Archives for art

Applying the rules of art to writing: cultivate your idiosyncrasies

“Every hand, every eye, every brain comes with its own built-in distortions. These distortions represent your signature, your personal slant on the world. When they manifest themselves in your work, do not be afraid to embrace them as long as they do not represent an impediment to some larger objective or overshadow everything else the image contains.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White Be yourself, write with your own voice. Read other authors, but don’t try to copy, go with your own ideas. Don’t be swayed by well-meaning friends who are quick to offer advice on what is or isn’t realistic/attractive/marketable etc. No-one told Hemingway [above, in 1939) that he should write more wordy prose. Of if they did, he didn’t listen. ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Cultivate your idiosyncrasies: applying the rules of #art to #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-KJ via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #42

Rose left the Pre-Tox Party Kit press reception two hours later with another PR goodie bag. At Waterloo she ran but reached the barrier less than 30 seconds before departure. She watched the rear of the train disappear. She rubbed her aching neck and looked up at the indicator board in Waterloo station: 20 minutes before the next Wimbledon train. Her muscles and emotions were bound as tightly as a new ball of wool. She’d need some serious help to relax tonight. If she was quick she could nip into her favourite shop on Waterloo Bridge Road. She seldom left Cool Beauty without a bottle. So she nipped. As she stepped through the door of the shop, the unravelling experience began. She sniffed and sampled her way along the shelves through ‘Refresh’ and ‘Revive’ to ‘Renew’ and with each step her shoulders eased as a frayed end of wool teased its way loose. But she knew that only when she lay up to her chin in fragranced bathwater tonight would the last strands of tight muscle unwind from her neck and down her spine, releasing each vertebra one at a time. Then she would rub Soothing Rose Lotion into every
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

I agree with Hanif Kureishi…

Hanif Kureishi says, “Writing is an art, but it is also a business. I’m trying to be an artist but I’ve also got to send my kids to school. The writing schools often teach about just being an artist, but that’s not the half of it; that conversation about being a brand is what is happening, that’s what it has become.” [Interview with The Bookseller magazine, December 6, 2013] So, the writer as a brand. Kureishi is referring to a quote from one of the characters in The Last Word: “Brand, did you say… Would I really have to become like Heinz ketchup or a Mont Blanc pen?” It certainly does feel that authors these days have to do so much more than simply write a novel. You have to be an ace at social media [unless you are Jonathan Franzen], public speaking, self-promotion, review books, write short stories and essays, and teach. The days of ‘the writer alone in his garret’ are over. Now we must all put ourselves out there in the world.   ‘The Last Word’ by Hanif Kureishi [UK: Faber] If you agree with Hanif Kureishi, perhaps you will agree with:- Vanessa Lafayae – on weaving together
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #37

Darkness was falling by the time she got to the allotment. She stumbled on the uneven path, cursing herself for not keeping a torch in the car as her mother had told her. She found her father’s patch, empty. For the first time in a long while she felt kinship with her mother who had often pursed her lips at his ability to disappear at moments important to her – parents’ evenings, Christmas drinks with the neighbours, choosing curtains. A light was flickering in the far corner of the field, like a light bulb with dodgy wiring. He had to be where that light was. Everything else turned black and she stumbled over uneven earth, not caring if she scuffed up sacred lettuce or radish seedlings. Lily would be able to tell the difference, she couldn’t, not even in daylight. She could now see the outline of a shed, a neater one than her father’s, painted bright blue. The tang of fresh paint and something yeasty hung in the air. It was Ron Fosdyke’s shed. His name was on the door, burned roughly out of a lump of wood with a hot poker and nailed to the apex. The sign
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

IGNORING GRAVITY #30

When Rose got home the light on the answerphone flashed ‘2’. Was it a put-down? Was it her father? Was it… Nick Maddox? “Rose, it’s May. Where are you? If you’re sick you should be at home, if you’re not sick you should be here working. Two days is quite sufficient for a journalist to recover from infection. You’ve had four…” I haven’t, thought Rose angrily. “… including the weekend. I want you at your desk before nine tomorrow morning.” She pressed ‘next’. “Hello, Miss. This is Sergeant Wilcox at Petersham Police Station. With regards to your reporting a Mr…” there was a pause, “… Mr John Haldane missing on Sunday June first, I can confirm that we have received no reports of an incident regarding this gentleman. If you wish to submit a Missing Person Report, please call me on 0208……” I will go back to work, she told Brad firmly as he washed his face with his paws, his purring like the distant rumble of traffic. Because words are my thing. They never let me down, words don’t lie to me. I’ll start now, I’ll write down how I feel about what happened. She took her mug to
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Applying the rules of art to writing: embrace the ‘happy accident’

