Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Those Crazy Bohemians! (Place du Tertre)

As an indie author, I can appreciate the new found freedom the Impressionists found when they started painting outside.  How nice to be able to get out of the confines of a studio and be out in the fresh air! I know that I enjoy writing outside during the months that weather permits.  There is just something about being outside that inspires me. Regardless of if the Impressionists were in a busy city setting or out in the countryside, I am certain that they found it to be inspiring, too.

The most popular place to paint outside in Montmartre became Place du Tertre. Sitting in the heart of Montmartre's elevated area, this tiny cobblestone square became a hub of artistic activity. Men painted frantically, new ideas coming faster than paint could dry. Those ideas were shared and tested, sometimes to great success.

Place du Terte had some trees, but was surrounded on all four sides by village life going on about its business. Many people would stop and watch those bohemians, shaking their heads either in wonder or in confusion as to why anyone would try to paint a street scene in "those" colors! What the villagers couldn't know was that history was happening right before their eyes.  This era is now seen as one of the most influential, if not the most, periods in art history. Oh, you crazy bohemians. You were just trying to find a way to keep eating.  In the process, you set the world of art on fire.

It didn't hurt that Place du Tertre was only a few blocks away from the infamous Au Lapin Agile, a favorite watering hole for the artists. Au Lapin is so steeped in history that a future post will be devoted to it.

Artists still gather to paint at Place du Tertre every day.  In fact, it grew so packed with artists that one now has to apply for a permit to paint there.  The permit, of course, costs you money. The day is divided into two parts, with some artists jealously guarding their extremely small space until lunch, and others coming in after lunch to claim those small areas. Dining tables have also been crammed in, taking space away from artists.

Now it is commercial.  Now, many of the artists overcharge and - quite frankly - don't paint nearly as well as they should in order to ask the prices they seem to think they are entitled to.

But back then?  Ah, back then they painted for the love of it.  They painted because they had to, and only hoped they would sell a piece before they went hungry too many nights. Overcharge? Hell, some would  give a painting away in exchange for a small piece of cheese, a baguette, and a small bottle of the cheap red wine the nunnery in Montmartre produced.

And if they got those things, they usually didn't hesitate to share with their friends. After all, what is a good glass of vin worth, if not shared in the company of others?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Those Crazy Bohemains! (At last, painting en plein aire)

As both an indie author and a painter, I completely relate to the excitement and fear the nineteenth and twentieth century bohemian artists of Paris felt in regard to their new found freedom.  Now they could paint what they wanted, yet they were not guaranteed any income! The same is true for indie authoring/self publishing. It is a roll of the dice. But, oh, what freedom!

This freedom to paint whatever they wanted was joined with the need to paint in new ways. This was not the only freedom that these artists had for the first time, however. Something very simple and basic to us had just started to exist for these artists.  Paint in tubes.

For the first time, artists did not have to spend hours painstakingly mixing their colors from raw pigments mixed with medium of their choice. This took hours and confined them to studio painting. It was simply too difficult to be portable. When painting in tubes became widely available the game changed. Now artists could pack up and paint wherever their hearts desired! Imagine the excitement of painting for the first time en plein aire (outside)!

Now artists could paint landscapes and street scenes in new ways, capturing the glow of sunrise or sunset, the glare of full sun, the shadows as they moved across the buildings during different parts of the day. The colors of things changed depending on the weather and time of day. Artists had always known that, but now it was even easier to capture on canvas. Gone was the desire to paint picture perfect. Instead of worrying about making a two dimensional canvas appear three dimensional, many Impressionists allowed their painting to look flat. They concentrated on showing us something different: The brightness, the glow, the shadows, the color. Show me something different indeed!

These Impressionists found they had a new problem when painting outside. Now they needed to work quickly, and oils take time to dry between layers. They began to work alla prima, or wet-on-wet. This technique not only allowed them to work faster, it demanded they do so. It was imperative to get the layers on before the first layer dried.

These artists shared techniques and ideas constantly, both at popular painting sites and at cabarets, such as Au Lapin Agile and Chat Noir. One of the most popular places to paint en plein aire became Place du Tertre in Montmartre. Although technically part of Paris, the village maintained that it was independent of the city, and it was the place where Impressionism truly began. We will talk more about these famous places, and about the bohemian artists and their lifestyle in later posts.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Post: Author Molly Greene "Five Things I Know Are True"

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Molly Greene, who has written a contemporary fiction book that is also a mystery. She joins us to give advice for coping with the ups and downs of self publishing.  I found that her advice not only applies to the writing/publishing part of my life, but to having a happy, enjoyable life in all areas. Like Molly, I won't always succeed in following this advice, but I sure will try.

