Tag Archives: creative

Every Person’s Life Is Worth a Story

You're not the only one. No one's *ever* the only one.

You’re not the only one. No one’s *ever* the only one.

Even though my first passion was always fiction, and my training is entirely in fiction, my professional success has almost always been in nonfiction. I don’t know if I’m substantially better at nonfiction than fiction, but people seem much more willing to pay me to tell the truth than to make things up. Since I started workshopping with the Owl and the Rabbit, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about creative nonfiction, specifically, how memoirs work. People want to tell their stories,and they seem to want me to help them do it.

So: that’s it. Whatever is the worst, the most horrible thing that you feel sort of uncomfortable discussing with even your closest friends, the thing that you would never want the world to know, that’s the stuff you have to mine up from the depths of your brain and polish into a princess-cut gem if you want to write a biography that works.

Why?

People ask that question sometimes, too, and the answer is because you lived through it, and if you did, someone else did too, and your story will validate them, or else someone else is wondering if they can live through it, and your story will give them hope, or else someone else can’t possibly imagine what you’ve been through, and your story will enlighten them. Surviving difficult, confusing, and/or embarrassing circumstances often provides you with the wisdom of experience, which you may then feel compelled to share for the edification of others. This is why we have literature.

All the stories in this comic are true. The one in panel 2 is, of course, the famous “No Wire Hangars” scene from Mommy Dearest, but the others are all details that other people have told me about their own lives, or their parents’ lives, with maybe a couple of my own stories mixed in. I didn’t draw any of the people the way they actually look, though, because while some of these are things that people might not want connected with their identities. (Except for the dog; that’s really what the dog that saved a woman’s life looks like, because come on, that dog is clearly awesome.) I did write earlier in the week that I was planning “one of those brutal personal comics about the most painful things that have ever happened to me” but I couldn’t settle on which brutal, personal episode of my life to wrench up from the darkness, so I chose an assortment of other people’s problems.

I had also planned for this one to have the most awesome artwork yet. I had it all storyboarded out and did the lettering in the early afternoon, but then I forgot about Parent’s Night at the Boy’s school, after which The Man talked me into started the director’s cut of Yentl at 9 pm, so I didn’t get back to work until after 11:30, so I just jammed through drawing all those people. Next week I’ll get more brutal.

Advertisements

Origami Lotus Candy Wrappers and Other Beautiful Trash

From the scraps of a bulletin board (I think it must have been last winter's lantern design) I idly constructed a magical paper landscape for two little sisters to enjoy.

From the scraps of a bulletin board (I think it must have been last winter’s lantern design) I idly constructed a magical paper landscape for two little sisters to enjoy.

My dear old friend, the artist Jeffrey Woods, went through a period when a great deal of his work involved covering glass with tiny vinyl dots, painting the glass, and then peeling off the dots. As a result, his entire property (I’m talking the inside of the washing machine, the cat’s tail, the artist’s feet) to this day remains infested by colorful, sticky, vinyl dots, forming their own patterns across the landscape. There’s a metaphor in there about the persistence of art, I think. If you ever visit his workshop (which you wont; you can’t; he doesn’t let people in) you’ll notice that his trash is gorgeous. Picture paper plates which have sat on turntables inside an airbrush booth, sporting rings of complementary colors, crammed beside gracious curves laser cut from clear blue plastic, stuffed stuffed alongside sinewy white stencils into a plastic bag with the remains of yesterday’s lunch. Splashes of color on the walls and floor from which those prone to pareidolia cannot help but search for meaning: constellations of random mess.

As a child, I spent a fair amount of time folding origami. I used to have a decent repertoire: shrimp, cranes, swans, boxes. Now the only thing I remember is the lotus blossom, which somehow looks more like a water lily than a lotus to me. Anyway, these were folded from chocolate wrappers. Endangered Species Chocolate is my favorite.

As a child, I spent a fair amount of time folding origami. I used to have a decent repertoire: shrimp, cranes, swans, boxes. Now the only thing I remember is the lotus blossom, which somehow looks more like a water lily than a lotus to me. Anyway, these were folded from chocolate wrappers. Endangered Species Chocolate is my favorite.

When I was little, I was always intrigued by artist’ palettes, the random smears of color sometimes more lovely than the finished works. I seem to find patterns spelled out on a piece a paper that I’ve used to blot my paintbrushes or wipe my fingers.

Testing markers on this sheet of paper, both sides. Paint pens always jam on me. The doodles on this paper came out way better than whatever it was I was actually trying to do with the paint pens.

Testing markers on this sheet of paper, both sides. Paint pens always jam on me. The doodles on this paper came out way better than whatever it was I was actually trying to do with the paint pens.

I’m the kind of person whose hands sometimes go on without her, particularly when it comes to small, malleable pieces of refuse. I remember once, years ago, picking a twist tie off my cousin’s counter and, without really thinking about it, curling it into an elaborate butterfly. Her son took an instant liking to it and, shades of Hawthorne’s Artist of the Beautiful, smashed it into a wad. My cousin was horrified. I laughed. It was perhaps beautiful, but it was also a bit of trash.

I'm just as likely to curl paper as to fold it. With the right material to hold their form, these scraps could easily be beads.

I’m just as likely to curl paper as to fold it. With the right varnish to hold their form, these collaging scraps could easily be beads.

Challenge yourself to find something pure and shining in the discards of your life and watch the world made magical.

Too Many Words

There’s a roster of webcomics I adore because they’re smart and funny, and Subnormality, by Winston Rowntree, is high on that list. He subtitles his comic, which mixes fantasy, science fiction, slice of life, and true storytelling, “comix with too many words.

The cursed eyeball plant

The cursed eyeball plant: late 90s

I think I write comics with too many words. I’ve been reading books about graphic storytelling and trying to understand how to create images that do the work of words.

