Showing posts with label visual art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label visual art. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2013

Creative Cartography

When I was a little girl, the first fictional map that took hold of my imagination was that of Neverland on the inside covers of my Peter Pan book.  All of the illustrations in that book are beautiful oil paintings - full of color and life from the veins in Tinkerbell's wings to the curl of Captain Hook's moustache.  The map, too, was created on the same medium and brought to life an island of coves and mountains, Indian camps and homes underground.  Here was Neverland in full relief, suddenly a real place.  Of course it was real.

I suppose it was no coincidence that maps began to show up in my writing.  From middle school into high school I spent a lot of time on that rudimentry program known as "Paint" in order to create the island-continents of the planet where my characters were from... ironically "Eiresta."  Once I painstakingly traced the contours of Ireland and England onto tissue paper and broke them up into smaller islands to form those continents.  Silly?  Maybe, but at the time I felt it was important.  I needed to map what I was seeing in my head, to make tangible the little backstories that were a heritage for my pseudo-quasi Celtic creations. 

In high school I lived, read, breathed, ate and dreamed Star Wars, which means that my little creative writing projects inevitably took that shape.  Inspired further by J.R.R. Tolkein's maps of Middle Earth, the map-obsession continued.  Imagine my delight when I discovered galactic maps of the Star Wars universe inside the novels I read.  Finally, I knew where Tatooine and Dagobah were in relation to Coruscant (or the Imperial City) and Alderaan!  This map was handwritten, imaginative, pretty.  It did not attempt to calculate light-years or the three-dimension distance each star had to one another.  It was art, not science - simple and beautiful.  Naturally, I had to add a few worlds into the mix:

My addendums are fairly obvious: they are written neatly on little scraps of paper and pasted carefully onto the map, tucked into corners between stars and across the spine of the page.  At the top right was Ceilte, Nabbeor and the starless Rift which served as a no-man's land between peaceful worlds and evil Euronia (which even the Empire was keen to avoid).  I could see it: pieces of the massive puzzle finally in place.

Years after leaving the Star Wars galaxy, I found myself writing a novel which took place much closer to home in North Yorkshire, Great Britain.  While I did, of course, study maps of northern England, I mapped something that came directly out of my writing - a piece of the moors that was entirely my own fairy land.  I created it because my characters drew it themselves, tracking their own footsteps through a childhood playground, through barrows that were supposed to be haunted, passed ruined abbeys to a mysterious coil of rock they called Adrian's Pass after a legendary monk.

I drew this by hand, and it was such fun imagining the terrain, the twists and turns and slopes my characters had to traverse.  Bleak Point was a memorial to people who had disappeared on Adrian's Moor.  Where the ridges begin to grow, the fog thickens giving way to visions of demons who look like Benedictine monks.  Rose Cottage (added later) was a dilapidated house the characters found and made into getaway accessible only on foot. 

Which brings us back to space.  Waterwill and its in-development sequel have their earliest roots in that old Star Wars project of mine.  Nowadays these stars (if they existed, that is) might be visible from Earth.  I'm envisioning a cosmopolis over five hundred years in the future where humans have expanded their horizons to other worlds.  A cosmopolitan "nexus" has formed around a new star, 61 Virginis.  It is called the Virgo Nexus because of this capitol.  It is almost twenty-eight light-years away from where the worlds around good ol' Sol (our Sun) continue to thrive.  Below are two maps-in-progress.  Though Waterwill is complete, I have gone back to reevaluate the (very) approximate distances between the stars and expand on the worlds between Virgo and Sol for the sequel.  I am finding this extremely frustrating.

This map contains a few "familiar" stars: Alpha Centauri, Altair, Vega, Arcturus, Sirius, Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti, Denebola, 55 Cancri, Castor, Pollux and Formalhaut.   I am trying to combine the fictional elements with the real stars, creating a sort of bridge between our home (Sol) and the Virgo Nexus.  The map above is supposed to be a "side-view"; the map below an "above view."

