Posts Tagged ‘big picture’

The Post – Dolphins: What canvas, What image?

January 10, 2011

Okay. So the easy part is over. I know I want to do a painting of dolphins, to capture their beauty, fluidity, personality, intelligence. Now we come to the hard part – how to execute that?

I will say that the short answer is – it comes down to gut feeling about composition and canvas size and shape. And that nothing is cast in concrete. One can get halfway through the painting only to realize you need to turn the painting 90degrees and start again, or paint over the whole thing and get a new composition. However – I do try to narrow some things down then follow my gut. Probably the best I can hope for is to answer three first questions , then identify what other questions need answering as I go through this process.

The first three questions are-

1) what size of canvas?

2) what orientation (vertical or horizontal)

2) what composition?

The size and orientation are determined by the composition, though composition is  determined by the size and orientation of the canvas. To get to the final choice, at least for me, it is a  working back and forth, see-sawing between all three until the choices are narrowed down to a decision.

I start by going to Google images and just printing some pics of dolphins that “spoke” to me to get an idea of what compositions might work and what they even look like.

Some were “vertical” in orientation, some horizontal. Most had at least a couple dolphins, some had several. All had the “underside of the surface waves” at the top of the picture. So I have a “vague” idea of my own composition –

In thinking about my “vision” I know I want the top of the painting to show that we’re just under the water’s surface – so the top of the painting has to have that quality of “seeing the underside of surface waves.”

Also, at this point my gut tells me “simple vs. cluttered,” so I’ll keep the number of dolphins low. One solitary dolphin feels wrong as they’re social creatures, so I think I’ll keep the composition to two or three at most.

At least one dolphin has to to give us that “look it in the eye” connection, so they all can’t just be a “far away view.”

In looking at the pics I see I could do horizontal dolphins in a horizontal canvas, and it has potential. I can also do vertical ones in a horizontal canvas. However that means dolphins far away. Vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas feels better than on a horizontal one. You can get closer to them. So which is it? horizontal dolphins on horizontal canvas, or vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas?

And of course, my gut pipes up with – you could do something odd like a vertical canvas with an angled down but mostly horizontal dolpin or…..ARGGGHHH! 🙂

Let’s take a break and consider what size canvas.

Re the canvas size:

Let’s face it. This painting could go from 2×4″ to 4’x8′ or a wall fresco. But I work in more intermediate size ranges and avoid the extremes.

My favorite size often is 8×16, which is an odd size but I like it. It’s usually just big enough to capture creatures or seascapes and I just “like” that shape.

But I think that will be too small for what I have in mind here. So we’ll go for a size a little bit bigger.

My other frequent choices are: 18×24″, 16×20″ or 12×24″. So I think one of these will be my choice. Let’s leave size for a minute then and hop over to orientation.

Re: orientation” for the canvas used: Will I paint it with a “vertical” approach, meaning taller than wide? Or will I paint it “horizontally” meaning wide with a narrow height?

If I go tall and narrow width, that means I’m showing many layers of water and I’m probably going to have to paint smaller dolphins….unless I have several in the background and one more forward, diving deep and straight down so I could make the full length of the dolphin apparent. Overall, it’s more of a “long shot of the whole area” with a focus on one dolphin. It could work as a way to show the personality of one closeup. Also, a dolphin is long and narrow, so I could use a vertical oriented canvas and have a diving dolphin to show that.  But I’m not sure.

If I go long on the horizontal and shorter on height this means I’m painting a narrower slice of water. Thus any dolphins shown will be larger and more the focus of the painting for sure. However, then the focus instead of being on one dolphin, becomes all of the dolphins  as they’ll be about equal in size and close in proximity. And keeping with the long and narrow on the dolphin shape, a horizontal canvas means no diving dolphins – they would have to be horizontal as well to get across that whole “long and narrow” feeling.

Okay, so I haven’t yet identified “which canvas and orientation” but I HAVE listed some pros and cons of each. And in reality, the canvas shape is really a choice between two. The 16×20 and 18×24 are almost identical in ratio, just for a little bit more size on each dimension on the 18×24,whereas the 12 x 24 has a much longer vs narrow feel to it.  So the decision really comes down to 12×24 or one of those two.

