Monday, March 25, 2013

What Trying to Paint Like Georgia O'Keeffe Reminded Me About Writing

Post by Jenny

Well, we’re about a month out from the 2013 Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference, and the creative team, including yours truly, is working hard to make it a special experience for those of you who are able to join us. So dust off your wands and robes for two days of wizarding excitement as we bring the magic of Hogwarts… I’m kidding. This year’s theme is The Art of Writing.

For a visual representation of the theme, we chose a fun project: decoupage book pages onto blank canvases and paint on them in the style of A Famous Artist. Choosing a book to cut up is not easy for me, and I finally went with Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. (My reasoning being that if any books are tough enough to take it, his are.)

Having affixed McCarthy’s spare writing onto the canvas, I then wanted to copy an artist whose work fit the landscape of The Border Trilogy. I decided on Georgia O’Keeffe. Her iconic skulls and flowers…what could be so hard about that? Although I am not as artistic as my creative partners-in-crime, I have a couple of beginner painting classes under my belt and fully expected that I was up to the task.

I traced a skull and started painting. It didn’t look that great, so I painted some more. And some more. The more I tried to fix it, the worse it got. Do you remember last year when a well-meaning Spanish woman ‘touched up’ a 19th century church fresco, and Jesus ended up looking like a cross between Geraldo Rivera and an Ewok? Yeah, that’s pretty much the direction I was headed. But without the hair.

As panicked desperation set in, I took a deep breath and a step back. (When in need of perspective, a breath and a step always help.) I looked at my Tim Burton-esque skull-blob and realized that the jig was up. I could not paint like Georgia O’Keeffe. But I could use elements of her work to guide me in my own direction…my version of her vision, if you will. I revised my plan to include less paint and more Podge (you crafters know what I mean). When all was said and done, I was not totally displeased with the result (part of which you see above).

This project reminded me that writing is the same way: I can’t write like Ann Patchett or Ray Bradbury or Barbara Kingsolver or even Dr. Seuss. But I can take what I love about their writing, squirt it onto my writer’s palette, add my own colors, mix it around a little, and use the resulting hues to craft something I can call my own.

How does art inspire you in your writing?


Michelle Mach said...

Love "less paint and more Podge." Great line.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work, Jenny! I'm still staring at my blank (but decoupaged) canvases--you're inspiring me (that, and the deadline is approaching). Well done!

Jenny said...

Thanks for the comments! Yes, April, deadlines are approaching, and quickly :-) Have fun!

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