Category Archives: Inspiration
Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer
First of all, I want to say I adored Uncle Lauran. I just had no idea… Today, someone asked a question on social media about using multiple pen names…Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer
Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer
First of all, I want to say I adored Uncle Lauran. I just had no idea…
Today, someone asked a question on social media about using multiple pen names, whether they should employ a different one for different genres they market their books in. My first reaction was; a name is the most important aspect of a writer and should sell the author selling the books no matter the genre. It’s hard to imagine using multiple pen names and struggling to brand each one for each genre. I have a hard enough time branding my one pen name. Of course, I’m self-published in the modern world. Back in my uncle’s day… sigh… oh to be a writer when people frequented libraries…
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s not a new question. Writers have used multiple pen names to flavor their stories and focus readers on the genre for ages.
Then, I had a “slap my forehead” moment when I realized one of the most amazing and prolific writers of the twentieth century who’d mastered this concept was my very own uncle, Lauran Paine, a man who like so many of us struggled to get published, found his niche and launched a career that resulted in over 1000 books! Yes that’s 3 zeros folks!
Here’s what People Magazine said about Uncle Lauran:
Uncle Lauran was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most prolific living author for many years. That was the first thing I asked to look at when I went for a visit. I loved the Guinness books’ fun facts already, and to have an uncle’s accomplishments listed in a book that chronicled the tallest man ever, the shortest woman, and the largest living cat… well that was the best! I had no clue what it meant to have so many of your own books on the shelf. They covered a wall!
And the point of my musings today, he used over 70 pseudonyms! Both male and female, depending on the market.
I’m not sure why I haven’t given Uncle Lauran’s writing more thought since I’ve become a writer. My Dad inserts a story about him every time I talk about my writing (which makes for a lot of stories… hmmm…) and I love hearing them. But only today did it occur to me how amazing he was in his chosen profession, and I started remembering how he shared his experiences. I loved hearing them then. Today, as a writer, those conversations take on a whole new meaning.
Memories are funny things. I’m sure you’ve experienced that moment when one thought opens a floodgate. Uncle Lauran married my Aunt Mona in 1982. She was his favorite research librarian at the Siskiyou County Library. It was a late romance made in heaven. All the memories ran through my head today like a film reel. The holidays at the cozy A-Frame in the mountains. Uncle Lauran scaring off a huge bear who came to visit at the back porch one Thanksgiving. And his office full of his own books in the stone-lined basement built into the hill under the house.
So, I had to share. Because now that I’m a writer, and taking another look at his body of work, I’m floored. I would love the opportunity to go back in time and learn more about how he did it. He was a rock star! I appreciate so much better now what he accomplished by sitting down and writing every day with a set schedule.
Books were his bread and butter. He wrote full time from 1948 (though he started writing in 1934) until right before he died in 2001. He always talked about having a formula. If you master the formula, you can write anything on a steady basis. Mr. Friedman of People Magazine captured the formula best in Uncle Lauran’s interview.
Keep in mind, he was a true cowboy from a much earlier time…
Uncle Lauran really said that about the formula! He said it to me numerous times to convince me I could write. I guess I did have asperations back in those days. Hmmm.
U.K. Writer Ben Bridges does a beautiful job of highlighting Uncle Lauran’s career. You can find his article here. I love what he has to say about the pen names:
Mr. Bridges, also published by Robert Hale, has an impressive body of work himself under his own variety of pen names. I discovered another author I need to study and read!
My favorite part of Uncle Lauran’s story was how long it took him to find his niche, which didn’t happen until he got advice from his publisher to write what he knows. He was a cowboy, a stuntman, he owned cattle. He said he had the scars to prove it. He wrote what he knew and he gave his readers tons of it. He used to tell us some of his Hollywood stories about the times he hung out on the lot of the Lone Ranger. He was friends with Jay Silverheels, who was the legendary Tonto. That’s just a sample.
Two movies were made from Uncle Lauran’s stories, 1957’s The Quiet Gun inspired by Lawman, and 2003’s Open Range based on The Open Range Men, produced by Kevin Costner and starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duval, Annette Benning, Michael Gambon, and Michael Jeter. It’s an amazing movie, and does justice to the original story. My Aunt managed Uncle Lauran’s works after his passing in conjunction with Lauran Paine, Jr., and worked very hard with Mr. Costner to transform her husband’s story to the big screen. She got to attend the premier.
Uncle Lauran didn’t just crank out serial fiction. He created an impressive wide-ranging body of nonfiction. He brought this book to my Dad’s one visit, and I stayed up all night reading it. It’s fun to find these out of print books for sale from interesting booksellers. This one is listed by Common Crow Used & Rare Books.
