A Scattershot Approach to Creativity

I haven’t been very active here since this summer, but I have been keeping busy. Fatherhood and a full time job will do that for you, regardless of your creative efforts.

Thankfully, I haven’t been idle on the creative front, either.

LadySea.net Updates

My wife is a potter, photographer, and knitter. She is selling her work over at LadySea Creations. Since I’m already conversant in HTML and CSS, and have a decent idea of design, I’m the webmaster and site author over there. It’s a pretty good creative outlet. I have always enjoyed programming for that reason. (I’m writing server side scripting in PHP.) Creative problem solving, followed up by translating those ideas into a structured language. It’s a fun challenge, and not entirely dissimilar to writing structured poetry.

Writing

I have worked a bit more on The Apprentice, and also a couple of short stories. It’s not as much progress as I’d like to make, but fatherhood and work continue to be very intense. My hope to write on the laptop or paper while being Parent on Deck hasn’t really worked out. The littlest munchkin is just too active, too curious, and too smart. She requires more attention now, not less. I’ll likely be hosting a story or two here in the near future.

Soaping

I’m still really enjoying soap making. The last soap I made didn’t work for the house because I had forgotten that my wife’s tree allergies involved cedar.

The next thing I made (that worked) was a soft shave soap with shea butter. It really came out great. The lather is very effective, and the shea butter leaves the skin feeling marvelous afterward. I was trying for a lemon-lime scent with a touch of peppermint, but the peppermint oil was much stronger than I realized. I ended up with basically a pure peppermint scent.

Currently I am curing a stiffer version of this soap. I also plan to try a hard version. Whichever I like best will become the basis for my shave soap line. That’s right, I’ve decided to try selling soaps. I will call the brand Dapper Dragon soap, and sell it alongside Sonya’s pottery at Ladysea Creations.

I intend to make bath and facial bars as well. Hopefully I can include some in the products on display when Sonya does local craft sales.

Visual Arts

This is one realm where I haven’t kept my hand in this year at all. I’m not really happy about it, either. But there are just too many things to do, and not enough time. However, I have checked out the newest Krita for Windows. I really like the way it works. It is similar in many ways to MyPaint, but since it uses the KDE libraries, it’s not affected by the Gnome/GTK issues that killed tablet functionality in MyPaint for Windows and GIMP. And it’s open source!

 

That’s the state of my creative life these days. Look for more, and more frequent updates as I get these projects rolling.

My Characters are Not in Control

It is possible that I’m just a curmudgeon. Maybe there is no poetry left in my soul. But it drives me crazy when I hear people talk about their characters refusing to do something, or taking the story in an entirely new direction.

I think it’s because I have a pretty strong negative reaction to the categorization of anything mundane as mystical and ineffable. It just feels lazy to me. It’s something I picked up while studying martial arts, which are perhaps the single most romanticized pastime in the US. Writing, like martial arts, is work. And if you don’t do the work, counting on mystical forces and autonomous characters to do it for you, you’re going to end up with a crappy end result.

I am not talking about organic modification of characters or plot lines as you make decisions. Sometimes I can end up with a story running into areas I didn’t envision when I first outlined it. Sometimes I make decisions about my characters that make your original plan for them feel forced, or not make sense at all. I may choose to move in this newly recognized direction, or I may choose to go back and change my character to make them fit the original idea. Either way, the operative word there is I. Every bit of that hypothetical situation rides on the back of my decisions.

Those decisions aren’t always conscious. Sometimes they regress back to something that was decided off-the-cuff without a thought to how it might become important later. Sometimes they are truly subconscious. My mind will worry at a character concept in the background the same way it does a story idea.

Mystifying the mundane leads to lazy thinking. It can even lead to complete fallacies becoming canonical and being handed down between generations of practitioners. To return to my martial arts analogy, taijiquan has been notorious for this. “Taiji practitioners are 100% relaxed.” (No, they’d fall down if that were true.) “Taiji makes no use of external (muscular) strength.” Tell that to Chen Xiaowang when he’s in a horse stance with his thighs parallel to the ground. One of my training partners who was largely a rational man used to claim that he wasn’t using his muscles when he did the form. He would “prove” this by pointing out some muscle group he wasn’t using. He didn’t take it well when you poked him in a fully engaged, well developed muscle six inches away.

Writing is the same way. At the end of the day, there’s no net. No recourse. I wrote it. I made the decisions that led my story where it is. I can hide my head in the sand and blame the muse, or failing inspiration, or “characters taking over the story.” Or I can own my part in it, examine what I’ve got to learn why it came out that way, and figure out how to make it better.

I know which one I’d rather do.

(This post was inspired by some awesome discussions we had in the #shutupandwrite chatroom on Freenode IRC. It also inspired a post in the /r/shutupandwrite subreddit with which the chat is affiliated. You should come check it out. Some  of the best no-nonsense, results oriented writing advice and support I’ve run into.)

50,000 Words in the Rearview

Click to view daily statisticsLast night, I crossed the 50,000 word line. It feels like my story is on track for a decent length, somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 words. I’ve identified some things earlier in the story that require fleshing out, as well.

It’s been interesting, going through the writing process. Things have been changing here and there, primarily to add more subplots and ideas. When I started, I really only had the main thrust of the story in my mind. It’s grown, and I like it.

