Handouts as a structuring principle, mockups for getting things done

Mock-ups of a book of map making instructions

For the 1-hour drop-in map workshop at BWF, I made little zine-fold (aka 8-fold) booklets, which I put in little mermaid-stamped envelopes with little pencils and little pieces of nice drawing paper. (I think I learned this in primary school, but there are plenty of instructions for this sort of booklet online, e.g. wikiHow.)

Above, you can see the mock-up process (the easiest way to turn a vague idea into something real: Mockups and outlines).

Photo of yellow envelopes stamped with a linocut mermaid, with versafine clair stamp pad and hand-carved stamp in foreground
  • I folded a piece of paper into a booklet and really quickly, without thinking too hard, scribbled the whole layout into it. Then I went back over and drew all over that with arrows, moving things around — but that hand-drawn version has almost everything in it.
  • Then I drew up a template in Photoshop, with shading for margins and areas that wouldn’t print, so I knew what I had to work with.
  • I put the main text roughly into place, and then put in the example images I already had (I’d deliberately drawn some calendar pages and other illustration to give me examples for map workshops — see for example Tiny Forests and Banners).
  • I printed that out, and used it as a template to draw all the extra details around, like the map and lettering on the front cover.
  • Then my housemate and I proofread it a few times, and I spent some pleasant hours cutting and folding and listening to music.

Was this overkill for a free one-hour drop-in workshop? Yes. Was I overcompensating for my own uncertainty as to the exact venue constraints and whether this workshop could be done in an hour? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.

Designing and folding the booklets took time, but it was proportionate to the result. People enjoyed them (they were awfully cute), and said it was good to have for such a short class, and to be able to take away if they had to leave early (since it was drop-in). And I really liked have a physical object to give people, so I knew they left the workshop with something.

The biggest lesson for me was how useful this sort of booklet/zine/object was in planning and giving the workshop. It’s easy to just go wild with handouts. But this was a single, self-contained object, with a size appropriate to the length of the class (three double-page openings and a wrap-around cover — the flip-side of the paper was blank for people to use as scrap paper). It was something that constrained my natural urge to put ALL THE INFORMATION in a talk, but it was also a prop I could talk to and scale my time around.

It might not apply to every format, but I’d like to experiment with similar (if less-illustrated) scaled handouts as a central structuring object for other workshops.

Photo of whiteboard with very scribbly fairy-tale map on it
The whiteboard by the end of the workshop

I’m adding this to my running list of lessons I’ve learned for giving workshops and presentations (see e.g. lessons for presentations and conferences). I should probably do a master post at some point, but for now the main lessons I have learned (your mileage my vary) are:

  • Use a handout scaled to the workshop size.
  • Do an initial outline very quickly, before overthinking.
  • If a presentation is image based, arrange images in the slideshow first, print them out 9-to-a-page to keep track, then just talk to/about the pictures. Minimal script needed — often any title-slides and maybe one or two scribbled notes of phrases to remember are enough.
  • If a slideshow is image-heavy, export a copy to PDF and use that if the tech set-up allows — you can zoom in on a PDF in ways a Powerpoint doesn’t easily allow.
  • If a script is necessary, use cascading dot-points — this makes it easier to edit for time (skip up to high-level dot-points) or elaborate (by referring to the low-level ones), as well as to navigate quickly.
  • If it’s a creative workshop, get people making things as early as possible.
  • If you want people to interact, get them to share their thoughts/activities in smaller groups, then pick on the groups for any ideas that emerge (giving everyone safety in numbers/plausible deniability).
  • If possible, mixed-age workshops can be great. Adults mellow the kids, kids loosen up the adults, everyone seems more willing to show their work, and if you need someone to act out an implausible action for art reference purposes, young joints are better suited.

Observation Journal: Fitting pictures into shapes

This observation journal page is the art-exercise counterpart to a previous post on fitting stories into spaces.

Double page spread of observation journal. Tiny handwritten observations, a drawing of sanded semicircles lowering the edge of a concrete footpath. On the right, sketches fitting a man and dog, ibis, and sanitiser bottle into set shapes.

