Art Inspired Stories


After I did the very first Art Inspired Stories Project in 2014, I had several writer friends ask me how I did it.  How did I write 11 stores in 24 hours and then have it all organized to do a live presentation at the end. I tried to explain, and some still looked at me blankly, as if I hadn't really addressed their question.

I was a Production Manager in the performing arts for many years, and figuring out the three dimensional puzzle pieces to organize a complicated project is something I am particularly good at.  It's like cooking Christmas dinner and getting everything to be done at the proper time; not all at once, but in a sequence of least resistance which makes sense and uses economy of effort towards a fabulous end result.

I suspect that the question these colleagues were really asking was a creative one, and not a logistical one.  None the less, for the benefit of those who might benefit, here is how I do it . . . in a Photo Essay!

Step #1 -  Get into your car, on to your bicycle, or on a bus . . . 

Step #2 - Arrive at the site of the Art Show.  It helps when someone friendly is there to let you in.  This is Rachel Johnson, one of the organizers of the Proctor ArtsFest Juried Art Show.  I have known her since I was elementary school aged.

Step #3 - Put your things down but, and this is important, NOT ON THE ART!

Step #4 - Walk around, look at the art, take photographs.
Here are a few pointers.  I recommend you use a camera (*giggles*).  Seriously, I use my digital Sony camera and my IPhone to shoot the art.  They have different levels of sensitivity and they provide me with back up images if I need them.

Here are some other things I have learned:
  • Make sure you take pictures of the tags on the art.  Even if you take notes, the photo is a good way to double check spelling and other details.
  • The artwork will never look as good in your amateur photography as it does in person.  Don't sweat it. In my work with the Proctor Juried Art Show, our goal is to use stories to give folks another reason to appreciate the visual art, and to possibly look at it in a new way. So my photos are just a guide and that's all the better they need to be.
  • Be careful of shiny finishes, and framed artwork under glass.  You WILL NOT be able to photograph them straight on.  Be happy to shoot them at a 3/4 angle, or as little as you can get away with to reduce glare in the photo.
  • The camera will pick up things your eyes do not, so check your shots and take multiple of each work so that you have options.  Give yourself enough time to go back and re-shoot specific works if you find you need clearer images.

Step #5 - Organize your notes and images.

I started by transcribing the artwork tags into a list of all the works that I had shot.  Because they were in different rooms, I organized the list into three sub-lists by room, and alphabetized by title.

Then I used my organized list to make a catalog for myself.  I edited the photo images down to 500 pixels, adjusted the brightness and contrast to represent the art as best I could, and in one case I airbrushed out some annoying reflection.  I used Photoshop, but you can do the same thing in almost any photo editing software.  Then I placed the images into a copy of my artwork list.

                                 Step #6 - I started writing.

I'm lucky. I have two computers with three screens, so it is easy to have the images large on one screen, the catalog on the other and my writing in the middle.  But you don't need to do it this way.  Print out your catalog and use it as your reference. Maybe use your phone or camera to review the images; be creative! Take your time.  Take breaks to clear your head.

Now here comes the part where I suspect my writer friends were really asking how I did it.  The best answer I can offer is this . . . 

Step #7 - Prepare to present.

I use my catalog document again, revising it to make a program of the works I read live at the Show, and also to make a script for myself.

The first year we carried the works into the performance area, but the liability of moving the art is too nerve-wracking. So this year we decided to organize the artworks I read by room and make a program with the images so folks could follow that and go back to look after the stories.  My website address is at the bottom of the program page so folks can go online and see all 21 stories from 2015. I pre-set the post on my website to go live at the same time we begin the reading at the show, so as not to give the stories away in advance.  After all, we want to encourage people to come and see the art and hear the stories.   I only read 8-10 of them at the Show itself. We'll see how that goes.

The first year I wrote 11 stories in 24 hours.  It seemed like people were interested in more stories, so we expanded our vision a bit this year and I wrote 21 in just under 48 hours.

Read all of the 2016 stories from Proctor ArtsFest HERE
Read all of the 2015 stories from Peninsula Art Leagues 13th annual Open Show HERE
Read all of the 2015 stories from Proctor ArtsFest HERE
Read all of the 2014 stories from Proctor ArtsFest HERE
This is a fun project.  I have done it for two years and I love doing it.  It is a nice break from on-going writing projects.  It is also a way to connect several artistic worlds.  The worlds of visual arts, performing arts, and language arts tend to hang out in their own little territories and with their own constituencies, kind of like the street gangs in West Side Story.  This project gets elements of all three out of their zones and lets them dance together just a bit.

I have to give credit to Gene Kester of Proctor Arts for helping to hatch this idea with me way back in 2013.  My gratitude also goes to Rachel and James Johnson, who provide excellent support, communication, and more than a few hearty laughs.  And finally my thanks to to the Juried Art Show as a whole for letting Gene and I take this idea out for a spin to see what might happen.

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