Though I didn’t get to thank Uncle Lauran for planting those seeds to tell a story back when I was in my twenties, I hope he enjoyed my fascination with all that he was and accomplished, nevertheless.
This Sunday – on my Creator Spotlight!
An Engaging Conversation, Great Resources, and Exciting Upcoming Releases!
Next Sunday Spotlight Goes Behind the Scenes with Writing Battle!
My next Sunday Spotlight (March 26) will give us a unique perspective into two amazing supporters of the writing community when we visit with Max and Teona of Writing Battle! We will discuss this phenomenal peer-powered writing competition, how it came about, and the amazing community of writers from around the globe taking part. You’ll get to hear the perspectives from both Max and Teona and be inspired by their teamwork and how they made a dream come true.
My Creator Spotlight – Inspiration for Me, and for You!
You can’t help but be motivated after meeting creators like you and learning what motivated them through the ups and the downs of their journeys.
The year is flying! I can’t believe I’ve already had two amazing guests drop by. If you haven’t met Madeline or Isa yet, visit their posts for inspiration and two super enjoyable conversations.
I thought I would blog a bit about my Spotlight feature. The joy and inspiration I get from engaging in this process has turned out to be the biggest surprise in my writing journey.
I have had the privilege of interviewing members of the writing community and other creators I meet along the way, mostly fantasy and sci fi writers like me who are new at it and working hard to get their stories out in the world. I also interview editors, book reviewers, artists, and photographers. Even an old high school friend is dropping by in March who is an award winning filmmaker.
My guests are from around the globe, including Australia, Canada, the U.K., Nigeria, Portugal, Texas, Seattle, Hollywood and my own town, Carson City. I’ve got more lined up from South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland, the U.K., Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle. This is inspiring in an of itself.
Every one of my guests has been a delight and so generous with their time. And this is an opportunity to thank them all for participating. Drop by my gallery where all conversations are housed for continued inspiration.
This month, my two guests proved again how supportive the writing community is. Madeline and Isa spent a lot of time and effort on a robust Q&A. These two are phenomenal at supporting and inspiring others, and it really comes through.
My interviews center around a creator’s life; what inspires it, the highlights and lessons of the journey, and how to balance all the things, and every one of my guests has something different to offer, yet every bit has been relatable and translates to all of us who are endeavoring to grow and succeed through creative expression.
One Conversation Up – One Coming This Sunday! Come Chat With Us.
Sunday Spotlight with Historical Fantasy Writer and Musician, Madeline Davis
I’m so glad we finally got to chat on my blog, Madeline! I know this is a super busy time of year for you with all your pursuits. Hopefully, you got a nice winter break. Since we actually need to catch up, tell me first about what you’re currently working on and how are you feeling about your progress?
Thanks for having me! A busy time for you too I’m sure, and you’ve got quite a variety of projects running yourself—new books, new platforms, new connections, wow! I’m looking forward to seeing your new ventures as well!
Right now I’m just focusing on completing my first novel: an historical-fantasy based on Louis IX and Isabel of France. I’ve gotten to do a lot of research for it these past few months with a medievalist professor, digging into 13th century France and the royal family, and am now about halfway to a complete draft (various degrees of polish). While there’s still a considerable way to go putting all the pieces together (I write many scenes out of order, and this particular project started as a series of short stories too, so lots of structure work), I am quite hopeful of finishing it in the next few months.
You make me wish I would have started writing in my youth, combining fiction writing with academia. I don’t know which would be more fun, writing or the opportunity for that sort of research! It sounds exciting, and I can’t wait to read it. We’ve talked a bit about writing scenes out of order, and there is a lot of merit to that method. Can you share a little more on that?
Actually, I’m not sure I would recommend it, unless you have a solid framework for the whole story, and are willing to rewrite those scenes after the other parts are finished–not necessarily very efficient! But it is motivating at times to dig into a more substantial scene, something that reminds me what I found so fascinating about this project in the first place, and which stews in my head without my trying. I find that especially helpful if the gears aren’t turning so smooth at the current place. Rather than saying I’ve hit a block, I’ll write something I know comes later, (but have enough of an idea to write it) and work backwards from that–a little like doing a large puzzle, where you do the corners, then edges, then chunks of the more singular-looking parts, till you can put those together… but if you don’t know what the whole looks like, that would be quite difficult! (And I have some unfinished manuscripts testifying to that).
