You are unique and you have a voice – Sarah Davies
Let’s talk about the VOICE (not the TV show, although it’s probably relevant, I just don’t watch it so I wouldn’t know). I’ve been pondering this topic long before it was on the roster at the 2017 SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference this past autumn. Here’s a brief synopsis of two presentations, one geared towards illustrators and one towards writers. I believe both presenters assumed that we are already vocalizing and seeking to fine tune our voices.
Mr. Castellano began by discussing style (he hates that word) as “informed interpretation” and what that means in an illustration — how do we use our experience of [what we are attempting to illustrate] towards successful execution. We talked about finding the concept behind the illustration and did a few exercises to work on finding the base concepts. These exercises reminded me of a game we used to play back in college that we called “Metaphysical Win, Lose, or Draw!” If you’re familiar with the original home game, it’s basically the same except that the concepts we had to successfully convey couldn’t be nouns. Essentially you have to figure out how to draw “cold,” or “abundance,” or “spiritual,” (you get the idea).
Mr. Castellano also showcased examples of successful illustrations that represented both a focus on the concept, as well as successful crafting techniques. He explained that skill in drawing is the foundation of illustration, but the choices you make in conceptualizing your illustration with regard to the structure and layout, and the techniques you chose to employ will ultimately determine how effective your final work will be. He discussed conveying a message using clean techniques in gesture, directional stroke dynamics, and line weights; positive and negative spaces (particularly negative); choice of color palette; and how “pops of color” stand out from a limited color palette.
Final words of wisdom: Draw with conviction. Have faith in your abilities and your work. Don’t worry about what you think something is “supposed” to look like or let self-doubt show. The simplest decisions ultimately tell the best stories.
I really wish I could have recorded Sarah Davies’ presentation on Saturday morning because I wasn’t fully awake. I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s because I’m still halfway still in dream territory – but I find that whomever gets that 8:45am slot at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference always delivers the most fascinating presentation. Anyway I really hope Ms. Davies gets tapped for a TED talk because her presentation would just be so perfect for it!
Ms. Davies jumped right into the use of voice with comparisons to (and demonstrations of!) her own experience as a singer to illustrate how an author can find their narrative voices as well as those of their characters. She gave well-structured point-by-point suggestions so I’m going to bullet some of them.
“Develop your ear,” by reading outside your comfort zone – including and especially genres you wouldn’t necessarily personally like.
Really listen to the artistic choices other authors make in their choices of words such as using repeats for emphasis, cadence, and phrasing.
Think about how you can effectively bend or break rules, for example using double negatives to define a character’s voice.
Teach yourself to listen to your characters’ voices by telling (not reading) your stories out loud, acting out the parts using different voices for and from your characters.
Get to know your characters well enough to be able to speak with their voices.
Consider how different characters, for example a child and an adult, speak about the same thing from different points of view?
Ms. Davies also showcased examples of successful writing and discussed techniques for crafting an effective finished piece. One example was a flow of abstract to concrete concepts in entering a narrative which, to me, is exactly like a gradient of negative to positive space shown in abstract to concrete terminology! Other techniques Ms. Davies discussed were in finding the silence between words (hmm negative space again!); being concise and clear with word choices to convey a sensory or emotional experience; finding different ways to show and not tell – to paint a picture with words; adding rhythm; and sharing the storytelling with other voices.
Ms. Davies also gave the usual recommendation of daily practice – she called it playing or sketching – for 20 minutes each day. But specifically in order to help find and fine-tune our voices, she suggested experimenting in writing everything from every conceivable genre and from every conceivable perspective in order to explore what approach we would take to it.
Final words of wisdom: Write without restraint. Take Risks. Give yourself permission to fail. Write with passion. “A strong voice helps you stand out in a snot green ocean of boring”
So What is Voice? How do I want to use my voice? What do I want to say and how do I say it? How can you tell that voice is mine?
