Summer's almost over. Is that groaning I hear? No more sleeping in or freedom to plan your days. But heading back to school isn't all bad. There's shopping for new gear and clothes, reconnecting with friends you haven't seen since June, making new friends, feeding your brain and sharing your creative passion. In my county, school starts next Tuesday. You have one last week to hit the beaches, malls and movies with friends before your minds are called to greater challenges.
Picturing the school year ahead, I focused today's LikeWise on a plethora of links. Plethora. Sorry, I love saying some words, even if it's just in my head. You can check the links out all at once or peek at them whenever you feel the urge.
First up is Study.com's 40 Best Websites for Teen Writers. This is an awesome list, including communities and courses (some of them free), grammar and reference, creativity boosters and publishing advice.
For inspiration, visit The Academy of Achievement's Arts Page. You can match your personality with the world's most respected achievers, watch podcasts and browse a list of recommended books.
Teen Ink's Art and Photography Resource Page offers art, photography and museums links. Their site also features links for:
And a General Resource Page. Besides art, photography and writing sites, you'll find environment, reference materials, volunteer opportunities and a fantastic summer camp and courses list, so you can daydream about next summer.
Finally, here's a list of teen blogs for artists, writers and readers:
The Metropolitan Museum of Arts Teen Blog
The Whit Blog from The Whitney Museum
Contemporary Austin's Teen Blog
YA Author's Cafe
The YA Blogosphere, a directory of YA book related blogs.
Enjoy the last days of summer! And it's okay to admit you're a tiny bit excited about going back to school.
I've been thinking a lot lately about art. Not any one art, all art, and how one creative process inspires another. When I studied painting in college, students were urged to explore mediums and other arts: dance, music, theater. Artists collaborate all the time. Theater and dance productions call for artists to do make-up, costume and set design, as well as actors and dancers. Musicians make choreographed videos and help create album covers. Visual artists stage events, using music, performance and video to express their concepts.
But writing is different. Unless, you're writing a picture book or graphic novel, your writing will most likely be represented by words on a page. Yes, an artist will create a cover, but authors aren't majorly involved in that process. I've been a visual artist all my life. Does that sound weird? It's true. I believe I was born with the urge to make marks on paper that expressed what I couldn't say in words. My writing grew from that art. My paintings were always telling stories. Just look at Toto. He's sick of following Dorothy through OZ. He's grabbed the ruby slipper and he's headed toward a tropical paradise with the wicked witch in pursuit.
For me, I think every work of art begins with a story. Seven years ago, a series of drawings begged to be a book and I've been writing ever since. Even though I don't illustrate my stories (mostly because young adult novels aren't usually illustrated), I visualize them. And I wonder, besides standard illustrations and creating imagery with words, how can I use my visual art skills in my books?
Other artists have asked that question too. I'm in awe of author/illustrator Brian Selznick who produces cinematic experiences with image and text in books like The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. And David Weisner, whose images are so powerful, he needs no words to tell picture book stories like Flotsam. At this stage in my life, I'm most interested in creating pictures with words. But I'm glad the artist in me asks questions that prompt my brain to think outside the box of traditional storytelling.
I hope the questions inspire you to unlock the gates in your brain. Pollinate your chosen passion with other art.
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.
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.
This post introduces my blog's new venture, LikeWise. Once a month, LikeWise will feature places where like-minded creative teens can connect. I hope throughout the year to offer an eclectic mix of programs, some known and others more obscure. I'm starting with a big one.
By now, most people on the planet know of John Green, the contemporary YA author who wrote The Fault in Our Stars (recently made into a movie) and Paper Towns (movie soon to follow). And many will have heard of John's brother Hank who helped form the Nerdfighters website. Together, they have created an army of dynamic fans. Nerdfighters is "A place where nerds gather to play. We fight to increase awesome and decrease suck."
