Ways of Doing Art

One of the most important influences on my writing was a pottery class I took in college.

That’s right, pottery.

My pottery professor taught us the major types of pottery construction and how to make clay, mix glazes, run a wood-fired kiln (designed and built by advanced students), and keep the studio clean and organized. He also taught us how to be working artists.
He explained that there are two basic approaches to doing art: process and planning. I’ve met, seen documentaries, and read about these two types doing every other kind of art (painting, printmaking, puppetry, music, acting, dance, mime, sculpture, writing, etc.) Process people let art evolve organically from within without consciously planning or censoring the work as it forms. “The clay knows what it wants to do.” “Let’s get started and see how this turns out.” “I’ve got the character, I’ll find the answer in rehearsal.” Are process-style statements.

Planning people work from a consciously thought out structure, plan or outline. They tend to get irritated when the art develops currents of its own that go outside of that plan: they create art in order to perfect the vision in that plan or outline using a set of orderly techniques. (And every type of art has guidebooks that will tell you what to do at each stage or how to fix a particular type of problem.) They talk about the technical possibilities of the medium (clay, paint, metal etc.) and when and how they did or did not match their original idea for the piece.

Both methods (and every variation on them) are valuable and successful ways of doing art, my pottery professor taught. A growing artist should try different ways of doing art and practice their art with the rigor and discipline of a classical musician or professional dancer.

I’m a process artist. I start with a blank page and write when a character starts talking. This horrified some of my visual artist house mates: “But you have no control!” I don’t want control, not at the drafting stage (that’s what revisions are for). I don’t want to interrupt, intervene, modify or censor: I want to bring the narrator forward and get as much information out of him or her as possible (the overt story they are telling as well as the background sensory details and half-conscious thoughts). I like the results: they can be multi-layered and vital (and they can flop, so can any artist on a bad day). So I practice: write one story a week, revise it as best I can within five or six days, and send it out. (I do go back to stories later but my initial goal is to send them to the first magazine that very week.) I’ve finished 98 stories this way: 4 of them have been published. (Most magazines only take 1 or 2% of the stories sent to them.)

I’ve just finished the last story in the First Series (a set of stories covering 19 days on a colony world, one story to each day of the alien week.) I’ve written the first story of the Second Series (a second character’s very different perspective on that series of 19 days.) When I try to write the next story, next week, I may get nothing at all, I may get other stories from completely different narrators but I can open a blank screen, put my hands on the keyboard, and ask the Second Series narrator, “So what happened the next day? What’s the story in that particular Tuesday? How did you get from everything falling apart to everything coming together in only 19 days? What did the 2nd little piece of that look like?”

 

Art and Writing

I sketched a cover for a comic book version one of the as-yet ubnpublished stories in the 74 Stories Project. (My Ray Bradbury-inspired project to write and submit a story a week. I’m writing a linear series of 74 stories that can be read alone or in sequence to tell a larger story,see these two examples.) I’ve had a series of key moment from these stories come to mind as comic book covers but the stories themselves probably would not make good graphic novels: they often hinge on a realization or a change in perspective rather than strong visual elements or a highly dramatic plot.

I’ve always gotten work as multimedia: music, short films, art along with the written part of the story. I’ve chosen to focus on the written part because it takes me far longer to write out a melody and cord structure or draw up a story board. (And because writing doesn’t require any more staff, equipment or expense than me, a pen, my time and some paper.) I try to preserve the rest, if only as a note or a sketch, but I don’t get enough music to fill an album or enough films to make a whole thing with. (And all of the parts depend on each other – but the writing stands on its own better than the films or music.)

The rejection slips for my short stories often say ‘this seems like part of something larger’. Yes, why yes it is. I hope someday I can give a sense of what that is.

 

“Story 58″ of the 74 Stories Project — Done

For a few years I’ve been following Ray Bradbury’s advice to write and send out a short story each week. I’ve finished 6 generation ship stories this way, a 19-story-long First Series of short stories, and (as of today) the 58th short story of the 74 stories project.

My newest short story is 2,508 words long, it will be revised and continuity checked twice before this Friday and sent off to its first magazine editor. I’ll repeat the process with another new short story next week.

Welcome to my new blog!

I’m Lisa Shapter, a science fiction author with short stories published in Four Star Stories, Kaleidotrope and M-BRANE SF’s first anthology.

 

I collect (and use) antique typewriters and fountain pens and I once wanted to start a vintage SF paperback bookstore. (The bottom fell out of the collectable paperback market with the rise of Amazon so I am *slowly* reading and selling off the paperbacks.)

 

I’m on Twitter at @LisaShapter.  I’m not on Facebook

 

I am a member of the Carl Brandon Society to promote minority voices in SF, Broad Universe to support women in SF, Codex Writers’ Group, the New England Science Fiction Association and the Dramatists’ Guild of America.