Five Things I Know Are True
by Molly Greene
Upfront disclosure: Perfection remains below my sightline, out of reach. I don’t pretend to know it all, and I am not trying to give advice about the best way to cope with life. However, as a self-published author in the midst of a wild indie rollercoaster ride, I have found that good life coping skills can also be used to smooth the path. These behaviors and beliefs work for me.
Humor helps Laughter smoothes the rough patches and highlights the wins. I appreciate people who make me chuckle, and I cultivate relationships with friends who value a sense of fun. Drama is something to be avoided. Since there are lots of opportunities for drama in the publishing world, I try not to take it all too seriously. I said “try.”
Almost all bad luck leads to something better There’s an old saying that goes something like, “Great good fortune is disguised as extreme bad luck.” Does that mean we’re supposed to get excited about a flat tire, flooded basement, computer malfunction? No. What I try to do is focus on solution and wonder how the Universe is going to turn the chaos into a benefit. It’s tough, I don’t always manage, but I do cultivate the ability to ask myself what good may come of the crappy things that happen. Bottom line: Release disappointments and focus on what’s good.
I am responsible I am responsible for my behavior and the choices I make, and my decisions – good and bad – helped form the person I am. I can’t blame anyone else for sad, bad, or angry outcomes. I choose the way I view opportunities, people and events, and these choices help determine the quality of my life. I can’t control things that happen or other people’s reactions, but I am in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing my response. And I am proud of the moments when I catch a glimpse of the individual I aspire to be.
Whatever I’m avoiding is most often exactly what I need to do The conversations I don’t want to have, the patience I don’t want to summon, the approach I don’t want to take, the feelings I don’t want to acknowledge, the tasks I don’t want to begin: whatever I’m sidestepping is usually a red flag. If I just do it, it’s seldom as bad as I thought it would be. The benefits reach beyond the obvious. For instance, when I began to tackle my hardest work projects first thing each morning, I developed better self-discipline overall and my life worked better.
Perseverance is key Life – and self-publishing – is often frustrating and disappointing. That’s not going to change. When I was younger I was a quitter, but eventually I found that walking away for good is just as unsatisfying as dealing with problems. So now I simply choose to persevere. I give myself permission to close the computer, take a drive, and avoid a given situation – until I feel strong again, or regenerated or renewed or once again equal to the task. Then I take a deep breath and start over. It’s okay to take a short vacation, but never, ever give up on your dreams.
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Genre – Contemporary Fiction / Mystery
Rating – PG
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Those Crazy Bohemians (Why Impressionism?)

The period of Impressionism saw artists begin to paint in new and exciting ways.  For centuries artists had been painting realism, making paintings exact reproductions of the subject matter.  Strict rules had been followed and subject matter often was religious or portraits of family members of the upper class.  There was also still life and landscape.  Every painting had been done to "perfection" rendering an eternal picture of how a person or place actually looked.

What changed artists and their visions in the nineteenth century?

The answer was simple.  It would be romantic to think it was all about artistic vision and the desire to always create something new.  While those things were definitely part of the equation, the main driving force behind artists painting in a new way was one of the most basic: survival.

You see, the camera had been invented and was becoming more and more effective at taking photos. What use would there be for artists who took weeks and months to finish a portrait when a photographer could be hired? True, the photographs were not in color.  But artists realized that it was only a matter of time before that would no longer be true and, if they did not change their style, they would become obsolete.

Another problem compounded the dilemma. Class structure had changed.  Now there was a middle class.  The lower middle class was called proletariat. The lowest of these proletarians were the artisans. All of a sudden, more and more artists who painted found themselves on their own and struggling to put food in their mouth.

You see, for centuries artists had been employed by the very wealthy to paint family portraits and history, many times staying on permanently as a staff member to continue to paint that history over the years.  They had a place to sleep, food, and sometimes were even treated like a family member.  It really depended upon the family how the artist was seen.  Some families considered the artist another servant, and provided minimal lodging, food, and a small wage.  Others loved their artist and had them sit with them at family meals, gave them a room in the main house that was luxurious and paid them quite well.

The trade off? The artist had no freedom to paint what their soul cried for them to paint.  All of their time was taken up painting for the family. Many artists mourned the fact that they spent their life painting things they would rather not be painting, just to make a living.  Still, the fact that they had food, shelter and a wage was nothing to turn one's back on.

