Today’s featured artist is a gal I have had the privilege to become friends with over the past few months. We have a lot in common: we’re both the oldest of four siblings, we were both home-schooled, we’re both relocated Northerners, we both love reading/fantasy/sci-fi/movies/board games, we both have a sarcastic/snarky sense of humor, and we’re both currently in the midst of writing fantasy fiction novels.
However, the comparison ends there, because her talents far outnumber my own… but I’ll let her speak for herself!
Featured Artist: Ally M.
1. When and why did you start (writing, playing, singing, painting, etc)?
The first time I remember writing was when I was about five years old—I had cancer at the time, and had just read a book written by a girl who had also had Leukemia. And I thought, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ and so I wrote about four pages and then decided it was boring and quit—probably partly because I liked drawing the ‘illustrations’ (read: crayon caricatures) better than writing the sentences. I think I tried writing sometime before then, but I know I was drawing Peter Pan and Tinkerbell (complete with labels) when I was about four. Singing… well, I tried to sing since I was about two. Then, at about six, I magically learned to carry a tune. Probably because that was when I was enrolled in piano lessons.
2. Which instruments do you play/what is your favorite medium for creating art/what genre do you write?
My favorite medium? Good heavens, do I have to choose? I suppose that if I absolutely had to choose, I would pick my words. I love the rhythm and beauty of a well-crafted phrase or profoundly understated truth. I really can’t pick a favorite genre, though—that’s just cruel. I love my fantasy worlds, but I also take a sadistic delight in writing satire and self-deprecating humor,as well as some science fiction and just pure, ordinary fiction. However, if I were as skillful with a brush as I wish I was, I would definitely have to choose oil painting as my favorite medium. I do aspire to be very good at this one day—I took some classes in college that made me see that it’s not impossible. I also very much enjoy the freedom of watercolor and the precision of charcoal or colored pencil
3. Is your family musical/artistic/writers? Describe your family members’ artistic interests and abilities.
My family has always encouraged my love of art in all forms—my mom is a talented sketcher and painter (who could be even better if she only had the time to devote to practice) who plays guitar and knows one song on the piano (Stand Up For Jesus, which she has been singing to me religiously since I was an infant). She is also an exceptional writer, and I attribute most of my literary talent to her genetics and teaching. My dad is a conceptual person—he has wonderful ideas for stories, and we have tentatively discussed co-authoring one of his book concepts. He also plays a mean guitar. My brother, Josiah, picked up some artistic tendencies when he was younger, and was very talented, but seems to have left off this particular hobby in favor of debate and engineering projects. Lily, my younger sister by eleven years, picked up on mine and Josiah’s enthusiasm for art and is reasonably skilled for her age. My entire family has wonderful voices, including my other brother, Alex, who turned into an impressive bass around age 13.
4. Which famous musicians/artists/authors do you admire? Why?
Which ones do I… this is not a fair question. Because all my answers are going to be obscure or nerdy. I really admire Tolkien, as well as Keith Francis Strohm (Tomb of Horrors) and David and Leigh Eddings (The Redemption of Althalus, as well as many series), to name a few. However, I have not really read a lot of the ‘great’ fantasy writers, such as Lawhead, so my opinions are probably incomplete.
5. What are your fondest musical/art-related/writing memories? In your house? In your neighborhood or town?
Some of the best times I have had writing or drawing or singing have been in the middle of nowhere. My fondest memories of journaling and drawing are sitting out in the forts I built in the woods behind my house in Washington, watching a squirrel shear the seeds off of a pinecone and watch me suspiciously out of the corner of one eye. My greatest inspirations are in the wild things, the furtive stirrings in the winds that beckon me to come away, come away, and discover the secrets, the worlds and mysteries yet unknown… magic is always just out of reach…
6. Who are your favorite musicians? Groups? CD’s? Artists? Authors?
Anyway, I tend to admire a single work more than a single writer/composer/artist… for example, I usually adore one or two songs from any given pop artist and despise all the rest. I admire anything that displays a consummate skill in the medium and/or a consummate mind—that is, that which displays a deeper meaning or truth or insight of the artist, even if I don’t agree with it. All that to say… I don’t know. I like some of everything. One thing I do love to do, though, is put on music of a certain mood and use it to inspire my drawing or writing—in this case, the artist doesn’t really matter so much as the mien.
7. Do you perform/display your art/publish your writing in public? Describe those occasions? Concerts, radio, TV? Galleries? Online? Book-signings?
I do not perform piano in public if I can help it. To me, it’s too prone to error. I did my share of recitals while I was taking lessons, and I practice for months for those. It’s a relaxing, beautiful hobby for me now. However, I love to sing for choirs (and I do like solos, because then I don’t have to blend and can really have fun with it), and I enjoy displaying my art (only the really good pieces) on Deviant Art or, as was the case in high school and college, in actual art shows. I also post to Deviant Art vignettes and pieces of stories that I haven’t actually written in full, but enjoyed or was pleased enough with to want to share.
