My husband is a geek to the nth degree. He watches lots of internet content, including YouTube, and he's been urging me to include YouTube's Make community in a LikeWise post. I had plenty of other sites to feature and put his request on the back burner until this month. Now, I'm sorry I waited. Yesterday, when I looked up the Make channel, I found this cool summer camp.
I wanted to be a camper after I saw this video! Maker Camp offers "the best of summer camp with sure-fire projects." As you can see by the video, it kicked off in early July and if you go to their site, you'll find a list of the fantastic projects you've missed. Yes, missed. If I had listened to my husband and checked out this idea months ago, I'd have posted this at the beginning of summer and you wouldn't have missed making masks, costumes, and instruments.
You can still watch the videos introducing each project and make them yourselves. And thankfully, there are a couple weeks left of camp. I'm posting LikeWise early this month so you don't miss another project. You may not relate to them all, but try them anyway. Put your own spin on each project and share them with the Maker community.
"And who are Makers?" you ask. They're creative people, young and old, who set their imaginations loose on technology. Check out this mythical swamp creature:
There are Maker Faires all over the world for participants to showcase their work, meet other Makers and share ideas. Find one near you on their website. Expand your definition of playing with technology this summer.
Oh yeah, I owe my husband something. Hon, you were right. Makers are awesome.
When I think of summer, I picture grass and sky and the perfect tree. It's a wise old tree, broad at the base for my back to lean against, and sturdy limbs low to the ground, so it's easily climbed. Tiny sparrows hop among the leaves and in the blue sky beyond, odd-shaped clouds stream past. It's the ideal daydreaming spot.
And daydreaming should be at the top of your list this summer. Yeah, yeah, squeeze in all the other important stuff: sleeping late, beach time, hanging out with friends. But leave room for mind drifting.
Think about it. How many times have you been accused of daydreaming when others want your attention focused on class, homework or listening? Do you ever wish for uninterrupted time to let your mind wander? Well, here it is. There are no teachers. No textbooks. What you have is hours of unscheduled down time. So give your mind permission to roam. Find the strangest cloud. Or an unbelievable insect with iridescent eyes and impossibly thin gossamer wings. Imagine the smallest things big and the biggest things small. Imagine another world or this world in another way. Just imagine.
Writers and artists rely on their ability to unlock their brains and set their imagination free. It's not always easy to do that. Life fills up with other things, like school, parents, even friends. One day, if you choose a career in the arts, you'll be paid to spend your time daydreaming. But for now, you have summer.
A blank page, a white canvas, a lump of clay. Artists experience a unique thrill when faced with a new project. I've never tried to analyze it, but for me I think it's a mix of exploring the unknown and anticipation of what may grow from words, paint and clay. And hope. I want it to be successful. I hope it will come closer to being the type of work I admire.
I just finished a book I've been working on for over a year. I'm a little low on creative energy and still sweeping the last story from my brain. You develop a relationship with each project. Bond with it, commit to working through good times and bad. It can be hard to let go. But I had an idea for a new story so I scratched out a beginning. Then my brain kicked in and started asking the main characters questions. Who are you? What do you want? What's standing in your way and what will you do about it? The answers will fill blank pages and hopefully, another book will be born.
As a visual artist, I face a blank canvas with photographs, sketches or props as guide. I have a vision of what I hope to create and I can't wait to translate it on canvas. I've done very little sculpting and crude ceramic work but I love a lump of clay. What will it be? A pot, a figure, or an abstracted thought? From our minds to our fingers to the medium, we express. What do you want to say to the world? Stretch a new canvas, create a new document, buy a new batch of clay. Start a fresh project today.
If you're wondering why there's a photo of my dog Teddy illustrating this post, it's simple. When we adopted him two months ago, he was a blank slate. He's getting to know us. We're getting to know him, asking questions as we go and eager to grow this relationship. Sort of like his hair. He had next to none when we met him. Now he has chocolate brown spots that shine in the sun like fudge. He's a work of art, for sure
Just so you know, I'm not ashamed of using Teddy as a metaphor and since it's pretty much The Year of Teddy at our house and he doesn't mind being photographed, you'll probably see a lot of his mug.
This month's LikeWise targets artists but it's open to anyone who likes to create. I came across The Art Assignment while researching John and Hank Green's Nerdfighter world. The Art Assignment is a PBS weekly video series hosted by John and his wife Sarah who's a curator. Artists from around the U.S. are interviewed, then they offer assignments for viewers to respond to and post on the site.
There is probably a lot more I can say about this brilliant project but I'm not sure it will enhance your experience. And since I'm short on time this week, I'll shut up and let you enjoy this sample video by John Herschend and Will Rogan. Be sure to check out the website for more fantastic interviews and prompts, as well as instructions on how and where to post your responses.