This time, instead of getting an (illustrated) story to fit into a panel progression, I was forcing images from the past few days (a tree, a person with a dog, an ibis, a bottle of hand sanitiser) to fit into a simple shape. (I’d done something similar in the post Sketching the People Glimpsed From the Corner of Your Eye).

Ballpoint sketches (coloured with blue marker) fitting sketches of a man and dog, ibis, and sanitiser bottle into set shapes.

Lessons learned:

  • This sort of exercise can be useful for developing an illustration. Choosing a strict framework for a composition both narrows the available options available and makes me be creative in designing new ones. It can also compress an image and make it iconic.
  • It’s also good practice for fitting art to unusual surfaces, e.g. a tureen.
  • A standardised shape for a set of illustrations can unify a set of disparate ideas. E.g., the illustrations for the main story-chapters in Flyaway all fit into a square. You can see some of those here: Illustrating Flyaway.
  • But squashing something into a strict shape which doesn’t necessarily suit it can teach a lot about that containing shape, too. That was the point of the exercise in the Rearranging Scenes post earlier this week, just with plot structure instead of e.g. triangles.
  • Those realisations aren’t revolutionary. A triangle, off-balance, creates an unbalanced composition. A triangle tends to be less organic, and movement runs into/up against the frame, but feels as if it lends itself more to narrative or character-in-action. A circle lends itself to organic shapes, and is more balanced and contained and iconic, but creates peculiar interaction with artificial/less-organic elements.
  • But in an exercise like this, the process of reinventing the wheel is the important thing — learning by doing instead of by being told, or understanding why what I’ve been told is so.

Illustration exercise (for writing exercises, try the ones in Fitting Stories into Spaces or Rearranging Scenes)

  • Basic exercise:
    • Pick three things you’ve seen today (objects or interactions).
    • Pick three basic shapes (circle, rectangle, square, pentagon, triangle, etc).
    • On a sheet of paper, draw each of those shapes three times.
    • Now, try to sketch each of your subjects (scenes/objects) once into each shape, as pleasingly as possible.
  • Bonus: Make a note of which combinations were easy, and which resisted. Did certain shapes fit certain types of subjects better? How did your approach to sketching a subject change as you repeated it through different shapes?
  • Bonus bonus: Pick a scene from a favourite story or movie or artwork (tip: consider viewpoints). Sketch it into several different shapes. Notice which weaken and strengthen the scene, and what you learn about both the shape and the scene.
  • Variation: See sketching the people glimpsed from the corner of your eye.
2020-04-05-Sketch02KJennings

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Observation Journal — rearranging scenes

On these observation journal pages, I was playing again with “Cinderella” — see previously: Mapping movements in stories.

(Noting the observations on the right: it was a windy, glinting-winged spring week, and my first copies of Travelogues had arrived.)

I was giving feedback on and marking creative writing assignments for a creative writing subject in the UQ Doctor of Medicine program (such a great subject) so I was sitting in on the lectures. Charlotte Nash gave a lecture on classic story structures (beginning/middle/end) — more or less the classic three-act structure.

I’ve mentioned before that while I find this sort of approach to structure very useful for editing — especially for diagnosing problems I suspect exist — I don’t find it particularly intuitive or organic. So I wanted to play around with this structure on a story I knew well (see: the usefulness of template stories).

First, I fitted that structure onto “Cinderella” — more or less the version with three nights of dancing, and the birds attacking the sisters at the wedding.

Next, I scrambled the scenes, and forced them to fit that structure in their new order.

On the right, notes on scene placement in Cinderella, with some coloured sketches.

I wanted to see how the scenes would need to change if they appeared in a different position — not necessarily in the internal chronology of the story, but in the order in which they were told. E.g., if the story opened on the delight of the prince rediscovering Cinderella, what introductory work would that scene need to do?

