If you visit this blog on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed the photographs that top most of my posts. These photographs have become important to me. Besides allowing me me to share my daily life on an informal basis, they mark another major change in me since I’ve stopped concentrating on Illustration as a Path of Creative Expression for Storytelling (or IPCES for short): I’ve become obsessed with photography.
Above: Snow in the garden at Blue House. Below: Opera Garnier in Paris
One reason for my newish obsession is that my iPhone makes it incredibly easy to take photographs anywhere I’d like. It’s so small that hardly anyone notices when I’m at work. I carry it with me at all times, sometimes walking with phone in hand in case I see something.
My love for my iPhone is especially ironic because I have an expensive single lens reflex camera with fancy lenses that I barely use. When it comes to making art, sometimes the simplest tool is the right tool.
My favorite model! Above: Japanese restaurant in Paris. Below: In a theater box at the Opera Garnier.
I’m especially enthralled with the Hipstamatic app. I love how it saturates colors and alters images much in the way I would if I was painting. I also appreciate how immediate a photograph is. Unlike a painting, which can take me weeks to get just right, if I don’t like a photograph, I simply take another. This allows me to experiment with different picture compositions and color combinations I’d otherwise avoid to save time.
In other words, I’m able to be at play, a necessary component of inspiration and creativity. And how freeing is that?
Above: Slug in autumn leaves, Kent, England. Below: Marlborough Tower, Le Hameau de la Reine, Versailles.
Photography is also leading me into new territory as a novelist. My protagonist for the Next Novel is a male mid-Victorian era photographer. To aid my research, I plan to take a course on nineteenth century photography techniques at the George Eastman House. Tintypes? Glass negatives? I’m so down.
Ultimately, my love for photography reminds me that, even if I’m no longer spending years illustrating books, I remain a visual artist. Come what may, I’ll always yearn to capture the world’s beauties and complexities.
Above: Subway pillar, South Bank, London.
Photographed recently in Paris. What’s around the bend?
Ever since my return from Europe in early September, I feel like I’ve shifted into a new phase of my life. I suspect this is the aftermath of the main reason for my travels: to inter my mother’s ashes. Those of you who follow this blog and my social media feeds are probably aware my mother died early this year. However, it took my sister and I some months to organize the interment, which allowed us to defer the process of mourning in some ways.
And plan we did: my sister Jennifer and I chose to bring my mother’s ashes home to England, where she was born seventy years ago during the London Blitz. We also chose to inter her ashes in the same church where she had been baptized, and in the same rose garden where I brought my grandmother’s ashes in 2011. We decided to bring my daughter Thea with us, as a representative of the next generation of our family. We were very fortunate to be joined by members of our family who still reside in England, all of whom knew and loved my mother well. The service was as beautiful as can be.
While there were tears, Jennifer and I were also certain to make the trip a joyful experience. After all, it was Thea’s first trip to London, land of Harry Potter, Cadbury chocolate, and all things historic and literary. We followed our time in London with several days in Paris, where we ate pain au chocolate and walked along the Seine under perfect blue skies. I also spent many hours researching the Next Novel, which is set in both London and Paris during the mid-nineteenth century. The trip was exactly as we hoped.
Burying a parent is a definite reminder of the cycle of life: Those who grant life to us will die, just as we will die one day. The finiteness of physical life grants a preciousness to everything we experience. Even so, I’m sensing there’s more at play for me beyond this most primal of leavetakings.
For example, ever since I finished the art for DOOMED QUEENS and began writing THE LILY MAID (which now bears the new-and-improved title of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS on the advice of a renowned editor at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat), I’ve grappled with guilt over no longer yearning to illustrate books as I once did. The truth terrified me: these days, I’m far more creatively engaged as a novelist and writer. Another reason for my disinterest in illustration is that I’ve fulfilled the goals I’ve set*; I don’t possess the same urgent drive to spend countless hours curled over a drawing board painting the thousands of tiny details and decorative flourishes that go into one of my book. Yet it’s hard to leave the past behind, especially when you’ve spent years mastering a set of skills. Hence, the guilt.
And then I had a sudden insight that made it easier to let go: whether I’m writing, illustrating, or designing, my vocation is as a storyteller. It’s all interconnected.
And so this post is a post of goodbyes. Goodbye to my mother, Irene Patricia Prince Cowin, laid to rest in her native soil. May you be at peace. Goodbye to my years as a book illustrator**. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned, and the beauty I was able to create. Goodbye even to my studio betta, Clarimonde, who passed away this week after a happy, coddled life. Goodbye to remorse over my past, and trepidation over what my creative future may hold.
But this post is also a hello to the Next Phase of my artistic life as a storyteller: to finishing up and publishing A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. To immersing myself in the Next Novel. To moving onto new horizons and creative challenges.
I’m so ready for them.
*And how fortunate is that? I’m especially proud of THE BOOK OF GODDESSES and THE LOVER’S PATH.
**Not to say that I won’t illustrate books again one day. Just not right now.
Wise advice photographed in Brooklyn several blocks from my home.
Overseen on the Cortelyou Road subway station. I have no idea what it means, though I appreciate the calligraphic typography and paw print. Thoughts?