The main arc that takes my character from a victim to an active agent in her own life has been joined by a romantic subplot, some intrigue and a lot more detail for the antagonists, and an internal struggle with an alien being. A group of characters that had been intended as a footnote, almost a part of the scenery, is now an engaged group of supporting characters.

Writing is really agreeing with me, and I’m getting better at taking the reins and getting my writing done when it’s possible, rather than when I’m feeling like it. As a father, IT nerd and husband, getting “feeling like it” and “possible” to line up is why it has taken me three months to hit 50k words.

I’ve been feeling the itch to do a bit of visual art, but time constraints are really a pain there. I’ve thought about splitting my creative time between writing and painting/drawing, but the fact of the matter is that drawing is a much slower process. I can’t get nearly the same amount of stuff done. (I also think I’m better at writing, but that’s not saying that much.)

Hard Hairpin Left (Maybe)

It looks like I am starting up a web comic. A friend of mine and I have been discussing it on and off for a while, and we both have just enough time and technique to do it. :)

It’s called Hard Hairpin Left (Maybe). Andrew is writing the comic, which is a pseudo-autobiographical surrealist farce thing. I’m sure these terms have exacting definitions from formal criticism that I’m not quite right about, but you get the general drift.

There’s a gallery for it over here. We’ll also have our own hosting for it eventually, but for now I’m just posting materials here in dA.

I even finished our first strip (or least its first iteration?)

From a general artistic perspective, I was surprised. Most of my attention has been going to painting, either digital or traditional. When I decided to start dorking around with line drawings and illustration again, I found that my ability to render what I saw or imagined was much improved. The same was true of my pen control.

I’ve been using MyPaint to draw and ink the cartoons, and GIMP to lay out the frames and straighten up the final image before uploading.

Easy Paint Tool SAI

One of the benefits of Ubuntu flaking out on me is that I have been able to play with some Windows only software that I generally wouldn’t. I just didn’t want to reboot every time I took it into my head to do some art.

I DL’d the demo of Easy Paint Tool SAI yesterday and started fiddling with it. It’s got some very nice blend options on brushes as well as a really good blur tool. I could see very good uses for this software. It’s also got the simplest interface for rotating your work that I’ve ever seen. Just like you can swivel around a piece of paper to give yourself a better angle for drawing, you can swivel your image in SAI.

Hopefully I’ll have a bit of something to share that was made using SAI in the next few days.

Review: Masterson Sta-Wet Super Pro Palette

Sta-Wet Super Pro PaletteFor Father’s day, two of my girls got me a Masterson Sta-Wet Super Pro Palette.  I have had a few chances to use it, at home and at class, and so far I like it a lot.

Description: The Sta-Wet palettes are all pretty similar.  “Super Pro” refers to the size.  12″x16x”1.75″.  It’s easily large enough to hold your favorite pad of palette paper or a rectangular palette for oil painting.

The Sta-Wet palettes come with a sponge-and-film system for keeping acrylic paints wet.  The idea is that the thin sponge stays wet, and the paints can leech that water out of the sponge through a specially prepared palette film.  I have tried this in a smaller model, and can confirm that it greatly improves the wet time of acrylics – even low-viscosity and craft paint.

The palette comes with “feet” on both sides so you can turn it upside down for watercolor.  The lid (from an oil-painter’s perspective) is formed with wells and divided mixing areas for watercolor.

Performance: The Sta-Wet palette has performed like a champ for me.  I go to class once a week, so my oil paints are always dry in between.  When I came back to class this week, the source piles of paint on my palette were completely wet.  There wasn’t even a skin on them.  My mixed paint did not fair as well, but there was still a fair amount of usable paint left over.

The two halves of the palette come together with a seal you can hear and feel.  Taking the pieces apart requires a small amount of effort to overcome the vacuum, but shouldn’t be a problem for anyone healthy enough to stand up and paint for any length of time.  Painters with particularly weak hands might want to look into the more Tupperware-like “Palette Seal“.

The unit comes with a sticky-backed sheet of eight transparent rubber feet, four for each half.  They do an excellent job of holding the smooth-bottomed palette still on slippery tables.  I have only used half of them, since I never paint in watercolor.  I was considering using the extras on my 11″x14” glass palette to hold it still in the center of the Sta-Wet palette.

Value: The Sta-Wet palette has an MSRP of $25, and costs only $20 at DickBlick.com.  I have paints that cost up to $50 for a 37mL tube.  Anything that reduces the amount of paint that I have to scrape off my palette because it’s dried up is a great value and will pay for itself fairly quickly.  When you add in the additional features of portability, multi-functionality, and stability, it’s a great buy.

Monochrome Madness

I started my next painting in class yesterday. It’s a monochrome painting of a white plaster cast. The idea is to work on my improving-but-still-too-tight sense of value.

Last week I did my drawing. This week started with transferring the drawing to a smaller canvas (it was sort of lost on the 11″x14″, so now it’s on a 9″x12″). Then I had to tweak it a bit. Once I had the lines the way I wanted them, it was time to start painting.

My painting consisted of four blobs of the darkest darks, followed by adding white and blending to start the transition to lighter colors around the darkest areas.

This is going to take a while. 🙂 But I am already enjoying myself.