Here’s the randomised list of scenes, with the turning points between the acts (beginning, middle, end) marked.

delight of discovery — godmother’s appearance — to the ball — [gear change — story really gets going] mystery of identity after the second ball — the shoe — the wedding — the search — the mystery of identity after the first ball — [central tipping point] final revenge on step-sisters — the third ball — Cinderella reveals herself — attempts by the step-sisters to mislead the prince — [gear change — end becomes inevitable] the first dance — the early mistreatment of Cinderella — happily ever after — the second ball — Cinderella’s initial bereavement

But it was also interesting to see how it changed the emphasis of the story itself — in this case, a concentration on vengeance and/or filling a loss.

Ballpoint drawing with pastel marker colours of women in elaborate cloaks and hats.

I repeated the exercise a week later.

On the right, notes on scene placement in Cinderella, with some coloured sketches.

Here is how the scenes fell out this time:

dance #1 — misleading by step-sisters — dance #3 — turning point: initial mistreatment — you shall go to the ball — wedding — reveal identity — mystery after second dance — [central tipping point — happy ever after — initial loss — the prince’s search — dance #2 — turning point: delight of being found — revenge — appearance of godmother — shoe! — mystery after first dance.

Breaking “Cinderella” down this way suggested a story that went: joy! –> oh no! bad things behind it –> sense good things in the future –> fight for good things (in knowledge will get them) –> gentler fairy-tale business to wrap it all up.

That is, a story told in the confidence that evil will overcome, but in the knowledge that goodness must still fight in the meantime.

Breaking the story down this way highlighted a clearer separation between the character‘s journey and the reader’s journey — whether the two experiences run in harness, and where they play off each other.

Ballpoint drawing with faint watercolours of two people dancing over bones, and a girl in a ballgown rubbing a sore foot

I also kept a little sketched list of events and lines that occurred to me as a result of the exercise, for a story, if not for this one.

Ballpoint drawing with faint watercolours, of a person clutching a monster with "who transforms" and a fairy-tale wedding with "that's the story we'll tell them"

It was a very interesting exercise for:

  • Understanding classic structures a bit better.
  • Thinking through what scenes do and can do.
  • Approaching a retelling.
  • Shaking up my understanding of a story, even after I’ve put it back into order.
  • Coming up with little stray ideas.

Writing/illustration exercise:

  1. Choose a story you know well (fairy tales are usually quite useful and relatively short). List the scenes.
  2. Pick a common narrative or dramatic structure you want to play with (three-act structure and Freytag’s pyramid get talked about a lot, but if you’ve taken any writing courses, including in school, or read books on narrative, you’ll have been exposed to some version in detail).
  3. Line the structure up against the story. You might have to force it to fit in places. It’s interesting to note what might need to change in the story to make an Official Structure fit neatly, and what lets the story work in spite of not fitting some classic mould.
  4. Now, mix up your scenes randomly — cut them out and shuffle them, or roll a dice, or close your eyes and point.
  5. Again, line the structure up against the new order of scenes. Note what new work some scenes might do, and whether the new order suggests new meanings for the story.
  6. Pick the new first or final scene. Do a quick written or drawn sketch of it, letting it take on the new emphases, and making it do that new work of e.g. opening up the world or introducing characters or closing off the narrative and themes.

Ballpoint sketch of two women — one sitting, one standing — throwing food to a magpie.
Housemates and magpie

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Observation journal: Secrets and preoccupations

On these observation journal pages, I was playing with giving characters and objects a secret or preoccupation. The objects won.

I think this was on my mind because of some conversation with actors or about this approach in acting — not a central, plot-driving desire but some private concern which adds nuance to behaviour and speech.

As usual, I was trying it out on fairy-tales, as handy story-shaped objects. But it felt particularly useful for retellings, adding specificity to elements that have become simplified by time and use.

So I started by listing some stories and characters, adding a secret or preoccupation for each, and considering what that would do to the story.

Tiny handwritten table of notes on secrets.

E.g. if the miller’s son of “Puss in Boots” wants to be a miller, not a Marquis, then he’s going to spend the story resisting while fate forces his hand. If Cinderella’s father was a Bluebeard figure, it ups the stakes for the stepmother. If Jack’s mother (in Jack and the Beanstalk) is just trying to get her son out of the house, then his continued early returns to it become hilarious.