In the hopes of clearing up the confusion, maybe it’s time to go back to composition.

To recap – most likely, vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas, or horizontal ones on a horizontal canvas. With the surface showing above. With two or three dolphins. And a canvas either 12×24 or one of the other two.

I sense that I want a focus on one dolphin with the others possibly in the background. And to have a full-size dolphin horizontal feels boring. More drama in having one of three “plunging” down to the deep sea. Action. Not just being.

What to do right now?

Feel. Stare. Digest. Incubate.

 

Stay tuned for ….decisions. At least “best guesses”  🙂

The Post – Animal Deaths and Mental Shutdown

January 6, 2011

I’ve been following somewhat off and on, the massive fish and bird die-offs being mentioned in the news. I kept up with it when it was the red-winged blackbirds in Arkansas, then the additional birds in Louisiana, and even kept up with dead fish in Sweden and dead crabs on the coast of England. I was trying to create a mental picture of it all to see if there was any “connection” or “pattern” or even how they all related to each other geographically.

But if you’re like me, you can take in just so much “data” and then the mental picture evaporates, the brain seizes up, gives out one last exasperated gasp folds in on itself in a quivering mass of jelly. Needless to say, one too many animal death groups appeared in the news and suddenly, it was all one chaotic blubbering mass of info that my brain could no longer process.

At the science museum I volunteer at, we are working on displays for a new lab area. This area is called ‘visualization.’  Essentially it is the use of technology to display visually, large amounts of data points that are beyond the ability of the brain to contain, much less put in any kind of meaningful order. It is used in science and a variety of other situations where you need to review a lot of data, try to find some meaning or understandings so as to draw possible conclusions or form theories. Without these tools it would be impossible to deal with the huge about of information. To read more on this subject see the entry at Wikipedia.

Anyway, I was lost in the morass that was a growing number of reports of mass animal deaths around the world. Enter the amazing tool that is Google Maps and lo, there is salvation. They have a map that shows all the various animal death events around the world along with a sidebar giving details.  So I share with anyone out there who wants to see the big picture but can no longer do it in your head, the Google Maps “big picture” link. Just  click here.

The Post: Finally, I Graduate to Stage Two – Focusing the Lens

February 15, 2008

 

I knew Phase II had arrived. Its symptom was unmistakable. I was tired. The amount of work coming from the dictionary job ran up against the short-term deadlines and heavier workload from the ethics board. Family needs took up more time. The ethics board work increased even more. And then there was the point of it all, my writing projects. I realized that I not only couldn’t keep spinning 20 plates on sticks forever, but I didn’t want to. Where some people revel in that level of activity or that challenge, I did not. That, in itself, was telling.

Going back to Mr. Shulevitz’s advice: “You must listen to yourself from your own depths and become acquainted with your own true self . . . learn which is you and which is NOT you. You are what you truly love.” My husband’s reminder felt viscerally real: I wasn’t getting any younger and I needed to stop trying to be what I was not.

I let go of the dictionary work. While it was a good job, I wasn’t meant to be a lexicographer. I throttled back on the ethics board work. It was time for that directive: “Be alone with yourself . . . Achieve inner silence.” In my case that came partly from renewing my dormant practice of meditation and prayer, as well as just, being alone. You can’t run from yourself. To be a writer, if you’re going to have anything worth saying, you must learn your own truth. And it’s only in the quiet moments that the voice within can be heard.

For the first time, I stepped back from my work and took a look at the big picture. I listened to Mr. Shulevitz and sorted out the voices without and within, I looked to see what themes kept repeating themselves in me and my work. That’s when things started to come clear.

I love nature. I loved being 10 and climbing trees and fences and running free in the neighborhood – that time of childhood where you are most capable, where adventure and innocence are at their crest, before the trials and tribulations of adolescence set in. I love castles, the Revolutionary War, diners and the sixties and the blue collar, ethnic world I grew up in. And mythology.

I noticed that I collected, and still do, every silly, touching or factual story about nature, animals, and zoos. I kept a nature journal of our backyard bird feeder and the pond area and collected 3 years of information. I identified with creatures either too small or too much in the background to get noticed, and I was that nature-geek, driven to learn about every tiny sea creature that lived under the ocean pier.