The themes of your stories have such a classical feel, like I’m stepping right into medieval times, only where dragons roam. It makes them both magical and entrancing. Tell me how you came to this style of writing. How would you classify your genre? Do you explore writing in other genres?
Funny you should ask about classification, as it took some frantic searching to find historical-fantasy as a genre; I worried for a while I was fiddling too much with the two genres I loved best! I love history, but have a healthy respect that makes me leery of deviating much from the real, so I find the flexibility that fantasy offers very reassuring.
That being said, I love medieval history more particularly. Delving into the people and cultures that created wonders like Chartres cathedral, the Divine Comedy, the Lindisfarne Gospels and so much more is just fascinating. Also, the themes that it offers are universal—love, duty, loyalty, honor, sacrifice, devotion, and many others—but I’ve found some particularly striking examples in the medievals that it would be a shame for our own time to lose in forgetting. So we need their stories! (Never mind the many misrepresentations and misconceptions about the medievals as dirty, dumb, and monolithic that modern scholarship has been disproving, but still need combatting in entertainment. Highly researched fiction is my penny in that project).
Also, I think my approach is shaped by my vision of literature–including fantasy—as not an escape from reality, but a lens for better appreciating it. Through literature, we can return to the real with eyes refreshed. Literature can draw into focus the lines of reality with artistic emphasis and perspective. Fantasy’s particular gift for manifesting unseen realities in concrete, memorable ways is particularly compelling, so I do tend to write more in the fantasy genre than anything else. But I’m quite a new writer, and wouldn’t box myself into any category just yet, having experimented with science fiction, more strictly historical, memoir, and contemporary so far, with plans to try others in the future!
I am catching your passion! Thanks for sharing that. I’m experimenting with a historical fiction novel (though not that far back in time) mixed with fantasy, and this is encouraging insight.
Oh lovely! Actually, in researching the genre, there seem to be many more examples of more-recent historical (especially Victorian) than medieval, so I’d say you’re likely in good company! And if you enjoy research as well as writing–double win!
When and how did you start writing?
Before I could write! Well, at least I like to joke that the pictures I drew and scribbled squiggly lines around before I had learned letters were my first attempts—these princesses and maids must have had tales! But I don’t really remember not being able to read, and books have been such a substantial part of my life, it seemed natural to want to make my own as soon as I could. So I’ve scribbled away at stories since grade school, and always thought I wanted to try to give back some of what I enjoyed—I guess I’ve more or less always had something simmering, though in high-school I started paying more attention to the craft of writing itself; that might mark my actual “beginning,” entering the world of online writing forums and focusing on improving different aspects of storytelling.
That is a great concept, to give back what you enjoyed. To me, that means you experience joy both ways. Can’t lose with that as motivation. I also love hearing when a writer has grown up with a passion for telling stories. Thanks for sharing that.
Who and/or what were your biggest influences?
To pick one author, I’d have to say J.R.R. Tolkien. That sounds natural enough for a fantasy author, but I would say not just for his creation of Middle Earth: I’ve found his views on literature (particularly in his essays, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, and “On Fairy Stories,” and especially his short story, “Leaf by Niggle”) really resonate with the view of art I feel called to create: a sort of “subcreation” that reflects the beauty that already exists but bringing to light particular facets in a profound collaboration with the first creator.
In addition to that, I’m driven by the notion that art exists to delight and instruct (Can’t claim originality in that either—Horace defined art that way over 2000 years ago). If either of those is missing, it’s falling short of its potential, as there is always so much more for us wisdom-hungry humans to take in, but we need help—especially the help of delightful beauty—to really learn! So I find it essential for me to write with a solid philosophical and theological framework that gives enough light to grasp the edges of mysteries, and yet realize these are only the edges. The idea that our human intellects can fathom a measure of beauty, order, and purpose in the universe, but not contain it— and then to highlight that with literature—that idea, slowly forming for me, has influenced why, how, and what I write.
But we are what we eat and we write what we read, so I’d have to say I owe a huge debt to my mother for making classics fun (homeschooling), and to the authors of many classics (Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, to name a handful); in the realm of fantasy, C.S. Lewis, Andrew Peterson, and Megan Whalen Turner as the most inspiring; and many, many different historical authors (some fiction, some not) as well as philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and G. K. Chesterton, just to get started…
Wow! Thank you for this, Madeline. You’ve given our readers some well-articulated concepts to analyze for themselves why they might love literature and writing. I know it’s given me some things to chew on. Reading Tolkien’s essays-Way to go. and when it all comes down to it, Mom was the one who started the ball rolling. Awesome!