In my last post I’d said that VOICE was going to be a blog post unto itself. What I really meant was that I’ll have to kick it off in a blog post unto itself but as it’s my creative word of this year, I’m going to talk about finding my own voice in my own art frequently throughout 2018. I think that in order to find and fine-tune my voice, I’m going to have to snap my perspective and approaches like a glow-stick – to break out of what it’s SUPPOSED to look like, sound like, be like – shake things up a bit and see what shines #snapshakeshine.
About the illustration. Originally posted December 14th 2017 on Instagram: Sketching before coffee today. No graphite. I envy folks who can make the time and have the focus to draw everyday. 🎨 My work is good but it’s not where I want it to be yet. Still, I’m always learning and growing, and hoping to push that snowball to the next level in 2018. #snapshakeshine
I think January 1st is a very arbitrary day to begin a new year, don’t you? I mean, all those loose ends from the previous year are still cluttering up the to do list. Who am I kidding? That’s never-ending! But I need to keep this post fairly brief or I’m afraid I’ll never get it posted so I’ll just get right to it.
Recently, folks have been ditching the New Year’s Resolution–where we resolve to correct our perceived faults and habits– in favor of choosing and focusing on a productive, mindful key word for the new year. DIY designer and blogger Geneva Vanderzeil has a lovely discussion and downloadable worksheet for this on her site. I’ve never done a word of the year before but this year I thought about it and I’ve actually come up with three.
Discipline – Of course, I still have my usual old-fashioned resolution anyway. And that is, of course, to get a reliable good night’s sleep. To do this, I need to be strict with myself about turning off the electronics and going to bed! I think if one gets a good night’s sleep, everything else will fall in. And the way things look right now, 2018 is going to be an immensely busy year. Looking like I’ll be back working with k12 again in addition to everything else that’s always on my plate – being Captain Mom, running Illumination Services with my husband…
Resistance – This is a counter-word. Something I need to be aware of as in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I get in my own way a lot. And then there’s the whole political part there too.
Voice – This one will be a blog post unto itself that I will write later. The short of it is that I need to break my brain a bit and then re-focus my artistic voice; figure out what, exactly, I have to say and then work on the words and the pictures. I’ve been learning a lot from looking at the work of other illustrators whose work is very different from my own (for example, Pascal Campion and Gizem Vural – seriously, check them out!) to see how they interpret the world.
About the illustration: This little foxes piece is my first illustration of 2018 and my baby steps in starting to push myself a little. I fought with myself the whole way but I have something I like well enough. The inspiration was my friend, Kelly’s, recent Facebook photo post where she found a fox sitting on her garden shed looking right at her! Quite a cool photo but I took a lot of artistic license, made it two foxes and added snow and stars. This piece was fun as well as frustrating because I got to experiment with masking fluid and Derwent Inktense colored pencils.
And now… Ok I was going to say “Let’s get busy!” but seriously, I need to get to bed!
The rules: Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) about A Holiday Surprise! Any kind of surprise – anything at all! – the more unexpected the better!, but is not to exceed 250 words.
It was the first night of Hanukkah and everyone had gone across to the Mazur’s for latkes, leaving Binah alone to think for the first time since she arrived.
She could still hear them through the walls. It was always noisy in the crowded tenement.
Binah missed the village where she’d lived with Zayde, Bubbe, and Papa. She could run through the nearby fields and breathe fresh air!
Last spring, the pogroms began. Every week bought destruction and fear. One day Papa disappeared.
In August, Binah was sent abord a ship to join family in New York.
Kneeling near the stove on the cold kitchen floor, Binah dragged her overcoat from under the narrow bed she shared with her cousin Sally. She fumbled in the pockets until she found the large wooden dreidel Zayde tucked inside that day she had to say goodbye. It was large and lopsided, just like Zayde. Binah wondered if she’d ever see him again?
She stood the dreidel on end and tried a spin but it toppled right over showing the lucky letter, gimmel. Looking closer, Binah noticed a tiny crack. She put her thumbs on the gimmel and pushed. The side slid open.
