Thursday, July 12, 2012

Practice seeing

I went to an arts college. Then I graduated and then the real problems began, but anyway...

At the arts college, there was an occasional evening workshop, open to all students, in sketching. From a nude model. It was a fairly traditional workshop -- it started with quick 15- or 30-second sketching and progressed to a few minutes per pose, and the final one was half an hour. It took me a while to get the hang of this. I didn't have any experience with being around casually naked people. It was intimidating for a shy fat girl.

After a while, it began to make sense. My sketching got better, especially in the short sequences. I thought it was the mechanical practice of putting pencil to paper -- and to a degree it was.

But then it hit me, unexpectedly: it was also practice seeing. Learning to pick out the important parts that would communicate the pose quickly. Getting them on the paper. This is an idea that has stuck with me ever since, that I should practice seeing and communicating what I see.

As a sketch artist, I'm mediocre. Words have always come more easily to me, and sketching with words has become my obsession.

I thought of this because of Bluestocking's recent post and her link to Catherine Schaff-Stump's post on vision. They're both right: after a certain point, you've absorbed all the basic lessons of writing and you have to go forth and do it -- and having the vision to do that is, in truth, the most difficult part of writing. The part nobody can teach you.

That's the point when tee-hee, nobody can tell me what to do morphs into oh shit, nobody can tell me what to do.

How does one practice seeing?

Well... 15-second word sketches. You don't need nude models. You can do it anywhere, anytime. Write down what you see, as clearly and accurately as you can. But briefly -- time yourself, if you need to. Little things, big things. How people pick up a coffee mug while reading and take a sip, all without looking at the mug. Or do they?

And no, that's not exactly what Bluestocking and Catherine were talking about. Vision includes the bigger themes of aesthetics, morality, hope. In my opinion, that's a matter of being honest and playful. Honest in sticking with what you believe and what your characters believe. Playful in the willingness to explore possibilities and develop them.

Nobody can tell you how to do it, only encourage you to keep doing it. Keep sketching.

I hope that made sense.

Obligatory Kickstarter flogging

I've also added a $5 e-book-only reward option! I know, I should've thought of that sooner...

I'm running a Kickstarter project to fund the professional editing, proofreading, and cover artwork for my gritty fantasy romance, Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet. There will be six parts in total, published over the course of the next few years.

I'm offering e-books, paperbacks, promotional bookmarks, and more at various pledge levels (ranging from $1 - $100). Check out the project page for my book trailer, budget, and production schedule. is a fundraising platform for all sorts of creative projects. Artists post a profile of their project and offer rewards in exchange for pledged money. The pledges are not collected unless the artist's funding goal is reached within a set period of time. If the goal is reached, the artist receives the money, carries out the project and distributes the rewards promised. It's a fascinating site and easy to lose time in!


Bluestocking said...

Learning how "to see" I think has so much to do with trusting your gut. There's writing practice, which is good for getting the "easy" stuff of what you are writing out of the way, so you can spend more time figuring out how to capture the "hard" bits -- the parts that have to do with your unique vision. But all of that doesn't count if your internal editor is sabotaging you. But practice makes even that easier, as you found with the nude sketching. The key is to not stop -- but you may have known that already ;)

L. Blankenship said...

It's surprising how much of "talent" involves "practice" and even "habit"... I've found that the quick-sketch practice helps me catch those glimpses of my own vision as they flit by. The translation into words comes quicker and easier. And better.

Keeping them is where the honesty and playfulness come in. And the internal editor, which you do need to let maul your butterflies a bit. :)

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

That's some good advice, though when you're writing a story for real you don't want to bog it down with too many small details. But some scattered here and there can make things better.

Liz said...

It's all about practice, isn't it?

L. Blankenship said...

Well, talent greases the wheels. And booze. :)

Elizabeth Twist said...

I like the idea of 15-second word sketches. Excellent.

Grad school was the first place I noticed that raw enthusiasm and genius were no substitutes for buckling down and getting stuff on paper. I was amazed by the number of people who stumbled when it came to actually doing what they came there to do. Writing is no different, I guess, though one wishes for a magic shortcut sometimes.

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