Like I said, this is a work in progress.  I've been working from several "star maps" from the internet, some helpful, some confusing.  I realized I am doing something here that I've never attempted before: that merging of fact with fiction.  The problem with these maps is that they represent two-dimensional thinking instead of three.  For example, Epsilon Eridani might be ten light-years from Sol or Earth, but it's at a diagonal away and below instead of simply ten light-years to the right.  On a 2D map, this diagonal would not properly register the distance... unless I got fancy with dotted lines and angles.  Last week, while I was away from the blog, I was busy pulling my hair out over the difficulty of showing distances as well as depths.  I was afraid of what mathematically-inclined people would say... how astronomers might snort at my imaginative calculations... how other science-fiction writers must have an easier (if not smarter) time of it than I do.

And then I realized "Hey!  This supposed to be art, not science!" Why did Star Wars appeal to me so much in the first place?  Because it wasn't concerned with the mind-twisting principles of relativity or a tangible explantion of hyperspace... or how the heck they actually have the capability of flying clear across a galaxy in a week's time (or less).  In Star Wars, these things simply were; no explanation necessary or required.  While my novels take place in Sol's interstellar backyard (or is it front yard?), and require a little more explanation as to how the vast distance is/was conquered by humanity, I simply see no reason to worry about whether or not Vega and Formalhaut are actually in their correct positions.  What matters is that they are part of the picture, part of that corridor between Virgo and home. 

And that's what I hope the maps, in whatever state of evolution, can show: pieces of the puzzle coming together to create a tangible world.  Everything else is just details: time, relativity, hyperspace. 

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Leonardo da Vinci and Productivity (Michelle)

Madame Mental Multivitamin has once again posted a very thought-provoking article, this time about the stultifying way in which our culture views procrastination. If you've ever wondered why the novel isn't proceeding faster, what your "useless" work really contributes to society, why other people seem to be able to churn out work at prodigious rate . . . please read it.

This quote, for example, resonates all too well with me:

The rhetoric of anti-procrastination — constructed by imperialists, religious zealots, and industrial capitalists [Isn't it great how these our are out post-modern vampires? Bring them into an argument and, ZING, you've won! Not that I feel much sympathy for any of these categories, but still...] — had become internalized. We no longer need to be told that to procrastinate is wrong. We know we are sinners and are ashamed. What can we do but work harder?

Like the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, we live our lives with regret for what we have not done — or have done imperfectly — instead of taking satisfaction with what we have done, such as, in Coleridge's case, founding English Romanticism in his youth and producing, throughout his life, some of the best poetry and literary criticism ever composed, including his unfinished poem "Kubla Khan." But that was not enough; always, there was some magnum opus that Coleridge should have been writing, that made every smaller project seem like failure, and that led him to seek refuge from procrastinator's guilt in opium.

W.A. Pannapacker (fantastic name!) tries to poke some holes in the traditional view of Leonardo da Vinci as a "procrastinator" and "underachiever" to show how important "procrastination" --- call it rather incubation, or contemplation --- is to the pursuit of good work, not to mention truth, beauty, and all those other embarrassing transcendentals. He has some particularly interesting comments on Leonardo's notebooks and the value of keeping commonplace books in general.

Probably the only wise thing my senior-year English teacher ever said to me was: "A mystic is someone who wastes time before God." The idea is not unrelated.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Trompe l'Oeil (Michelle)

Well, I have no idea how to pronounce it, and only recently learned how to spell it, but I have trompe l'oeil on the mind --- i.e., the artistic style which tries to make a flat painting look 3D and real. For example, this "dome" is painted on a flat ceiling in Gozo Cathedral, Malta.

I've been thinking about this because I recently spent yet another magic morning in the library doing research for the novel, stressing out about historical realism.

As I was walking out of the library, I thought of another metaphor to add to my previous discussion of the problem. It's like trompe l'oeil. Think about it: a representational painting creates the illusion that you are seeing into space (the much-vaunted "picture window"), but at bottom it is still just an arrangement of lines and shapes and colors on a flat canvas. Trompe l'oeil is the most extreme example of this principle, striving for an illusion that borders on trickery.

It's the same with historical writing: I want to make my reader think (s)he's seeing into history --- and to do so I'd better look at history pretty darn closely and replicate it as nearly as I can --- but the very nature of my project is illusion and craft. That's the nature of the beast.

And aren't the best stories, that pull us in and wrap us up, a form of trompe l'oeil? Why do we cry when Romeo and Juliet die, if there's not a part of us that thinks they seem real?


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