Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The best writing class I ever took had nothing to do with writing.

I signed up for a fabric painting class: Playing with Paint taught by Lyric Kinard. It taught me about textile paints, Shiva sticks, wet painting, dry painting, monopainting and stamping to name just a few of the exercises. But along the way, I learned to look at just about everything differently.

The cheese grater in the kitchen became a great vehicle for rubbings. Lay a piece of fabric over the grater, hold it in place and rub a Shiva stick over it and the pattern that appeared added texture and interest to the fabric. Same with bubble wrap, a piece of wood, buttons.... Lemons became stamps. Cut one in half, dry it a bit on a paper towel, apply a little paint and stamp it onto the fabric. Same with just about any fruit or vegetable -- who knew they were so interesting, let alone tasty. No, don't eat them after applying the paint.

Whatever we made in that class was a success even when it didn't turn out perfectly -- and that was most of the time for me. Each effort produced an effect that I could document and say, "this turned out well because ..." or "next time I'll dry the lemon a bit better and the results will be more clear." Then we would save the fabric to a book we were compiling of what works and what could work better. No failures. Some we liked better than others. Some we would try to replicate. But throughout the whole class no one felt like a failure. We all had a good time, laughed alot and got to know each other.

So, you're saying, what has that got to do with writing?

During Playing with Paint I realized how long it has been since I ventured to color outside of the lines. Too long I've looked at the same things in the same way. A cheese grater grates cheese. A lemon makes lemonade. But after the class the whole world became filled with possibilities. I saw stamps wherever I looked. I combined unlikely textures and colors and came up with something that looked different from what everyone else was making. As I looked at the world differently, I wrote about it using a different approach, a different perspective, a more playful 'what if' attitude. And I'm having fun.

I'm not failing at anything these days. I'm learning what I like better and how to achieve it by experimenting and discovering what I don't like quite so well and how to avoid it. Most of all I learned that adults must find their way back to play. As Thoreau said, "Any fool can make a rule; and any fool will mind it."

Sometimes 'telling' works better than 'showing.' Sometimes passive fits the need of the passage. If it works, it works. If it doesn't you know what you did, how you did it, and how not to do it again. You've made an example to put in your 'sample' book. You can refer to it, see the various examples and say, "no, definitely not that one.... Or yeah, I think I'll write like that today. That worked so well.

But whatever you do -- make time for play. There is no faster way to learn something than to play with it. Maybe its time you started hanging out with artists -- fabric artists definitely see the world in a different light. If you can't find an artist, kids can teach you alot.

The photo accompanying this is by Lyric Kinard and has much to say about inspiration, experimenting, and making something beautiful that is your unique offering to the world. Now, that's the way I want my writing described.

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