I'm a writer and artist.

Stretching Both Sides of Your Brain – Exploring visual art to bring new creativity into your writing.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I was blessed to have a wonderful art teacher. She also wrote. I remember her smile and the way she wore her graying brown hair back in a ponytail, but I can’t remember a single art piece I did in that portable building. What I do remember is the last week of school when we were all busting at the seams with energy to release on summer vacation—she read us a chapter from her novel in progress. I don’t know if she ever finished it, or ever published it, but the images of that story stuck with me. People with colorful feathers like parrots. A race of creatures on the edge of extinction that hid themselves in the modern human world.

One of my steampunk projects. Now I need to design the costume to go with it.

One of my steampunk art projects.

I still remember that day she read her novel to us because it gave me a window into who she was. Here was this lady that taught us how to use charcoal pencils and oil pastels, but her real heart belonged to a fantasy story she worked on at home in her spare time.

At the end of that school year, she also gave me her own personal copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Why? I can’t quite remember. She told me to read it well and do the lessons that summer. I did. The book was a big influence on my early artistic explorations. The concept that different halves of the brain control different thoughts fascinated me. The right hemisphere for creative, symbolic and abstract things—the left for analytical, linguistic and logical things. The left brain controlled the right hand, the right brain the left hand.

I would close one eye or the other and try to discover which of my brains was dominant, as per the exercises in that book. I could never get a clear answer. I gave up and decided they were co-dominant and/or that I had vision problems (which was also true, and I got my first pair of serious glasses in the 5th grade).

I began to imagine my brain was like a computer, with parts for various functions. At the time in the mid-80s, my father was a pioneering computer programmer at Florida State. This allowed me privileged access to the huge super-computer rooms filled with giant archaic machines which probably had less overall computing power now than my cell-phone. They required dedicated space with icy-cold air-conditioning and had fascinating chips inside like big bugs with legs. Their hard-drives were strange circular objects which, when scratched, became impromptu art pieces to decorate his office wall, along with old bunt-out computer vacuum tubes. Ha! Steampunk sidetrack.

So, what does all this have to do with my writing today? Simply that I’ve never been able to separate my two brains—left and right—very successfully. When I think of a scene, it often comes to me in symbols or colors first before the action of the story takes shape. When I get writer’s block, what usually helps me is to work on a visual art project. Lately my muse has been jewelry.

The messy right side of my brain (in my office)

The messy right side of my brain (in my office).

I have a dedicated art table on the right side of my office (totally a coincidence, maybe). The left side of the room is for my computer and my graphics business—the client calls and the file cabinets and the work that keeps me buying groceries. The right side of the room is where I just allow myself to have fun. At the moment covering that desk there are plastic tackle-boxes filled with shiny sparkly things—and gears—which I play with until I find the right combination for a new jewelry piece or steampunk costume accessory. Bending wire is very therapeutic to me (I also grow bonsai—more about that in a later blog post).

And oftentimes when I’m at work on an art project, that plot problem or that nagging character motivation comes together in my head.

Working the right side of the brain loosens up the left (the language side). Keep them flowing together and your stories will benefit.

Five ideas which can help beat writer’s block by using the power of visual art:

  1. Keep a sketchbook – draw anything: shapes, patterns, words flowing in abstract designs. Think of a character or a scene where you might be stuck and just free-associate.
  2. Clip pictures that speak to your story – I have a shoebox and a digital file of photos for each novel, but you could dedicate a Pinterest board to your work in progress, or a bulletin board in your office.
  3. Go to an art show – Drop in to a local gallery or museum and allow yourself enough time to think about the art and what the artist was trying to say with his or her work.
  4. Join an online art community – No matter your genre, chances are good there are some amazing art groups online. Facebook, DeviantART, and Pinterest are just a few places to get lost. As a steampunk writer, if I need costume or prop ideas for a scene, I can always find inspiration online.
  5. Try something new – make a beaded necklace. Do paper mache. Paint a still-life. Do a collage with magazine clippings. Even plant a new garden. You’d be surprised at the story ideas that come to you when you try a new form of art.

What about you? What creative things do you do to keep the right side of your brain in gear?

This article was Rebloged from www.outcasts-tlh.com.

My Favorite Steampunk Films

By Cristen E. Rose

When I tell friends that I write steampunk, some of them smile, and others say, “What?” The ones that smile probably wonder how a bottle-cap with glued-on gears and watch parts they saw at the flea market has anything to do with literature. The conversation usually goes something like this:

The Prestige —Touchstone, 2006

The Prestige —Touchstone, 2006

Me: It’s Victorian-era science fiction. You know, like Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.

Them: Oh! Wow. (puzzlement, scratches head)

Me: Yep. It’s fun to mix up the genres. I throw some magic in there too for good measure.

Them: Why is it called steampunk?

Me: Short answer is because the genre was named in the 80’s along with Cyberpunk and a few other “punks.” The “Steam” is because it takes place the age of steam-powered machines and industry. “Punk” is because the protagonist is usually an anti-hero that goes up against a corrupt system, society or non-human entity of some sort. Just think Neo in The Matrix—but that’s Cyberpunk.

And then, as it always happens, they ask…

Them: “OK, I got’cha. Are there any steampunk movies out there?”

Me: You remember Wild Wild West? The one with Will Smith? How about Cowboys and Aliens?

Then they smile and nod, and we’ve reached an understanding of what strangeness occupies my free-time and fantasy life. If the discussion carries any farther, I might add these others to the list.

My favorite steampunk films (in no specific order) are:

(BTW, all of these are a MUST SEE.)

The Prestige —Touchstone, 2006
Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale AND David Bowie? Yes, please! Two ruthless magicians duel it out for the best stage act. When Tesla gets involved, things get interesting. (see above photo)

Howl’s Moving Castle US release by Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004
An artistic masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Again, a love story featuring a steampunk magician who is Christian Bale. What is it with me? {wink}

Sherlock Holmes — Warner Bros., 2010
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have fun with these roles in the steampunk remake. Yes! That impossible death-machine contraption in the end qualifies this version as sci-fi, folks. Not to mention the use of dark secret societies is a well-known steampunk trope—one of which I am particularly fond.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus —Sony Pictures Classics, 2008
Bet you’ve never heard of this film. But with Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, you should have. The setting is modern, so it bends the rules a bit on what is considered steampunk. However, it involves magic, a Victorian style traveling troupe of actors and whimsical machines. The visual aesthetic is heavily influenced by steampunk maker culture too.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — Fox, 2003
Superheroes pulled from the pages of Victorian novels must join forces to battle a global threat. It’s got everything any steampunk heart could desire. Much love for this fun action movie.

Stardust — Paramount, 2007
A beautiful love story, this film also features a kick-ass airship that harvests lightning bolts for energy. Oh yes…

Hugo — Paramount, 2011
Visually stunning, this movie was full to bursting with enough gears and clockworks to satisfy. The story was sweet and well-told.

Of course, this list doesn’t scratch the surface of what steampunk films have been made. Want to dig deeper?


So, what are your faves? We’ll talk books in a future blog post. That’s going to be a much longer list…