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Picturing a World

Walter Gay (5) The Gilded Age

Here is Walter Gay depicting the Gilded Age interior splendor for which he is best known. The word is luxe. (And, yea, the painting is shown in its ornate gilt frame.) I'll leave it to art historians to discuss Gay as an artist. For those of us who write fiction his pictures offer loads of period details for life among the rich in the latter part of the 19th C and into the 20th, especially in France.

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Walter Gay interiors (4): Creative misprision

"Creative misprision" is a concept in literary criticism. Briefly put, an artist or a writer misinterprets someone else's work and takes off from there in a new direction. When I first saw this pastel drawing by Walter Gay, I thought the window looked out onto the brick wall of the next building. I saw the room as empty, dusty, and formerly grand but now hemmed in and down-at-heels. Maybe it could be the setting for a young protagonist who is thrilled to find a romantic apartment which is cheap because of the blocked view. Maybe it could illustrate a melancholy last view by someone moving out. The fact that the image is non-narrative in itself makes it more potent in a way for stimulating imagination.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (2): Another Paris studio

As a first follow-up to my last post, here is another painting that could be a "portrait without a person," one that could help a writer create the character of late-19th C artist and visualize a setting. Notice that this picture is not attributed to Walter Gay himself, but to an unnamed follower.

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Socar Myles

Blog post alert: For an insider's look at commercial art, ghostwriting, and publishers, the always interesting Kathleen Jennings has a long interview—"Ghoulish but sentimental"—with fellow artist and writer, Socar Myles. Myles's startling artwork is gorgeous. I've never read any of her fiction, whether ghostwritten or published in her own name; but I was fascinated by everything she had to say.

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Valentine’s Day, 1908

When I ran across this image at Costume History last September, it jumped out at me for three reasons: First, the real Jeanette worked at McCall's Magazine in her later life. Second, my work-in-progress, ANONYMITY, is set in 1908. And third, I'm always on the lookout for pictures I can use for this blog. Naturally, I saved it. So Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
 
Now that I've re-opened it, however, I'm also struck by its ambiguity. What is that pensive woman thinking?

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Biden color gradient

One more color post (and a little more political celebration). A recent Berkshire Eagle article, Adams native part of graphic design team behind Biden-Harris' 'victory gradient' fascinated me. Jessica Lucia helped develop the color combinations that in November delivered the message "We won!" To audiences accustomed to sophisticated computer images, plain old primary red, white, and blue just don't communicate the way they used to. In this case, I'd say in contrast to their opponent's bluster and intimidation, the subliminal message that comes across is elegance, restraint, and joyous confidence.

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Ten Terrible Ideas

Blog post alert: In Observation Journal: Ten Terrible Things, writer-illustrator Kathleen Jennings illustrates and explores an exercise she picked up from Helen Marshall: As quick as you can, jot down ten terrible ideas for a novel based on the X-meets-Y model. Examples: The Elements of Style as a musical, Where the Wild Things Are if it were a cooking show. Writers can use it to loosen up. Readers can turn it into a parlor game—or in these days when we should not be gathering for parties, one of you can plot a story about a group who did. My quick variation: Ten Terrible Romances, e.g., Heathcliff meets Bridget Jones, Elizabeth Bennett meets Superman. What's yours? (Warning: As Jennings observes, you may find yourself trying to develop one of your wacky ideas. Well, why not?)

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Northern Lights

Yesterday, my copy of this British 25th Anniversary edition of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights arrived, with Chris Wormell's stunning illustrations. The landscapes are breathtaking, especially those of icy mountains and the aurora borealis.
 
As it happened, I've been reading Peter Davidson's wide-ranging Idea of North, a study of how the concept of "north" has figured into art, culture, folklore, etc. Last night, I came across a passage about how certain magnetized stones retain their orientation in spite of geological shifts. Davidson remarks on "this fundamental marvel of the earth itself having an idea of north, a northern memory" (p. 56). The idea of intelligence as information rather than consciousness is certainly coming into focus these days, including in the observation of how plants respond without a centralized brain. But think of it, the mineral world with memory, too!
 
For my library book club, I am reading Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy, which is set in a near future when mass extinctions have wiped out almost all wildlife. What I'd love to see is a speculative fiction that embodies the life—the activity, and change, and slow responses—of the inorganic as well as organic world in sentient characters. We need to feel within us the tides and flow of the more-than-human world. A fantasy might be devised so that such awareness is part of everyone's experience, or a special set of a population; or it could be that in a more conventional realistic story there is at least one character grappling with the implications of just what non-human, non-animal intelligence entails.
 
So as a jumping off point (a là Natasha Pulley)—if it were true that people could slow their rhythms down to the sound waves sent by elephants through the ground or perceive with their own senses the changes wrought by water on a cliff, what else would have to be true? What would follow?
 
NB: The 25th anniversary illustrated edition of Northern Lights will be published in America in May 2021 under the title The Golden Compass. 

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Gotch dragon

Last night, tired of political news, I surfed the 'net and found an astonishing collection of dragon images at Tor.com. It goes on and on. I scrolled and scrolled. Most are 20th and 21st C illustrations for fantasy fiction, which vary from cheesy to brilliant. Even the cheesy ones are so professionally executed that if you love dragon pictures, you'll get a kick out of them. Scattered throughout, moreover, are older images from Renaissance Italy to Chinese scrolls to William Blake—and this one by Thomas Cooper Gotch. It stopped me and held me; and this morning it sent me into a variation of Natasha Pulley's writing exercise.

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Merovingian village

I love artists' imaginative renditions of archeological sites. A set of post holes, some jewelry, and a collection of animal bones may say a lot to a specialist but not so much to the rest of us until the artist gets to work. Then voilà, a picture of an early medieval  stock-raising village in Pontarlier, France. Here I can actually imagine myself viewing the town from a hillside—and then walking down into it. It really helps that the surrounding topography is provided as well. I've never tried to sketch a scene for one of my stories, but I do make rough maps and diagrams of house interiors. Whatever works to stimulate and amplify the imagination—and at the moment give brief respite from climate change, pandemic, and election anxieties!

 

Via Merovingian-era settlement excavated in France at The History Blog

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