(My first painting ever–which is why I write, as my art form, now)
When I was 10 and 12, my town held an annual “Artist Call” where we young people drew free-hand, for hours, one Saturday a year, under the direction of a professional artist. It was a contest meant to to cull the best and the brightest among the town’s youth. My mother was convinced I’d win the $100 prize–no meager award in that era. She signed me up every year and it was she who brought me to the elementary school cross-town where applicants gathered.
What led her to suspect I might win? I was always drawing or sketching. And then again, I was her daughter; she doubtless hoped I’d gotten some talent from the gene pool. After all, she painted with oils and applied intricate gold leaf to wooden buckets (meant for magaziness) and serving trays she displayed around our home.
All through school I embellished, too. In college, friends remarked that my notebooks were filled with drawings. During lectures, I’d sketch the speaker and his backdrop, avoiding the tedium of taking notes. But I was not destined to pursue a degree in art. Instead, I majored in history and minored in French, while my interest in art took a very far back seat…ending up in the bleachers.
Flash forward many years. I’ve completed two careers and am now I’m launched on a third. As freelance writer, I’m finally “doing art” in that I construct a “picture” and put it out there. But, instead of paints, charcoal, or the like (as my medium), I use words and phrases to convey my scenes.
The contemplative stage is always first (as is so much in life), where I picture, in my mind, how the piece will flow. Here, I engage in internal dialogue. Since beginning this blog, too, I realize that I should outfit myself with a tape recorder to capture fleeting thoughts (in the car, shopping…whatever), for I know: they vaporize as they form.
I try to hold onto them until I can jot them down…somewhere…anywhere (I’ve notepads all over)…but often, it’s an exercise in futility. When I try to retrieve them later, they’re gone and I need content myself with a less exciting substitute (another lesson in life to “strike while the iron’s hot”).
The beginning of each piece owes its creation to my teaching/business background, where I learned: if I want success (at keeping others’ interest), I need to “Grab ‘em and keep ‘em.” With that in mind, I begin with broad brush strokes (of words), on my computer screen, then feather around the edges, adding details.
I carefully choose every word, weaving it into the mix, for its maximum impact. I’m laying out my story, following a sequence. Sometimes I move words and sections around; and at times, I deplete entire paragraphs, in the “less is more” mode.
In rare instances, if the whole piece has become a wayward child, I throw it out (I can do this with art) and begin fresh, in a new direction. I’ve learned at my age to cut my losses and run, rather than waste precious time and energy reworking unmanageable projects, recognizing that fresh material abounds; it just awaits my plunder.
If I’m retrieving memory (for my subject), I tap into a whole chorus of children in my mind, trying hard to wrest my attention, offering “Pick me”…”I know how it happened.” I’m so aware, too, that just as one of these witnesses has her version, another one—right next to her—saw it a whole different way. That’s when “perspective” comes into play. I try to remember—words are slippery and have different meanings to different people (depending upon their experience).
I do know one thing: My stories resonate with others, depending on where they are in life, where they’ve been, and where they’re going.
Finally, when I think “I’m done,” I edit for clarity and consistency (“Does it say what I want?). This stage seems unending as I hone and beat it into submission. Sometimes, at this point, I realize: “Wow! It’s become a whole different ‘animal’ (from how it began).
In the end, Biddy strives to be an artist with words, but it took years for her to get to this place. Because of her own circuitous life story, she suggests: Follow your dreams at whatever age. If it takes you longer to do what you always wanted (because of life’s responsibilities), your work will enjoy a complexity and depth it might not have had otherwise.
PS…In delicious irony , Biddy’s older daughter is creative director in an ad agency in NYC (she got her design degree at Carnegie Mellon University). They take her very seriously in the business world. Grandma would be proud, indeed.
(To the right is the work of another “young artist” who started on this road later in life. Her water-color scene perfectly captures the dappled shades of the mountains. Her picture is a much-appreciated gift to me.)