The fiery glowworm; late 90s

The fiery glowworm; late 90s

I drew these comics for my little cousin while toying with the idea of creating an illustrated zoo of imaginary animals, but ultimately, I figured that what came out of the crayons was probably a bit too creepy and esoteric for a 3-year-old.

A clownfish. Why, why, why? This image is so wrong. It was wrong when I drew it in the late 90s, and it's just increasingly wrong every year.

A clownfish. Why, why, why? This image is so wrong. It was wrong when I drew it in the late 90s, and it’s just increasingly wrong every year.

Still working on it.

The Trickster’s Hat Part 11

A magic bottle

A magic bottle

Part of being a trickster is embracing whimsy. Exercise 32 involved creating a magical object: here a magic bottle. The vessel itself once held a single shot of a very high quality absinthe we drank in Prague; the herbs were still in there, along with a number of perfect tiny seashells, petals from the first roses my husband ever gave me, beads from my wedding gown, blue glitter, and a few other things. The pink flowers I ripped off a headband my stepdaughter hadn’t worn in over a year.

IMG_1761

Envelopes made out of old maps

Exercise 34 was one of the most fun ones; I’m sorry I haven’t got a picture, because the final step was to mail the completed project to someone. It began with directions on how to cut and fold an envelope out of an old map. Fortunately, I am the kind of person who owns many old maps. Then, the reader was asked to create some strange, whimsical work of art and mail it to someone with no explanation.

My best friend Jack knew about the Tricksters’ Hat and had done one partner project with me. I cut out a large image of Abraham Lincoln’s hat and then cut and paste letters, ransom-note style, to spell, “The trickster wears many hats.” Then I cut out a couple dozen tiny images of hats, all different: baseball hats, construction hats, fishing hats, Santa hats, an astronaut’s helmet. I folded the big hat, filled it with the little ones, inked a beautiful address, and then decided, since I had the key to his place and was taking his mail in while he was out of town, to create another fake stamp and also a super-fake jeweled return address label. Then I hid it in his real mail. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to see his face when he opened it. But he appreciated it very much.

The Trickster’s Hat Part 7

IMG_1759

The Idyllian Summoning Fetish

And now, for a slightly creepy interlude.

Following instructions, I turned out two slightly unnerving projects. Above, the Idyllian Summoning Fetish, exercise 24. This was another one that required me to go buy junk at Goodwill: take a doll or action figure and modify it until it’s unrecognizable as the thing it started out as. This thing used to be a Barbie doll. My husband, whose response to 99% of my art is, “Ooh, pretty,” took one look at it and said, “That’s kind of terrifying.” So, good, an emotional response. I’m thinking of sending this thing to Nick Bantock. It’s certainly too bizarre to display in my home. The exercise also instructed me to create a descriptive card, as you’d see in a museum; I connected this item back to the country in exercise 7.

Exercise 25, part 1

Exercise 25, part 1

The next page in the book also resulted in willful weirdness. For part one, readers are instructed to cut parts of faces out of magazines and reassemble these disparate pieces into a new face. I choose people of different ages, genders, and ethnicities and ended up with a fellow who might have some difficultly getting a date.

The second part was the same, except that the parts couldn’t be from actual faces. So, I have a man whose nose is a hook, whose eyebrows are binders, whose mustache is a forest. Overall, the results are pretty weird, but it does teach something about faces and proportion.

Exercise 25, Part 2

Exercise 25, Part 2

The Trickster’s Hat Part 6

I do hope this image is sufficiently abstract/artistic to avoid suggesting straight up pornography. It's not meant to be erotic; it's meant to describe a dual principle.

I do hope this image is sufficiently abstract/artistic to avoid suggesting straight up pornography. It’s not meant to be erotic; it’s meant to describe a dual principle.

Exercise 20 explored the concept of muse and duende. The term “duende” was new to me; Bantock uses it as a sort of counterpart to the muse. It was supposed to be executed in two pieces, on wood, and I’m kind of sorry I didn’t follow the directions, because I was really pleased with the finished product and the paper was not designed for this kind of paint. It would have looked and held up better on a more suitable canvas.

I followed the spirit of the instructions, if not the letter. I suppose most people would have drawn actual characters, but whichever entity, muse or duende, spoke to me, I was inspired. To highlight the sacred nature of the yoni and the lingam, I adorned the image with stick-on gems.

The Trickster’s Hat Part 4

Postcard from the Idyllia Public Library

Postcard from the Idyllia Public Library. Yes, this imaginary library in an imaginary country houses a lovely Chilhuly chandelier. The building itself is based on the architecture of the dorm I live in all four years of college.

Exercise 7, to create a country, was among my favorite prompts in this book. A rather involved set of instruction suggested details to imagine about the place, and, as I have created many, many imaginary countries in my life, it was easy to build something huge and fanciful and fulfilling. It was possible to flex all the creative muscles in a serious fashion but to withhold judgement, giving reign to creativity.

postcard edited

Postcard home: I blanked out my parents’ address, because you know there are some weirdos on the Internet.

The second part of the exercise involved creating a postcard from the imaginary country, writing a message home on the back about a vacation in the imaginary country, and then adding a stamp from the imaginary country. I drew the postcard 8.5 x 11 and made that stamp proportionally larger just because it’s easier to work in that format. I used two kinds of markers: Crayolas and Sharpies. Some of the themes from this exercise echoed in later works.

Especially proud of this stamp. The economy of Idyllia is based on semi-precious stones. It is a island founded by dragons and covered with banana trees. I am the queen.

Especially proud of this stamp. The economy of Idyllia is based on semi-precious stones. It is a island founded by dragons and covered with banana trees. I am the queen.