Picture this! Renoir once noted "that it was not uncommon to discover watercolors from his [Cézanne's] hand discarded in the fields around Aix-en-Provence, sprouting here and there like the forgotten verses of an absent-minded poet" (Matthew Simms, Cézanne's Watercolors, p. 146). Image via MOMA. Read More
Picturing a World
In Cézanne's Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting by Matthew Simms, I was astonished to read that a single sheet has this gorgeous, limpid still life on one side and the beckoning woodland on the other. Can you imagine owning something like that?
A friend of mine is something of an expert on Alexander the Great in history and legend, so references to him always catch my eye. Then there are dragons, one of my special interests—along with illustration, of course. Medieval comic strip, anyone? In the story depicted here, Olympias, the wife of Philip of Macedon, is seduced by a sorcerer named Nectanebo, who comes to her in the shape of a dragon. Result? According to this illuminator anyway, a little hatchling Alexander! For the story in full, click here.
My favorite book dedication is Rudyard Kiplings for Plain Tales from the Hills: "To the wittiest woman in India." Now it has a close runner-up, Natasha Pulley's in The Half Life of Valery K: "For Claire, Larry, and Jacob, who put up with me telling them pointless facts about nuclear physics for the whole of lockdown." The rest of the novel is terrific, too—I only wish it weren't frighteningly apt at a time when jitters about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine are all too real.
Wow! David Hockney! thought I, when I saw this photograph by Ian Capper at Geograph. Explore the many paintings at 2005 The David Hockney Foundation and you'll see why. I'm not sure how a writer should use the moment—to imagine a rural place? to catch that sense of aha! when a character makes a mental connection? In any case, it gave my day a lift and I'm still smiling.
Accounts of medieval windows generally focus on stained glass, and no wonder—they're very beautiful. But, of course, not all windows were tinted. Recently, I came across a complicated allegorical frontispiece on fol.1r of a French Mirror of History. Half the picture depicts a church being built with various kings, saints, and biblical figures as craftsmen—including these two monks. They grabbed my attention because I had never seen a depiction of glaziers installing windows.
This month, my library book club is reading The Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. A few of its characters first appear in The Glass Hotel so I decided to read the two novels together. What fascinates me is that Mandel gives the Hotel characters somewhat altered lives in Tranquility—not out of carelessness, but because it fits! The Glass Hotel is very much about how a person's world is created by circumstance and psychology. It has no paranormal threads; but, with a large cast and interlocking plot lines, it offers many, many takes on perception, construction, hiding, disguising, remaking, maturing, drugs, etc. Tranquility, by contrast, is an outright time-travel, sci-fi novel and, as such, opens yet other ways of looking at the worlds, including speculation about the future, (something Mandel did brilliantly in her break-out novel, Station Eleven).
This detail from a bird's-eye map of Tudor London is taken from a blog post, In the Charnel House, about, what else? excavation of a 14th C charnel house. The post has lots of information about history, the stonework being uncovered, etc. What made me save the image, however, was its depiction of the cluster of buildings and gardens adjacent. It comes from the Agas map, for which there is a dedicated website. The site takes a bit of getting used to, but it's an invaluable resource.
Now look at this photograph of a bridge over a canal! Even when I don't want to describe something in detail in a story, I want to be able to visualize it for myself so that I know I'm not building an impossibility into the plot. The physical world, moreover, shapes our lives and should shape the lives of our characters. Okay, so I'm trying to imagine a bridge over a towpath in winter. Here I have the architectural solution for going from one bank to another. Curves and straight lines, bricks and stonework, messy dead grass and moss. I can see the muddy track as well as cobblestones, damp under the bridge, and a gate on the far side. Perfect for giving me assurance now, and you never know when some detail will suggest a future plot development.