Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Great Name Debacle

The more observant of my readers on my Livejournal blog have noticed that the main character from SHIVER has changed names. This is sort of eerie, since I hadn't realized I'd babbled about them enough to realize the names weren't the same, but the fact is, it's true. Sam Roth (which is, for the record, the best name ever) the character from SHIVER who becomes a wolf for the winter, is now Lee Spence.

That sentence, my friends, is the result of 16 hours of baby name book searching, thousands of calories of cookie dough consumption, silent raging, not silent raging, denial, googling, and finally, acceptance.

Because this agony is something that other authors will probably have to go through and because it gives me an excuse to look at a photo of Lee Pace, I'm going to tell my sordid little naming story here.

So. This all started way back when my werewolf story was only a twinkle in my eye. I'd had the dream that sort of laid down the premise, but only two of the characters (neither of them main characters) came with names in the dream. (And one of the two names in the dream was "Robert de Niro" so I had to change it anyway). I can't start writing a novel until I have the Perfect Names for my main characters, so I was in the brainstorming phase. I wanted something sort of timeless, soft-sounding, and inherently sad and emotastic. Which brought me to Sam, partially because of the way that Meg Ryan said, "Oh, Sam," in Addicted to Love, after she's torn his heart into little tiny pieces and feels bad about it, but is stuck in the floor, so she can't do anything but watch from afar and say:

"Oh, Sam."

I just thought . . . whooo, shivers. I imagined the scene where Grace, the other main character, first sees him as a person after years of obsessing over him as a wolf. And when she asks his name, he says, "Sam." And I knew that was it.

Except it wasn't. Because there is this author y'all may have heard of, Stephenie Meyer, who apparently has also written about werewolves. Who knew?

That's sarcasm.

Anyway. So apparently, she also had a wolf character named Sam. Who knew?

That's not sarcasm.

I'd read TWILIGHT, but it's been a few years, so I'd completely forgotten that there was a werewolf named Sam in it. And my editors had too. And my crit partners. And basically all of the folks that had worked on the novel since last fall when I first began writing it. But not someone at the Scholastic sales meeting. And not, my editors reasoned (once they had this brought to their attention), the hoards of passionate TWILIGHT fans who had the demographics of every TWILIGHT character stenciled onto their arms with glittery pink ink. Sorry, sparkly. Sparkly pink ink. So at the very end of the editing process, after I'd lived with my characters as Sam and Grace my editors said that "Sam" had to go.

I sputtered and begged and pleaded and finally googled "sam werewolf," where I was greeted by one gagillion hits to Team Jacob and Sam Uley, The First Werewolf Named Sam. And I hung my sad head in defeat, because my editors were right, as they often are.

Which meant that my favorite bit of dialog in the entire novel had to completely change:

"Grace,” I said, very softly. “Say something.”
“Sam,” she said, and I crushed her to me.

This was when the silent raging began. Because I knew I had to do something, but I didn't want to. I still had a sequel to write, after all, and I was going to have to live with a not-Sam for another 95,000 words. It wasn't just SHIVER that was riding on this name change, it was the fate of the sequel, LINGER (probably LINGER), as well, and probably my entire sanity as well. My critique partner, Tessa Gratton, spent about 8 hours IMing me back and forth, sifting through hundreds of names, looking for the perfect replacement that would ellicit the same emotional response in me as "Sam."

The catalog copy deadline was, I should add, bearing down on us at this moment, giving us about two days to come up with a replacement. At that point, I think my mood was best classified as "angry/ morose drunk."

Examples of angry/morose drunk exchanges? This is sort of a montage of conversations that occured on Day Two of the Great Name Debacle.

DAVID (editor) to me and ABBY (other editor): How about Daniel? I've always been partial to Daniel.
ABBY to me and DAVID: Daniel is nice.
ME to TESSA: Daniel! Daniel!? Why do they keep saying Daniel to me in my hour of need? Have they not heard Elton John?
TESSA: There, there. How about Jonah? It sounds emotastic.
ME to my DAD: I need something other than Sam, even though Sam is the most perfect name invented.
DAD: Why, again? Because there's this other sampire in TWILIGHT?
ME: Werewolf.
DAD: But 'sampire' is funnier. How about Jack?
ME: Why was I ever born?

Eventually, I really buckled down, hit the stacks, and finally came back to the first name that had occured to me at the beginning of the Great Name Debacle: Lee. It was soft, reminded me of blue jeans, inherently emotastic, and moreover, was the name of the actor who I think of when I think of what Sam/ Lee looks like: Lee Pace. (cue audience reaction: awwww). So now I had Lee Roth. Like Kate Winslet's character at the end of Titanic, I was sad, but triumphant. I told my art critique partners about the name change.

One of them, my friend Nicole, said, "um, Maggie, have you, um, googled 'Lee Roth'?"

I did.

Those of you who were born slightly before me will probably already know what I found. Sigh. So, with a nod to irritating rockers who have ruined a generation of fictional "Roths", I changed his last name to Spence.

So there you have it. The story of how Sam Roth became Lee Spence and everyone lived happily ever after. And the other day, I actually said "Lee and Grace" all by myself, without accidentally saying "Sa-Lee" first. So maybe there is hope for me yet.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Three Tips on Kicking Artist's Block to the Curb

Since I wrote about writer's block for one of my guest blog posts this week, I figured it would be appropriate to write about Artist's Block for my tips post. They're rather related -- sort of evil kissing cousins and it's easy to believe when you're in the grips of one or the other that you will never do anything creative ever again.

So what is artist's block? It's when you've got the time, the materials, and sometimes even the commissions lined up, but you just can't bring yourself to put pen to paper or brush to canvas or Sharpie to wall or glue to trash.

And here are three tips for shaking it.

1) Immerse yourself in someone else's art. There are some amazing websites out there for Safely Dead Artists. For instance, I was a huge Monet fangirl when I was a teenager. I had Monet posters all over my bedroom walls. Sadly, back then, they didn't have this amazing site. Definitely lots of fodder for thought there. If you can, get to a local museum. The idea is to remind yourself what you found exciting about art in the first place.

2) Give yourself permission to create something unuseful. I used to get artist's block a lot when I was creating art for a series or doing a lot of portrait commissions. Every piece of art I did had a distinct purpose and deadline, and I knew before I started that I not only couldn't mess it up, but also that I pretty much knew what it was going to turn into. Giving myself permission to do something entirely not useful in the general scheme of things (like "The Summer Girls" at right) always got my juices flowing again.

3. Switch media. When I get stumped with my colored pencils, I pull out my acrylics, and vice versa. They both offer such a different experience -- one offers total control and the other total freedom and messiness.

Joy in art, for me, is really connected to learning and changing as an artist. So when I'm stumped, it's almost always because I've let myself plateau and get stale.

And that's our three tips for this week! I've got to go Febreeze a dog. Anyone else have tips for shaking off Artist's Block?

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Reason for my Disappearance REVEALED

So I know you guys think that I've abandoned you and this blog for Lament, but it would take more than that, my dear readers. I've had a good reason since back in May, I just couldn't announce it until now.

But it's official in Publisher's Weekly now, so here it is:

Abby Ranger and David Levithan at Scholastic prevailed in a multiple-round auction for world rights to Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver in a two-book deal with Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown. This YA novel describes the first love between a 16-year-old girl and a mysterious boy who spends his winters as a wolf and is fighting to stay human as the temperature drops. The 26-year-old Stiefvater has a YA novel, Lament, just out from Flux, with a sequel to follow. Shiver will be published in fall 2009.

This means that I've been working hard with both editor Andrew at Flux and Abby & David at Scholastic since then, and the amount of the deal means that I'm doing it full-time -- no art at all for income purposes. I'm still pinching myself on that front.

But that also means that this blog is going to have to change. I've given a lot of thought to this, and I think this is what I'm going to do, unless someone else has a better idea. Tomorrow, I'm going to officially announce the date of my sketchbook giveaway for blog subscribers and announce the end of this blog as a purely art blog.

From Wednesday on, this blog will mirror my blog on Livejournal, which is a mix of writing, life, and art. I understand if it loses me some subscribers but right now, that's what my life is. I'm planning on doing more close artistic studies later in the year, but for now, the emphasis is definitely on my writing.

So . . . um . . . yeah. That was longer than I planned for it to be!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


It's 9/11, so I'm going to be doing radio-silence today aside from this post. Even though it's been 7 years, I can still remember the moment I heard about the plane hitting the Pentagon. Not the NYC ones. I must have heard about the NYC planes sometime when I was driving to my morning class, but I don't remember it.

I do remember hearing about the Pentagon plane, though. That was when I pulled into a gas station and found a pay phone. There was already a line of people waiting to use it, and when I got to my turn, I called my new boyfriend, who was a paramedic. I knew he'd be called to help at the Pentagon and who knew what else would happen there -- what if there was another plane? I'd just started dating him a month before but I was insanely in love and all I could think was that I'd just met him -- I wasn't ready to say goodbye yet.

Seven years later and he's still my husband. Seven years later and a lot of other people had to say goodbye that day.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Moose, Revisited

"Guess Who?" - 8 x 16" colored pencil on gessoboard.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.

As I haven't had a Moose-the-Cat piece available in a long time, I wanted to let you guys know that one of my old Moose pieces; the owner is selling it on eBay. It's one of criminally insane Moose hanging off the back of my computer desk while I worked.

If you're interested, it's here.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Are You Who Say You Are?

"Cat with a Pearl Earring" 2.5 x 3.5" colored pencil on paper.
Copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater.
Available on mugs/ bags/ stuff here.

Sunday is my blog-reading day. Well, it's really my lazy all-purpose doing things I don't have time to do the rest of the week day, but it's quicker to say "blog-reading day."

Anyway, the bigger my blogging circle gets, the more chances I seem to get to actually meet some of the folks whose blogs I read or who comment on my blogs. It's always a weird experience. Because sometimes, you meet someone whose online persona is just like them -- their speech patterns and their . . . I dunno, aura . . . are exactly like their real-life mannerisms.

But more often than not, there's a strange disconnect between someone's online persona and their real-life persona. And as a blogger, that's a bad thing. Because most of us are way better at speaking in real life than we are in writing. Sure, a lot of us can throw together a nicely patterned sentence or a formal paper, but we sure as bunny-fluff don't actually speak like that.

So the reason why this sucks for bloggers is because the success of your blog (and for artists who rely on blogs to drive purchases) relies on how well you can connect with your fellow man. The younger set doesn't have the same problems with this because they've grown up talking to people online. To them, there's no difference in how they speak and how they write (which of course has its own set of problems when they try to move into formal writing). A great example is this teen review of Lament. Tell me you don't know exactly how this girl would be in real life. I had the great fortune to meet her after she wrote that review and I have to tell you, what you see is what you get. And that's refreshing a world of insincerity and anonymity. People want to get a sense of who you are.

On the other hand, I get e-mails from older folks -- and by older I mean thirty -- and I get run-on paragraphs of stilted e-mailese. Often it comes across as curt or uneducated; it frustrates me when I meet them in person and realize that these are highly educated, well-spoken people whose communication skills fall apart when converted to the written word. In a word . . . ack. Communication disaster.

So here's the question for the week: are you who you say you are on your blog? Or are you buried beneath clunky prose and funkier punctuation? Here's an exercise: hold a conversation with someone. Anyone. Your husband. Your dog. Then run to the keyboard and write down exactly what you just said. With some polishing and slightly fewer swear words, that should be what your online persona sounds like too.

Hope everyone's having a great Labor Day . . . I expect I will have a blog post containing humorous antics and tales of disaster as I try to host my first ever multiple-family BBQ at my house tomorrow. I'm afraid, very afraid.

Monday, August 11, 2008

When the Lights Go Out, Are You Still an Artist?

"er something" (top) and "Peanut" (bottom) by Victoria Stiefvater
Crayola Markers on some vaguely manilla colored support.

This picture that my 4 year old daughter did today sort of illustrates my current mood perfectly. I really wanted to start my newest novel, even though I've got other work to do yet on my novels under contract, so I got up at 5:30 this morning to get some time in. And now, ummmm hours later (don't make me do the math, but I've been awake awhile) that's sort of what my thought bubble looks like.

Anyway, vague sleepiness puts me in a thoughtful mood, and looking at some colored pencil art online made me even more thoughtful, and then looking at Victoria's drawings pushed me over the edge.

Which edge, you wisely ask? The rhetorical question edge. The one where I look at these drawings and at mine and at the colored pencil pieces online and I ask myself "when the lights go out, am I still an artist?"

Think about it. Do you remember when you were a kid and the power would go out and you'd be so bored that you'd eat your own brother just for the entertainment value? And your mother/ father/ creepy Aunt figure would give you a pack of paper, a couple crayons, and an oil lamp, and you'd go to town. Or at least, if you were me, you did. I was a tremendous doodler as a kid and even through college. I sort of got known for it in a bunch of my college classes, because my professors suspected that I wasn't paying attention (they were wrong) and that I had more interest in my art than in their subject matter (they were right).

I suspect that most of you, dear readers, were the same. We drew anything we wanted all the time, just to see what happened. And if the power went out -- well, nothing changed. We were still the same. Our mojo still flowed freely from pen to paper. But now, as an adult, can we say the same? Or are we married to that reference photo on the computer or our projector or our lightbox? How much of our style is straight-up realism and how much of it is actual self-expression?

So here's the really crucial question you need to ask yourself.

In the event of a zombie apocolypse where we lost all power, would you still be the artist you are with the lights on?

I didn't like the answer that I had for that question. I think the answer for most of us colored pencil artists is that we are not the same artists with the lights on as with the lights off. For starters, if zombies snacked on my brain, I'm not sure how that would affect my art anyway. (I guess it depends on which part of my brain). But for . . . um, finishers . . . I also didn't like that I had to truthfully answer that question "no." It's why I'm spending my artistic down-time throwing myself into my sketchbook, drawing from life, doodling, developing a style in a very organic, Maggie-centric rather than photo-centric way.

How about you guys? Would you be the same artist if the zombies cut your power lines? Does it bother you if the answer's no?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Virtual Sketching and Butt Kicking

"fruit thingies" - in my sketchbook (which is close to getting full -- remember I will hold a drawing of my blog subscribers to give it away once its full)
copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater.

First of all, I wanted to post my sketch for the July Virtual Sketching project. The reference photo -- fruity things of some variety (oranges? mangoes? alien seed pods?) -- really wasn't the sort of thing I'd normally tackle, but hey, it was entertaining and yellow-orange-thingies are always challenging for me because of the nature of yellows in colored pencils. The sketches are supposed to be posted any time today so you still have time!

Okay, and now onto the butt-kicking. I do these periodically for those who need/ slash want them. I was already brainstorming about doing one yesterday after two writers in two different online venues asked me how I got so much done, and then the always wonderful Jo Castillo left a comment on my last entry asking for a butt-kicking . . . so I knew it was a sign from the heavens.

So here it goes. You all know what I do -- I have two toddlers, three editors working with me on four novels, a part-time art career, musical instruments I practice, meals to cook (I'm allergic to preservatives so everything has to be from scratch), blogs to write, etc. etc. I think I have a full, life, but I don't feel like I have an impossible life. It's a happy life doing what I love.

And here are the secrets to my success in this month's butt-kicking. Remember, butt-kickings are like hydrogen pyroxide -- if it stings it means it's working.

1. Know What You Want
This is the biggest thing. I know exactly what I want. I knew I wanted to be a published novelist. I knew I wanted to make my living as a self-employed creative type. I knew I wanted to play the piano, etc. You can't make something happen unless you know what it is you want to happen.

2. When You Say You Want it You Better Mean It
The fact of the matter is that when most people tell me they want to be a published novelist or a career artist, they mean want with a small w. A small w want means that you aren't absolutely committed to hunting down that goal with an elephant gun. A small w want means that you can get discouraged. It means that you can be pulled from your motivation by the latest episode of America's Got Talent. No one can make you want something more. It's got to come from inside you.

3. When You Really Want Something, You'll Get It
This is not psycho babble. It's really true. If the goal is specific enough and you are committed enough to achieving it, you will get it. I used to qualify this by saying that physical constraints applied -- you know, if you were five foot tall, you couldn't end up playing professional basketball. But now, I don't think I believe that anymore. I've seen the stories about people taking on overwhelming odds and I now think that however crazy your goal is -- first five foot tall basketball pro, leader of the free world, bestselling author, etc - if you really want it, capital W Want, then you will make it happen.

4. Know the Difference Between Can't and Won't
This is one of the classics. People in my colored pencil workshops tell me all the time, "I can't draw anything better than a stick figure." But what they really mean is won't. Anyone can draw with perfect photorealism. But only some people really want to. Capital W Want that means they put in the hours to achieve it. The rest of the world won't draw anything better than a stick figure. I caught myself the other day telling my husband that I didn't have the patience to knit. That's a lie, did you notice? All it means is that I'm not willing to have the patience to knit. If I wanted to knit, I'd make it happen. Don't lie to yourself and say that you "can't" do something or that you don't have the skills necessary to make it happen. That's self-defeatism at its finest and most insidious.

5. You are Your Own Best Friend
We all have friends that motivate us, right? That get us back on track and pick us up when we're down? These best friends tell us that not getting into a particular juried show isn't crushing or that that deadline pressing down on you is doable. Well, guess what. You had better be your own best friend. Because you have to have a little internal voice motivating you all the time. Nobody will believe in your dreams as much as you and no one can be as hard on you to achieve them as you. Except maybe Jiminy Cricket.

6. Who Are You?
What do you tell people? What do you want to be able to tell people? "I'm an artist." "I'm a writer." "I'm a five foot tall basketball player." Now let's pretend that these people can drop into your life randomly seven different times over seven different days. What will they find you doing? Will they find you, the artist, creating art or developing marketing plans for it? The writer writing? The basketball player shooting hoops? Or will they find you procrastinating . . . watching TV, folding laundry that could wait until after your dreams get tended to, reading my blog, running unnecessary errands. The fact of the matter is that you need to make your dreams your identity. Long before I was a published author, I told people I was a writer and an artist, and if you dropped in at my house randomly at any given time, that's what you'd find me doing.

It's a question of wanting it, people. It's why I like writing for teens. Do you remember being a teen? When you had dreams so big they actually hurt to think you wouldn't get them? You need to sweep away the years of cynicism and putting your dreams aside and really harness that wanting again. In the end, watching So You Think You Can Dance won't change your life. But finishing that drawing, writing that paragraph, planting that garden -- whatever your dream is -- that will.

End butt kicking.

Monday, July 21, 2008

You gotta have goals.

"Memory" - 16 x 16" colored pencil on board.
Copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater.
My panel for the Equine Mural Mosaic (which is fascinating -- check it out)

Regular readers will know that I am in love with goals. If goals were a vegetable, I would pick bushels of them, eat them until I was sick, and then freeze the rest so that I could have a continuous supply of goals through the cold months.

One thing I have learned about goals, however, is that, like vegetables, if you don’t use ‘em or freeze ‘em right away, they go bad. Some of them go bad in a spectacular fashion. Like if you vow to lose 20 pounds at the beginning of the year, forget about the goal, and then discover Haagen-Daas ice cream sometime in June . . . not only is that goal to lose weight gone bad, but it’s bad like stinking in the bottom of your crisper drawer bad. With rotten goal juice eeking around it.

And other goals go bad in a sort of failure to stay relevant way. Like if you suddenly crave sweet potatoes and buy a ton of them. If you don’t cook all of them, you’ll have those few lonely ones left over. They’ll never go bad in a fantastically awful way, but you’ll end up throwing them away after eight months because you just don’t want them anymore. So goals should be checked often and the ones that are really timely ought to be attacked immediately.

So enough with the metaphor. I wanted to write a post today about New Year’s Resolutions. Stop staring at the screen like that, it’s rude. I know it’s nearly the end of July (yes, it’s nearly the end. The 21st. Can you believe it?) but they’re still a good topic. Because halfway through the year(ish) is a great time to pull out your Resolutions and see which of them are done, which of them are so irrelevant you’ll never truthfully attempt them, and which of them are oozing stink-juice in your veggie drawer.

Here’s the sordid truth about New Year’s Resolutions: very rare is the resolution which actually stays good for a year. Twelve months is a long time. Priorities change, economies shift, careers jiggle, exercise goes better than planned, things get born under your porch with six limbs and eyes that glow red faintly in the darkness. It just makes good sense to reevaluate your goals partway through the year to make sure they’re still functioning the way they’re supposed to.

Here are my New Year’s Resolutions I made at the beginning of the year. Let me show y’all how I’m changing them to make them fit my changing priorities (without welching on any of them).

1. make x amount of money with my art
2. make x amount of money with my novels
3. make x amount of that with prints.
4. Contract for sequel to Lament.
5. Memorize 2 O’Carolan pieces for the harp
6. Visit NYC
7. Inspire someone to be an artist
8. Comfortably run a mile
9. Record a lament for Lament.
10. Get an agent
11. Contract for one other book.

I've managed to accomplish #1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 11. Instead of just crossing them off the list, I’m revising them.

NEW 1. Establish a solid financial plan for the next two years. (See how this is related to my first three goals I accomplished?
NEW 4. Begin writing Re: Myself, my next work in progress. (See how this one flows naturally from finishing Ballad and handing it in to my editor? The idea isn’t to keep myself constantly busy for the sake of being busy – but rather to keep myself motivated and on track for my career and personal life.)
NEW 7. Talk to one hundred teen writers about the business of writing. I’m about a third of the way there already. (similar purpose, just different career)
NEW 10. Keep my novel website updated regularly.
New 11. Double my number of subscribers to my writing blog ( and my short story blog ( (see how both of these are about furthering my writing career, just like the original goals)

Now for the ones I haven't done yet. Two stay as they are: I'm still going to NYC and I'm still going to record the lament -- I've written it, I just need to make it into the studio.

But two need to be changed.

I didn’t do #5. I’ll confess, I let these two musical pieces sort of go stale next to my potatoes. I had thought I’d be playing my harp more, but really I’ve been working with my acoustic guitar more as the harp needs new strings. So I’m changing #5 to something that will actually have meaning on the list: Buy an electric guitar for my birthday in November and start to learn some fun tricks on it.

And I worked diligently on #8, running a mile, until it got hot – really hot – and then I decided that I really needed something that I could do indoors. I’ve been dying to get killer abs, so I switched this to sit-ups instead. (and whoo do I see a difference . . . you could throw bricks at me now and my abs would repel them). Anyway, so my new number 8 is to do sit ups three times a week for the rest of the year. Still fitness related. But totally air conditioned. Go on, call me a wuss . . .

So how about you guys? Have you revamped your goals yet? Do you need to?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Really Whale Down Those Colors

Whew. I'm back from my two-day colored pencil workshop at the Apple Tree in Springfield. It went really well. Much caffeine was had by all. As it's the last workshop I'm teaching for awhile, I thought I'd reveal a few of the secrets of the world here on the blog. Well, secrets of my workshops, anyway.

Here they are -- do with them what you will.

  • We spend half the workshops getting over the fear of failing. The path to success is littered with bodies. For every successful colored pencil piece I turn out now, there are at least twenty quite hideous colored pencil things (not even fit to be called 'pieces') laying moldering in some garbage pile somewhere
  • We do three versions of each piece. A two minute value sketch (like the black and white sketch of the books), a 10-15 minute color sketch (like the color version of the books) and a final piece that takes 2-4 hours (like the portrait of Moose at the top)
  • All the time that you spend staring at your art, trying to decide what to do next or what color to pick up -- that's time you could be using to slap some color down. All those "ums" "ahs" and "ers" really add up. That's what preliminary sketches are for.
  • I have discovered that if I were made into a doll with a pull string on the back, I would say the following phrases: "push those dark values." "Whale down those colors." "Super sharp point on that pencil, ladies." "Do I need to come over there and heckle you?" and "Pick out some wild colors!"

Sunday, June 01, 2008

May Artist Wrap-Up, May Artist: Nicole Caulfield

Grrrr. I think the universe was intrinsically against me finishing up my May Artist series, because my internet was knocked down by thunderstorms every evening that I was home, making it totally impossible to blog this week. So I'm going to take the hint and finish up with the last artist I had earmarked before my internet went wonky: Nicole Caulfield.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize her name, because she's one of my close artist chums -- we e-mail daily. But even though we're friends, that's not why she's on the blog today. She's on the blog today because I admire her work hugely and have for a long time.

Like me, she's a colored pencil artist that works on board -- she's the artist who introduced me to pastelbord -- and she's been a huge influence on my work.

Now, without further ado, the reasons I like her work:

  • Absolutely jaw dropping texture. Look at the folds in the cloth, the crinkles in the paper. More than just photorealism, I believe in the weight of the fabric and the snap of the paper.
  • Coherent palette and style. I know instinctively when I look at one of these pieces that they are a Nicole Caulfield: everything screams Nicole from the color choices, the subject matter, the cropping, and the grain of the pencil -- everything is very uniquely Nicole.
  • Those long weird crops. Oooh, I love them. Let me count the ways. Composition get more difficult the further away you move from a traditional rectangle format, but Nicole deftly leads the viewer's eye through the piece through careful angles and color choices.
  • Deliberate. Nicole's pieces have a sort of studied intelligence to them, and I have a feeling that's because she composes and takes all of her own reference photos herself. I've seen the process she goes through . . . every item in a shot has a reason to be there.
  • Sense of light. Nicole has a great grip on dark values, so she gets a great effect of light. Again, just . . . thoughtful.
Nicole is definitely the colored pencil artist I look up to the most and I think she sets a pretty fearsome standard.

I hope all of you guys liked the May Artist project - I have a new project for June that I'll post about tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Farewell to an Era

I know I've been terrible on keeping to my own schedule these past two or so weeks, but I'm in the process of doing a Major Life Shift of the sort that you don't really ever see coming and as such, it sneaks up and bites you on the back of the calf with pointy, stalactite-shaped teeth before you even notice it came in the doggy door with your cat.

I should hurry to say that this isn't an Unpleasant Major Life Shift (UMLS -- I mean, it even sounds bad as an acronym, doesn't it? Like the noise you'd make after licking an ice cream cone and finding out it was seafood flavored). Quite the opposite. Probably the exact opposite, actually, although PMLS sounds a lot like an unpleasant time of month and doesn't fit with the spirit of the thing at all. And I will give you the full details on it later. I just can't yet.

The upshot is this, though. I'm going full-time with my writing for the foreseeable future. I'm going to keep sketching and drawing for my own enjoyment, and to keep learning, and I'll still be offering workshops and doing works for the gallery that represents me in Richmond. I'm actually looking forward to the experimenting.

And I'll be keeping up this blog regularly, still posting several times a week -- probably with sketches most of the time, with only the occasional full colored pencil piece. And there will probably be a lot of silly anecdotal posts of the sort I used to do almost every post.

But that's not the real purpose of this post. This is: I was going to close my commission books for the foreseeable future, but I've decided I'm going to take on just two more and then, unless an act of Congress intervenes, I am not taking on any new portrait commissions for the next two years.

So if you've been dying for a Maggie Stiefvater portrait . . . this is your last chance for the next two years. My e-mail for commissions is here and I'm taking only the first two I get (held with a deposit). And then the books close for two years.

(all images this post copyright Maggie Stiefvater)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May Artist Project -- Group Hug!

I'm revoltingly pleased that some of my blog readers joined in on the May Artist project. Artists I would've never even thought of looking at!

Here are the links to the bloggers who highlighted artists on their blogs. I wish I could show all of the artists here as well, but I'm sticking to the Safely Dead (and Beyond Copyright) artists here.

Gillian McMurray did a post on Franz Marc (his foxes are there at the left -- aren't they just the coolest ever?) I'd seen a sleeping dog piece of his before, but never these foxes.

Meg Lyman did a post on the hilarious and talented Will Bullas -- definitely worth going over and taking a look.

Sheona Hamilton-Grant did a post on Rien Poortvliet, the illustrator of one of my absolute favorite books as a kid -- the Gnomes book (which is sadly now out of print and I'm going to have to scramble to find a copy because I must have it for my two ankle-biters when they get a little older).

Jo Castillo did a wonderful post on a Dangerously Alive artist (as Tania dubbed those who are not Safely Dead), Tom Christopher, who works from life. He has a particularly gorgeous piece on her blog called "Winter Light" that I loved.

Thanks everyone who played along and everyone who's commented on the May Artist Project so far. I've a got a few more artists left to go for May and then I'm doing a fun sketch project for June that Jo's turned me onto (thanks, Jo!)

Monday, May 19, 2008

May Artist #6: Wendy Sutherland

Okay, y'all who have not yet participated in the May Artist Project with me, I'll give you two more days and make it Wednesday that I feature the artists who blogged with me.

Here's the challenge: find an artist (either Safely Dead or a Dangerously Alive one that you've gotten permission to show their works on your blog) who you greatly admire. Study their body of work and jot down why it is that you admire their work and what you'd like to apply to your own.

Sound easy?

That's because it is, especially if you're only doing it once instead of three times a week on dial-up (sorry, did that sound bitter?)

It's a great way to learn and a great way to introduce your readers to new artists.

Okay. That said, today's artist for me is a Dangerously Alive artist, Wendy Sutherland, who kindly gave me permission to show her work on this blog.

Wendy has a huge collection of works on her site, and they're all very unified in style, which is something to strive for in itself, but for me, the pieces of hers that make me want to be her are her tree pieces.

You guys may be scratching your head by now because Wendy's stuff is not my usual fare on this blog, but I love them. And here's why:

  • Spare compositions. Nothing fancy. Horizontal lines, a few values, maybe a hint of color, and the interest of crossing branches to hold our interest.
  • Evocative. Instant mood, baby! Still, cold -- I can feel the bite of the highlands where Wendy lives. This is because of the spare compositions and the stark, unadorned lines of the trees.
  • Simplified/ Stylized. They are undeniable trees, but they're missing the fussy twiddly bits of real nature. These are Art Trees and they can't be bothered with things like branches that don't suit the composition shape, leaves, or even twiglings that get in the way of the piece.
  • Abstract and realistic at once. These would work even if they weren't trees. The shapes alone are appealing, and then we see that they're trees. I read once that even the most effective of realistic compositions can be reduced to a pleasing value pattern at its most basic level . . . I think this very much is true here.
Thanks again, Wendy, for letting me display your art here. And the rest of you, get busy. I want to see a lot of links to artists studied in the comments this time! You have two days! That's forever!

Friday, May 16, 2008

May Artist #5: Elizabeth Nourse

I am completely squirming today with exciting stuff that I can't talk about (yet) but I have to type about to torment you guys. I really wanted to use it and my runny nose as an excuse to get out of doing this blog post tonight so I could hurry up and watch Chocolat to reward myself for being good . . . but I felt the siren song of discipline singing to me.

So here I am, and I'm glad I did, because I found a really interesting (Safely Dead) artist to highlight this time.

Between this artist and Mary Cassatt, you guys are going to think I've gone all soft and that I'll stop calling my children things like "Ankle biters," but never fear, it's not really the sentimental subject matter that drew me to Elizabeth Nourse's work.

Without further ado, here is what drew me to her art and what I would like to steal for my very own:

  • I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with my recent sketching kick, but I've become a real sucker for realistic gesture and pose in my art. And Nourse's work, like Cassatt's, is full of very real and very candidly observed people.
  • Lovely use of values. You guys are probably beginning to see that I tend to like works that are mostly dark punctuated by light, rather than the other way around. Nourse has plenty of dark gloomy works to make me content, but regardless of the predominant value, she uses the value on the opposite end of the scale to point to her focal point.
  • Multiple subjects. Busy, busy, busy. I love works that have multiple subjects and pull it off well. Check out the first painting in the post. Absolutely crawling with children and yet not busy at all. Why? School marm there is the clear focal point and the children, while adorable (and probably smelly) are merely there to play supporting roles.
  • Color. As teens would say, OMG. I love those purples and burgundys offset by light violets and whites. It gives the paintings a certain . . . gravitas.
Makes me glad I'm bringing my sketchbook with me tomorrow.

Links for this artist:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Americans in Paris
Valparaisio Poetry Review
Revolt in the Desert
The Ohio Channel
Biography of Elizabeth Nourse

Monday, May 12, 2008

May Artist #4: Doug Dawson

This week's first artist is unusual because he is not Safely Dead, unlike every other artist that I've highlighted on this blog to this point.* He's quite alive and I was very happy when he gave me permission to display some of his art for this post.

*If you are a Not Safely Dead artist, please don't send me e-mails asking me to look at your work and/ or feature it on my blog. Believe me, you aren't the only one, and believe me too, I'm picky. I won't like it, even if you're good. That's just the way it is.**

**If you are a Safely Dead artist, you may contact me -- only via e-mail -- about your art. Just because e-mails from Undead artists intrigue me.

Anyway, that aside, the artist is Doug Dawson, an American pastel artist whose work I greatly admire. He's represented by Ventana Fine Art, where you can see more of his work.

I am, in a lot of ways, a lot pickier about my Still Alive artists than my Safely Dead ones. I mean, for starters, Still Alive artists are under copyright. I have to go to the trouble of getting permission to display their art and letting at least one other living person know that I seriously admire them, which is bad for my tough-girl image. I definitely need to see some definite quality with a capital KW to make that worth my while. Also, Still Alive artists had all those Safely Dead artists to learn from. They ought to be at least as good, if not better, right?