These could be allowed to change the plot. But they also add a little depth to a basic retelling, and help triangulate descriptions and dialogue.

I then selected a series of “secrets, moods, motives and preoccupations” for Puss in Boots, and used them to reframe the cat’s reassurance to the miller’s son, that if he will only do what the cat says, then all will be well.

Tiny handwritten table of notes on secrets.

A self-interested cat, a wearily responsible cat, a cat whose sole intention is to acquire a tall building from which to better catch birds, a cat which can talk but prefers not to — all will have this conversation in different ways.

I tried the original process again, listing various characters and objects from “Little Red Riding Hood”, and possible large and small secrets or preoccupations (is the mother trying to get to work? are the washerwomen of one version actually were-plovers? does the woodcutter’s axe have pacifist tendencies?).

Tiny handwritten table of notes on secrets.

Big secrets deepen and skew plots and connections, and shift the story into other tracks. Small preoccupations affect character, adding texture, tone, friction, etc.

Giving people secrets and preoccupations added to characterisation and plot. But giving preoccupations and interests to things was a delight, much more fun, and skewing easily into story ideas or texture.

So then I played with the door of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s cottage — giving it an interest in celebrity gossip, in fashion, in piracy, in murder — and seeing what effect that would have on the scene where Little Red Riding Hood arrives.

It added personality to the door, in the case of celebrity gossip (creaking with ill-contained excitement). In the case of fashion, it leaned into personification — a lintel tilted at a superior angle, like raised eyebrows, an appreciation of the gentleman with the nice fur coat. The connection to piracy added a sense of wider worlds and tales — the life the timbers led before, and what will happen to them after, and the place of this story in the scale of things. The interest in murder gave a sense of the world pushing back against the story, of deaths it has seen and perhaps been complicit in.

Tiny handwritten table of notes on secrets.

Art/writing exercise:

  • The secret lives of objects:
    • Pick a template story (a fairy tale, or tall tale, or urban legend, or classic superhero origin story, etc). List some of the key objects in it — specifically mentioned or strongly implied.
      (If you can’t think of any stories or objects, you can use the sketches below: a camera and tripod at a workshop in a conference room, and a cold-drip coffee set-up on a cafe counter).
    • Choose one object, and list 5 preoccupations or interests it might have. Some might be suggested by the story (what if the glass slippers are interested in sobriety and disapprove of dancing?). But look for some unexpected secrets, too — something people you know have been interested in lately, or one of your recent fascinations, or an interest connected to something you can see (well-engineered roads?).
    • Consider how that object first appears in the original story — jot down a simple sentence or sketch of the scene. Then decide how that scene might change, if the object had each of those preoccupations.
    • Make a quick written or drawn sketch for each.
    • Bonus: Note which secrets/preoccupations/moods tend to pull the story away from the original plot, or change the setting, or deepen the scene. Are there any patterns?
  • The secret lives of characters:
    • As above, but for characters in the story. (Personally, I find this approach useful, but the object exercise is much more fun.)

See also “swapped descriptions and descriptive filters” for a related descriptive exercise.

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Observation Journal: Proof of…

This observation journal activity arose from a talk Irene Gallo gave at the Illustration Master Class. She recommended that when we go to galleries, we look for just one thing — that is, for one thing in every piece of art, e.g. the colour yellow, or how draperies were treated.

I still play this as a game at galleries, alone or with friends — looking just for spirals, or only at the backgrounds, or arguing that every painting is a riff on Orpheus and Eurydice (last time I did this we got stumped on one painting until we worked out it was about that myth).

Double spread of journal. First page with observations from day, second with notes on patterns.
Editing Travelogues, watching Good Omens, and an ex-ceiling cat

On this particular day, I played the game with the day. I looked back over it for sickle shapes (a cat, split hazelnuts, a sequin’s visible edge), evidence of a secret city behind the city (floodlit buildings solitary in a park, the way emergency vehicles were only audible as they passed, model houses so small as to be models displayed in a model house), and “Little Red Riding Hood” (the grey fur of a cat, friends in pyjamas with blankets pulled to their chin, food packed up to carry away…).

