Category Archives: Articles

Guest Post: AVOIDING FIRST CHAPTER BLUNDERS by Ryan Lanz

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Thank you to Ryan Lanz of A Writer’s Path for this excellent article on your novel’s opening chapter.

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You’ve got your idea. Your characters are fleshed out. The setting is crystallized in your mind.

You power up the laptop, and you place your fingers on the keys. Chapter one.

There’s a magic in that. You can practically feel the readers forming an orderly line to purchase your book, even before you finish the first paragraph. But what do you want to accomplish? What are the things to avoid in your first chapter? In this post, we’ll look at the nitty-gritty of a novel’s first chapter.

What are you looking to accomplish?
In a first chapter, you have several things that you want to accomplish and clue the reader on. This is not an exhaustive list, but let’s look at some common items.

  • Identify a protagonist
  • Establish something the protagonist wants
  • Set the tone for the book
  • Make a few promises
  • Indicate what time/place in history
  • Present an immediate conflict/issue

Let’s take a look at each.

To continue reading this article, click here.

B is for Botticelli

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I am a lover of Renaissance art, and particularly of religious art. Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510), who was an illustrious member of the Florentine School, painted religious and mythological themes as well as portraits.

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Self-portrait of Botticelli, within his Adoration of the Magi.

Interesting facts about Botticelli:

  • He was first trained as a hammerer of gold leaf.
  • One of his neighbors was the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, after whom North and South America were named.
  • His second apprenticeship was to the painter Fra Filippo Lippi; when Botticelli set up his own workshop, Filippino Lippi, his master’s son, joined him there.
  • He was one of the painters of the Sistine Chapel; some of his work was later painted over to make room for Michelangelo’s work.
  • He was obsessed with Dante’s Divine Comedy and wanted to produce illustrations for it; the project was never completed.
  • He almost completely abandoned art during the last years of his life due to the preaching of Girolamo Savonarolawho advocated the destruction of secular art and culture in favor of more spiritual pursuits. If not for the intervention of his patron, Lorenzo de Medici, and his friends, he would have starved.

Examples of Botticelli’s mythological subjects:

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Probably Botticelli’s most famous painting, The Birth of Venus.

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Primavera by Botticelli

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Venus and Mars by Botticelli.

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Pallas and the Centaur by Botticelli.

Some portraits:

Religious art, including some of Botticelli’s beautiful Madonnas:

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Cestello Annunciation by Botticelli.

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Magnificat Madonna by Botticelli.

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The Bardi Altarpiece by Botticelli.

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Madonna with Lilies and Eight Angels by Botticelli.

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Lamentation of Christ by Botticelli.

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St. Sebastian by Botticelli.

 

I love the graceful figures of Botticelli’s art, and the hair–the curls and flowing hair and flowing beards. The draped garments and the sheer veils and fabrics. The beautiful faces (and yet the Christ Child looks a little creepy in some of the paintings). I especially love the Cestello Annunciation with the landscape visible through the window; and the Madonna with Lilies and Eight Angels. Mary looks like a friend of mine, and the four angels on the right could be looking at a cell phone or even posing for a selfie.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

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Raphael

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Raphael

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was born March 28 or April 6, 1483 in Urbino in central Italy. Known as Raphael, he was a prolific Renaissance painter. His father Giovanni Santi was court painter to the Duke. His mother Màgia died in 1491 when Raphael was eight. His father soon remarried, but succumbed to death on August 1, 1494, when Raphael was eleven. His father’s workshop continued and, together with his stepmother, Raphael helped manage it from a very early age.

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The Self-Portrait Raphael drew as a teen.

He had already shown talent, according to Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter and historian, who says that Raphael had been “a great help to his father.” (A self-portrait drawn while a teenager shows his skill.) Vasari records that Raphael’s father placed him in the workshop of Pietro Perugino as an apprentice. The influence of Perugino on Raphael’s early work is apparent. Vasari wrote that it was impossible to distinguish between their hands at this period. Apart from stylistic resemblances, their techniques were very similar as well, probably due to Perugino’s instruction.

 

 

Raphael’s first documented work was part of the Baronci altarpiece for the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in Città di Castello, a town halfway between Perugia and Urbino. In the following years he painted works for other churches there, including the Mond Crucifixion. These are large works, some in fresco, which Raphael executed in the style of Perugino. He also painted many smaller paintings in these years, probably mostly for the connoisseurs in the Urbino court, like the Three Graces, and he began to paint Madonnas and portraits.

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The Mond Crucifixion.

Raphael led a nomadic life, working in various cities in Northern Italy, but spent a good deal of time in Florence from about 1504.

Raphael was able to assimilate the influence of Florentine art while developing his own style. His greatest influence during those years was Leonardo da Vinci, who returned to the city from 1500 to 1506. Raphael’s figures began to take more dynamic and complex positions, and he drew studies of fighting nude men, one of the obsessions of the period in Florence. He borrowed the three-quarter length pyramidal composition of the just-completed Mona Lisa while retaining his own style.

