Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, December 05, 2014

I'm blog hoppin'... how ideas percolate

I agreed to participate in an international blog hop today. This is a good way to practice being open to new things-because it often leads to other new things, even far down the road.

I was asked to participate by Karen Larsen over at Crows Foot Farm way out in Pennsylvania. Karen has been a supporter of our Misfits-any person that understands the importance of sending sunscreen t a grumpy pig gets a thumbs up from me. But more important, her hooked rugs are wonderful. Full of color, animals and a primitive feel, you can visit her site to see finished rugs, and you can also buy her patterns to make your own. Much of her subject matter is farm oriented. I long ago told her that "someday" I'd try hooking a rug. I love the look of a hooked rug and they are very nostalgic I think. So thank you, Karen for asking me to play along here.

I thought I'd talk about idea generation for my art. I get asked that a lot by beginners especially-how do you come up with ideas or how do you stay inspired year after year. I've been making art since I was born I guess, but it wasn't until I was 38 [that seems so young] in 1996 that I went cold turkey and became a full time artist, focusing on the illustration market, which was good back then, especially since I lived in Minneapolis with lots of good connections. I've since moved on to books, painting and still do some illustration if the right job falls in my lap.

I get my ideas from living, looking, listening, feeling–and then percolating. Often an idea comes to me because I am overwhelmed with a situation that presents itself, or an image in front of me in my barnyard calls out for a sentence or two to accompany it. Often these ideas are just that, and they live out there lives quickly, hidden in my head or put down on a piece of scrap paper in a crude sketch or words, and then it sits in a pile or becomes fire material. I think it is okay to let ideas rest like this-if they are strong enough, they get back to you. The muse is persistent.
But percolation is a real necessity for an idea to flourish. First of all, if it doesn't inspire me, I pretty much walk away. I liken ideas to walking down the streets of Paris at Christmas, looking in the windows- so many beautiful things - but most of it I don't need, or want. But it's pretty to look.

To percolate an idea takes time. Often in real life jobs, there is a lack of time to percolate and it is the nature of the beast. In my current situation, I can percolate as much as I need, usually. And I do a lot of that while lying in bed in the morning, or before I go to sleep. I try to not do this while driving, or working my horse, and I literally have to tell myself, "Focus on the task in front of you." I think the creative imagination is always working, so boundaries are needed–for me anyway.

As an example, we have perfect timing. Last month I wrote about how I was unsure what muses to address. I felt a bit lost, but knew part of it was just waiting for the right project to grab me. I started looking at some old children's books I had tried to get published. All had some charm, but none of them really spoke to me any more, so I put them all away, again, and started a new book. And I am loving working on it, and it feels so good to go bed thinking of the story and the art.

I'm in the phase of the book where I want to see it all laid out in a dummy–a book dummy is the entire book, laid out in spreads that shows the art [usually in b/w sketch form] and the initial manuscript. Now for me, I hate sketches. Always have. I lose something when I try to sketch a scene. So I start with what to me is the beginnings of finished art. I can always go back and change things later [the beauty of understanding Photoshop well]. The stage I'm in now is I plotted out what I 'think' my story line is, then I set out to draw the characters, and I have about 5 spreads done. Once I get all the spreads done, I'll start over and hone the words, and art.

What I'm most excited about it I don't feel I'm rushing to get it done to show to a publisher. And I don't feel myself saying things like, "This isn't commercial enough, they will want more color". This kind of thinking will kill it. I'm not commercial, let's face it, but there is a market for me and I'm determined not to worry about that. I feel I'm working it, developing it, getting to know the characters better, and I'm asking myself questions to make the story as good as I can make it on my own before I show it to anyone-either to submit, or for guidance.

For fun, I'll share some early percolations. My idea started out with Mrs. Ragbone and some bunnies. But the bunnies became one older rabbit named Frances, an independent chap who likes to wander, and he loves to talk to caterpillars. The art you see here shows the two sitting against a threatening sky, but they are oblivious to it. The reader has been introduced to Mrs. Ragbone, but only through their imaginations at this point, as nobody as ever met the reclusive creature, but they've heard her howls so make all sorts of assumptions about her-she's a witch or a monster, etc.  As each spread is done, it helps me form the story and tighten or tweak the plot. I find if I start with only words, it's dull. But the second draft is where the story will be fine tuned. So stay tuned to see what happens.

Next Friday the 12th, I invited Susan Sorrell Hill to write on her blog. Susan creates watercolor paintings with a slightly surreal, fairy tale flavor. I stumbled on Susan because she wrote a comment on my blog, and I really loved seeing her work, especially since I'd just started my Mrs. Ragbone book. About her work, she says, "Stories (especially fairy tales) are amongst my favorite things, so it is not surprising that my paintings look quite a bit like illustrations from a book. Inspiration also comes from dreams, an interest in psychology, and a longtime fascination with those most interesting questions: "Why?" and "What if?" Watercolor is my primary medium, and I often combine it with pencil, pen and ink to create imaginary scenes that are both mysterious and whimsical."

I hope you'll check out both Karen's beautiful hooked rugs, and Susan's work too!