Single page of hand-written observation journal identifying patterns

It’s a gentle game, useful for:

  • passing the time
  • useful conversations when visiting galleries with friends
  • long car trips
  • focussing attention
  • training yourself to see in a certain way, or to notice certain things
  • seeing the ordinary in different ways
  • inventing and supporting secret-history or conspiracy stories
Tiny ballpoint drawing of cat showing teeth
Saffy, an unflattering portrait

Art/writing exercise

  • Choose an element or a story. Here are a few ideas:
    • Elements:
      • colours
      • shapes
      • tones
      • patterns
      • treatments of e.g. reflections, draped fabrics, etc
    • Story:
      • a particular fairy tale or myth
      • a story with mythic weight for you (a movie, a tall tale)
      • your preferred variety of thrilling tale (murder mystery, heist, secret city, hauntings)
    • Other: Invent your own! There are also lots of excellent noticing activities out there — see e.g. Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.
  • Go somewhere (physically or virtually): a gallery, a museum, a waiting room, about your day.
  • Look for as much evidence as you can of that one element or story. Be ridiculous if necessary. Stretch definitions.
  • Bonus round: do a sketch (written or drawn) of a place focussing on those elements, as if they are the most important (or the only) objects there.

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Observation Journal: 30 descriptions of a tree

This observation journal activity is one I’ve mentioned before (see: Sketching with words) — looking at one thing and finding ten or twenty ways to describe that particular object. It’s good for long drives, and also for sitting still, and for breaking open the world a little bit. (And for very famous poems.)

In this case, I’d gone down to the creek at the bottom of my street in the late afternoon. I’d been too twitchy to simply sit (this must have been after a deadline), but it was a lovely way to look long and deep at just one tree, and relax, and play with words.

And it didn’t matter if the descriptions wouldn’t work for a given context, or felt overwrought. That was part of the game.

Thirty descriptions of a eucalypt, late afternoon

  1. A tower with many windows
  2. A ticker-tape parade
  3. Stands of people cheering
  4. A spun stick of cotton-candy
  5. A rattle
  6. Soft-bodied, sharp-boned sky scraper
  7. Clusters of a thousand long eyes
  8. “An army with banners”
  9. Tamborinists, fluttering ribbons
  10. A dream of washing lines
  11. A map pinned with a thousand flags
  12. A paintbrush, gold-dipped
  13. A duster, web-spun
  14. A distant cumulus
  15. A fire hoop for birds to leap through
  16. A height chart, thick with measurements
  17. A river delta, fanning out into the currents of air
  18. Clustering tributaries, pouring down towards the earth
  19. A tide of leaves
  20. A gown of soft-clattering spangles
  21. A rococo candelabra, silver rubbing off the brass
  22. A net cast, unfurling
  23. A spray of fish scales
  24. A sheet snapped against the wind
  25. Largesse, upflung
  26. A rise of streamers
  27. A branching lung
  28. A conspiracy [of leaves]
  29. A cloud of witness
  30. Thick-clustered tinsel

(And, added a few days later, 31. A lagerphone)

balancing act

Writing/illustration exercise

  • Go sit somewhere and look at an object (or pick something you drive past).
  • List 5, or 10, or 20 ways you could describe it. You could:
  • Bonus round: Note if any descriptions stand out, or were very unexpected (and when they start to become so), and whether any particularly spark your interest (and if so, can you explain why?)

As mentioned in the post Sketching with words, I used this approach in working out some of the descriptions in Flyaway (available through Tor.com (US), Picador (Aus), and through all good bookstores).

But if you like even less narrative, and particularly if you like poetry that is lists of descriptions, my Travelogues: Vignettes from Trains in Motion (available from Brain Jar Press and other good book places) is just such a visual sketchbook:

Also, I’ve just started setting up a mailing list. It won’t be a newsletter — only the occasional email for any major updates (publication announcements, exhibitions, etc) and rare round-ups of things you might not want to have missed. If that’s for you, the (extremely early version of) the sign-up page is here:

Mailing List Sign-Up

I’ve only just set it up, so definitely please let me know if anything goes wrong!

