W is for Wow

Okay, I’m allowed one contrived entry in the challenge, surely ūüėČ

It’s wow because tonight my son made us all sit and watch a documentary. I’ve mentioned before in this blog that he’s a brony, and my C entry was about My Little Ponies. Well, he put some money towards a project creating a documentary about bronies. Over the past week or so he’s been cajoling and bribing various members of the family to watch it, and tonight turned out to be the night we sat together in front of the TV with it.

It’s very odd watching a bunch of grown men waxing lyrical about animated ponies, but I think he got his point across that there are many of them out there. What really impressed me, though, was the creativity that the series has sparked. We saw artists who produced original artwork based on the show, people who created and painted models of the characters, plush toys, clothing, animations, music, even laser shows. Each of these people took the original idea and developed it in their own directions, putting their own spin on it.

When I first came across this sort of interaction, very soon after I first joined the world-wide community of the internet, it was fascinating. Now I have learned to value it, to the point where when I find something new that interests me, for example Downton Abbey, once I’ve exhausted primary sources (i.e. watched all the original episodes), I’ll seek out secondary sources, such as fanfiction.net, to see how others interpret the characters. Sometimes they mirror my own ideas, and sometimes they’ll develop them further, taking me in a direction I hadn’t thought of. Always, they help deepen my understanding of the characters and their relationships. Even bad fanfiction has the same effect, in that it can show highlight things I disagree with.

I’ve always admired the creativity of people out there. From fan art to fan vids, from customised icons to full length novels. There are an amazing number of creative people, and the web and other technologies have provided them all with a vast array of inspiration and tools, not to mention a way to find an audience.

There’s a lot of talk of the long tail¬†in sales these days. That applies equally to all forms of creativity. The web has a dark side, but it also has a positive side, and sparking creativity is part of that.

What price art?

a mess of paint on canvasI managed to get the acrylic paints out today, for the first time in months. I painted a picture of a tree – a rare example of me painting from memory rather than from a picture or real life – and then I painted this, which was basically a way of using up the paint and practising mixing colours on the canvas.

As I usually do when I paint or draw, I muse on how I got to this point. I think about art lessons at school and practising at home.

I do remember one art class when I was about 9 – this was the point when art lessons were about putting newspaper on our normal desks and getting the paints out. I never felt any sense we were learning how to do anything in those lessons, they were just a fun activity. On this occasions we were set the task of painting a portrait of the person who sits opposite us, in pairs. I don’t even remember if it was painting or drawing, to be honest – but I do remember the effort I put into that picture, and of looking at the end result and being really pleased with it – even looking around at the other drawings from the rest of the class, I felt my drawing stood up very well for itself and was a good likeness. I have never forgotten that moment, of having produced something that looked good, and maybe that’s the point that sparked off my enjoyment of portraits.

Contrast that with the frustration of wanting to draw horses, and trying and trying, while one or two classmates would produce a brilliant drawing with a few strokes and then complain about how it wasn’t good enough. I do wonder, thinking back, about how much of this was perception – that we always see what’s wrong with our own work and what’s right with others’ work.

Then we went on to secondary school, where there was a dedicated art room. Our art teacher was definitely a little odd – one lesson she counted off about half of us into the room and then told the rest of us that art club was full and to come back next week! I don’t recall learning that much, it was definitely the impression that those who could draw would get the support while the rest of us were just there to pass the time.

I remember one exercise was to draw a group of people eating a meal around a table – from imagination – and I got really frustrated because I realised partway through that I had got the sizes all wrong, but there was no help to fix this at all. I remember exercises with shading, and filling in lots of boxes. I remember having to make up and design a poster for an invention. I remember very little of being given objects and shown how to draw them from life, observing carefully. I remember one large project where a black and white image was broken into squares, we were each given a square to copy larger then the whole lot was put together as a display. I remember stunning images on display that I would admire, but never anything of mine. I remember knowing that there was no point in choosing art as an option because I was no good at it.

This, despite me painting and drawing at home in my spare time. I loved portraits, and used to use the same picture of my young niece over and over, until I could produce it pretty well in any medium. I tried oil paintings – but could never mix green properly, so I would spend five minutes on the horse in the field and two hours trying to get the grass right. At this point, I was working from a grid on the page, so could produce the image reasonably well. Was this cheating? Does it even matter?

When I go somewhere new, one thing I like to do is sit and sketch the place, so that I have every detail recorded. Even now, when I think of some of those images it can conjure up vivid memories, much more so than a photo.

I’ll never make a great artist, and am unlikely even to make a reasonable one, but still the pleasure I get from drawing and painting is invaluable. The thing that had most effect on my drawing skills was the book drawing on the right side of the brain, which really seems to capture the effect of focusing closely on images, as well as giving me hope that I’m not that useless.

I’ve been on a couple of art courses, and I learned a lot in them, but most of what I learnt was not necessarily from the teacher, but from the experience of drawing or painting, and the trying out of different techniques that I’ve been introduced to. Maybe that’s the purpose of the teacher, I guess – not to teach, but to enable learning.

So what price art? Mine is in every way priceless – nothing to anyone else, but everything to me because it helps me find myself, my place in the world, makes me observe closely and gives me a sense of achievement. That mess at the top of the page illustrates that because the end result is absolutely pointless, but what I learnt along the way about how the paint reacts to different brushes and techniques was invaluable.