Tickling her fingers into wool batting, Binah pulled out a coin, then six more, a gold watch, pearl earrings, and a little paper scroll.
Unrolling it, she read: “Binah—Use these treasures to help build your shining future in America. Always remember I love you, zeisele. I know you will succeed.”
I’ve missed participating in the last couple of Susannah’s contests so I really wanted to write something for this one. I’m still very attached to the characters I created for my very first holiday contest story, Sometimes, a Pigeon. This new story is about one of those characters. It’s also inspired, of course, by my own family history and a couple of visits to the Tenement Museum in New York (If you’re ever in New York, you MUST go!).
My little goddesses are back. While getting ready for Reston’s annual Gifts from the HeART, I came upon the pieces I had created but never finished into pendants. So I decided to turn them into pins. I made 24. I have 13 left. I have a feeling there will be more. Meanwhile, here is a little information about the symbols I used.
I began designing the goddesses as gifts for my friends when I was 8 months pregnant with my son in 2012. Originally, they were meant to be fertility goddesses, based on the ancient statue of Astarte. But most of the symbols I chose were about life and renewal. I made several designs using these symbols.
Heart Love Goddess
The Glitter Heart Love Goddess. She really just speaks for herself. And she’s all warm and glittery inside. I love the way these came out.
Special days to celebrate love include St. Valentine’s day, Beltaine, and Tu B’Av (the 15th of the month of Av), the Jewish holiday of love and rebirth. But loving yourself every day is the most important way to begin.
The Lotus Goddess is a mixed cultural metaphor as my design does not represent any of the eastern religions, rather just the symbol of the lotus itself signifying rebirth and enlightenment in the feminine. In Buddhism, the lotus represents spiritual experience and growth on our journey through the world, fortune, and purity. The lotus flower grows from the dark mud under the water and blooms above, unsullied, into the light of day.
The Pentacle Goddess was inspired by the goddess, Astarte, goddess of war and sex. One of the symbols of this goddess is the star in a circle, indicating the planet Venus. Adopted by the Greeks as Aphrodite and then by the Romans as Venus, she became the goddess of beauty, love, fertility, and sex. In modern times, this symbol represents the Wiccan religion.
The Pomegranate Goddess represents the cycle of the seasons, death and rebirth, as well as fertility. Inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone consuming the pomegranate seeds in the underworld and thus being compelled to return there for six months of the year, and the biblical story of the Israelites bringing Moses a pomegranate to demonstrate the fertility of the promised land.
The Pregnant Goddess design simply represents the bond between mother and child. A strong symbol of fertility and potential.
Sea Turtle Goddess
The Sea Turtle Goddess was inspired by the turtle’s ancient association with creation. A sea turtle can lay hundreds of eggs at a time and has become a symbol of longevity, fertility, and good fortune in many coastal cultures. There are so many myths and legends surrounding the sea turtle (and turtles in general) worldwide, that it would be hard to discuss them all here, but among the many attributes of the sea turtle are freedom, patience, virtue, love, wisdom, protection, perseverance, and rebirth.
“The Turtle is considered by some Indigenous North Americans to be one of their the oldest, most sacred symbols. They believed that North America was created on the back of a turtle. To this day most Indigenous peoples refer to North America as Turtle Island. “
The Spiral Goddess is based on a prehistoric goddess design and represents the creative power of the earth mother and the ongoing circle of creation emanating from her womb.
The Triskelion Goddess was inspired by the ancient Celtic triple spiral which represents the three aspects of women (mother, maiden, and crone). Early Christians also adopted the symbol of the triskelion to represent the father, son, and holy spirit. It may also be a symbol of mystery and rebirth as it was used to decorate many prehistoric tombs, notably Newgrange in Ireland where the sun shines down the passage into the tomb on the shortest day of the year.