We belong to a great writing community and you were there to greet me when I joined. What drew you to the group? What do you think are the biggest benefits of belonging to a community of writers? What other communities have you found beneficial to your growth as a creator?
Writing is, of all art forms, I think, the most bonding, and yet also the most isolating. Writing can reach very deep places in the human person, engaging us on different levels of being, and giving us those moments where we exclaim “How did they know that?!” Or “Me too!”
But the writer doesn’t usually get to witness someone experiencing that, but instead spends a lot of time withdrawn from the rest of the world typing symbols that have no inherent meaning onto a screen. [(I love words and crafting them, but studying a variety of languages, I’ve come to be pretty sure there’s very little in any one alphabet that really gives the symbols themselves intrinsic meaning, which is different from the media of other arts—think of how color exists apart from painting, notes apart from music. Words–particularly written words— just don’t work like that.)]
But writing is art, also reflecting reality. Having support in creating it is immensely helpful not only for persevering through the process of making it, but giving it an authentic balance—it won’t resonate and connect if it comes from an island!
For that reason I’d say that I’ve even found less-than-communal participation in various writing forums helpful. Fanstory.com, writingforums.org, Underlined.com, and Absolutewrite.com, where people were pretty much all strangers, were each helpful (in different ways–absolutewrite being the largest) because of the outside perspective exchange they could facilitate. For writing to bridge well, getting feedback from different perspectives is critical, and I am grateful for finding those there.
But having a more tight-knit community of people who all know what the joy and struggle of writing is like, and with such a diverse pool of experience (writing-related and also not) to draw on–that’s another type of support that I would say is quite helpful. I’ve appreciated finding that through Richie Billing’s discord group, where it’s much easier to get to know individuals and exchange on a more personal level. I’ve also found that in a local writing group at my college, where having in-person community adds another dimension of encouragement and opportunities for sharing—resources, feedback swapping, or just writing at the same time, like buddying up for an exercise program.
An African proverb that runs something like: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together” sums it up well, I think. Putting in the actual work to write well at all is the first essential, and requires personal commitment– as Stephen King well said in his On Writing: “Life isn’t about supporting art, art is about supporting life.” But finding support sure makes the long-term commitment seem more feasible!
I appreciate when my guests give us quotes to illustrate the conversation! These are wonderful and convey the benefits of support communities perfectly. Thank you! Also as a note to our readers, I’ve provided the links to Madeline’s listed resources in the text. I also belong to Richie Billing’s group. His Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed Podcast, and newsletter are phenomenal free resources.
I love that you play the harp. Another element of you that is classical. Can you share that journey? How long have you played and what kinds of engagements do you participate in? Does playing an instrument help with or influence your writing and vice versa?
It’s certainly been a journey, with multiple providential moments. I had to have become fascinated by the harps in books, as there’s no way I saw one in person before I became obsessed. But I do still have the concert programme that says, “Madeline, I’m sure you’ll be a lovely harpist someday”–I’d run up to get the autograph of the harpist in the President’s Own Band because here was the first real live harpist I’d ever seen! (hard to hear in the middle of such a large ensemble, but that was certainly the highlight of that special concert for me). At the time, that seemed incredible–we already had a piano (which my mother taught), so why on earth would I play harp? Never mind how. But a few years later, a friend of my grandmother’s heard about my interest and offered to lend me her little lap harp, just at the same time that we met a family with a daughter who played harp and had found a teacher, and we could carpool, and so, 14 years ago… it all worked out!
It has certainly been a journey since then. Each of the teachers I’ve had have really shaped me–not only as a musician, but also as a student and person, and the way I approach learning and accomplishing new things.
Because of that formation, it’s always been quite clear to me how intertwined the different arts are, even while distinct. Music is more imitative than writing, consisting of sounds and rhythms that evoke associations and emotions, and perfecting the performance of a piece usually written by someone else. But writing shares with music the requirement of perfecting technique by repeated, focused practice (it’s not just practice that makes perfect, as one of my teachers insisted—practice makes permanent, but focused practice, as perfect as it can be in certain aspects, makes for perfection). And while a musical performance has a certain time-sensitive finality—once that wrong note is played, there’s no reversing it–writing is also subject to that in a way with publication; the practice, practice, practice of the music room finds a reflection for me in the revision process, and bringing a piece to performance level has become to me a model of editing written work. Also, in both music and writing it takes another special skill to synthesize all the technical aspects and make something beautiful, but it does come with diligence in the bit-by-bit exercises. And then, the result: humanizing beauty to be shared with fellow humans.