“All forms of painting, film photography, sculpture, printmaking, and non-mechanical modes of production produce unintended results. When a passage of under-painting looks ravishing, or some studio calamity produces an arresting effect, embrace the accident and incorporate it into the piece. Exploit the unexpected consequences of experimentation and process. If you see it, own it.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White The same, for me, applies to writing. I particularly love the exploratory process when working on an idea. It could be for a novel or a short story, perhaps a character, or a setting. I enjoy teasing the idea, and this is when free-writing works for me. The majority of what I write goes into a folder marked ‘exercises’ and is used as background, but some pieces find their way into the finished novel. When I am re-drafting, I get a kick when I come to one of these early passages: it reminds me where the idea started, and refreshes my delight in words I wrote months/years previously and have read many times over. ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet
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Categories: On Writing.

Reading for research: Breakfast at Sotheby’s

Philip Hook is an art dealer. He has spent 35 years in the art market, first at Christies then at Sotheby’s, so he knows his stuff. As soon as I heard about this book I put it on my ‘to-read’ list. It’s about the art business, about what sells and why, and what doesn’t and why. It is a fascinating insight into the world of art, written in an entertaining, informative style that is never too dry. Hook mixes in art trivia and some of his own mishaps with an authoritative account of art and money. Does an artist’s back story have any effect on the price his work fetches? Why do some artists not make the big prices until they are dead? Are the portrayals of artists in literature accurate, or stereotyped? What difference does it make if the subject of a portrait is smiling, or solemn? For me it was interesting on two counts. First, because my protagonist in Connectedness is an artist; so Hook is writing about Justine’s world. Second, because of the many parallels between the creative twins of art and writing. There are sections on artists who write, creativity block, and artists as characters in
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Connectedness' and On Researching.

IGNORING GRAVITY #20

Rose held the book for a moment before opening it at the first page. The handwriting was easy to read: tiny, italicised script, every letter carefully formed, every serif perfectly angled in relation to the full shape of the letter. A very neat version of the script familiar from every birthday card her mother had ever given her. Each diary entry was headed by a date, underlined precisely with a ruler, written in blue ink. 31st December 1966 It will be so romantic if John proposes tomorrow. A New Year’s proposal. I’ll drop a hint to encourage him, he sometimes needs a little nudge. I saw him smiling at Abigail Allen in the newsagent yesterday, and I saw the way she fluttered her eyelashes at him. She’s a cheap little flirt and she’s not going to get him. I‘ll even do IT, if I have to. If this diary hadn’t been written so clearly in her mother’s handwriting, Rose would never have imagined her oh-so-correct mother being so, so, girly. 1st January 1967 ENGAGED!!!!!! John proposed. On one knee too, except he didn’t do it right the first time and I had to ask him to kneel down and start
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Applying the rules of art to writing: read!

“Art is a continuing dialogue that stretches back through thousands of years: What you make is your contribution to that dialogue. Therefore, be conscious of what has come before you and the conversation that surrounds you. Try not to repeat what has already been said. Study art history and stay alert to the dialogue of your moment.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White In other words: read, read, read. To quote Stephen King [above]: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: To quote @StephenKing Read!: applying the rules of #art to #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-xc via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

I agree with… Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier “For me, a good painting arrests you and demands something from you. It draws you in, but does not answer your questions. It’s as if this painting is stuck on the penultimate chord of a song, and it’s up to you to figure out how the song will end. In the process of trying to work a piece out, I get lost in it and forget myself, which is when inspiration comes. Some people achieve this state of mind by walking in nature, or listening to music. But for me it’s by looking between the brush strokes.” [Tracy Chevalier, excerpt from ‘Tate Unveiled’ in The Sunday Times Magazine November 10, 2013] Chevalier is describing her connection with ‘Coming from Evening Church’ by Samuel Palmer [below], at Tate Britain. Anyone who has read Chevalier’s best-known book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, or seen the film, will understand where she is coming from here. It underlines again the links between art and writing, and the common strands of inspiration which link all forms of creativity together. Chevalier says she doesn’t walk around art galleries actively seeking inspiration, rather she waits for something to spring out at her. I know what she
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #13