And the last laugh is that while looking at my drawing and painting photo collection on flickr, I found another painting of a tree, which is very similar to the one I did today – even though it was watercolour used incredibly badly, the subject is the same.

Having taken the time to do some painting today, I’m now determined to spend more time drawing and painting, and not to forget the mood boost it gives.



Well it looks like we’ve reached Christmas, more or less, so it’s time to decide on a plan. ¬†Mine is to spend my time wisely, on positive things, and forget about work completely for at least the first week. ¬†I intend to go for regular runs (at home during the day means I can actually go for a proper run rather than head to the gym), do some drawing and painting, maybe even some writing, and the closest I intend to come to work is exploring and developing various skills for my own benefit.

During week 2 I will have to get some planning done, but again I intend to take it steady and approach it in a positive way, and not in a way that promotes stress.  The aim is to reach the beginning of next term having refreshed myself physically and mentally, and ready to face the challenges.

Let’s see how far I get to meeting all that ūüėČ

First off, it’s heading out for a road run this morning before the real tidying/cleaning spree begins. ¬†My penance for missing Parkrun yesterday. ¬†I really want to get my time down under 30 mins so I don’t feel quite so worried about being a long way behind the pack and keeping the marshals out longer if it’s raining hard, freezing cold or both.

I am a writer?

writer's notebookI was fighting the prompt tonight.  Just waffling.  But as promised the waffle turned into something worth thinking about, and maybe even worth sharing.

I taught for ten years. ¬†But I taught adults, in evening school. ¬†It didn’t feel like I was a real teaching. ¬†Now I teach in a secondary classroom, and I feel like I finally made it, that now I am indeed a proper teacher.

In the same way, there’s all this talk that if you write, you’re a writer. ¬†But are you really? ¬†At what point do you recognise yourself as a writer? ¬†If you’re spending all your spare time writing? ¬†If you set aside time deliberately for writing? ¬†If you’ve given up a job to write? ¬†If you’ve been paid for writing? ¬†If you’ve got a bestseller? ¬†If you support yourself with your writing?

At what point do you feel you can legitimately claim the title?  At what point do others feel they can claim the title?

At the moment I feel I can say I write occasionally, but not regularly, but I definitely don’t feel I can describe myself as a writer. ¬†In the same way as I might sketch or draw or paint, but I don’t describe myself as an artist.

It worries me that even when you reach the line, you might not recognise it – that even when the world recognises you as a writer you don’t yourself. ¬†Or vice versa.

So, I write therefore I’m a writer? ¬†Or I claim for myself the title of writer?

Or I really don’t get on with today’s prompt perhaps? ūüėČ

(it was Inside the circle, by the way; which prompted the thought of the writers’ circle, and at what point you move inside it)

Introducing Annie

Annie the ChimpI’d like you to meet someone who’s very special to me – her name is Annie, and she’s my inner chimp. ¬†Sometimes we get on ok, but sometimes she can be a real pain in the backside.

Take now for instance.  Here I am trying to get organised, figure out how to get creative, and she starts up arguing.

Me: I guess I really need to make a decision as to what I’m going to do and get on with it. ¬†Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark.¬† So as we’re already drawing regularly, thanks to Draw Something, how about deciding to go with art and forgetting about this idea of writing?

Annie: But I want to write!  [pouts]

Me: [sigh] Ok well we’ll go with the writing then. ¬†But you need to get on with it, you understand.

Annie: But I might not be any good! What if I put all that effort into writing and I’m no good?

Me: Well don’t write then. ¬†We’ll stick to the art.

Annie: But I want to write!

Me: But you just said…

Annie: I know, but I still want to try.  I know how good it feels when the words are flowing properly and the characters come alive and take control of the story.

Me: So what are you going to write?

Annie: ¬†…. I don’t know. ¬†

Me: We’ve had this for years and I’m sick of it. ¬†Either put up or shut up. ¬†You either get on with writing properly or give up the idea altogether. ¬†There’s no point in keep saying you want to write and then not actually writing.

Annie: But what if I’m no good? ¬†

Me: ¬†You know you’ve written some good stuff. ¬†You still get messages occasionally from people saying they’ve enjoyed your fanfiction or added it to their favourites. ¬†If you care enough about your characters and the situations they’re in, you can write. ¬†Anyway, does it even matter?¬†You enjoy being in the flow, feeling the stories write themselves. ¬†You can have that whether you expose your writing to others or not.

Annie: But I want other people to read my writing.  I want them to enjoy what I have to say.  I want to share my stories with them and have them share my world.  I feel good when I get positive comments about my writing.

Me: You’re not going to have that happen unless you actually get on and write though, are you? ¬†And you know it will take a while to improve your skills, and the sooner you start and the more you do, the sooner you will start to see the quality improving.


Me: See, you have no argument to that.  So just give in please and give it a try.  No promises, no guarantees, no contract, but if you really want to get anywhere you need to try.

Annie: ¬†I’ll try. ¬†But what if…


You see my problem? ¬†And even while writing this I had to sneak away to produce the picture of Annie. ¬†Ah well, perhaps I’d better aim for some sort of illustrated writing then… Sigh.