Filled Heart Love Goddess
I first painted this original design in watercolor and acrylic on a brown paper shopping bag, probably around 1995. The image is of a woman looking to fill the void inside herself with a heart symbolizing love. Now, almost 20 years later, I thought it would be fun to add her to my goddess collection as a symbol for bringing love into your live.
Reposting my artist interview from Maker Mentors ArtSale now that the sale has ended. New purchase options are at the bottom of this post.
ARTIST PROFILE: MISHKA JAEGER
What is your background?
Because everyone kept telling me I wouldn’t make a living as an artist, I took a degree in scenery design for theatre with plans to become an Art Director for feature films. I loved theatre and film and thought I’d make a career there, but things turned out differently. I had a brief career coloring comic books and then fell into the Dot-Coms in California beginning a 20-year career in digital new media, graphic design, and animation. I made a living.
How long have you been an artist?
I’ve been creating as an artist ever since I could finger-paint with my mashed peas and pureed chicken.
When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
I’m not sure I ever wanted to be an artist. I think it was always just been what I am. It’s how I move through and deal with the world. Bad things happen, good things happen, and I’m driven to create.
What kind of art do you create?
To be honest, I can get inspired by anything at random if I’m in the right mindset, but it’s all mostly positive and light subjects. Really, the best way to describe my art is very colorful and mostly “Family-Friendly.”
How would you describe your style?
Bright, fun, and optimistic.
What is the name of your piece featured in our Art Sale?
Peace and Love
What inspired the piece featured in our Art Sale?
I’ve been following the work of a group called The Peace Factory for many years. Their aim is promoting peace, mainly in the Middle East, through grassroots approaches based on the idea that when people get to know and understand each other and are no longer nameless, faceless statistics, they can find care, common ground, and perhaps friendship and peace.
In recent years, the ancient, mystical symbol of protection claimed by everyone in the region, the Hamsa (which means “five” in Arabic), has also begun to be used as a symbol of peace and friendship.
The original concept for my Hamsa is also based in the Jewish principles of Tikkun Olam – Heal the world. It is my sincere hope that someday when the children of Israel and Palestine come together in peace, the rest of the world may follow.
Can you talk about the process you used to create it?
I started with a fairly detailed sketch then scanned it into the computer to clean up and enlarge. I then printed it out very lightly on art paper and applied the color pencil. I scanned that back into the computer and did some digital touch-ups.
How is your personality reflected in your work?
I like to think I’m a happy, friendly, outgoing person. That probably comes out in my bright color and subject choices. Even my moody pieces are accessible.
What is your favorite medium?
Right now it’s colored pencil. I didn’t realize I liked it until fairly recently. I’d been struggling with mixing watercolor and digital art with moderate success but I’m not really a watercolorist. In 2015, I began a series of illustration challenges where I needed to work faster and be more portable so I thought I’d give the pencils a try. Turns out they’re awesome!
How do you decide what subjects to include in your art?
I like my pieces to tell a story, so I tend to do a lot for children. But I also really like to draw food!
I am also a spiritual person, so that comes out in my work. I work a lot in the themes of female empowerment, yoga, some history and fantasy, and Jewish spirituality.
What do you love most about creating and being an artist?
What I love most about being an artist is the control I have over the little worlds I create — each little image in each little story. I can create vignettes and slices of life the way I want them to be. Having a creative outlet helps me to get through the things I can’t control in my life.
Art has the power to change and influence people’s moods and how they relate to the world. If I have that power at all in my work, I’d like to think I use it do to good.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I would love to make my income solely off my art. I’m working in that direction. I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating. And, of course, I’d like to continue living a reasonably happy, healthy life with the possibility of being a grandmother someday.
What are you doing when you are not creating? Do you have other hobbies?
I’m always creating—even within my hobbies, and they have a big influence on my art. I enjoy cooking, baking, and my yoga practice. I’m also a huge history nerd. I love historical fiction in books and on TV.
That being said, I have two small children at home, so I’m limited to what I can make time for. Do children count as a hobby?