Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Reflections on Writing, Art and Fashion
Usually my two careers, writing and art, do not overlap. I paint outside in the summer and write novels during the school year. Last week I met a man who asked, “Novels and art? Is that right brain or left brain?”
I laughed and replied, “Both and neither. If I had a brain, I would choose at least one lucrative career, but I love them both.”
Lately the line between art and writing has blurred. It all started in my blog where my writing and photography came together. Three weeks ago I blogged about Jane Green’s novel, The Beach House. I had fun retracing her footsteps on Nantucket Island, where I spend time every summer.
The author discovered my book review on-line and admired my blog header painting. Jane was looking for a special gift for her partner who loves boats and Nantucket. She ended up buying him “Nantucket Red.” Her partner will get the joke: Nantucket Red is a cloth originally made on island that fades to pink. It’s popular with sailors.
Jane’s a blogger too, and much to my amusement, my painting is in her post “Planet Fashion Calling.” Jane is friends with Martha Stewart; they both live in chic Westport, Connecticut. Her novels and blog are full of amusing anecdotes about well-heeled suburban life. She also blogs about politics, cooking, parenting and writing. It’s a fun blog (in my sidebar.)
My eleven-year-old daughter (right) burst into giggles when she read the title, “No offense, Mommy, but you and fashion?”
I’ve never bothered keeping up with the latest trends. I’m short and hourglass shaped so shopping is a nightmare. Jeans need to be taken up inches in the rare case I find ones that fit. I like nice clothes but can’t understand why fashions change. I wear things until they have holes.
My favorite item in my wardrobe are these retro flower power boots from Arche that even my daughter calls cool.
My NYC friends call me bohemian. They say I can get away with it as a creative type. So the shoe fits, and it fits well in Maine. That is in the rare occasion I’m wearing shoes instead of hiking boots or flip flops.
In sandy-snowy-muddy Maine, folks dress for the weather, not for fashion. A newcomer asked if L.L.Bean boots and jeans would be okay to wear to a party. The host laughed, “Bean boots and jeans are always okay.”
L.L.Bean’s headquarters are in Freeport, the next town over. Several of the moms I know work the holiday season shift in the factory. One friend of mine edits the catalogue.
It was the contrast between small town Maine and my hometown of Manhattan that motivated me to start writing novels. After a year sabbatical in England, I’m writing a new book, NOT CRICKET, that puts two generations of Maine women at Oxford University.
Fish out of water stories appeal to me. I don’t really fit in anywhere, and yet I look comfortable enough that strangers ask me for directions, no matter where I am. My agent, Jean Naggar, suggested that this lack of fit is part of what makes my writing good. It’s easy for me to stand back to get perspective.
It’s also important to get perspective in art. Halfway through my "Nantucket Red" painting, I flipped it upside down. When I was finished (thanks for waiting!) a woman approached to question me. I explained that I have to trick the rational left hemisphere of my brain which sees a boat. When a painting is upside down, my artistic right hemisphere can see a composition and check for balance.
It’s hard to see in the reproduction, but some red is worked into the seaweed and washed into the skyline. Red is the most difficult color to handle in watercolor. Other colors can be lifted off the paper with a sponge. Red stains like blood and mixes with green to make brown. I add the red last when the paper is dry.
I don’t paint exactly what is there. I removed the extra sailboats. The balance improved when I shifted the seagull to the right, but then he took flight. I had to paint him from memory. The sailboat kept swinging around its mooring.
I was working on a boat launch beach halfway between Jetties Beach and the Brant Point lighthouse so there were people dragging dinghies past me. Mosquitoes were buzzing. The painting looks so peaceful, but the process was turbulent. I still feel calm looking at it, remembering the beauty of the island.
When novelist Jane Green bought this painting, I was thrilled but somewhat disconcerted. It felt like my two careers had flipped. Was Jane a fellow writer or an art client? I learned that my agent co-represented Jane for her first book sold in the USA. Jane is English but now lives in the USA with an American, the reverse of me and my husband. I've gotten to know Jane a bit through our blogs and e-mails, and she's really nice. Our lives are like a reflection with the line between us blurred.
My art career is coming into sharper focus. I’ve added pages of watercolors and photos to my website. I've already had another inquiry about the "Nantucket Red" painting, but I don't sell duplicates (although I retain reproduction rights.) Watercolors look best in the original form.
This week the on-line journal nantucket-art.com posted a feature on me. Check it out. It’s a great way to get a sense of the art scene on the island. The journal is written in blog style. Answering Nantucket Art’s questions, I found myself mentioning my writing too.
An artist is the protagonist of my work in progress. It’s fun to be writing about art, to bring those two sides of me into one character. In fiction there need not be borders.