 

By the end of 1508, Raphael moved to Rome, where he lived for the rest of his life, invited by the new Pope Julius II, perhaps at the suggestion of his architect Donato Bramante, then engaged on St. Peter’s Basilica, who came from just outside Urbino and was distantly related to Raphael. He was immediately commissioned by Julius to fresco the Pope’s private library at the Vatican Palace.

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Study for The Three Graces.

This first of the famous Stanze or “Raphael Rooms” to be painted, now known as the Stanza della Segnatura, was made a stunning impact on Roman art, and remains generally regarded as his greatest masterpiece, containing The School of AthensThe Parnassus, and the Disputa. Raphael was then given further rooms to paint. He completed a sequence of three rooms, each with paintings on each wall and often the ceilings too, increasingly leaving the work of painting from his detailed drawings to the large and skilled workshop team he had acquired, who added a fourth room after his death.

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The School of Athens

Raphael was clearly influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in the course of painting the room. Vasari said Bramante let him in secretly. (Michelangelo disliked Raphael, claiming the younger man was conspiring against him.) The first section was completed in 1511 and the reaction to the genius of Michelangelo was the dominating question in Italian art for decades. Raphael, who had already shown his gift for absorbing influences into his own personal style, rose to the challenge perhaps better than any other artist. Michelangelo accused Raphael of plagiarism and years after Raphael’s death, complained in a letter that “everything he knew about art he got from me.”

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Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael

 

The Vatican projects took most of Raphael’s time, although he painted several portraits, including Pope Julius II, considered one of his finest. Other rulers desired Raphael’s work, and King Francis I of France was sent two paintings as diplomatic gifts from the Pope. For Agostino Chigi, a banker and Papal Treasurer who was one of the wealthiest people in his world, he painted the Triumph of Galatea.

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The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael.

Raphael built a workshop of fifty pupils and assistants, many of whom became significant artists in their own right. This was arguably the largest workshop team assembled under any single old master painter, and much higher than the norm. Most of the artists were later scattered, and some killed, by the violent Sack of Rome in 1527.

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Portrait of Pope Julian II by Raphael.

Raphael was one of the finest draftsmen in the history of Western art, and used drawings extensively to plan his compositions. When beginning to plan a large painting or fresco, he would lay out a large number of stock drawings of his on the floor, and begin to draw rapidly, borrowing figures from here and there. Over forty sketches survive for the Disputa in the Stanze, and there may well have been many more originally. He used different drawings to refine his poses and layouts.

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The Parnassus by Raphael.

When a final composition was achieved, scaled-up full-size cartoons were often made, which were then pricked with a pin and pounced with a bag of soot to leave dotted lines on the surface as a guide. He also made use, on both paper and plaster, of a blind stylus, scratching lines which leave only an indentation, but no mark.

Raphael died on April 6, 1520, at age 37. He is remembered as one of the trinity of masters of the Italian High Renaissance, together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Creative Juice #133

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Creative Juice #133

These articles are genius.

Guest Post: Black St. George Icon by Joy of Museums

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Thank you to Joy of Museums for the following article discussing this beautiful St. George icon.

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Black Saint George Icon

This icon of Saint George has become known as ‘The Black George’ because the horse is painted black rather than the white horse that has traditionally been used for St George Icons. Russia converted to Christianity in 988, and much of its religious art was inspired by the Byzantine tradition. This icon made in 1400 was discovered in 1959 in a village in northern Russia where it was being used as a window-shutter.

The Black George icon depicts Saint George and the Dragon which legends describe the saint slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices and thereby rescuing the princess chosen as the next offering. Some icons depicting the saint as a horseman killing the dragon date to the 12th century. The motif became popular especially in Greek, Georgian and Russian icon traditions. The saint is depicted in the style of a Roman cavalryman, and the saint is mostly shown on a white horse, facing right, but sometimes also on a black horse, or facing left. From its Eastern origins, it was introduced into the Western Christian tradition by the Crusades.

To continue reading this article, click HERE

Talent is Overrated

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What does it take to become a successful author or artist or musician or actor? Must you have talent?

The top two definitions of talent on Dictionary.com are “a special natural ability or aptitude” and “a capacity for achievement and success.” People think of talent as an affinity you’re born with. You’re either artistic or you’re not. You have a knack for learning foreign languages, or you don’t. You’re a natural athlete, or you’ll always be chosen last for stickball. The first thing you write will immediately be snapped up by a publisher, or nothing penned by you will ever see light of day.

Fortunately, the reality is a lot more positive.

