Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Observation and Imagination

James Gurney is asking "What about a book?" over at Gurney Journey. As in: should he write a book based on his blog posts?

I've linked to his posts several times, because there are some fascinating tidbits (painting with vodka, anyone? need to find a rhinoceros chameleon skull?) but also because he knows how to clearly explain what he's doing when he creates art. This lets me fulfill my fantasy of living inside a visual artist's brain. I've always known that artists think differently; Gurney tells me how. (Read this post about when shadows aren't blue.) In today's post, while thinking about whether he should compile his knowledge into a book, he says this:

"There are lots of books now about plein-air painting, and there are books on how to draw dragons or dinosaurs, but there isn’t much that connects observation with imagination..."

That's it! That's why I like reading his blog. How observation connects with imagination. Because that's what a writer needs, too.

What I observe: an F-15C dropping into its approach pattern, circling, then landing on a runway.

What I imagine: a sixth-grade boy trying to hold his breath until the moment the plane's wheels touch the ground.

What I observe: I have on two different shoes, one black and one brown, and I've worn them to church

What I imagine: why a kid would be backstage before a performance, with two mismatched shoes.

What I observe: a school bathroom that is so putrid that no one will go in

What I imagine: why a girl would hide there, with a backpack filled with art supplies

I could go on, but you see it, don't you?

Observe = listen = wait = withhold judgment = absorb

Imagine = create = combine = synthesize = build = choose

The words used to describe the process are different, but the results are the same.

Also on the art front, Julia Denos has updated her portfolio over at Shannon Associates. Her work is so appealing. Observant and imaginative. Go look.


  1. Beautiful! As someone who struggles with painting a fictional picture, your examples are a gift. I am going to allow them to inspire me, instead of seeing this creature flaw as a shortcoming. ;-)

  2. How much do I love this post? What great examples. Of course -- observation inspires the imaginative process.

    Love Julia's portfolio -- the scarf picture with pigeons is to die for!

    Thanks for this -- extra beets for you!

  3. Oh me oh my, just look at that Silke image at Julia's portfolio.

    I love this post. This is what authors do that fascinates me, these imaginative leaps. Of course, there's more than just answering the "why"s; one must have the writing talents to flesh it all out, but answering those questions is the first step. I truly believe parents can help children "see" the world this way, through the imaginative lens, but that's another subject for another day.

    jules, 7-Imp

  4. hi - i found you through little willow - that's a lovely post it's like an equation that all writers use. In my book notes from the teenage underground the artist dad writes 'contemporary' haikus and he calls them 'word pictures' - and that's just what I got from reading your exampls (especially the art girl in the putrid bogs! - who is she??)

  5. Welcome, Simmone--thanks for coming by via Little Willow. I'm posting more about that interview with her tomorrow.

    As to that mysterious girl---she's a character in the manuscript I just finished revising. I'm quite in love with her!


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