Thursday, May 4, 2017

Throwback Thursday: A Lifelong Love Affair with Art

The fact that art is important to me probably isn't news to anyone who's read my Firsts and Forever Series, since my books are laced with artists. In order to explain why, I need to share a fair amount of my personal history, so I hope you’ll bear with me. :) 

Throughout my childhood and teen years, I was always drawing. My favorite thing was cartooning, and in high school, I spent countless hours drawing comic books for my best friend, mostly because I loved to make her laugh. But because I was sure I’d never make a living as an artist, I put away my drawing pencils and opted to study other subjects in college and graduate school.

A few years later, around the time I was turning thirty, I started to miss the part of me I’d given up, and I began to take art and animation classes several nights a week, after work. I also became involved in San Francisco’s animation community. I was lucky enough to land two jobs in the animation field while I was still a student.

When I moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, I changed my focus a bit and started studying graphic design, since animation jobs were few and far between. Again, I got lucky and landed a job working as the graphic designer for a start-up, family-owned adventure sports magazine. Because I had strong writing skills, I was soon asked to edit the stories submitted to the magazine, and I even began writing a monthly column, in addition to serving as the magazine’s entire art department.

I stuck with that job for quite a while, until I decided to become a parent. Then, for the next few years, I focused on my child as a stay-at-home mom. But because I’m the kind of person who always has to have a creative outlet, I also started writing, usually late at night, after my son and then-husband went to bed. At first, it was just for me. But when my son was about nine, I took a chance and published my first book.

Jump ahead four years, and here I am, with a writing career I absolutely adore. I was thinking about that recently and asking myself how writing had so thoroughly supplanted drawing as my life’s passion. And then I had an epiphany: I’ve been a storyteller all my life. As a little kid, my drawings were always accompanied by verbal narratives, even before I knew how to write. When I was a teen, I channeled my energy into writing and illustrating comic books. Later on, when I decided to study animation, it was because I wanted to make movies. The medium may have changed, and changed again, but at the heart of it, there’s always been the same undeniable need: to tell stories.

So now I write, and often, I write artists. To me they’re fascinating people, and I think I understand what drives them. The first artist I wrote was Christopher Robin. I introduced him in All In, the second book in the series, and made him the main character in book 3, In Pieces. That opened the door to write a couple more artists, his friends and classmates Skye (my main character in Skye Blue) and Christian (the main character in Against the Wall). Christopher is a painter, and his photorealistic oil paintings are similar in tone and style to those of Andrew Wyeth. Meanwhile, Skye is a found-object metal sculptor, and Christian is a graffiti artist.

(this is the background image I used on the cover of Against the wall)

The three characters met at Sutherlin, a private art college. Random fact: while a lot of my San Francisco locations are real, Sutherlin is not. The name is borrowed from a small town in southern Oregon, a couple hours north of me. Its only significance in my life is that I always stop there for coffee whenever I drive to Portland. :)

Sutherlin is loosely based on Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida (though without Florida's decidedly tropical feel). Flagler is a four-year liberal arts college with a well-respected art program. When I was in St. Augustine about five or six years ago, I walked past the absolutely breathtaking campus and noticed a young guy sitting high up on a brick wall, lost in thought as he drew on a big sketch pad. And I remember thinking what a dream come true it would be to get to study art someplace so beautiful.

I think the essence of that guy with the sketch pad has informed several of my characters. Maybe it’s wish fulfillment in a way. My characters are doing what I didn’t when I made the decision to study something more ‘practical’ in college: they’re plunging into the art world headlong without worrying about failure. They’re following their passion. And maybe I’m living vicariously through them, even though I really believe my winding career path has led me exactly where I need to be.

Below is the opening scene from Against the Wall, the 7th book in my Firsts and Forever Series. The main character, Christian, is a street artist along the lines of Banksy, though he works on a much larger scale. Christian is trying to bring beauty to a bleak urban landscape, and his spray-painted murals are meant to convey messages of hope. I love this character, because he has so much courage.

It was time to go.

It was past time, actually. I knew this. But even as part of my brain was chanting come on, come on, come on, another part was thinking almost there, just one more minute, that’s all I need. The part of my brain that promised one more minute was a liar. One minute always turned into two, then five, then ten. 

I shook the can of pink paint in my hand. According to the label, it wasn’t actually pink. It was Ferocious Fuchsia. Who named these things? I stretched up as high as I could, the pile of pallets beneath me swaying just a bit, and brought my arm around in a wide arc as I pushed the nozzle with my index finger. The oh-so-familiar smell of spray paint flooded my senses and with my free hand, I tugged the black bandana that was wrapped around my face up an inch, so that it covered my nose completely. 

With a few quick movements, I used the pink paint to highlight the enormous face of a young girl, just beginning to take shape on the back wall of a condemned apartment building. Then I leaned back a bit to assess the mural, which was tough to do in the dim light. It didn’t help that I was wearing sunglasses, both to protect my eyes from the paint and to hide my face from the security cams that dotted the city. My unsteady perch wobbled, and I crouched down a bit to lower my center of gravity.

Leave it, Christian, you can come back later. You know you’ve been here too long. The rational part of my brain always lost out to the adrenaline junkie though, the ‘one more minute’ part of me that needed to be here, painting, creating, all while on high alert, just waiting for the police or some random street thug to roll up on me.

That adrenaline rush was as much a part of it as the need to make art. I knew that about myself. I probably could go through legal channels and get permission for my murals, but where was the thrill in that? I absolutely lived for this. I really didn’t want to get caught, though. Jail was so not part of the plan.

Given that, it was incredibly stupid that I was out here so early on a Friday night. It wasn’t even one a.m. The city wasn’t asleep yet, not fully, but I’d been obsessed with this painting all week. I saw it so clearly in my mind’s eye, this little girl in a field of daisies, and I needed to make her real. Well, little wasn’t quite the right word. By the time I was finished, she’d be almost twenty feet high.


I'll leave you with a link to little trailer I made for Christian's book, because I really felt it needed a visual component. You can find it here. As always, thanks for reading!