doesn't quite achieve.

I hadn't heard of the movie until quite recently, spurred to learn more about Lindsay after reading about him over at Muddy Colors. He was apparently quite prolific, though his work isn't all that widely held or discussed, and his work has often been regarded as pornographic (see: 1939 burning of his paintings). On balance I enjoy Hugh Grant movies, though I know many people who will chew through limbs before watching one, so I say: this movie is worth your time if you care about art, myth, or sensuality in either. It's delightful, playful, erotic, funny, and striking. To put it another way, I wouldn't have expected these contents based on the movie poster.
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Uncanny Valleys [Nov. 23rd, 2011|07:24 am]
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"Uncanny valley" is a term used in the context of robotics and 3-D animation to describe human reactions to close-but-not-quite replicas of humans, referring to the dip in positive reaction as a replica approaches perfect likeness. I've been thinking about it a lot lately outside of the usual context as a metaphor for near-success in art and writing. As a reader, viewer, consumer of art of all kinds, I often find myself far more frustrated by the near misses than the low-grade successes.

More specifically, I've painted various landscapes (and am working on one right now) that are somewhat pleasing. I can look at them and derive pleasure in a way that I don't from my representational paintings of humans. Many theorists, both in art and otherwise, say this is because humans are attuned to the proper proportions for humans, and something inside of us instantly reacts by saying "something ain't right here" more intensely than we do about, say, tree stumps. Tree stumps come in all shapes and sizes, and we generally aren't worrying too much one way or the other about them: they aren't going to attack, we aren't evaluating them for suitability as mates, etc.

Currently I'm muddling along in terms of painting realistic humans and humanoids. They're fine for a beginner, but the basic proportions are simply wrong. This might not be noticeable if I were aiming at a clearly surrealistic style, but aiming for realism? There are reasons people spend years trying to master that, and many never get there. I practice, both drawing and painting, and I'll get better in time, but let's just say I'm very glad that I take pleasure in the act of it.

How does this apply in writing? We often talk about characters being cardboard when they aren't fully rounded, though individual readers' tastes may not be troubled by individual characters' realism. Does one hit the revulsion factor, though? Not really, not for any piece of fiction across the board. My assumption is that this is because there's something about how we perceive images that differs from our language perception. Likewise sound, I suppose; dissonant music catches our attention because it's wrong on a level of orderliness that's ingrained. One can become inured to it, as I assume one can become hardened to (genuine) screams of pain on a battlefield or in an ER, but it presses a button right off the bat for most people.

Different genres have different conventions in terms of what constitutes a successful depiction of a human, and lack of awareness of these conventions on the part of a reader can lead to failures of appreciation. Lovecraft's characters, and much fiction written in his footsteps, is not rife with either authentic or effective dialogue. Sometimes the conventions amount to differences in perceptions of what constitutes life -- and thus some reviewers complained that the characters in The Sun Also Rises just sit around and eat and drink. Lord knows, more ink has been spilled on men who write women badly, white people who write people of color badly, etc. I'm conflating genre conventions and different life experiences here, but both go toward what makes a work plausible. We often forgive stories for minor mistakes or flaws, but everyone has their point of disengagement from a work: that moment where you stop caring about the work because of something in it that you just can't get past: impossibly shrewish women, implausibly iron-thewed swordsmen, lives so banal they defy the human experience of pleasure.

In so far as a painting is trying to tell a story about people, it can't do so without articles (foreshortening), parts of speech (proper proportions), or punctuation (compositional flow). Many paintings are about things other than telling stories, though often they tell more of a story than we may think. Warhol's cans of soup, for instance, have a story behind them, for which the paintings are signifiers. I still struggle with telling effective stories and narrative flow at times, but I have ideas about proper "proportions" on the page, and an awareness of what proportions are right for picaresque contemporary novels, science fiction short stories, horror movies, etc. In these cases, the uncanny valley is contextual rather than absolute.

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