Oh, one last thing. My response to this assignment would be to create a real life Clippy (the paper clip that used to haunt Microsoft Word). My Clippy would solve all my computer conundruns with cute Minion like expressions and exclamations, then offer encouraging or sympathetic comments when appropriate. Unfortunately, I'd need a wand for this and I don't have one.
Life doesn't always happen the way you plan. In February we put a deposit on a puppy. I posted a picture of the litter when they were four weeks old and promised to announce which one we chose along with its name. But just before we were scheduled to pick the puppy up, the breeder discovered it had a serious health issue. Instead of waiting for another litter to be born, we decided to adopt a rescue dog. We fell in love with a mixed-breed puppy. Unfortunately, the people fostering the dog fell in love with it too and announced they were going to keep it.
So two weeks ago, we stopped by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and came home with the strangest looking, nearly hairless, nine-pound wonder. His name is Teddy. He's a one-year-old rat terrier mix who's been neglected and dumped by too many people in his short life. He's already won our hearts and I'll be sharing his story along the way.
Our meandering journey to adopting Teddy reminds me of the path art takes. Stories start as one thing, twist and turn, morph and mutate, ending at a place we hadn't imagined. I'm a wild start-at-page-one-and-let-the-book-unfold kind of writer. I have only a vague idea who my main character is and what they want when I start. By the time the last word of the first draft is typed, I'm just beginning to figure it out. Other writers diligently outline their books before they start. They know a great deal about the plot and characters. But even careful planners admit their stories change as they write. Plots thicken, minor characters demand a bigger part, and major characters surprise us with unforeseen secrets.
I think the best art is created with a lightly held concept. Flexible minds allow projects the freedom to grow. Paintings are layered testimony to the changes artists make. A brighter color here, more texture there, something solid in that corner, and underneath it all, the line or splash of paint that first marked the canvas. I've heard carvers say they allow the material to tell them what it will become. In each chunk of rock or wood, a figure or object waits to be revealed.
Discovery is a thrilling part of making art. And it doesn't stop when the work is complete. Paintings and stories continue to speak as long as people interact with them. Each viewer interprets the art in a unique way and sometimes they reveal insights even the artist didn't see.
Teddy is nothing like the cute cuddly puppy we hoped for. He comes with the kind of baggage you'd expect in a confused, neglected dog: no manners, health issues, etc. But he greets each day with optimism and he's eager to please his new family. We are holding him lightly and looking forward to discovering what he'll become given the care and respect he deserves.
Do friends ask for your opinion on their artwork or stories? Are you happy to oblige or do you scramble for excuses: I'd love to but my dog ate fifty-seven pages of my homework. Or sorry, we're leaving, right this minute for an emergency vacation. Then you hide out for the next few days hoping they'll ask someone else and forget they asked you.
Rather than fumbling for excuses and hiding, it's best to be prepared. If you have the time, honor their request. Some day, you may need them to return the favor. We write stories and make art for ourselves, but most of us mean to share it when it's finished. If it's created as a class assignment, teachers and fellow students offer comments. But artists and storytellers don't stop producing when the last bell rings. The work you create outside of school needs support too.
So its' a good idea to learn how to offer helpful, honest feedback without crushing someone's feelings. You may already know of the sandwich formula:
Start your critique with a positive: Share what's working for you. What do you like about the piece? Even if it's something you'd normally groan at, take another look. Are there colors in the art that appeal? Is there a character in the story you find intriguing, even if it's just the main character's pet?
Then address what isn't working. What would you add to enhance the work? What would you delete? What needs clarifying? Don't give them a list. Consider the person's skill level and offer a couple points you feel will help them grow. Like, "The painting has a lot going on. I really like what's happening here, but maybe you could tone things down a bit there," or "The plot is exciting but there's one or two twists I didn't understand."
Finish with encouragement. Thank them for sharing their work. It's takes courage to expose art to others. You pour yourself into the work and risk potentially hurtful criticism when you ask peers to review it. So respect that and encourage creativity, not stifle it.
And now a couple more thoughts. If a person comes to you who has never shared their work, offer mostly encouragement. Accepting criticism without the ego being bruised is a learned skill. It takes time. Then again, there will be people who have shared enough work to have learned to accept critical feedback and yet, they want only praise from you. They won't be open to helpful criticism no matter how sensitively you give it. So it helps to ask the presenter what they'd like from you in the way of feedback before you begin. And when you encounter people who aren't interested in your advice, save your breath.
Becoming good reviewers is a skill that benefits others, helps you see mistakes in your own work and prepares you for the future no matter what path your art takes. As artists and writers, you'll value the relationships you build with others through critiquing and it will grow your work and your mind in unexpected ways.
I said a sad goodbye to the Christmas tree, lights and decorations last weekend. The world always seems a little bleak after the holidays. It isn't just the loss of tinsel and cheerful displays. Spirits also take a dive. Is it because we've lost that sense of anticipation? I don't know about you, but I need something to look forward to, something that makes my insides tingle every time I think of it.