Ten Things Successful People Do

Success in any field of endeavor can be achieved by a number of approaches in combination. In general, SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE DO THE FOLLOWING THINGS:

  1. They find something they’re passionate about. For a writer, this might be the 47 story ideas fluttering around in his head, or, speaking of fluttering, maybe it’s the many species of butterflies she’s been categorizing and the desire to share the joys of lepidopterology with an online audience.
  2. They acknowledge that the road is long and difficult, but they commit to the journey anyway. Elite soccer coach John O’Sullivan says, “Sorry to burst many bubbles, but if athletes are not willing to suffer, chances are slim that they will make it. The will to suffer and endure not only separates average athletes from elite ones, but it separates talented elite athletes from their peers as well.” This holds true for dancers, artists, musicians, and writers as well. When I taught elementary music, my chorus would often perform two assemblies the day before winter break, and the singers would miss their classes’ holiday parties. I used the moment to teach them, “We all suffer for our art.” There are always tradeoffs. To shine, you have to give up something else.
  3. They learn the necessary skills. They take classes, earn degrees, attend workshops, go the conferences, ask questions, join professional organizations.
  4. They practice daily. Writers write. Painters paint. Musicians play. Basketball players dribble and shoot baskets. Remember the 10,000 hour rule. Kevin Mercadante says, “A lot of people have skills, in fact probably most of us do. But few of us are actually any good at what we do. That’s not because we lack innate ability, but because we lack the discipline to build those skills into something more.”
  5. They use their time well. They consider their immediate, short-term, and long-term obligations and goals and plan their days accordingly. Lolly Daskal says, “Time is indeed a precious and finite commodity, and those who respect it know how to use it wisely to achieve the greatest results. Time can be wasted, invested, or respected. It doesn’t matter what your title is, your position, your role, what company you work for, where you went to school, or what continent you live on–you have 24 hours in a day–1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds–the same as everyone. How are you spending yours? If you want to do more, make more, gross more, serve more, influence more, or significantly change the level of your impact in any area, you simply must respect time.”
  6. They take care of their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. They eat well, stay hydrated, work out regularly, get enough sleep. They call their moms, go out with friends, pet their kitty cats, do fun stuff on a regular basis. They read their Bibles, meditate, pray, spend time contemplating nature.
  7. They mentor others. Workopolis says, “Help other people to succeed. Your biggest career assets are those people who think well of you and your work, who would relish the chance to work with you again or would recommend you to others. That’s your network. The more people you can help out at work or in your other activities or personal life, the bigger your network will be. But that’s not why you should help other people. You should help them because you can. Because it’s nice.” Help other people because they are your colleagues, not your competitors. Someone else’s success does not diminish yours. I believe what goes around comes around. Be generous to others, and help will appear when you need it.
  8. They pursue opportunities. They enter contests. They send out audition tapes. They attend open mike nights. They submit to agents, publications, and editors. They keep their eyes and ears open for the gatekeepers who could be receptive to their work.
  9. They don’t take rejection personally. I have a file folder in my file cabinet of rejection slips that were snail-mailed to me back in the day. My critique group often joked about how we would one day wallpaper a room with them. Nowadays, when I get a rejection, it’s emailed, and I don’t bother to print it out; but I have a notebook where I record it. Looking at my submission history reminds me that persistence and perseverance are rewarded.
  10. They don’t give up. “A bias towards finishing what you begin, rather than leaving it half-finished, is actually characteristic of some of the most successful people in the world,” says professor of psychology Angela Duckworth.

 

Does talent play any role in success? Of course. But there are many talented adults who still live in their parents’ basements. Talent doesn’t guarantee excellence.

Anna Chui says, “To call someone ‘talented’ can also be an act of rudeness. It implies that the person did not have to rely on their own hard work to achieve success, which belittles their efforts and shows an ignorance of how personal growth and development really happens behind the scenes. Calling someone talented also lets yourself off the hook and gives you permission to be lazy – after all, if someone else is talented and you are not, why even bother trying to achieve a similar level of success?”

So don’t worry whether you have talent. Follow your dream, but be willing to work strategically and hard.

Now it’s your turn. Is there a strategy to success you would recommend that I haven’t listed above? Share in the comments below.

If you found this article helpful, it would make my day if you clicked the “like” button below and shared this post on your social media. Thanks!

The Llama is the New Unicorn?

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The Llama is the New Unicorn?

That’s what the good people at Etsy would have you believe. But I’m not buying it. (Well, maybe I’ll buy it.)

Llamacorn

See? Llamas wish they could be as cool as unicorns. Llamacorn.

You can have your llama with or without drama.

Drama llama ding dong. No drama llama.

I’ll admit it–I admire a man who is so secure in his masculinity that he will actually wear a llama shirt.

Men's Llama Shirt

Man’s llama shirt.

Some llamas are pretty.

Pretty llama on left. No prob llama.

And some are just silly.

Ask Me About

Ask me about my llama.

Okay, this is my favorite one. Every girl needs her squad.

Llama Squad

Llama squad.

Even little kids need llama shirts. This one is for a child too young to be able to complain about the corny pun.

Como se llama

Como se llama.

And it’s not just the unicorns who are ticked off about the whole llama craze.

Alpacalypse

Alpacalypse.

Click on the link below each picture if you’d like ordering information. I do not receive any remuneration for providing you with fashion options. (You’re welcome.) But if you enjoyed this article, make my day by clicking the “Like” button and sharing on your social media. Thanks!