I also knew I’d probably never draw comic strips, or write romance novels, science fiction, or true crime. Nothing against any of those genres, by the way. In fact I am fascinated by the genres of comics and romance novels – they are unique worlds and they seem cool and fun. They just aren’t my talent. And no, I will not try to write any more picture books. In truth, my husband has that voice.

I started to define the projects that were me:

A mid-grade novel set in Williamsburg Virginia during the Revolution. A mid-grade novel set in a 1960s blue collar ethnic New England town, of course, set in a diner. A historical fiction set in 1200s England on the Welsh Marches borderlands. A chapter-book of Greek mythology stories. A fantasy trilogy involving the world of a groundhog living at a highway rest stop, who faces the battle of ultimate evil, personal despair, loss, and emergence into wisdom. And a present day Tween novel of a girl above the pier, in another diner of course, and a hermit crab below the pier.

There is also a love of tweaky, short non-fiction articles about history and . . . nature. I rediscovered a love of and need for essays, which I will write about separately.

I started collecting reference books for all of these projects. Nature guides. Historical fiction. Topographical and historical maps of England and Wales. I made a plaster of paris model of the castle that my lord built, incorporating the latest high-tech gadgets of the early 1200s.

I pinned my project papers everywhere – the study walls were covered on one side with the pier story – maps of the fictitious town, topographical maps of Narragansett Bay, schematic of the diner of my dreams, the one I’d have if I had the money. The other side of the study has the groundhog world – map of the rest, deep woods, nearby farms. The hallway, spare room and stairwell have 1700s Williamsburg, while the den downstairs houses maps of England, schematics of the castle, and the castle model itself.

I even have two webcams up on my computer that allow me to step into 1700s Williamsburg whenever I want. I can see the view down Duke of Gloucester Street or watch the goings-on at the Raleigh Tavern any time day or night. I even had a lobster-cam until that one broke. So I had to settle for the DVD, Realm of the Lobster, that has footage of the undersea world of the lobster in the Gulf of Maine. I found that in this cool marine store store, Hamilton Marine, up in Searsport, Maine. Great website and catalog! Everything from diesel boat cabin heaters and EPIRBS, to cold-water rescue suits and ship’s bells. My next purchase from them will be a hand-crafted wind bell that sounds like a harbor buoy. They even give you the choice of 13 different bells – each one sounding like a buoy in a different place – Bar Harbor, Portland Head, Camden Reach, Outer Banks, etc. I use anything that puts me in the place of my stories.

I started painting again and even did one for the pier story. I bought a new digital camera and started shooting pictures . . . once I stopped being afraid of the thing. It only sat in a box for 2 years. In both painting and photography, I noticed the themes of nature, broken things and overlooked things.

And the words mosaics and broken bits, kept surfacing.

Finally, exhausted, I left the ethics board job. It had gotten to be so much work I was too drained to write. Besides, it was no longer who I was. Revisiting Stage One, I collected outside information as it applied to the projects I wanted to do, from sources like Writer’s Digest magazine, The Writer, countless writing newsletters, market guides and writing books.

All of this I did silently. Alone. Immersed in my own world. And I came to accept that I will work alone. Others can prepare you, teach you, assist you, but when you finally stand at the edge of that dark forest- your own inner world – you must face that one alone. It’s that line from the movie, The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker is about to enter an area of the swamp where evil lives. He asks Yoda what is in there. Yoda’s response: “Only what you take with you.”

All that was left now was to pick which project came up on deck first. My groundhog story was fairly well outlined. The 1700s Williamsburg novel had some drafts done, characters fleshed out, rejection slips collected. The Under the Pier story had an equal amount of journaling, drafts, and character work finished. The other projects were much further back in the data collection and journaling stages. One day in confused desperation I asked God to please “pick a nipple for me.” A few days later we stopped at Science Safari, a tweaky science store for kids. Sitting atop the discards pile on the sale table outside, was a stuffed hermit crab. My husband and son spotted it. I knew who sent it, so I bought it. The answer had been sent: Start with Under the Pier.

UP NEXT: A Sidetrip to Essays – But the Bus NEVER Came Up This Far on the Curb Before!

THEN: Phase Three: Coming Into My Own – The Evolution of a Novel.