Observation Journal — more Caudwelling

On this observation journal page, I revisited the Caudwell Manoeuvre. The first time, I deliberately picked opposites. This time, I played with pairs.

Flowers falling / falling into flowers

For each word, I wrote down the first/obvious/cliched association — or my current association with it. Then I swapped those associations, and tried to write new descriptions accordingly.

So, for example, watercolour seems thin, erratic, unforgiving. Whereas oil paint is thick, has a strong smell, and is forgiving. If I swap those associations, I need to describe them as follows:

  • watercolour: describe unwieldy, heavily-pigmented applications of watercolour, concentrating on all the smells of water (and paper and pigment).
  • oil paint: describe the slippery, staining, spreading, ineradicable nature of it.

Or bread and water in the classic dungeon sense; bread dry, tough and coarse; water dank and green. Swapped:

  • bread: dank green bread, dark and mould-tinted.
  • water: dusty, muscular and gritty.

Or sense, all calm, practical, dependable, self-abnegating, vs sensibility that’s flowery, effusive, impulsive, melodic. Flipped:

  • sense: dramatically pragmatic, theatrically logical
  • sensibility: calm, quotidian sentimentality, a self-effacing sensitivity

(What I like about that example is that it goes from being Elinor and Marianne Dashwood to Mrs Bennett and Jane Bennett).

Fruitbat hanging head-down in blossoms

You can use this to come up with ideas, of course. But it’s also a fun way to shake up the obvious view of something, and find surprising but no less true ways to look at it (the crispiness of old, much-washed socks).

Writing/illustrating exercise (as per the Caudwell Manoeuvre post)

  • Write down things that occur in pairs — either in the wild or in your mind. Dungeons and dragons? Meat pies and tomato sauce?
  • Pick a pair. For each item, write down some brief obvious descriptions and associations (including texture, colour, lines etc — this works for illustration as well as writing).
  • Now swap those notes. Use that list and work out how to describe (or illustrate) the other half of the pair in those terms. (Weirdly lumpy and chewy tomato sauce, with the dried bits around the top of the bottle flaking off? A stone-and-moss, cavern-dwelling dragon with a voice like the echoes of dripping water? Or, more literally, a dragon full of unfortunate individuals and a few skeletons?).
  • Try leaning into it to varying degrees — seeking a new thing that blends the old, or seeking new ways to see the old.

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Observation journal — getting meta with story structures #2

The observation journal has been well-suited to testing and revising theories and approaches (as well as coming up with ideas, practising scales, etc). This is another reason the reflection/conclusion panel at the bottom of these journal pages is so useful!

This page was a continuation of a previous exercise — using story structures as ideas (see: Getting meta with story structures).

I looked at frame stories (e.g. having characters explicitly move between different levels of story; frames that call stories into existence), 3(+) act structures (e.g. an explicit staginess/interaction with the format of a play), and turning points/gear changes (stories about velocity, etc).

Experiments which don’t go as planned are still informative. Things I realised:

  • Deliberateness is really the thing.
  • I found it easier to literalise principles (as previously) than specific structures (as here).
  • However, it’s an AWFUL lot easier to literalise structures in art than writing: frames and triptychs, sequential art, etc.
  • A while ago, I used to like reading Rules of Story Shapes, strict principles of narrative structure, etc, probably trying to find a shortcut. Now, those structures feel too static and rigid as a guide to writing. They feel more like splints (and perhaps training wheels) than organic structures. That might be why I find it difficult to literalise them into stories. (This is personal! Lots of writers I know plan to a structure and do so very effectively.)
  • Nowadays, broad principles feel more natural. They are flexible: guidelines to steer by, the voice of experience, the instinct that shapes a story. (This is why I like three-mood story shapes.) And they’re usually more metaphorical. This is perhaps why it’s easier to make them into literal aspects of stories. (Diana Wynne Jones does this brilliantly, especially in her more Gothic stories, such as Aunt Maria and The Time of the Ghost.)

