09 July 2009

Art Story

Mr. DeMille, I’m ready to get my brain back…

Seriously, I just finished the technique section of Fantasy Art Templates (Barron’s, January 2010), my next nonfiction project, and it’s like the first day well after a long illness. The house is a wreck. The living room is stacked with boxes from the 78s the spouse person ordered while I was “in the zone”. The path from the so-called writing desk to the sofa where I actually do most of my writing is strewn with papers and reference materials. Hastily kicked-off shoes carpet the kitchen. And I. Am. Not. Cooking. Not now. Maybe not ever.

Until I started the tech section (the portion of the book where readers learn how to emulate the art contained in the main portion of the book) writing was a breeze. The editor shipped me a batch of illustrations, and I wrote captions, usually on the sofa watching TV.

But the artist was ill earlier this year and still playing catch-up. So our editor suggested I get to work on the “Backgrounds and Technique” chapter. I stared her email in horror. The way I understood it, the final chapter wasn’t my problem. The artist would provide ten landscapes to be used with the figures depicted elsewhere in the book. The rest of the chapter would consist of standard instruction pages drawn from other books in the publisher’s series.

There was just one problem. Our book wasn’t like any other book in the series. Remember that “templates” part of the title? The figures in the main section of the book--wizards, warrior women, dragons, unicorns, elves--were designed for copying in traditional media or digitally, or redrawn and adapted as needed. There wasn’t anything quite like it in the catalogue.

Which meant not all the standard instruction pages worked.

Which meant I had to write pages that would.


I’m the classic case of those who can’t teach critique. I studied art until I realized my talent for drawing lay somewhere on the poor side if mediocre. In college, I switched to writing, politics and art history, and never looked back. To presume to instruct other people in skills I hadn’t used since high school… I repeat, gulp.

So I fell back on the other skills that never let me down: reporting and fiction. The reporting part was fairly straightforward. I wrote the artist and asked a few questions. That told me his process, which I knew would interest the reader, but I couldn't exactly drill him on the basics. That would be like asking another writer where they get their ideas. Seriously. This is where my inner fiction writer took over.

Instead of telling people how to create art, I focused on the stories the art could tell. Fantasy paintings, I wrote, have characters and settings like books and movies, but instead of words, the artist uses scale, perspective, lighting and color to get his or her point across. I organized my instruction pages around that theme, but it wasn’t easy. It required as much time and focus as writing fiction. But it worked.

Er, I think it worked. I won’t know until my editor gets back to me.

It's like that in fiction too.

Speaking of which, if you’re going to be in the Washington DC area for the Romance Writers of America National Conference, feel free to give me a shout-out. I plan to drop in for the Samhain party and a few of the other non-RWA events, and I’d love to say hi.

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