Part Three of my Fragile Things series is here! Part One is here. Part Two is here. This is the final part of the series featuring my photographs of fragile things, with hand-lettered text from Neil Gaiman's book of short stories, Fragile Things, overlaid on top. Working on this project has been enlightening and I really appreciate these final thoughts about the nature of fragile things.Read More
Part Two of my Fragile Things series is here! Part One is here. This is a three part series featuring photographs of fragile things, with hand-lettered text from Neil Gaiman's book of short stories, Fragile Things, overlaid on top. These photo illustrations explore the nature of fragile things. I myself am going through a fragile time right now, my Mom is dying of cancer, and I have found working on this project to be a great way to meditate on what I am going through and what it all means.
From the Introduction:
Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkably difficult to kill.
From the story Strange Little GIrls:
The view changes from where you are standing. Words can wound, and wounds can heal. All of these things are true.
From the story How To Talk To Girls At Parties:
We wrapped our dreams in words and patterned the words so that they would live forever, unforgettable.
Hearts may break, but they are tough. It's something I need to remember right now. Resilience, perspective and a legacy. That is what Neil Gaiman's words mean to me. It's why I write and make art. Writing and making art make me stronger, give me perspective and hopefully, it will build up into a legacy that I can leave to my family.
Part Three is coming in the following weeks! Stay tuned for that.
A few months ago I was inspired to photograph objects that are considered fragile. As I was working on the shots, I remembered that Neil Gaiman published a collection of short stories called Fragile Things. It was a book I didn't remember reading, so I picked it up from the library and I found that I was familiar with many of the stories from other sources. There are some good ones in there. Some of them are creepy, but still so good. Gaiman is such an amazing story teller.
I came across so many great quotes that I decided to hand letter the ones that were specifically related to fragile things and overlay the illustrated text onto the images. This is the first image of a three part series and I'll post the next two separately in the following weeks.
From the story Strange Little Girls:
She seems so cool, so focused, so quiet, yet her eyes remain fixed upon the horizon.
You think you know all there is to know about her immediately upon meeting her, but everything you think you know is wrong. Passion flows through her like a river of blood.
She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here.
From the story Instructions:
Do not lose hope—what you seek will be found.
Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
I've really enjoyed working on this project and it's given me new insights into fragile things. I love these sentiments about identity and trust. You need focus and passion. You need to trust dreams, hearts and stories. It's about knowing and trusting yourself. And above all, do not lose hope. Ever. What you seek will be found. For a seeker like me, that statement makes me feel so good. It assures me to just keep at it. I will get there eventually, I will find what I am looking for.
The short story Instructions, became a lovely book of it's own illustrated by Charles Vess. I bought it for my kids and this story/poem is pure magic. It's all the best advice from fairy tales. Your kid's adventures and imaginations will most surely be inspired by reading it.
What is your favorite fragile thing or fairy tale?
I am on a mission to read more through the winter (don't you think curled up in a blanket next to the fire is the perfect time to read?) and I want to focus on fiction for young adults and children. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd like to write a book, possibly a YA fiction, so I'm researching the genre as well. More than that though, I am also embracing my love of YA fiction. Adults Are Devouring Kids' Books for Good Reason.
I visited the library yesterday and picked out a few titles from the YA fiction section and I also went downstairs to the children's fiction section to see what they had there. I really don't know very much about writing fiction for young adults or children, so I quizzed the librarians and learned about the School Library Journal and The Horn Book as resources to find out more. There is also a YA Fiction Librarian at our local library, so I will be stopping by to chat with her too. If I am going to write a book I should learn a little more about how it all works. I didn't know that the Newbery Medal is awarded to fiction books for children, which is age fourteen and below and most YA fiction doesn't qualify. Typically, YA fiction is age fourteen and above, but publishers sometimes market YA fiction to students as young as 10, so there is some cross over and there are some books that appeal to both age groups. Understanding all these nuances is important.
When I got home I looked up the list of YA Fiction that Kelly published over the summer and I also found this fantastic list of the top 100 YA Fiction books of all time by NPR. Looking at that list I was so happy to discover that I have read way more YA Fiction than I first thought. Obviously there are the Harry Potter books, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Twilight and His Dark Materials series'. But there was also The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fahrenheit 451, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Dune, My Sister's Keeper and Howl's Moving Castle, all of which I own but never thought of as YA. But of course they are. There was also Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is so familiar to me, but I can't think of the plot AT ALL. The name is familiar in such a way that makes me think I said it repeatedly one summer when I was 12.