Next morning the door to the empty downstairs flat was propped open by a pile of packing cases which listed severely to the right. A bicycle was propped against the wall with a child seat on the back, beside it a toy fire engine with three wheels. As Rose squeezed past the handlebars there was a loud bang from inside the flat of ceramic hitting laminated floor, followed by a child’s cry. Well at least he wouldn’t listen to Iron Maiden at 2am. * At 9am the Herald’s features team gathered in Ivy, the fifth floor meeting room with the blue and yellow swimming pool Hockney print ‘A Bigger Splash’. Rose usually passed the time in Sam’s meetings by considering Hockney’s fascination with water. Her usual policy in editorial meetings was to keep quiet until spoken to, but today was the day she was going to be noticed. Having done the Maddox interview, she wanted to do more and needed a pay rise to afford a bigger flat. Avoiding Sam was not going to achieve that so, to raised eyebrows from the rest of the team, she suggested three feature ideas. Sam, tapping his pen on the desk as if
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Applying the rules of art to writing: look and think

“For every hour of making, spend an hour of looking and thinking: Good work reveals itself slowly. You cannot judge a work’s full impact without hours of observation. It is also a good idea to step away from what you are doing at regular intervals. The immediate impression a work makes when it is re-encountered is critical. A good work is satisfying both upon immediate encounter and after long periods of concentrated viewing. If any work fails on either approach, keep trying until you feel satisfied that you have succeeded on both counts.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White Okay, there’s a lot here. Looking and thinking means use your writer’s notebook, have it by your side all day. The muse does tend to strike me at inconvenient moments, and unless I make a note of that brilliant thought it will undoubtedly be forgotten. This is a small scruffy notebook from my handbag, the notes scribbled on a day recently spent walking around Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. The emotions were so strong, the sense of history, a moment of horror trapped in a sunny September day: my mind teemed with ideas and sensations
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Categories: On Writing.

I agree with… Natasha Carthew

Natasha Carthew “When I started writing my first novel Winter Damage I found myself drawn to the outside countryside around me out of necessity. It was a way to clear my head and immerse myself fully with the world that my characters inhabited. “As a poet I have always written out of doors, the notebook and pencil stuffed into a pocket as I walked the cliffs and beaches of my home village as a child, something I was always used to carrying. To be engrossed in the countryside was to know inspiration was close, to be prepared and ready to write was to be lost in the moment. “When I sat down to write ‘Winter Damage’, from the time ideas started to form in my head to the final editing process the book was written entirely outside with the forever fields of South-East Cornwall as a backdrop and the stunning moors behind. It wasn’t long before the characters from the book sat down with me and trusted me enough to share their incredible story.” [excerpt from an interview with We Love This Book]  I love this idea of writing outdoors, but sadly get so involved at my computer screen that I
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Categories: On Writing.

Applying the rules of art to writing: it’s a process

“Art is the product of process: Whether conceptual, experimental, emotional, or formal, the process you develop yields the image you produce. The materials you choose, the methods of production, and the sources of the images should all reflect the interests that command your attention. The process does not stop with each work completed. It is ongoing. The cumulative result of that process is a body of work.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White Whatever the style of writing, whatever the genre, it has to be an ongoing process. The parallels with art are true. Writing a novel is a process of evolution, characters develop, plots take an unexpected turn, the first page changes numerous times. If you write what you set out to write, you’ve missed a trick [to paraphrase a famous author who said this much more eloquently than I ever could]. ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: It’s a process: applying the rules of #art to #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-x8 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

Reading for research: Lucky Kunst

I admit to a wry chuckle as I see the double-takes from my fellow passengers on the Easyjet flight from Malaga to Gatwick. My reading material for the 2 ½ hour flight is Lucky Kunst: The Rise & Fall of Young British Art by Gregor Muir. I’m still researching for my second novel, Connectedness. I’ve come to Malaga to tread in the footsteps of my character, artist Justine Tree, as she treads in the footsteps of Picasso.‘Freeze’, the 1988 art exhibition held by 16 Goldsmiths art students in a London Docklands warehouse and organised by Damien Hirst, first launched the yBa’s into the fusty art world. It wasn’t until 1992 thought that Charles Saatchi introduced the phrase ‘Young British Art’ with his exhibition. From then on, the 1990s were the time of Cool Britannia when artists and pop singers were invited to 10 Downing Street. This is Justine’s time too.I made Justine older than Hirst, Emin, Whiteread, Lucas etc. She graduates from art college in London in 1984 and is noticed by Charles Saatchi in 1993 when he anonymously buys three collages from her collection ‘Blues I, II & III’. In 1997 he exhibits two pieces from Justine’s next collection, ‘The
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Categories: My Novel: 'Connectedness', On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research… Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