Valentine's Day doesn't do it for me. I have nothing on my writing agenda this year. No exciting conferences, no contests, not even any goals. I'm thinking I better change that. Setting one goal with one date attached can make a difference. If I commit to a children's writer's conference in June, then I'll want to present the best version of my current novel there. That's motivation to polish my messy story. So revision happens. And that little tingle in my belly keeps me typing.
The conference isn't on my calender yet, but I do have a new goal for this blog. While writing November's post, Finding Your Creative Path, I recognized how important it is to find like-minded souls and mentors who support and encourage your passion. The sooner, the better. So I'm adding a second monthly post called LikeWise, featuring venues that connect teen artists, writers and readers.
Last year, I challenged myself to create a sketch for each post. But it held up publication. So this year, I only promise to share sketches IF they happen before I'm done with my post. Don't hold your breath. However, I will be sharing gorgeous art from my set of illustrator biographies published by Peacock Press/Bantam Books in the 1970s. The one above is by Nancy Ekholm Burkert from Hans Christian Andersen's book, The Fir Tree. The text for the illustration was: " . . . a hare would often come . . ."
I hope your 2015 calender is filling up with dates and goals that make your insides tingle. If not, this is a good day to find some.
I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving. Every year seems to go by faster. I'm thrilled to have tapped into my writing muse at this stage in life. But stories are piling up in my head, begging to be told, and books take years to grow from idea to something readers can enjoy. It's hard not to panic.
So I can't help wishing I'd had a guide when I was younger. Someone who steered my education towards writing and illustrating books. Stories have always been in me, just like art. But the art was respected and the stories were hushed.
From first grade on, teachers encouraged my artistic efforts. We moved often and I was insecure. But wherever I went, I could rely on my art. Drawing allowed me to express what I couldn't say in words and connected me with the people who saw it. Then high school ended and there was no one offering advise about the next step in my life. Since I'd always loved school, an art degree seemed like a good idea.
No way was I prepared for the collegiate art world.
I remember staring at a graduate student's display of rubber ducks in a plastic pond and thinking, this is art? Still, I tried to get with the program. I experimented with mediums, painted scenes on household objects, slathered glue on canvases, dragged a rotting fence panel, lampshades and salvaged bits of architecture into my studio at school. My efforts provoked deep discussions and coveted As from professors.
With a bachelor's degree in hand, I contemplated graduate school. But I longed to paint narrative scenes and that was considered archaic. So I took a deep breath, left academics behind and faced the real world. I submitted works to galleries, hung around at openings, wine glass in hand, talking art theory with other artists. I hated every minute. Don't get me wrong. I respect fine artists. We need their art, just as we need the art that inspires clothing, architecture and movies. And I'm grateful for my education but . . .
I'm a storyteller. Plain and simple. And after many years of painting narrative scenes and portraits, I finally listened to the writer voice in my head. I will honor that voice until I can honor it no more.
My advice to teens is this: Ask yourself who you are. Make a list of all the things you love and the things you love to do. Journal and draw to connect with what's deep inside you. If you have a mentor, share what you've learned about yourself. Then explore your options before you make college or career choices. Not that you can't change careers or college majors (and don't be afraid to if you've entered a program that's a poor fit). But getting it right in the beginning offers a lifetime to create the work you were meant to create.
In the meantime, I wish you a delicious Thanksgiving. My sketch for today is the scruffy, plastic draft horse that sits on my desk. He has a most important job: holding my special writing bracelet. But he doesn't have a name. And who knows he might have a story one day, so I better fix that!
Three and a half months left to achieve my goal of reading five Newbery and five Printz books this year. I've finished my Printz list and enjoyed two Newbery winners since my last post on the subject. Here are the novels I haven't reviewed:
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley won the 2012 Printz award. Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter spends a lot of time daydreaming about Ada Taylor (his perfect girl), zombies attacking Ada's current boyfriend and and escaping from Lily, the tiny Arkansas town where nothing ever happens. At least until his brother Gabriel disappears. At the same time, an obsessed ornithologist claims to have spotted an extinct woodpecker in Lily. As Gabriel's disappearance stretches to months and Lily is overrun with birdwatchers, Cullen's family and friendships unravel. Ada, who has a thing for boys with bad luck, finally notices Cullen. He tries, really he does, to be happy but Ada isn't exactly what he imagined and she complicates his life. Meanwhile Cullen struggles to hold onto his belief that his brother will return. But how long can you believe in things coming back?