Not on the list is my favorite author Neil Gaiman who wrote Stardust, Coraline, The Graveyard Book and Odd and the Frost Giants. I've also recently read The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo and both When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. Loved them all.
The librarian asked me how much YA fiction I had read, and I answered just a bit. I realize now though, that I've actually read A LOT, and that category might even be what I have read THE MOST. Of course, I love a good adult book and I've read and enjoyed so many, but my point is that I read YA even when I don't realize I'm reading YA and I always really enjoy it.
So hey, here is where YOU come in! What are your favorite children or young adult fiction books? This is research my friends, please share!
Amanda Palmer and her new band The Grand Theft Orchestra have an album coming out in September called Theatre is Evil. She made music history by raising 1.2 million dollars on Kickstarter to fund the production, promotion and tour for the record. Chris and I bought the Kickstarter package that included a NYC gallery opening of the art work inspired by music from the record, as well as a special acoustic performance in the art gallery. It was an epic night.
I'm going to let the pictures mostly speak for themselves for the moment (I've got a post brewing about why I think Amanda Palmer is so relevant and important) but I will say just a few things.
- Almost the first thing I noticed when we got to Momenta Gallery was Amanda. She was heading outside to take pictures and she swept by us in bare feet. For the rest of the evening she was completely present and available to everyone who wanted a minute with her, not hiding in the back room until it was time to go on stage. It was awesome.
- The second thing I noticed was that the A/C in the gallery was broken. Sweat was literally rolling down my back but the oppressive heat was like another character in the performance. It made things sticky and uncomfortable and it added a rawness that might have otherwise been missing. That was kind of awesome too.
- The third thing was that Amanda pours her heart and soul into her performances and I was left wondering how she can take in so much energy from her friends and fans and send it back out again. It's like she is an emotional conduit for everyone and that connection is one of the things that endears her to fans and makes her so special. Again, awesome.
- The last thing was that her bandmates; Jherek Bischoff, Michael McQuilken and Chad Raines are incredibly talent musicians who are bright enough lights to stand next to Amanda and not get lost. It was amazing to witness their synchronicity with each other and I'm pretty sure they could make music with practically anything. Awesome, Awesome and Awesome.
Well done Grand Theft Orchestra and a huge Thank-you to Amanda for an amazing night I won't EVER forget. (Scroll down to the bottom of the post for a link to the entire set of pictures.)
Were you there at Momenta with us? Did you see this performance in another city? What were your thoughts or favorite moments? Personally, I loved the performance of Trout Heart Replica, with the beet cutting and also the performance and artwork for The Bed Song. The ritual of laying out the bed sheets was amazing and Kyle Cassidy's B&W photographs of people laying in bed were so touching, intimate and of course sad.
Finally, if you want to see it all, including MORE NAKEDNESS, check out the complete set of photos on Flickr.
I'm not very good at blogging on the run, but I'm going to try. I am in Canada, without my kids and husband, to see my 88 year old Grandma, spend a day with my sister Jill in Banff, visit my sister Tracy at her new house in Southern Alberta, and help my parents settle into their new house in Medicine Hat. It's family time and even though I miss my own little family, it's actually really nice to have some alone time with these beautiful people. The last five years my relationships with them have been overshadowed by the kids and I am enjoying this immensely.
The picture is heading into Banff, which is in the Rocky Mountains. I miss the mountains. I lived next to them for so many years, drove through them, dreamed about them. It was so nice to be in the mountains again and my sister and I had a great time lounging at a spa all afternoon. It was expensive, but so worth it. Yesterday made a little happy place in my mind that I can go back to again and again. I'll write more about our day soon, it was an item from my Life List, as well as one of the five goals I set for myself at Camp Mighty.
Here's another fitting quote from Neil Gaiman's Commencement Speech, which I hope you have listened to or read by now.
"Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you'll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.
Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.
And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time."
Everyone should have mountains in their lives. Have a great weekend my friends.
I heart Neil Gaiman. You might know this about me already. More than the work that he does, which is awesome and amazing, his creative and free spirit is contagious. He recently gave the 134th commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and everything he says is spot on for anyone thinking of making a living creating art, or really for anyone doing anything creative. Watch the video or read the transcript (from the U Arts website) below, and be inspired.
