SMUDGE BY SMUDGE BY Katia Rania
Writer illustrator Floyd Cooper awed the crowd of writers and visual artists at the SCBWI New Jersey conference on Saturday, when he stood before us all with an eraser in one hand. He had painted a flat rectangular surface with a thin layer of brown. He held that up before us, then proceeded to create right before our eyes.
A smudge of an eraser left a faint whitish dot at the top of the canvas. Another smudge created a thin path of lightness. Then, the artist’s hands moving faster and faster, a smudge here, a smudge there, and just like that, we all could see shapes lurking behind the brown shadows. With each new smudge the shapes grew fuller, bursting out of their flat confines.
“This little shape can become inspiration,” Floyd said. “It can lead to something, become a door.”
More smudges, and the shapes connected into a face of a man. More smudges, and the man sported a Native-American style feather atop his head.
The way Floyd worked reminded me of the famous quote attributed to Michelangelo, about how he would chip away at what wasn’t his statute, until he was left with what was. And whether you are a sculptor, a visual artist or a writer, if you have been through draft after draft after draft, then you might recognize this process in your own work.
After all, is this not what we do?
When we first approach our story-to-be, much of that fictional world is covered by darkness. We stand before it, blind. Some of us write character sketches, free write or outline, others plunge right into a draft, not daunted by not knowing. Either way, we grope toward the truths of our stories. Until – in this draft, in that passage, in this questionnaire, we stumble at a kernel of truth, a discovery that illuminates the darkness a little. Now going forward might be just a little easier. As we follow our smudges where they lead us, we can’t help but see new shapes.
We writers wield erasers too. As we kill our darlings and prune our weeds, we get rid of the false, the shallow, the surface, the un-true. And what we are suddenly left with – is our story.
Thank you, Floyd, for not only the sheer pleasure of watching you work, but also for the reminder to us all to keep doing what we’re doing, to keep searching, keep revising, keep on going, smudge by smudge.
And Thank you Katia for sharing your thoughts with us and making us think.
<Katia Raina came to this country from the former Soviet Union at the age of 15, and quickly fell in love with the English language. Once a newspaper reporter, now Katia is an intern for a literary agency, with plans to continue her career on that side of the publishing desk as well. In addition, Katia writes young adult novels and poetry. Enrolled in her final semester at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Katia loves sharing what she is learning with faithful readers and friends over at her blog, the Magic Mirror. You can find her there at http://katiaraina.wordpress.com