Art/writing exercises (there are several activities at the end of the previous post on getting meta)

  • Find an interesting narrative structure outside the field you’re working in. E.g. if you’re a writer, find an intriguing painting; if you’re an illustrator, ask around for a book with an unconventional approach.
  • Then sketch out a story/picture that translates that approach. Can you take a narrative framing device or peculiar approach to time and create that effect in an illustration? How would you structure a story in a way analogous to a Renaissance altarpiece?

Finally, here is Lulu (not mine). She is an Irish terrier, and you might be familiar with her from Angela Slatter‘s Instagram.

Observation Journal — Why has she not done the thing?

I don’t like being introspective — one of the advantages of the observation journal is that I worked that out quickly and was able to sidestep it thereafter. However, the journal is sometimes useful for unpicking specific problems. [Edit: there’s now a follow-up post to this — Things that might make her do the thing]

For example: My intense avoidance of packaging and posting things. I can make myself slightly feverish, now, just by starting to think about preparing art to send to a show.

I always have to look up tabebuia online — the pink ones blossom like crepe-paper pomanders in winter

The important approach on this page was to:

  • follow each high-level answer down through several levels (what types of stress, and which physical parts, and what’s causing that…)
  • highlight key elements as I went (otherwise these pages are unintelligible when I revisit them.

The most useful question to ask for this type of page turned out to be: has [the problem] ever worked out okay, and why/how. In this case, the tricks for getting me to package and post things effectively/at all have been:

  • Clearing space
  • Dedicating time
  • Recruiting a second pair of hands (or passing it over to someone else entirely — there are people out there who apparently LOVE and are GOOD AT putting rectangles into other rectangles, and I need you all to know you are important and valued)
  • Having a tested technique AND checking if there are better approaches out there
  • Information/checklists

Two days later I started to investigate something else I was avoiding, but when I put down the key questions I thought they were (a) self-answering and (b) funnier left unanswered.

The moral of the story is: stress can be repurposed for entertainment. And sometimes laughing at myself is what is needed to get a project moving.

“could she in fact be doing the thing right now instead of writing this?”

UPDATE: I addressed these points further — and completed the template page! — on this post: Things that might make her do the thing.

Observation Journal: Mixing and matching stories and imagery

This observation journal page is a continuation of previous thoughts on in-world surface patterns.

This time, I was remixing/mixing and matching stories. I’ve written about that previously, too: Mix and Match (contains a lot of Pride and Prejudice).

This time I listed some key characters from Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, and looked for similarities (warnings of risk, insufficient information, victims of predators, wily carnivores), and for ways to link the stories (misguided/rash actions, trapped by other’s choices, manipulation and threat, innocent third parties).

These suggested some possible stories that I could combine with various aesthetics: an innocent in high society; vanishing or seeking revenge; victims working together.

Then I started adding the visual elements, pushing the Little Red Riding Hood elements into the high society version (hothouse flowers, fur hoods, red gowns).

And vice versa (magnificence, ropes of flowers like jewels, beautiful hair).

And then just following the ideas and the lines — food and home, a red wolf, a beastly woman, until I ended up with the first line of a story to play with another time, that “Once there was a woman who accidentally changed her daughter for a wolf”, which feels like it asks enough questions to start a tale.

You can see in the final note that I was still working out exactly what I was trying to do with these exercises, although I knew I was chasing something (and would continue to). But it was very helpful for working on retellings and riffs of existing stories, and a way to clarify ideas into something “vivid, coherent & deliberate”.

Writing/illustration activities (adapted/abbreviated/extended from previous posts: mix & match and surface patterns).

  • Pick two stories at random (fairy tales, favourite movies, etc — the least like each other, the better, e.g. Pride & Prejudice and Jurassic Park). Then find at least 5 similarities between them (forcibly and improbably, if necessary).
  • Concentrating on those similarities, how could you edit one of those stories to be more like the others? Try a quick paragraph or sketch.
  • Look only at the list of similarities. What sort of new story you could build out of them?
  • Finally, make a list of the key imagery from one story. How would adding those elements to the other change it? (Try a quick paragraph or sketch seeing how it would work in practice).