I’ve played harp in a variety of settings–weddings (of course), funerals,church services and other special events, as well as concerts as soloist and as an ensemble member. Of all the venues and types of playing I’ve done, two have impacted and shaped me the most: playing in nursing homes for the sweetest, though often loneliest people, and being part of an ensemble.
In an ensemble, I really experienced the mutual dependence of being an artist with a small role participating in a larger whole. That whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts, but it depended on each part performing well. Even while any part played individually might not make much sense, the great whole depended on the quality of its contribution, (which was itself a combination of personal preparation, knowing one’s part really thoroughly, and flexibly following the conductor and listening to the other musicians and their parts). That doesn’t sound terribly different from any other type of teamwork, but it really demonstrated that to me in a singular way for the arts, and how much could depend on the personal commitment of an individual, as well as the work of the ensemble as a unity.
In writing, I think there’s a similar interdependence of artists, each with their own part, their own contribution–but the whole is much harder to grasp, something that might be generalized as cultural, but really defies a perfect synthesis. So I hold onto that truth of the parts coming together in the orchestra, and work on my part, but try to also listen to “the other parts”–other writers, which across time and place, can form a symphony of the human imagination.
Goodness, that was a long answer to a straightforward set of questions! But if you give a mouse a cookie, or you give a writer something fun to think about…
I was utterly riveted, Madeline! And you gave me exactly what I hoped for. I am fascinated by multi-creative lives and how the aspects of one art impacts another. Thanks so much for providing this insight.
How do you balance all your pursuits with life and work? Do you have any tips on time management and how to fit in what you love doing with what you must do on a day-to-day basis?
That’s an excellent question that I’d be a giant hypocrite pretending I have a very helpful answer to, but as best I can: for me it mostly comes down to evaluating (and regularly rechecking and reevaluating) priorities, particularly lining up where things fall on an urgent-important grid (I think I first read that in Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of highly effective teens… Excellent book, and there’s an “adult” version by his father too).
But sometimes it is possible to combine necessities and art.
Practically speaking as a writer, I’ve found audiobooks extremely helpful. To fill the need for direct instruction in the craft I’ve found books like Sol Stein’s On Writing, and several lecture series from The Great Courses on writing and editing particularly insightful in laying down principles. But besides that, listening to quality literature sharpens my own sense of style, and makes me more aware of the patterns and rhythms of fine English prose. And enjoying lighter works in my genre helps me understand what’s already been done, works well (or not). And listening to any of these is all manageable while doing other mundane things! Driving, cooking, cleaning, dog-walking,(I do those also for part-time work), exercising (actually very helpful supplement for creative work!), etc—I’ve really appreciated the efficiency audiobooks allow.
The beauty of art, though, especially writing, is that everything can be seen as “research”; that is one reason that, even when occupied with life and work, I think of myself as a writer—it’s a lens for the way I look at the world, gathering strands from every source I encounter. Not that I’m quite like a journalist that’s always ready to pounce on some incident thinking, “Ooh, that would make a good story”–but it’s always in my mind that what I live day-to-day can help shape my writing—I just have to keep my senses and mind open.
My part-time job helping an older woman as a living assistant for example—it’s not just a job, but an opportunity for me to recall the trials of getting older most of us will someday face, and to keep in perspective what I do with the limited time I have. I find that especially valuable for me as a college student, usually surrounded by youth who don’t have that at the top of their minds—but preparing for death and dealing with the loss of abilities is worth reflection, and I’m grateful for the reminder.
Experiences pleasant or painful, awkward or funny, happy, sad, and everything in between can all help deepen the well I write from. Sometimes it just takes a simple perspectivizing of an experience to make that happen, and sometimes I realize later I’m processing something through writing—so I don’t see “real life” as getting in the way of writing so much as providing the material for it, and shaping me as a writer. Perhaps that’s a view that will shift for me with time, but for now, I’m settling into the awareness that much of what I want to write requires long processing—there’s much to be gained from my own maturing before I try to “literaturize” some of these ideas, and I’m not so worried that the world is missing a lot if my still inchoate efforts don’t reach the light of day very soon. True, some things require more of the approach I take to poor writing—but that hardly leaves them valueless, if analyzed as examples of errors to be corrected for myself, or warnings of what to avoid.
I can attest to the trials of getting older, so kudos to you for opening yourself to so many perspectives in your daily life! And then using the efficiency of experience and absorption to generate art. Harks back to your Stephen King quote about art supporting life.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Teaching Latin and/or Greek (what I’m majoring in),and/or history, literature (probably in one of the classical charter schools that I’m glad to see developing in various places, especially not far from where I’ve grown up—go classical learning!). In terms of writing, I hope to be publishing short stories, and if traditional publishing hasn’t worked out for my current novel (and the next), getting into self-publishing. That’s a flexible vision, though—I know a lot can change in five years, especially looking at the last five! (Five years ago I was entering a cloistered monastery, and if I hadn’t run into health issues 2.5 years in, would have happily spent the rest of my life there. As it is, I will be eternally grateful for the time I did get to spend in that vocation).
