At the last serious art festival I attended, I wandered around with the kids without much purpose in mind other than to buy a few prints, talk to some artists and generally soak up the beauty and energy. There is something about being around intensely creative people that always recharges my batteries.
I also can't gush enough about how terrific it is to see art up close and in person. I always liked Salvadore Dali, but it wasn't until I saw a collection of his paintings at a museum that I realized just how insanely talented the man was.
Back to my art festival: at one booth I caught a glimpse of a dark piece in the back, almost hidden from view by the arrangement of other, more vibrant paintings. All of the work at the booth was superb, but for some reason the one in the shadows drew me like a high powered magnet.
The painting was a profile portrait of a young woman with short dark hair wearing a lovely robe and resting her brow against one hand. Most of her face was in shadow. Her other hand was splayed almost protectively against her heart. My first impression was loneliness, sadness, and pain.
Then I looked closer, and saw that she was looking sideways (at whoever stood in front of the painting), and that seemed to change the feel of the piece entirely. She wasn't depressed, she was on guard, showing me what I wanted to see while she kept an eye on me. And then I knew who she was.
She was Rowan. Or, to be more precise, she epitomized all of the traits I had cooked up in my head to be my character Rowan. Rowan, who until that point had remained mostly in shadow for me.
At that point I wanted desperately to take a picture of the portrait (something that is a big no-no at art festivals) so that I could take home a permanent image to study. I went to talk to one of the artists; as it happened the painting was a collaboration. Ms. Brodeur probably thought I was a little weird for how I enthused about the portrait, but she was kind enough to give me a postcard with an image of it:
Once I had seen the portrait, everything nebulous about Rowan's character clicked into place for me. That doesn't always happen; finding a real image or piece of art that matches what I see in my head sometimes raises new questions and creates more work for me. But this time it was a perfect match, and the details in the painting filled in the blanks in my mental profile. That gave me the last push I needed to fully understand and complete my portrait of the character.
There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to what inspires some writers to create characters; the universe tosses something our way and we feel compelled to embody it, name it and tell its story. This time for me it was a painting that finished the job, next time it might be a handful of words or a scent or a song. I think the trick is to remain open to world around you, and the possibilities that populate it, and let the universe take care of the rest.
Kathleen Brodeur's web site
Edson Campos's web site