I bought this book in the gift shop at the Hayward Gallery in London after Emin’s ‘Love is What You Want’ exhibition in 2011. My Life in a Column is a collection of the columns written by artist Tracey Emin for The Independent newspaper over four years. I picked it up because a) I remembered reading some of the original columns and finding them amusing, and b) at that time I was toying with the idea of making a character in my new novel a controversial artist. So who better as a role model then Tracey Emin? The book turned out to be so much more than the controversy linked with Emin by people who don’t know much about her. I found her fascinating, the highs and lows of her creative process were a great inspiration for my character Justine Tree in Connectedness. She writes: “Faced with the daily prospects of failure and self-loathing, a numb chrysalis starts to develop around you, and if you are not careful you wake up one morning to find yourself not awake, but in a semi-comatose state, baked into a hardened shell, breathless and mind-numbing. You have to poke your finger through the hardened
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

I agree with… Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin “Today my studio is calling me. The paintings are all really happy and the paint wants to be used. It’s all spangly and exciting. There’s almost nothing that I hate, or nothing that depresses me. This is a state of mind that is created by what I make, not the other way around. To know that I will be spending the rest of my life being controlled by my own creative output is exhausting. It’s not a job, and if it were a job I would just do it, I would just get up and do it.” [excerpt from ‘My Life in a Column’ by Tracey Emin] There are days when writing feels like this, when the words flow and I’ve written 2000 words and drunk no cups of tea apart from the first one I carried upstairs with me after breakfast. Oh that every day were like this, when I finish in the evening with an ache in my shoulders, a good ache that won’t turn into a crippling headache, a good ache that will succumb to a bath scented with Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress bath oil. If you agree with Tracey Emin, perhaps you will agree with:-
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Categories: On Writing.

Reading for research… The Yellow House

I love doing background research for my novels, I guess that’s the journalist in me. With hindsight, I researched my first novel Ignoring Gravity too much, I didn’t recognise the point at which I knew enough and when to let my imagination take over. I was reading about adoption, something I haven’t experienced myself and know no-one who has. So I turned to books [a typical reaction for me]. As a reader, I hate writers who put all their research onto the page. Needless to say, a lot of the stuff I put in the first draft, was stripped out later. Martin Gayford is an art writer I turn to. My second novel Connectedness is three-quarters written and the researching process was much briefer. It is a sequel to the first book, so still about adoption, but this time I decided to make my new main character an artist. Because… I love art, but what knowledge I have is self-taught and disconnected. So, it was an opportunity to learn. And I have loved the process, going to galleries and exhibitions, trying to paint watercolours, and reading, always reading. The most dramatic art book I have read by far is The
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

I agree with Antony Gormley…

Antony Gormley “Everybody says ‘what does it mean?’ …but what does life mean? Life is there to be lived, not to mean things, it’s to be experienced. They think… ‘oh we want a label, we want to know what it is, what it’s called, what it’s made of, and what it means.’ Well why not just be it, do it feel it.” [in an interview from ‘Lily Cole: Art Matters’ – Sky Arts] We have a tendency these days to over-analyse, to label, which is constrictive. Gormley [see his ‘Another Place’, left] is talking principally about art, and art as a part of life, but I think his words also apply to books and the publishing industry. The fixation of booksellers and publishers with genre, sequels, celebrity names, with which section a book will sit within, means many authors with non-traditional, non-genre, stand-alone novels are being over-looked. I made the mistake in a letter to a prospective agent of describing my novel ‘Ignoring Gravity’ as being about a ‘detective of identities’ who researches the family history of an adopted girl. The rejection letter said the novel was too long for a detective novel. To say this missed the point is
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Categories: On Writing.

I agree with Lucian Freud…

Lucian Freud “I think half the point of painting a picture is that you don’t know what will happen. Perhaps if painters did know how it was going to turn out they wouldn’t bother actually to do it. Painting is rather like those recipes where you do all manner of elaborate things to a duck, and then end up putting it on one side and using only the skin.” [excerpt from ‘Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud’ by Martin Gayford] It reminds me of a quote I picked up years ago about writing that has stuck with me. I copied it onto a Post-It note and stuck it on the whiteboard behind my computer. ‘If the chapter’s about what you think it’s about, it’s rubbish.’  I may paraphrase so apologies to whoever it was that first said it, but I think I’ve got the meaning about right. Part of the enjoyment of writing, for me, is creating characters then putting them into situations and seeing how they react. I do write a story plan, but it is constantly being revised as my characters take charge of their lives. If the story plan remains
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Categories: On Writing.