Fish are kind of a theme for me.
I have a confession to make: I am a nerd.
Okay, so we probably already guessed that, with the whole “fantasy/sci fi writer who plays video games” thing that I’ve got going on, but it’s good to be clear.
Long story short, for Christmas I got an embroidery machine with the goal of learning how to make my own designs for it, because otherwise buying them would turn into a giant money-sink (and I’m stingy). ENTER OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE.
For the month of January, I’ve been learning how to use Inkscape, and the InkStitch extension. The kids are thrilled that I took some of their drawings, traced them, then had the machine embroider them onto shirts for them. It was seriously cool.
So while I was riding the whole, “This is frustrating yet fun!” high, I decided to figure out GIMP, an open source program that’s kind of like Photoshop with more headaches.
‘Cause yeah, sure, why not go crazy.
You’d think that I have enough hobbies by now.
Alrighty, here’s a drawing of my own. Totally embarrassed. Put off posting it for awhile too.
I like to trash my art skills, but the truth is, I used to do an enormous amount of drawing.
I got a Wacom tablet as a teenager, and spent hours and hours in Corel Photo-Paint, learning the ins and outs of how creating art on the computer — I even won an award for it during my Senior year of high school. All told, I wasn’t really that bad. I had that Wacom tablet for years, until my cat tried to get into my desktop fish tank and killed it with a good soaking of water.
One of my relatives gave me her old set of Prismacolor pencils for Christmas, and I started exploring different techniques of coloring, growing to favor heavy blending. Naturally from there, I stepped into watercolor painting.
But, as it is often put so eloquently, shit happens.
Resuming “being yourself” after trauma is a process, and it takes a lot time. I started with sewing and crochet, learned how to knit and cook-with-passion, and made several ventures into writing before I was ready to commit myself to the craft once again, but art never grew to be anything more than the occasional silly doodle. Every time I thought about it, I felt strained at the time it would take to practice, practice, practice. I just didn’t want to draw the same thing over and over and over, when I had so many other things to do.
Besides, there are lots of amazing artists out there that I enjoy, who do things that I never would have thought of. I had always been frustrated with how limited my imagination was when it came to drawing, even as a teenager. So, I let that part of me go, at peace with the idea that it would never return.
Every now and then, I see something that makes me ache to start drawing again, and it’s been happening a lot lately. Things like watching Bernadette Banner create fashion portraits, or marveling at how beautiful Hollow Knight is. I’ve started thinking that I could start drawing again.
I’m at that part of pregnancy where I’m dead tired of watching movies and endlessly playing video games, but my low blood pressure won’t permit the up-and-down of sewing, my morning sickness protests at the back-and-forth of cooking (I wouldn’t be able to eat much anyway), and I’m far too forgetful to hold a story in my head. How long does the first trimester last? Eternity.
Anyway, drawing would be something for my hyperactive brain to play with. I could get my husband to dig out my old reference books from the basement, dust off my mad skillz, and fight the kids for the computer. I can always start with character portraits for my latest novel, to keep it active in my mind as I slog my way through the latter half of the first trimester.
Now that I’ve written all this, watch something come up that prevents me from following through, lol. Life is far too often like that for me.
Sometimes I like to turn on Bob Ross to absorb how calm and mellow he is, and I find it relaxing to sit and watch him paint for a bit. Children are highly chaotic entities, so I know how to appreciate the change in pace that comes with everyone sitting together watching a show that we can all enjoy.
It occurred to me that one could also learn how to write from Bob Ross, as long as you think metaphorically.
He doesn’t simply slap down blobs of color and call it done. He blends the paint, adds shadows and highlights, and is mindful of the details. He also doesn’t overwork the paint or try to control every single aspect of the picture, instead working with the textures of the brush strokes and allowing elements to evolve naturally.
And, as everyone knows, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”
A lot of writers stop at the blobs of color phase. They’ll free write whatever passes through their minds then hit ‘publish’ without any more thought about the story. These sorts of writers can produce a lot of content in a short amount of time, but it will all feel unpolished and unsatisfying. Often, when I have tried to explain how these writers have good potential but they need to dedicate more attention to reworking their story, they get upset rather than accepting the advice (even when I’m responding to their request for criticism). So, remember, blobs of color are your foundation, but they are not your finished story. The first draft should not be your last. And no, your blobs of color are not more genius than anyone else’s. They all pretty much look the same.
Others will overwork the story to death. They’ll edit out the spontaneity of adventure, and reduce their characters to props who serve rigid roles, instead of letting them shine as quirky individuals. These writers don’t let the overall picture evolve naturally, and their stories feel formulaic. While they are often well intentioned, they don’t know how to let the story flow on its own.
There are also writers who put in too much detail, and create overly-busy stories with no clear focus. They forget to leave the background in the background. They throw too much information at the reader all at one, or create more characters than there’s room for. They describe the condiments instead of the picnic.
When you are in the process of editing, take a step back and try to visualize the story as a painting. Is there enough detail without being overdone? Did you let elements evolve naturally and follow the flow? Did you flesh out the foreground and leave the background appropriately hazy? Is it something that you would hang on *your* wall? Remember, you can always fix it.
And the next time you watch Bob Ross, just imagine that he’s speaking in metaphor and soak in all of his encouragement.
I did not know I needed this in my life until suddenly here it was.