Slippery fish

It seems to me, in general, there are two types of writers. People for whom ideas come easily and the craft and follow-through are a challenge and people who struggle with their idea, but the craft and revising flow unimpeded. This is a vast oversimplification of course, but in general it seems like most writers I've met lean towards one or the other group.

I am in the second group. I wrestle with ideas like slippery fish, but once I've caught one I can whip up dinner in no time flat. This is probably not the best analogy, books have little in common fish and I am a vegetarian, but slippery carrot doesn't work quite as well... anyhow... I long to be one of those writers with ideas buzzing round their heads all the time, who need merely choose which spark will make their masterpiece. But I do love the rush of energy once I've got my momentum going and can really sink my teeth in. Right now I am at the cusp, about to dive in, writing aimlessly until the pieces I need come together. It's a place I cannot stand and will do anything (blogging for instance) to avoid, but usually passes quicker than I think it will.

On writing

Last week I was listening to NPR on the way to the grocery store and they were talking about the subject of writing. There were two quotes that have stuck with me all week.

“I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.”
- James Michener


"Becoming a writer is not a 'career decision' like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don't choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you're not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days."
- Paul Auster

They both seemed quite true and particularly relevant as I chug slowly uphill, knee deep in revisions...

Time well spent

I loved Alvina's post last week about people in publishing pursuing creative goals outside of their day to day work life. As a creative professional you have to find ways to re-engage with your creative instincts or you will surely burn out fast. Being home with a new baby has made me think about this all the more. Because my time to work is extremely limited at the moment its important that the time I do have is spent well. To me that means not wasting time with procrastination and self-doubt, but getting to the heart of what I want to say. I hope that spirit carries through to the time when I have more hours at the computer.

In the meantime, I will keep keep chipping away at manuscripts in the making. And when I can't get to the keyboard, I'll look for other ways to express myself. Right now that means this:

It may be 60 degrees and sunny in California (don't hate me east coasters), but knitting is something I can do a little at a time. And every stitch makes me more excited about the next book.

Old Red Shoe painting in progress movie

This week I am in Virginia on a whirlwind tour of school visits and presentations to teachers. As part of a talk I'm giving for Kindergarten teachers, I put together this painting-in-progress movie of an illustration from What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? (similar to the work-in-progress posts you see on my blog). It is so hard to explain how an illustration evolves from sketch to finish, it is so much easier to show...

Check out my first painting-in-progress movie for Priscilla here.

Getting ready

Now that I've got the go ahead to turn the sketches for A Photo for Greta into paintings, I've been spending every free moment in my studio getting ready. It kind of feels like I'm about to go on a trip and need to pack things up and put things away before I go. Once I'm knee deep in painting its impossible to keep track of things like filing and where the stapler goes, some part of my brain is always thinking about whatever is on the drafting table.

So I'm packing up, putting things away, cleaning like crazy. I hemmed the pants that have been sitting in the corner for a month, packed up my great aunt's costume jewelry collection (on the floor since the new year), and weeded out my sock drawer. I took care of travel arrangements for school visits coming up and started my taxes. My schedule is made.


Planning for a deadline

Since the art for Disappearing Desmond is due in a week (final stretch!), I thought I'd talk about how I pace myself with a picture book deadline. This book is 40 pages with self ends and has many, many illustrations in it... I laid it out with a lot of spots and vignettes and square-ups of all sizes. So to keep it all straight, as soon as the sketches got approved, I printed out thumbnails of all the pages that look like this:

I wrote the date I planned to do each painting above its thumbnail. I don't always follow this plan, but it helps to have an idea of how much I need to accomplish each week to make the deadline. Of course sometimes paintings take more or less time than expected... there are several with this book I've repainted entirely. But again having an overview helps make such an immense amount of painting seem less overwhelming.

So I go along, beginning each painting on the planned week. Once I've begun an image I put a check on top of its thumbnail. I say begun because I don't usually finish all the paintings til the very end. I'll usually go as far as I can until I reach a point where I am not sure what to do next. Usually at some point I will get stumped by which color or pattern to choose. So to keep myself from ruining or overworking the painting, I put it aside and move on to the next one. I like to hang these half finished paintings around my studio, so I can keep them on the creative back burner.

Then once all the paintings are on their way, I go back and finish them all off. This is where I am now, I've planned these last couple weeks to fill in all the details left in each piece. Finishing them all around the same time helps me be consistent; when I've worked in sequence sometimes by the end I end up with a style that has shifted somewhat. When a piece is finished I turn the check above each thumbnail into an x. I know, I'm ocd that way.

I'd be really curious to know how other people plan, or don't plan, this all out- how do YOU do it?