May 17, 2012
I never really expected to find myself giving advice to people graduating from an establishment of higher education. I never graduated from any such establishment. I never even started at one. I escaped from school as soon as I could, when the prospect of four more years of enforced learning before I'd become the writer I wanted to be was stifling.
I got out into the world, I wrote, and I became a better writer the more I wrote, and I wrote some more, and nobody ever seemed to mind that I was making it up as I went along, they just read what I wrote and they paid for it, or they didn't, and often they commissioned me to write something else for them.
Which has left me with a healthy respect and fondness for higher education that those of my friends and family, who attended Universities, were cured of long ago.
Looking back, I've had a remarkable ride. I'm not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children's book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who... and so on. I didn't have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.
So I thought I'd tell you everything I wish I'd known starting out, and a few things that, looking back on it, I suppose that I did know. And that I would also give you the best piece of advice I'd ever got, which I completely failed to follow.
First of all: When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.
This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.
If you don't know it's impossible it's easier to do. And because nobody's done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.
Secondly, If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.
And that's much harder than it sounds and, sometimes in the end, so much easier than you might imagine. Because normally, there are things you have to do before you can get to the place you want to be. I wanted to write comics and novels and stories and films, so I became a journalist, because journalists are allowed to ask questions, and to simply go and find out how the world works, and besides, to do those things I needed to write and to write well, and I was being paid to learn how to write economically, crisply, sometimes under adverse conditions, and on time.
Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you'll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.
Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.
And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.
I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.
Thirdly, When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.
The problems of failure are problems of discouragement, of hopelessness, of hunger. You want everything to happen and you want it now, and things go wrong. My first book – a piece of journalism I had done for the money, and which had already bought me an electric typewriter from the advance – should have been a bestseller. It should have paid me a lot of money. If the publisher hadn't gone into involuntary liquidation between the first print run selling out and the second printing, and before any royalties could be paid, it would have done.
And I shrugged, and I still had my electric typewriter and enough money to pay the rent for a couple of months, and I decided that I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn't get the money, then you didn't have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn't get the money, at least I'd have the work.
Every now and again, I forget that rule, and whenever I do, the universe kicks me hard and reminds me. I don't know that it's an issue for anybody but me, but it's true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn't wind up getting the money, either. The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I've never regretted the time I spent on any of them.
The problems of failure are hard.
The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.
The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.
In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don't have to make things up any more.
The problems of success. They're real, and with luck you'll experience them. The point where you stop saying yes to everything, because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and have to learn to say no.
I watched my peers, and my friends, and the ones who were older than me and watch how miserable some of them were: I'd listen to them telling me that they couldn't envisage a world where they did what they had always wanted to do any more, because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were. They couldn't go and do the things that mattered, and that they had really wanted to do; and that seemed as a big a tragedy as any problem of failure.
And after that, the biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do, because you are successful. There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.
Fourthly, I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, “Coraline looks like a real name...”
And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. You have the ability to make art.
And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Make it on the good days too.
And Fifthly, while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.
The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that's not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we've sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you're walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That's the moment you may be starting to get it right.
The things I've done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea.
I still don't. And where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work?
And sometimes the things I did really didn't work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted. Some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.
Sixthly. I will pass on some secret freelancer knowledge. Secret knowledge is always good. And it is useful for anyone who ever plans to create art for other people, to enter a freelance world of any kind. I learned it in comics, but it applies to other fields too. And it's this:
People get hired because, somehow, they get hired. In my case I did something which these days would be easy to check, and would get me into trouble, and when I started out, in those pre-internet days, seemed like a sensible career strategy: when I was asked by editors who I'd worked for, I lied. I listed a handful of magazines that sounded likely, and I sounded confident, and I got jobs. I then made it a point of honour to have written something for each of the magazines I'd listed to get that first job, so that I hadn't actually lied, I'd just been chronologically challenged... You get work however you get work.
People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today's world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They'll forgive the lateness of the work if it's good, and if they like you. And you don't have to be as good as the others if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.
When I agreed to give this address, I started trying to think what the best advice I'd been given over the years was.