Skellig by David Almond won the 2000 Printz award. Michael retreats to the crumbling garage at his new home while inside the house, his frail baby sister needs constant medical care. Among the garage's spiders, dust and dead bugs, Michael discovers a dried up, wrinkled old man named Skellig. The man tells him to go away but Michael brings him Chinese food and aspirin. He keeps Skellig secret until he meets his neighbor Mina, a home-schooled girl who quotes William Blake and nests in a tree drawing birds. Micheal brings Mina to see Skellig and shows her the bumps under the man's coat on his back. As Michael's sister is hospitalized, he and Mina move Skellig from the falling down garage to an abandoned house. Then they convince the old man to take his coat off and he unfurls the wings they hoped to find underneath. Mina believes Skellig is a bird-like creature left over from ancient times. But Michael dares to hope he's an angel and if he is, maybe he dares hope his sister will survive.
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park is the 2002 Newbery winner. Young Tree-ear lives under a bridge in 12th-century Korea with his old friend Crane-man. They are the poorest of the poor, living off garbage scraps and rice that falls from sacks. Tree-ear's greatest joy is peeking from his hiding spot to watch the ancient potter Min create graceful celadon pottery. One day he dares to examine Min's boxes, drying in the sun. The old potter catches him and the boxes smash on the ground. Tree-ear hauls heavy loads of clay in a rickety wheelbarrow to pay Min back while he dreams of making pottery. When he's worked off his debt, he convinces Min to let him continue working for a noon meal. Then the royal ambassador comes to select pottery for the palace. Even though Min has ignored the boy's pleas to teach him the craft, Tree-ear is determined to help his master win the royal commission. But what will it cost him?
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newbery Medal. DiCamillo makes me never stop trying to write the best book I can. Every book she pens is unique and stunningly beautiful. Flora and Ulysses opens with a squirrel being sucked up by the Ulysses 2000X, a super sonic vacuum cleaner. Ten-year-old Flora Belle Buckman rescues the unfortunate creature and names him Ulysses. Ulysses wakes from his near death experience with super hero powers and a love of poetry. Flora takes him home and the two become instant friends. But Flora's mother, horrified by the germy squirrel, plots to carry it off in a sack and conk it with a shovel. Flora enlists the aid of her father, a boy with hysterical blindness, a neighbor and a wise old woman to help save the squirrel. The book is told in alternating comic book strips and text with Flora's favorite comic book phrases and advice sprinkled throughout. When Flora learns the squirrel can type she thinks: Holy Bagumba. Things are going to change around here. We're going to slay villains left and right. But she never counted on the arch villain being her mother.
So that's seven award-winning books read this year. Three Newbery's to go.
And now a word about today's art. Goat. Don't ask me why. I had a sudden urge. I've never drawn one before. I like goats but I'm not familiar with them like I am with horses and dogs. This creature would probably be insulted by its portrait. I'm sure the proportions are off and I wasn't careful with the markings. But I loved drawing this goat and I can't wait to draw more. If you have a creative urge, don't ignore it. Stop what you're doing. Pick up your pencil or brush or lump of clay, head for the computer or whatever instrument you use to create and go for it!
Where's your favorite place to create? In your room at an easel or desk, on your bed or the floor? On a comfortable limb in a climbing tree, or underneath it, a sturdy trunk at your back?
To your left is the desk where I write. I didn't use to be this messy. When my work was drawing and painting, my studio was tidied at the end of each day. Before stories took control of my life, dust bunnies didn't breed under my furniture and weeds didn't rule my yard.
Now it takes a heroic effort to abandon my writing and focus on house or garden. And often, as I'm herding dust bunnies, the characters in my head demand I leave the dust and pick up a notebook. If I'm away from my computer for too long, I start feeling twitchy.
When I was a child, I'd create anywhere. Give me a crayon or pencil and scrap of paper, I'd draw and draw and draw. Busy restaurants, parades, grown-up parties, I didn't notice. I was one with my art. Then as I neared teenagerdom, I craved privacy. I drew in my room, on the bed or floor. But now the whole house is mine. It relies on me to keep it safe from dust and grime. My yard hopes I'll protect it from weeds and strangling vines. My husband hopes I'll remember to feed him and wash his clothes. The dogs don't hope anything. They never let me forget them for one second of the day.
I need my room at the back of the house where writing happens. Dogs are allowed but husband knows to tiptoe in the door and if my fingers are madly typing, he tiptoes out again. While the story streams from my mind to the keyboard, things pile up on my desk: books, manuscripts, notebooks, favorite birthday cards, photos of people I'd like to see more, and paper scraps where I jot important things. I've tried to fight the clutter. It returns within days. In fact, this post was meant to be about Spring cleaning. Alas, my desk still looks like the photo and it was taken weeks ago.
Truth is, a clean desk isn't important. Claiming your space is. Wherever you live, respect your needs as an artist and writer. Find the place and conditions that work best for you. Make time in every day, hunker down in that space and create. And if someone is screaming at you to clean up your room, draw the dust bunnies first!
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor