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?