What were your biggest highlights in 2022? Any exciting plans for 2023?
Writing this historical-fantasy novel was certainly one! I only realized the other day that before February of 2022, I didn’t have a single inkling of this story, and now it’s certainly grown more than I would have thought. Another 2022 highlight has been meeting other writers (live and through discord)–which has also led to joining a small, live critique circle, that’s just getting started. I’m very excited for the possibilities there, especially with my experience in 2022 of feedback swaps—both the giving and the receiving feedback on longer pieces has brought growth I can almost see as it happens, and I’m looking forward to continuing that (moderately) as well.
In 2023 I’ll also be tackling a different kind of writing challenge: researching and writing a thesis (for graduation) on a topic from either a Greek or Latin classic. While writing 50 pages of academic writing is quite different from 50 pages of fiction, I’m looking forward to the growth as a student and crafter of words such a process will entail.
Thanks for sharing this and demonstrating how life can zigzag surprisingly for us all, and here’s to more exciting things ahead for you!
Thank you so much for visiting with me. Do you have any parting advice for our readers who want to pursue their creative passions?
Time is precious, and making art is worth it. The time, dedication, and patience that it takes to make good art, though, is also worth remembering, and this is not a journey that has to be done alone—support, instruction, and the wealth of experience that each person accumulates through a reflective appreciation of their life can all contribute to something beautiful. And there are so many people out there with a lot more experience than me—if you found the time to read this advice, you can find someone wiser too!
If you missed my December Guest and need a little art in you life… I’m reposting…Sunday Spotlight – Artist and Teacher Audrey Markowitz
D. I could talk all day about your teaching and how wonderful you are at motivating and supporting those around you. That is my experience with you, …Sunday Spotlight – Artist and Teacher Audrey Markowitz
A View That Calms the Chaos Wrought by the Vagaries of Nature
How is it that a sunset can cancel out the horrors of having your trees broken in yet another bizarre storm?
“…that’s when art is not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance.” Ethan Hawke
A blogger friend shared this amazing Ted Talk with Ethan Hawke. Listen to his thoughts on the necessity of acting the fool in our creativity so humanity might have a chance to survive intact as humanity. That’s my take on his compelling discussion, anyway. Please share yours in the comments.
Sunday Spotlight – Artist and Teacher Audrey Markowitz
D. I could talk all day about your teaching and how wonderful you are at motivating and supporting those around you. That is my experience with you, Audrey. But this is my opportunity to dig into what motivates you. What gets your creative juices flowing?
A. Whether I’m putting a new class together as an art teacher, or working on an art piece for myself, I’m motivated by different things. As a teacher, it’s the desire to get my students excited about a new project, a new technique, a new medium, new tools, etc. that motivates me. Knowing that people are growing as artists and becoming more confident in their ability is what drives me to create classes.
I start with a project that interests me and one in which I feel there will be lots of learning opportunities. I create the piece of art that I will teach probably 6 or 7 or more times in different ways in order to find the one I think will be a real “WOW” for the students as well as which one will present the best learning opportunities. I also want to pinpoint specific areas that will perhaps be more difficult to learn so that I can begin to think about how I will teach them. This entire process so far is what gets my juices flowing and excites me. Now I have to create the class and the detailed and structured lesson plan my students deserve!
When creating art for myself there are a number of different things that get my creative juices flowing. The main thing that keeps me motivated is that I LOVE what I do and that’s probably the most important thing of all. Other things that excite me are ideas from my journal that I want to try out. Keeping a journal of things I see, hear, learn, and want to pursue is an invaluable tool. Learning and trying new things is also a huge motivator for me. So, I take lots of classes. And no matter the topic of the class, I find it usually helps me refine a skill, take a new approach, reinvent a technique, and just fall in love all over again with what I do.
I have a very close friend who is an accomplished silk painter and when we’re together we bounce new ideas off each other and support each other. If I’m stuck or she’s stuck, we try to ‘unstick” each other. We definitely find ways to get each other’s juices flowing! It usually involves a LOT of laughter. Laughter is a HUGE part of my life. And so is music. I find it both inspirational and motivating. So, you can rest assured there’s music on when I’m working in my studio.