And it came from Stephen King twenty years ago, at the height of the success of Sandman. I was writing a comic that people loved and were taking seriously. King had liked Sandman and my novel with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, and he saw the madness, the long signing lines, all that, and his advice was this:
“This is really great. You should enjoy it.”
And I didn't. Best advice I got that I ignored.Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn't a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn't writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn't stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I'd enjoyed it more. It's been an amazing ride. But there were parts of the ride I missed, because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit I was on.
That was the hardest lesson for me, I think: to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.
And here, on this platform, today, is one of those places. (I am enjoying myself immensely.)
To all today's graduates: I wish you luck. Luck is useful. Often you will discover that the harder you work, and the more wisely you work, the luckier you get. But there is luck, and it helps.
We're in a transitional world right now, if you're in any kind of artistic field, because the nature of distribution is changing, the models by which creators got their work out into the world, and got to keep a roof over their heads and buy sandwiches while they did that, are all changing. I've talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.
Which is, on the one hand, intimidating, and on the other, immensely liberating. The rules, the assumptions, the now-we're supposed to's of how you get your work seen, and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be to get your work seen. YouTube and the web (and whatever comes after YouTube and the web) can give you more people watching than television ever did. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are.
So make up your own rules.
Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult, in this case recording an audio book, and I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall, and she said it helped.
So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.
And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.
- Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman tipped me off to both of the fabulous cut paper videos in this post. He is, if you haven't already heard, my favorite author. He seems to be fan of cut paper because the recent collaboration between him and Amanda Palmer (his new wife, who I also adore) uses the fantastic cut paper graphic above. Yes, that is a Tardis on the table. I wished I could have attended one the concerts, but they were all on the west coast, so instead I contributed to the Kickstarter for a signed CD which I am anxiously waiting for! They did send out a digital teaser EP (read a review of the concert and the EP) and it's a wonderful hint of what will likely be an epic collection of music performed by AFP, stories read by NG and awesome Q & A's with them together. I love the stuff these two are doing together.
Back to the cut paper though, Neil Gaiman tweeted about both of these videos and I think they are amazing. The amount of work that must have gone into them is astounding. Stop motion has an incredible quality to it.
The first video is for Josh Ritter's new song Love Is Making Its Way Back Home. "This video was created with over 12,000 pieces of construction paper, shown as it was shot, with no effects added in post."
The second video is from The New Zealand Book Council and it was posted a couple of years ago so you may have seen it, but it's worth a re-watch even if you have. So beautiful. From The Inspiration Room: "New Zealand Book Council runs readings, recitals, school programmes, seminars and festivals throughout the country, bringing the magic of NZ literature to life for New Zealanders. The organisation has worked with Colenso BBDO and Andersen M Studio to produce a 2 minute promotion bringing to life Maurice Gee’s 1993 novel, “Going West”."
For some more cut paper inspiration check out this book that I first read about on Terra Savvy. It's got all kinds of excellent cut paper art featured in it, although I was somewhat disappointed that the cover is not actually cut paper. I suppose I should have expected that, for a mass produced book, but still. It's ABOUT cutting paper, it's not cut paper itself.
My favorites in the book, which features 26 contemporary artists, are Peter Callesen, Su Blackwell and Mia Pearlman. I also love what Thomas Allen is doing with the vintage pulp paperbacks. His use of photography is as critical to the mood of his paper cuts as the cut paper. The fabulous cover of the book is by Elsa Mora.
One of the most interesting, beautiful and intricate paper/book cutting projects I have ever seen is the work of Alexander Korzer-Robinson. He cuts encyclopedias and reveals the images inside. The overlaps and compositions are created entirely by where things are on the page. He cuts everything away to reveal what he wants to. It's simply amazing the juxtapositions and combinations that are created.
From the artist's website: "By using pre-existing media as a starting point, certain boundaries are set by the material, which I aim to transform through my process. Thus, an encyclopedia can become a window into an alternate world, much like lived reality becomes its alternate in remembered experience. These books, having been stripped of their utilitarian value by the passage of time, regain new purpose. They are no longer tools to learn about the world, but rather a means to gain insight about oneself."
For more inspiration, check out these links:
Wikipedia: Paper Cutting
Cut paper silhouettes of pop cultural figures. A solo show from Olly Moss.
Scherenschnitte: Cindy Ferguson
Paper cutting images on Google.