Words and Pictures
The two most powerful draws in my life have always been the written word, and making pictures. Most of my childhood was spent either with my nose in a book, or with a pencil in my hand, and my favourite words at school were ‘write a story’.
Amongst the most fateful and difficult decisions of my life was choosing between art and English to study at university. In the end, my grades decided for me, and four years later I had a degree in English Studies, but came away from it disillusioned and frazzled by critical theory and joyless analysis and endless different kinds of ‘readings’. So I picked up my paint brush and started practising again, with the rather lofty ambition of becoming a portrait painter.
Anyone who has tried to draw a face knows how difficult it is to accurately depict the lines and shapes of someone’s face, let alone capture their spirit and character. It is intricate and painstaking, so I dedicated all my spare time to it, spending hours and hours over each picture until I got it ‘right’. Guess what? It got stressful and overwhelming, and eventually I simply stopped doing any kind of artwork.
It was at this time I started to think about writing a book. In Fallen Woods started life as a fairy tale for children, which I intended to illustrate. It soon became clear to me that I didn’t have the knack of writing for young readers. I found it really hard, for example- how do you know which words they will be able to understand, and how ‘dark’ can a story become without being disturbing to them. I switched to writing In Fallen Woods as a young adult novel, and I was away.
Painting a picture and writing a novel may seem worlds apart, but in many ways I found the methods similar. Like the rough marking out of a composition on canvas, I plotted, not intricately but broadly. Once I knew where everything went, I could focus on details. I visualised every scene before I described. Now words were my colours and tools of expression. I thought about tones, chiaroscuro, the contrasts between the darkest and the lightest points of my character’s journey. Refining the fine details on canvas-editing paragraphs on a page.
I quickly found I was far more confident at describing with words than ‘describing’ in my pictures, and that those university years at last paid off, having provided me with the exposure to so much and so varied types of literature, words were readily available at my fingertips, at my command. I better understood the nuances of language than I did art. In the back of my mind, I have always felt, rightly or wrongly, without a greater knowledge of and training in art, I would never be an ‘Artist’. While I could describe emotions with words, my pictures I felt were lacking something personal; they didn’t have their own unique story to tell.
Creatively, I was buried deep in Fallen Woods, lit up by the muse, and in love with writing. But my designs had a fault. When I began my novel, I made a promise to myself that I would give it everything I had; it would be the best writing I could produce, I would make every sentence perfect, so that when it was finished and I applied to literary agents, I thought either there would be no way they could turn me down, or if they did, I could say I gave it my best shot, and happily walk away from writing and never pick up a pen again. So I edited and edited, dedicated every moment of my spare time to it, spending hours and hours over each paragraph until I got it ‘right’. Guess what? Eventually I couldn’t even look at it.
Meanwhile, in my personal life, I had just become an aunt for the first time. My brother asked me to do some pictures for my nephew’s nursery. Perhaps for the first time since I was a child, I made up a picture out of my head, and it was fun! The picture didn’t have to look like anyone or anything, and after drawing faces, cartoon like animals were simple and enjoyable to draw. I could use bold and bright colours; it was a revelation. I found joy in art again.
Three more nephews and a niece had arrived before I began to look at In Fallen Woods again. After speaking to a literary consultant and trying a few literary agents, I had sussed that the novel was far too long to be considered for a first time, untried author. I could have chopped it up and rearranged it, but I just didn’t believe the story would work as well. So instead of letting it gather dust as another file of my computer, I decided to put it out there, and see what other people thought.
I needed a cover. Not having the funds to employ a book cover designer, I thought I’d have a go myself. For inspiration I looked at old, beautiful hardback designs, you can view some of them here:
I did take a lot of time and it was hard, but I feel happy with my design, happier still that the best of what I can do with my writing and my art have come together as one.
As for what’s next, my main focus is trying to find readers for In Fallen Woods. I’m thinking about possibly doing some artwork for promotional purposes, and beyond that starting my next novel. I hope I’ve learned not to take thing so seriously, that doing things differently, including having faults and flaws, is what creates an individual style, gives art personality; tells a story only you know.
R.N Merle xo
Thank you so much Rebecca for such an awesome post! Your artwork is truly stunning and I loved finding out how your beautiful cover for In Fallen Woods came to be.
Did you enjoy Rebecca’s post? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Until next time ❣