Last week, I saw the Matisse’s Red Studio exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The show features the painting after which it is named, but also focusses on the artist’s other works, especially those featured in the Red Studio painting. It is a really good exhibition and I enjoyed it immensely as an art lover. I also learned a lot about Matisse’s creative process, and as I often do when examining another creative’s method, found things I can incorporate into my own writing process.
The MOMA’s gallery cards are exceptional. Instead of just listing the name of the piece, the artist, and the medium like most museum’s do, the labels which accompany the art at the MOMA often include full paragraphs about the work which contextualize the piece and give some insight into both the importance of the work and, when known, the artist’s process or artistic vision.
One can learn a lot by reading the cards. For example, I learned that not only was Matisse a tinkerer, he often left vestiges of the original, or drafting, stages of his work in the final piece when he revised. Take, for example, this painting.
The position of the leg was obviously changed, which can be seen in the extraneous line near the lower half of the extended leg. There is also evidence that Matisse tinkered with the position of the figure’s arm (on the same side of the body), which he attempted to disguise in the shadows.
Here is the same painting with the relevant areas highlighted.
In many of the other paintings, the viewer can see pencil lines, presumably from the sketches he made on the canvass before he started to paint. They are not noticeable at the distance from which one usually photographs a painting, but up close, you can see them clearly. Here is an example:
What struck me most about these pieces was not that Matisse revised so much as part of his process. The world of the writer–and I assume the artist as well–is oversaturated with advice about revising one’s work. Revision is part of the process and it is par for the course. Rather, what stood out to me was that these vestiges remained in the final piece.
Many writers, many artists, many creative people in general, will work on their pieces in a futile pursuit of perfection. I have been guilty of doing so myself, working on a piece right up until the deadline, trying to make it as perfect as possible before submitting it for publication. I make sure to give myself deadlines, to seek out open call with hard deadlines, and rarely self-publish because I often get in my own head about revision.
There is an old saw in the creative world, “Finished, not perfect,” and like most oft-repeated advice it has become cliché and, in doing so, has lost much of its impact. It’s something people say, post about on social media, and hang up on posters in their classroom, and then ignore when it comes to their own practice. Seeing the Matisse pieces on the wall–and reading the gallery cards–is much, much more impactful.
Because, here’s the thing: No one notices the mistakes when looking at the paintings on the wall. Those who did not take the time to read the gallery cards, most likely, did not notice them at all. I certainly did not until I after the labels pointed them out to me. As someone who sees every mistake in everything I write, even–and especially–after its published, there’s a powerful lesson in that.
As a writer, I’ve long-been jealous of visual artists’ social media pages, especially during this time of year. Traditionally, Inktober is in full swing, and if like me, you follow a lot of artists, you look forward to the myriad of posts which dominate your timeline in response to various art challenges. As a writer, I wanted in on the action. I wanted a way to get more eyes on my page, and to connect with the community of visual artists with whom I might collaborate in the future.
Last year, my friend Gene Hoyle, a long time comics writer and publisher, organized a project called Pagetober, where writers and artists were supposed to collaborate on an inktober project: writers would write something for artists to draw throughout the month of October. It was a great idea, but it kind of fizzled out, and I’m not sure if any of the projects were completed.
This year, I tried again. I approached Marika Brousianou, with whom I had collaborated before, about illustrating a series of flash fiction and poetry throughout October. Thus, “Into The Darkness Peering” was born. So far, it’s working out well. We are 2/3rds of the way through the month, and so far, we have posted something every day on each of our social media. The reaction to the project has been excellent, and we are going to collect the results into a book later this year, and sell some of the individual pieces as prints as well. I have high hopes for the project, which I hope to have ready for con season next year. I like the idea of having prints at my table, which would give it a visual appeal beyond what I would usually have as “just” a writer.
I recommend all writers consider doing a similar project, especially my colleagues within the indie comics community. Why not take advantage of a popular hashtag to drive more traffic to your page? Why wouldn’t you want to engage with the community of comics artists with whom you hope to collaborate in the future? Why not work towards a modular project which you might be able to sell in different mediums?
Below, I have posted a few samples of our work so far, but I invite you to follow along and see all the pieces, on both my own or Marika’s social media pages.
Over the last year, I’ve written extensively about my participation in the Comic Book School 8 Page Challenge. I wrote a comics story and flash fiction story for last year’s anthology, and edited the flash fiction section. This year, I will be co-editing the book and, hopefully, contributing two stories again. I welcome all writers and artists to participate in the challenge, which is starting now. Follow the link below for all the relevant information.
One thing that I’m hearing a lot recently, is that we, as artists and creators, should spend our time in “social isolation” working on our craft, and producing art. Writers, take this time to write: artists to draw or paint, etc. Another thing that I hear a lot is that people are feeling very alone and disconnected at the present moment. We are, by and large, social animals, and being apart from our creative communities can be trying, even if it’s for the greater good.
One way that I’m dealing with all of this is by joining the Comic Book School, 8 Page Challenge. For this challenge, comics creators of all types–writers, artists, inkers, letterers–are challenged to create (or to collaborate to create) an 8 page comics short story. Those who complete the challenge will not only have their work published in an anthology by Comic Book School, but also present their work at a panel at New York Comic Con in October, which is pretty damn cool.
Participants will receive feedback and guidance from professional comics creators such as Buddy Scalera (Comic Book School, Deadpool) and Mike Mats (Editor In Chief, AfterShock Comics). Additionally, since the contest is being hosted on the new create.comicbookschool.com forums, creators will also be joining a community of like-minded artists and writers. The forums will help replicate some of the networking and community aspects of the comic cons that have been canceled.
Best yet, the challenge and forums are completely free. There is no charge to sign up or participate.
“Every year, aspiring creators leave our educational panels with so much enthusiasm,” Scalera said. “We wanted to create something that not only allows them to sustain that enthusiasm, but also to build on it and sustain their momentum throughout the year. The 8-Page Challenge helps our community members do this and to achieve their goals to create and publish comics.”
“I’ve been participating in Comic Book School panels for many years and I am proud to be the first professional advisor for this innovative educational program for the next wave of creators,” added Marts. “At AfterShock, we’re always looking for new talent, and this gives me the opportunity to see how these creators work together.”
I, personally, and very excited about this challenge, which kicks off this week. I hope you join me by signing up for the challenge on the forums at create.comicbookschool.com.
Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.