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Picturing a World

Christmas commerce and celebration

I was looking for a seasonal image and found this “Christmas gifts” issue of Vogue for 1918. A hundred years later, it reminds us of the joyous and tattered end of World War I. And it’s by an American woman artist! Helen Dryden. Born in Baltimore in 1882, she moved to New York in 1909 to sell artwork to magazines—just about the time that ANONYMITY’s Mattie would have known her. Perfect. Read More 

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Wintry inspiration

In her introduction to the 2016 edition of The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin says, “The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words.”

Imagery, like music, can induce feelings as well as ideas; it conveys complex attitudes, multiple meanings. Through her painting, Nom kinnear king expresses what she explores in the only way she fully can. Trying to put it into words would be pointless.

And yet, for those of us who are inspired by art while we are writing fiction, a picture may suggest a plot line. It may offer a concrete detail for a scene. Or it may just as well go into the unconscious and work magic. Gretta, I think, is going to haunt me into winter. Read More 

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Beatrice Baxter Ruyl

I love illustrated books, which in today’s world largely means children’s books. This combination of text and illustration from 1909 is by Beatrice Baxter Ruyl (who posed for photographer Gertrude Käsebier’s picture The Sketch). The children’s book pulp-fiction syndicate for  Read More 

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Käsebier’s Sketch

Although “Anonymity” is stalled at the moment (I’m writing an unrelated novella), images that belong to my heroine Mattie’s world draw me back into it. Both the beauty of this photograph and the earnestness of the artist would, I think, appeal to a wistfully idealistic side of Mattie. Although she works in the pulp end of publishing, she also fosters young talent and encourages writers and artists to strive for their best. Read More 

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Gertrude Fiske

Blog tip: It's almost too late to catch a show of Gertrude Fiske's work at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Historical Society, but James' Gurney's blog post at least introduced me to this accomplished painter. Doesn't this image invite musing on what the story might be?

For more of Fiske's work, click here.  Read More 

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What makes this book so happy (3): Skill

West with the Night by Beryl Markham is the first title on Prevention’s list of 55 Happy Books Proven to Boost Your Mood. What a pleasure to be reminded of that  Read More 

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Smith College art class

And now back to school! Early in my research on women’s art education, I  Read More 

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Breslau’s milliners

Louise Catherine Breslau was a star student at the Académie Julian at the time during which Where the Light Falls is set. She does not play a role in the novel, but it was like coming across an old friend  Read More 

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Beaury-Saurel’s cigarette

In the latter 19th C, polite society considered it a sign of shocking Bohemianism for women to smoke. Now we might not worry about the sitter’s morals, only her health. When Amélie Beaury-Saurel painted this picture, however, she probably meant it as  Read More 

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Scaffolding

Barriers to training and opportunity, and sheer prejudice are correctly cited as having held back women in the arts in the past (and now!). For painters, male and female, moreover, there was the cost of materials. Even easel-sized canvasses had to be paid for, as did pigments, brushes, props, and solvents. When I saw this image recently in a Gurney Journey blog post, it struck me that the sheer size of the support and apparatus required to produce a very large work meant that independent wealth, prior success, or an institutional commission was necessary before an artist could undertake the sort of grand works that won prestige in the 19th C. Poets and fiction writers were at an advantage when they could scribble away with no more investment than the cost of paper and pen. My main point, however, is that in visualizing a world for fiction, it’s the unexpected detail—like Detaille’s scaffolding—that can provide verisimilitude and possibly a plot twist. Read More 

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