But Doug Dawson is good enough to make me smile and nod and say "bring on the art." So here it is. He offers numerous workshops which I would gladly give at least one of my wisdom teeth to take. None of them are close to me, however, so I'm forced to do this sort of remote talent-stealing thing I do.

So, without further ado. Things I like about Doug Dawson's work and would like to steal for my very own:

  • Amazing sense of light. I can't remember which was the first image of I saw of Doug's -- it was either "The Church on Alameda" (the first one featured here) or "Doing the Town" (the third one down), but with both of them I just sort of gently picked my jaw from where it had fallen to the floor and thought "I want to do car lights like him."
  • Atmosphere. After I'd gotten over throwing a fit over why my light couldn't look as beautiful as Doug's, I started lusting after his ability to create a mood. Tell me those paintings don't powerfully evoke evening or early night.
  • Detail. Just enough to draw our attention to the focal point, but no more. These are suggestions of shapes. The memory of places. The invocation of a place. Okay, maybe the last one was too corny. But you get the idea. This is stuff more real than photo-realism.
  • Subtlety. Boy, I say that a lot in these May artist posts, don't I? I think it's because it's one of my weak points. I do know that I desperately admire it in Doug's work. Understated colors, limited palette, no crazy showmanship, just silent blowing-you-away with his invisible technique.
Looking at Doug's work now, I think part of what makes his light so convincing is a) no white and b) no black. Sure, he has small details that are either in some of his pieces, but the sky is not nearly as dark as you'd think it would be nor is the light as white as you'd expect.

Instead, we get darkness suggested with cool blues and purples and a hazing out of details, like at twilight, when it sucks to drive because you can't really make out the road signs.

And we get light implied by warm colors waving wildly from the other side of the color wheel. "Hi, I'm yellow-orange! I'm a complementary of blue-purple! Aren't I warm and light and bright?"

When I see Doug's pieces, it makes me want to break out my color wheel and try a limited palette piece with one splash of color from a complementary. Remind me in June when I'm done with all the artists that I wanted to do that. In between him and Mary Cassatt, I'm feeling like pastel artists are taking over my brain.

Thanks to Doug for giving me permission for this post and I hope you guys are enjoying this series as much as I am enjoying researching it. It's making me feel a lot better about being away from my art supplies finishing my novel for my editor.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

May Artist #3

Sorry for the delay, guys! I was at the Woodbridge High School today, having a Q & A with the creative writing students there (hi guys if you're reading! you were great!)

Anyway, today's May Artist is Hubert von Herkomer, a German-born artist who spent most of his career in the late nineteenth century (that's the 1800s for y'all who need number things) painting illustrations and portraits in Britain.

There is a quite a bit of Herkomer imagery available online, but a lot of it requires licensing which Maggies are too lazy to apply for, so I'll direct you to more images at the National Portrait Gallery. And of course, as always, check out the linkage at the very bottom of the post for places to find more info - like bio, where his works currently hang, and where to find prints, etc.

Okay. Onto the fun stuff. I found Hubert von Herkomer on the Museum of Fine of Art Boston's gigantic website. I forgot what I did to find him -- probably I typed in "someone to possibly come close to being worthy of the love I bear in my heart for John Singer Sargent."

Anyway. I love this dude. Not in a "sweep me off my feet and let's have arty pigmented babies" way but in a subtle, "I know how to use dark values and am a Master of Understatement and Gesture" sort of way. I can live with that. I wish I could find more of his work available online, but so far I've just not found anything to rival the John Singer Sargent gallery for any other artist.

Anyway, what do you guys think of his work? Here's what I find interesting and appealing about it:

  • First and foremost, check out his lighting. Regular readers will know how I harp in almost-constant monotone about values and lighting. "Strong light from one side or the other make for the best portrait." That's what Maggies always say. I know, because I am one. Okay. With that in mind, take another look at his lighting. Yeah. He's got that understated, non-directional light thing (no strong shadows) going on and he pulls it off. Yes, I know you guys can show me a bunch of French guys who technically pulled it off in some distant century, but I've not liked any of them. More on why I like Herkomer's lighting below.
  • Because he uses value patterns in an interesting and thoughtful way, even without strong lighting. See the white dresses everywhere? And the pale faces and dark backgrounds? The shapes are interesting without needing strong shadows.
  • And check out his autumnal/ evening palette, perfectly in accordance with his nondirectional light. Lovely, warm, quiet, subtle. Like evening just after the sun has gone behind the trees.
  • Finally, I love his faces. This is where I especially recommend you check out the National Portrait Gallery's link -- he invests every face with such character, without having them busting out in a smile. I feel like I've actually run into these people, and they've given me a wry smile because my skirt's too short, and I now know something about them.
Von Herkomer is another artist that I'm wishing I had time to put into a full length monthly study of him, because I'd like to copy one of his works and steal some of his magic for myself.

Hubert von Herkomer - Wikipedia
Hubert von Herkomer - Art Renewal Center
Lady Lever Art Gallery
National Portrait Gallery