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Picturing a World

Hockney, Contre-jour

How many times have you looked out a museum window or left an exhibition and seen the world differently? For just a little while you feel like you have stepped into a painting or else that you are seeing it as an artist might. If you're David Hockney, you paint it!

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Amazing sky at Geograph

Website alert: Geograph is a project that posts photographs of Great Britain and Ireland by Ordnance Survey grid squares. If you want to know what a place looks like or tour a region on line, it's a great resource. And some of the images from its more than 13,000 contributors might inspire you to take an imaginary journey into the unknown—like this amazing cloud formation from Derek Dye!

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Raindrops on windshield

Blog post alert: I can't think of an equivalent exercise for writers, but I was fascinated by James Gurney's video demonstrating Painting Raindrops on a Windshield. If you like to watch a pro work magic, check it out!

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Nocturnal Commedia

Companies of traveling players performed Commedia dell'arte outdoors, a topic that can be explored from many angles—at what venues? to what sized audience? in what legal or illicit circumstances? What interests me most in Watteau's depiction of a troupe is the lighting by torch and moonlight. Remember Snout's question in A Midsummer Night's Dream, III, i: "Doth the moon shine that night we play our play?"

How much could be seen by how many spectators would vary immensely by how full the moon was on a given night, and whether the sky was clear. Torches would illuminate in a small area and add glaring, smoky focal points. But, oh, but what else could be going on off in the darkness—that's for the writer to visualize!

 

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Candles in moonlight

Lighting at night before electricity or even gas is hard for a 21st C westerner to imagine. That's something writers must keep in mind both in visualizing a scene and enabling their readers to do so. I read somewhere that, in Jane Austen's day, evening parties were scheduled for when the moon was full to make it easier for guests to get home. This painting by Petrus van Schendel implies that candlelight on the night of a full moon would make it possible for market stalls to extend the selling day into at least early evening. Glad I ran across it—and glad to find that the Athenaeum has 37 additional works by the artist, many of them night scenes.

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Paris street light

The absence of the Luxor obelisk, which was erected at the Place de la Concorde and opened to the public in 1836, and the long coats and top hats of the men suggest that Vauzelle painted this picture, when? ca. 1830? Anyway, what really interests me is that lantern strung over the road, presumably an oil  Read More 
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Life drawing, 1809

Website tip: Today's post of images from Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin's Microcosm of London at the always interesting blog, Spitalsfield Life, is a dandy for historical fiction novelists and fans of Georgian England. And I love the way this plate shows early 19th C lighting for a life class. Read More 
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Light and composition

We are so used to evenly lit rooms at night that it requires a real act of imagination to visualize stories from the 19th C and earlier as their authors and first readers did. And what about writers of historical or fantasy? Is it pedantic to try to imagine authentic lighting or (pardon the pun) illuminating? How does one convey to a reader what the characters should take for granted? Read More 
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Light and rooms

A recent e-mail exchange with a friend about the rise of the word living-room in America in the 19th C set me thinking about how important it is in historical fiction to get ordinary terms right. Front parlor, back parlor, sitting room, boudoir, withdrawing room, drawing room, living-room, salon, lounge—they  Read More 
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Mattie Stenographer

As I tried to say last Thursday, I'll be writing more about my new work as well as Where the Light Falls. For instance, the stenographer shown here taking shorthand on her pad is younger than my new heroine, but I found the picture helpful in visualizing how Mattie might be dressed (shirt sleeves, no hat, pleated skirt)  Read More 
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