Nerdfighters is like a warehouse full of rooms for creative brains. Behind every door, there's an invitation to join in a project or discussion or intriguing challenge. Like collaborative YouTube videos and almost 3000 Nerdfighter subgroups (writers, poets, artists, readers, Iowans, no kidding, Iowans). Once a week, The Art Assignment (produced by PBS) introduces artists from around the country who present assignments. The Sci Show features short, funny videos that inform about everything science, and Crash Course teaches history, anatomy, astronomy and politics. See what I mean? Doors galore!
John and Hank Green used YouTube to unite and ignite a community of creative young minds. Nerdfighters is a powerful force making positive changes in the world. Every year, the Project for Awesome raises money for worthy causes. Last December over one million dollars was donated! It's hard to imagine what the Green brothers will do next. This month, Hank interviewed President Obama and he included fan's questions. Their voices were heard by an ever-expanding online audience. Artists, writers and readers spend a lot of time alone with our passions. But that doesn't mean we can't also be part of a community.
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!
Distractions. This is the time of year when they swarm like moths under a porch light. School is in full swing with homework, tests, and essays piling up. After school, there are football games to attend, homecoming, drama club, and lets not forget the part time job that pays for gas and movies. Then there's Halloween just around the corner, followed quickly by Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year. On top of that, there's relationships to maintain: friends, family, and your current crush. They all demand your attention.
How do you focus on art when your brain is full of everything else?
Sometimes, you don't. Not very well, anyway. When your brain and body are maxxed out, your creativity well runs dry. No worries. Even though it may feel like the end of your artistic career, the well will refill. Until it does, try not to stress about the mess you're making when you mean to make art. And don't pitch any of it in the trash. Keep every sketch and every speck of writing. You never know. Later on, it may spark great art and stories.
If you're a person driven to create, then you'll create for the rest of your life. If you're like me, you wish you could be on fire every day. You want ideas to erupt onto your paper or canvas, and flow like hot lava into highly polished products. But no one, not even Da Vinci or Shakespeare, produced brilliance all the time.
So give yourself a break. Accept that life is full of expected and unexpected distractions. When they interfere with creative output, hush those critical voices. Tell the naggers your muse is on vacation. She'll return when she's good and ready.
In the meantime, don't stop trying. One of the greatest tools an artist or writer can have is discipline. Learning to work through dry spells is a skill you'll never regret. Find time to create, even if it's the last fifteen minutes in your day. And if all you can manage is jotting and sketching in your journal, that's enough. You'll know when it's time to dive back into work that really makes your blood sing.
Today's art is a Florida Halloween scene. Our yards are full of tiny lizards. These days they're soaking up the last warmth before winter sets in.
When I grew up, we didn't go back to school until after Labor Day. Now, school starts in August and here in Florida that means slogging through a fat layer of heat and humidity to get to bus stop and classes. So in honor of students everywhere who are trying to shake off summer and switch on their learning brains, here's my Start-of-School Survival Guide for Creative Types:
1. Journal and draw, every day if you can. Put all that stuff you can't talk about (good and bad) into words or art nobody but you needs to see.
2. Find new authors to read, new protagonists to relate to, new books to add to your favorites' list. Books are not only great escapes, they're great companions.
3. Dream a dream and then live it. Start a novel or picture book, enter a contest, submit to an art show, a magazine or other publication. Write book reviews on sites like Goodreads or Teenreads. Volunteer to write or create art for a cause you're passionate about.
4. If you don't have a mentor, try to find one. Someone who believes in your work, encourages you and challenges you to reach for the stars.
5. Find your tribe. They're out there, other creative minds who think and dream like you. If you already have a tribe, keep an eye out for artists wandering the halls alone. We artists spend so much time in our heads, it's sometimes hard to connect to the world. But without doubt, we need to.
6. Read, watch and listen to artists of every discipline. Discover new visual artists, musicians, dancers and writers. Don't analyze, just enjoy them and trust your subconscious to absorb and process what it needs.
That's all my heat-zapped brain can provide at the moment. Except to say, someday the memories you create this year will show up in your art. You may even become a MG or YA writer or illustrator. Then you'll search your brain for every scrap of memory from your middle grade and high school years to provide believable characters and plot.
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