Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Story Art

The other day Charlene and I were talking about our respective summer art projects, and she got me thinking about how often our stories also inspire us to create other types of art. Not every writer is an artist, but many of us have hobbies or sidelines that incorporate writing into another art form. I combine my love of art and writing in my art journals every week, and I've made a number of quilted pieces like this one based on elements and characters from my stories and books.

I also like looking for new ways to play with writing and art, and Cloth Paper Scissors magazine is one place I find regular inspiration. The magazine holds regular art challenges for their readers that I find hard to resist, and the one in the Jul/Aug issue is no exception: Create an original, mixed-media mini book no larger than 6" X 6" X 1" that weighs no more than 1 lb. Since I love making books, and the deadline isn't until September 1st, I don't think I'm going to be able to resist this one (the challenge details aren't up yet on the web site, but they will probably post them by the end of the month when the issue hits the new stands.)

Unless you're selling your work, creating art from your writing is generally for your own gratification, but it can also be a way to get better in touch with the work. I always feel I know a character better after I've sketched or painted them. In my novel notebooks I create collages of pictures I take from the internet and magazines that help me with character, setting and time period details. Color palettes are important to me, too, and I often play with online generators like this one to figure out what part of the spectrum I want to use for some story element.

Story art doesn't always have to be a project. I use my camera all the time to photograph places and things and capture the images I want to incorporate in a story, or buy images off royalty-free sites that help me visualize better (these also help when an editor asks you for input on cover art; nothing illustrates an idea better than an image.) Cameras are also good for people who aren't inclined to sketch or paint but who still want to create -- pretty much anyone can point and shoot.

For this mini-book project I'm going to be studying the techniques in the Summer 2010 issue of Sew Somerset. This issue is packed with art book-making ideas from raw-edged journals, fabric and panel books all with different inspirations, themes and techniques. Definitely the magazine to check out if you're interested in getting some ideas to make your own sewn mixed-media books.

Building up a personal collection of artwork based on your writing can help recharge the creative batteries, too. We spend so much time translating our vision of story into words that we occasionally feel a little trapped in the black-ink white-paper world; playing with images is a nice mental vacation. When it comes to art you may choose to stick with one medium that you enjoy or that you're familiar with, or try something new. I like trying new techniques because they force me to stretch rather than get comfortable, and sometimes the results are pretty neat. I always think it's interesting to get first-hand experience with any artistic process; if nothing else you gain a mountain of respect for the artists who do it every day.

This is why another of my summer projects is to sculpt an art doll based on one of my characters. I don't want it to be a kids' doll, however, and up until now it's been tough to find usable info from doll makers who are inspired by books that are a little more grownup than Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. Fortunately Art Doll Quarterly magazine finally came through for me with a terrific article in their summer issue about Loni, an artist who makes steampunk dolls. She talks about the process of creation and her doll-making techniques, but something she wrote at the article really resonated with me: Remember to listen to your dolls; they will guide you along. I spend so much time listening to my characters in my head I sometimes feel like I'm developing multiple personality disorder, but they never steer me in the wrong direction (sadly I can't make the same claim.)

Do you guys play with art for story? What things other than writing do you use to work out or illustrate your stories? Is there anything you'd like to try someday? Let us know in comments.


  1. Anonymous6:31 AM

    thanks for sharing.

  2. interesting article. I quilt and design redwork embroidery pieces with my little sister. She has also been my support while I wrote and finished my first manuscript. Now that I'm into the second, we are again working together on new designs as well as plot sticking points. It's been good. I will be curious to see where your dollmaking journey goes. The steampunk doll is awesome-I will look for that magazine. My first book is about a quilter and what she quilts into each stitch-it was good to combine my two loves.

  3. Music, drawing, painting, all kinds of things help bring new insights to a story. I live by my book soundtracks. But making a doll never crossed my mind, and what a perfect way to give three dimensions to two. You can even get detailed with the costuming. Can't wait to see what you come up with!

    My mandala is more for general artistic direction than a specific project, but now I realize I could do one for a protagonist, too, drawing center symbols and other images that illustrate their lives and values. Hmm!

  4. I tried something new last year, that I learned from author Bronwyn Green. I made a scrapbook of my characters for my WIP, one page per character. It was amazing--I saw connections between characters that I hadn't seen before and it enriched my novel.

    And it was fun! Can't wait to do it again.

  5. I crochet but I don't really use it with my writing. One thing I think I would like to use or start one day is a quilt. I could make it based on one of my characters.


  6. Liz B1:07 PM

    I like to draw my characters, and I've been working on getting better at land/cityscapes and maps so that I can use those to better work out my stories. I've also started working with my sister and my roommate to actually design and create some of the outfits that my characters wear, which hasn't actually worked yet, but it's fun to try. In the future, I hope to work with a friend of mine who practices several forms of martial arts to better understand how fighting and body movements work.

  7. Well, I play music and write songs - sometimes from the characters' point of view, which really helps me know what they're thinking. I'm also a photography hobbyist, but never contribute it to my writing.

    But yes, I do scour the internet for images that inspire the mood of the story I'm writing. Steph Bowe calls it "Visual Inspiration."

  8. Those art dolls look fascinating and the Steampunk dolls are just lovely.

    I've loved dolls since early childhood, first as playthings (including enacting story ideas) and later as art projects. Mostly I stuck to designing and making clothes, I never was all that great at making dolls, though I made a number of crocheted dolls and plushies as well as a few cloth dolls. I also made a lot of things (toys, gifts, etc...) from sculpting clay. I occasionally experimented with depicting my characters in doll or figurine form, but the result never matched my vision. Much as with writing.

    I've also had the experience that many of the existing doll and toy making how-tos are geared towards small children and cutesy characters. Which is not what I write at all. However, I've had some success buying a plain Barbie doll with the respective hair and skin colour and outfitting/modifying her to look like the character I want her to be.

    I collect and photograph inspirational images and have been considering doing a character or story collage for some time now, since so many writers swear by it. Perhaps I'll tackle it for my current WIP this summer.

    I hope we'll get to see your art doll here at PBW.

  9. I discovered polymer clay about a year or so ago and it's a really good medium for making small sculptures. It's easy to handle and the final products can be baked in convection ovens, or even boiled in hot water. I've made 7 fantasy figures so far and they help me with characterisation quite a bit.

    You should give polymer clay a go! You'll love it. And there are a lot of tutorials on youtube. Just type in "OOAK polymer clay dolls" in the search box.

  10. I had to make a marionette for one of my high school art classes and I decided to do one of a character from "The Tin Drum" by Gunter Grass. I had just read it at the time and was so into it. It was difficult because of the physical description of the character. I had a lot of fun making & decorating his drum though.