Taking a long walk is also a huge help if my creative juices need some stirring up. I’ve learned that sometimes I just need to get out of my chair and do something different that I enjoy. And I’m always amazed at how many “Eureka!” moments happen during some sort of relaxation activity that gives me pleasure.
D. Zentangle inspired art is what I’m most familiar with in your body of work. And we will talk more about that style in a bit. But you incorporate so much more into your pieces. Have you always pursued art? Did you start out on another career path? If so, what made you change? How were you able to focus your life on art and what types of events crafted your unique style?
A. I have been creating “stuff” and making “messes” since I was five years old, using whatever materials I could find! I do the same thing today, but now it’s called Mixed Media Art. LOL! I am inspired by playing with color and layering and fascinated by texture. I always have been! However, none of my formal education focused on the visual arts. I have a BA degree in Communication Arts and Science and an MA in Human Resources Management and Development.
I needed to earn a living and support myself and felt that creating art wouldn’t allow me to do that, so I focused on a career in Human Resources. And what a wonderful and exciting career I had. I zeroed in on the training and development aspect of human resources and did a lot of motivational speaking, as well. Eventually I started my own training and development business. I did a lot of team building for organizations, management development, and taught teachers how to teach. Throughout my professional career, I used my spare time to create art (collages, jewelry, greeting cards, etc.); after all, this was my passion. And I sold my art at juried craft shows. I also took lots of art classes. I promised myself that when I retired, I would transition into a full-time artist
D. Who and/or what were your biggest influences?
A. A wonderful and talented artist in New York, who I took classes from on a regular basis, was a huge influence on me. She encouraged my mixed media work and I learned so much from her. In fact, she was the one who encouraged me to become a Certified Zentangle Teacher. She felt that as an artist, I would love to incorporate Zentangle into my work. And she knew how much I loved teaching.
D. What made you decide to bring the joy of art to others?
A. As a breast cancer patient, the positive effects that Zentangle had for me as I experienced the anxiety, tough decision making, sleeplessness, etc. associated with this disease, was a strong force in my wanting to share it with others. I learned firsthand what a meditative and calming process Zentangle could be. I found it particularly helpful when I went for my radiation treatments. I would sit in the waiting room and “tangle” like crazy in my journal so by the time they called me in for my “dose” I was truly relaxed. I remember years later I had a student in one of my Zentangle classes who had been in that waiting room with me (her husband was receiving radiation) and at the time she wondered what the heck that red headed woman was so enthusiastically doing in her notebook! She learned that it was me tangling. At any rate I, both the artist and cancer patient, wanted to bring this magical and beautiful art form to others. Whether my students chose to use it as a meditative tool too or simply to create art and find joy would be up to them. But as a cancer survivor I truly felt compelled to share it with everyone who was interested. I am a big believer in “paying it forward.” So, as an artist I have used teaching art as a way of giving back the joy, the serenity, the magic, and the creative inspiration that art continues to give me!
Enjoy this TEDx demonstration of the power of Audrey’s motivational speaking.
D. Now let’s peace out and get a little more Zen.
There are so many benefits to learning and engaging in the art of Zentangle. And I for one really appreciate that you were there to pass them on to me. The meditative aspect, portability, minimal supplies needed, and ability for anyone to produce a piece of art after one lesson are just a few. What are the most important aspects of Zentangle for you from the perspectives of a practitioner and a teacher?
A. As a practitioner, I love that Zentangle can be incorporated into practically any other art form!! Whether it’s pottery, quilting, painting with any medium, jewelry, etc. As an artist, I find this very exciting; being able to have this tool in your kit no matter what your discipline. As a teacher, I love that Zentangle allows everyone to be successful and tap into their creativity. Additionally, it’s an art form where folks are encouraged not to be self-critical or judgmental, but rather to enjoy the process.
D. I remember my first class so well. Zentangle 101. We were in the fabulous old Brewery Art Center’s ballroom. The class was full, and you had a margarita bar set up. I was hooked before we even got started. But when the night was over, and I had several tiny pieces of art I could call my own that I could hardly fathom were created by my own hand, I was a believer in the method.
Zentangle 101, September 2015
More classes at the BAC
You have been teaching folks like me for a long time, adapting to Zoom like a pro during the Pandemic, and constantly producing exciting projects for your students. I will miss those sessions now that you’re moving on to your next artistic stage, but so grateful for the wealth of memories and skills you instilled in me, and I’m thrilled you can spend your hard-earned time pursuing your passion.
Tell us what’s next for you. What projects do you have in the works, or are you just going to let the creativity flow?