8. What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Beginners… I still am one! You never feel like you’ve arrived at ‘expert’, even if everyone tells you you’re the best, you’re incredible… it doesn’t matter. You will always feel like an amateur. So just go for it. Practice. Suck at it. Practice some more. Read lots of books and look at/listen to lots of people’s art—figure out what you like, what works for you, and continue. You will get better. Also, it helps to keep all (or at least samples) of your old work, so you can see how far you’ve come. It’s very encouraging when you can look back and go ‘oh wow that was awful!’ and suddenly what you’ve just done seems incredible by comparison. And to everyone looking at it, it probably is. Remember that you are your toughest critic—when you get frustrated, go away for a while and come back. Either the mistake will jump out at you and you can fix it, or you will realize you don’t notice it anymore, in which case you can bet no one else will.
9. How often and for how long do you practice?
Um… people practice? I hardly have time anymore, but one of the best things I ever did for my writing skills was to free-write a few times a week for a half hour or so. It helps ‘loosen up’ the writing parts of your brain, like warming up before a race. I do sketch quite frequently (and with much frustration), but my skills greatly improve when I do thirty second drawings—taking a small collection of objects, a human form, etc. and forcing myself to capture the essential elements in 30 seconds or less. In highschool I practiced vocals all the time, but now I sing when I feel like it during the week (which is often) and belt it out in church on Sundays. For the record, though, I’m still hopeless at harmonizing.
10. What inspires you to write music? Paint? Write?
I create art because I can’t help it. Once I get into a certain mode, it’s like all these truths and beautiful things are threatening to overflow and overwhelm me. It’s like chasing rainbows… I simply have to create, or I would explode. My inspiration is not a slow and steady thing—it comes in rushes, pure torrents of need to communicate the things in my mind—to set down on paper the descriptions of what I see, to splash down on the canvas the colors and forms that swirl about those imaginary scenes. These times are usually triggered by a long period of introspection or general reflection, especially if concurrent with a period of time in the woods or by a stream or river. The wilds and the magics of them seem to inspire the greatest, most noble, and most beautiful thoughts. And sometimes, for no reason whatsoever, the characters in my stories seem to press to the front of my mind, demanding to have their stories told. That I don’t know what their stories are yet seems irrelevant to them. So I obediently sit down at the computer and begin to write some little detail, and suddenly there are six pages in front of me… it’s wonderful… and yet somehow obnoxious at the same time.
11. Describe your process for writing a song/completing a work of art/writing a novel.
I don’t really have a process, unfortunately, so sorry, I’m very little help here. For me, it either comes or it doesn’t. There is very little time between conception and completion. If too much time elapses (more than a day or two), the piece is highly unlikely to be completed at all (this also applies to individual scenes in my books, though not the book in its entirety). I have several pictures in my sketchbook that are in the beginning stages of gorgeous, and they’re not likely to get much farther. When I write the lyrics to a song, they undergo perhaps one, at most two, revisions before I’m finished with them. The rest of the time, anything I try is stiff and forced. So my artistic life is one of waiting with impatient sighs between periods of inspiration and then scrambling to get everything done while it’s there.
12. What is the best part about writing/performing music/art?
The best part about art is seeing or hearing the thoughts in my mind come to life. I envisioned this tender, beautiful scene, and there it is—real, an actual, substantial thing, even if it is just a picture. Or that wrenching longing I feel, there it is, in a few poignant words, and everything I wanted to know about how I felt is there on the page in front of me. Although I must say that there is one thing that surpasses this, and that is seeing my art impact someone else, especially in a healing way. There is one passage of my (incomplete) book that I wrote in one of those ‘white heats’ of inspiration that particularly surprised me—and then it turned out to be exactly what three or four of my friends needed to hear. It was a fictitious, fantasy world with a fictitious, fantasy character, but it spoke to them. It communicated to their hearts in a way that not much else could have, and it brought them peace. That is the best reward I have ever had from creating.
13. What is the hardest thing about writing/performing music/art?
The hardest thing about art is accepting it. I always see the mistakes, the things that should have been tweaked, but are too late to do anything about now. Or I don’t know how to fix it—I just know it’s wrong. In those cases, it’s hard to be willing to show it to anyone else, or to NOT rip it up and throw it away. I have to force myself to file it away to maybe come back to, or to serve as a relic of a less experienced era of my artistic life. And when that happens, it’s difficult to move on to something else, fearing the same failure. But eventually you get over it, and move on—and the next one is better.
Thanks, Ally for being today’s Featured Artist!