I attended an event in Harvard Square a few nights ago in which the prolific novelist Joyce Carol Oates read from her latest novel, Mudwoman, and answered a variety of questions from the audience. When asked if she kept specific routines for her writing (for example, a goal of 500 words per day) she said that she didn’t, but that she liked to hold images in her mind before writing about them. She described waking up and lying with her eyes closed for 20 minutes or so, and just turning an image or an idea over in her mind.
I found myself closing my eyes and imagining doing this, realizing it is similar to what I sometimes do when I wake up from an unusually curious dream. For me, staying with an image or an emotion upon waking helps the rest of the dream events unfold like a long cord unraveling.
Oates went on to say that it is her practice to try to hold and turn over these images without putting words to them, and letting the words come later when she is sitting down to write.
Since hearing her talk about his, I have been thinking that there must be some sort of visual art equivalent to this process she uses for writing. The night before I heard her talk, I had purchased a copy of Digital Studio, a magazine put out by Somerset. I pick up a copy of Digital Studio a couple of times a year when I have the urge to feed my experimental spirit. It isn’t that I have been lacking in inspiration. I’ve been making art any chance I get and having fun with it. But sometimes I just want to shift a little bit in another direction, without necessarily even thinking about it in those terms. Which is what led me to the massive arts-related magazine rack in my neighborhood, and to taking home a nice thick issue of artistic images to soak up. The images featured were (and usually are) collages, some made from photographs, some made from free shared images available on websites like Polyvore.
I liked the collages very much, but found that many of the images used by the artists in the magazine didn’t quite resonate with me. So what were my images? The day after Joyce Carol Oates’ talk, I began to look around at objects in my home that I especially like. Pretty things. Things I just like looking at. Out came the camera, and I began to take photographs of them from various angles and in shifting relationship to one another. It was an opportunity to spend time just turning them over in my mind, studying and appreciating their qualities.
I downloaded the photos and opened Photoshop, placing the photos, layer upon layer, onto a deep orange and white multi-layered pattern design I had recently made. I added another pattern into the mix, this one with orange, gold and turquoise. As I layered, I adjusted the transparency of each layer so that the layers beneath could be seen, and I erased in and around many of the images to bring forward what I didn’t want to be as veiled. When I was done, 15 layers later, it was like rising to the surface of a pleasant dream and stepping tired but happy onto the shore of the topside world.
I liked the piece very much, perhaps because it felt true to me. Making it was like letting that long cord unravel, beginning with the urge to find some fresh inspiration, and following it to its eventual end. But the end is always a beginning, too. What’s next, I wonder….?