A. I am returning to the mixed media aspect of my art. I miss that. And I am looking forward to letting the “creativity flow” without the schedule and discipline associated with teaching. Here’s a photo of a mixed media piece I’m working on now. It’s a combination of collage and acrylic paints).
D. Thanks so much for that glimpse into your studio and a sunny piece of beautiful art! Let me take the opportunity to share more art you have generously provided for our chat.
D. On this note, one of the things I love to discover about creators is what kind of space they utilize for inspiration. Are there any secrets you would like to pass on about creating the perfect studio, environment, or mood? Do you have a special time of day or a process in addition to a place that helps you be your most creative?
A. Okay, not really a secret :-), but for me two important things one should make sure they have is good lighting and storage space. Even if your funds are limited… Just google “creating storage space in my art studio” and you’ll find tons of very creative, inexpensive, and wonderful ideas for storing your supplies. You want to be able to find things when you need them and have a workspace that you can clear up when starting a new project. Insofar as lighting is concerned, watch for sales at the craft stores (on-line too) for Ott Lites. An Ott Lite provides a precise balance of contrast and brightness that allows you to see details clearly and colors accurately. Other light sources can create harsh glares, distortions, and eye fatigue. An Ott Lite is like having natural daylight indoors!
Most importantly, make your studio space your own! I like to be surrounded by things that are important to me, which is why I have a cozy spot on the floor for Sophie, my fur baby!! Also visible in my studio are mementos, photos, artwork, quotations, etc. that inspire me or hold a special meaning. In terms of time of day, process, place when I am most creative, I don’t have specific ones. If I have a deadline for something, well, that obviously helps! :-).My MO is to go into my studio every day to do something… and if the creative juices just aren’t flowing I go and do something completely different. I’ve learned not to angst over it. Rather, I will make the most of whatever else I decide to do… whether it’s: take a walk, physical activity, read a book, cook, whatever. And I will enjoy what I’ve chosen to do!
I’ve discovered that making sure you put joy into your life is important to me as an artist.
D. Where can our readers follow your progress? Any upcoming art shows or plans to that effect?
A. I’m just getting started and have plans to turn my current Zentangle blog into one that will showcase my art as well as any shows, etc. I plan to exhibit a couple of my pieces at the next judged show being held on January 1 at the Nevada Artists Association in Carson City.
D. Thank you so much for visiting with me, Audrey! Do you have any parting advice for our readers who want to pursue their creative passions, art, or Zentangle?
A. Just do it! Jump in! It’s easy to find distractions and reasons not to pursue your passions. Taking action will help you get started. Making that first brushstroke will help you begin to paint away and remove those blocks that are getting in the way.
The most important thing: LOVE what you do! And remember what Rumi said,
“Inside you is an artist you don’t know about.”So, go discover her or him!
All artwork by Audrey Markowitz. If you share, please give credit to the artist.
Below are examples of Audrey’s traditional Zentangle tiles, using the Zentangle method of creating corner dots on a square tile and connecting them into a frame or border divided by “strings” that you can fill in with repeated tangles (doodles).
The Zentangle® method was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. Zentangle® is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at: www.zentangle.com
Don’t Miss Sunday’s Spotlight
Views From My Place
I often talk about the inspiring setting in which I live that plays a huge role in my stories. Yesterday offered particularly spectacular scenes, though my amateur photographs don’t do them justice, especially when shot through a window on a cold morning, or from my car on a cold afternoon.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nevada USA
For perspective on geography, Lake Tahoe is just over the mountains.
Writers, are you doodlers when you need to get those thoughts flowing?
This month’s guest spotlight will focus on the creative process and the mindful art of doodling (otherwise known as the Zentangle method), which was passed on to me by my friend and artist, Audrey Markowitz.
Audrey, a great teacher and unflagging motivator, will be joining me on Sunday, December 18. Stop by and find out how easy it is to put down a bit of ink on paper in a mindful way that helps get those creative juices flowing. In fact, Audrey will be talking about how she accomplished that in her everyday life.
I thought I’d gather and share a few of my past creations inspired by Audrey during so many amazing classes over the years. Zentangle is super easy to learn, perfect for creating a piece of art with few supplies, just a few lessons, and in a short time… all while being immensely satisfying and relaxing. There are no mistakes! If you can doodle, you can Zentangle. If your hand leads your pen in a direction you didn’t expect, all the better! Mostly, you can use it to unclutter the mind, and restart that imagination.
If you Zentangle or do other arts or crafts to relax and unclutter the brain, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Happy creating!
Can’t have a complete art journal without adding a spread about my teacher.