Then the camera came. All of a sudden, it became more and more rare for an artist to have permanent employment with a family.  Sure, they could be hired once in awhile for a painting, but even that was not guaranteed. Now they had the freedom that all people blessed with artistic ability long for...but no money! No place to live and, very often, nothing to eat. Artists began living in squalor, sometimes going door to door with paintings begging for buyers at any price, just so they could eat. Even Renoir and Degas had to peddle their paintings just to make rent at times.

It seemed there was no happy medium. Artists today still struggle to make it.

These artists began gathering and talking with each other. Ideas fed off of each other and soon the images that were talked about began to appear on canvas. They knew everything that they painted going forward had to have something different about it or it would never sell.

I, for one, am happy that all of this change occurred.  Realism generally bores me. Look, anyone who can paint can do a vase of flowers exactly how it looks. All artists can create a still life in exact replica of the items places in front of them.  So can a camera.  If you want a reproduction, for God's sake just take a picture.

The new mantra for these bohemians was "Show me something different".  And did they ever! We will talk more about those crazy bohemians in future posts.  For now, I will just end by saying this: If you want real art hanging on your walls, go for the piece that shows the ordinary in an extraordinary way. As those bohemians realized, THAT is what art would and should be, moving forward. Once art becomes stagnant it ceases to be the driving force it is meant to be.

Art should always be fresh and alive. Art should always strive to reinvent itself; to be something different. Anything less tarnishes the very definition of art.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Those Crazy Bohemians! (Why Montmartre?)

What made the artists of Paris leave the city and move to Montmartre in the nineteenth century? The first answer is the most common reason that artists are always on the move.

Napoleon III wanted Paris "beautified" and so he gave most of the prime land in the city to wealthy friends.  It was their responsibility to develop it. Develop it they did, and rents soared. The original inhabitants had no choice but to leave.

Montmartre was officially made part of Paris in the 1850's but the city did not develop it, and the village considered itself very much separate. It was free of Paris taxes and had a nunnery that made cheap red wine. Those alone were good reasons to move to Montmartre.  Add the facts that Montmartre sat at the top of a hill that overlooked the whole city of Paris, and there was an abundance of light (hard to find in the city) and you had the perfect location for painters to gather.

Johan Jongkind and Camille Pisarro were some of the first artists to inhabit the area in the mid-nineteenth century. It was not until toward the end of that century and the beginning of the twentieth that artists really began to flock there.

 Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Brissaud, Alfred Jarry, Gen Paul, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Suzanne Valadon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Maurice Utrillo, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen, and African-American expatriates such as Langston Hughes worked in this village and found artistic inspiration there.

Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and other artists living in poverty worked in a commune, a building called Le Bateau-Lavoir, during the years 1904–1909. Composer Satie (who was a pianist at Le Chat Noir), also lived in the area.

The last of the bohemian Montmartre artists was Gen Paul. He was born in Montmartre and a friend of Utrillo. Paul's calligraphic expressionist lithographs, sometimes memorializing picturesque Montmartre itself, owe a debt to Raoul Dufy.

In fact, many of these artists painted scenes of the village. More and more artists flocked to the area in order to draw inspiration from each other. It must have been quite a scene, and one that I would have loved being part of.

Stay tuned for more information about the bohemian artists of Montmartre and Impressionism.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Guest Post: The Challenges of Writing Techno-Political Thrillers by John Waye Falbey

Today's guest post is by an author who writes in a genre I would be clueless about.  I can only imagine the research that goes into this genre.  Historical fiction is research enough! Let's welcome John Wayne Falbey!
The Challenges of Writing Techno-Political Thrillers

by John Wayne Falbey

There are two areas that I consider to be especially challenging in writing a current techno-political thriller. The first involves the technology part. It’s critical that the author gets the science right; otherwise, it’s science fiction, and that’s another genre. To get the science right, research is key. That raises questions, such as: When to conduct the research – before starting the book or during the writing of it?, Where to conduct it? and How much is sufficient?

When? Obviously it needs to be done before you begin writing about the subject to which it pertains. Jim Rollins, the noted NYT best selling author, does most of his research up front. He gives himself 90 days to complete it, and then begins writing the story. With my novel, Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening, I did the bulk of my research on genetics – an underlying theme – up front, then researched other topics, such as the toys of the über wealthy, sophisticated weaponry, etc., as situations developed during the writing of the book.

Where? For my first novel, The Quixotics, written before the technological revolution, I did most of my research in the library. Now I do most of it online. Caveat: don’t rely largely on a single source. For example, Wikipedia is very easy to use and covers just about every topic you can imagine. But it’s open-source, meaning that anyone can contribute to it and those contributions may not be accurate or current.

How much research? You should be able to discuss the topic intelligently and in some depth with experts on the subject. Your readership may include some of those experts. Readers don’t praise or patronize authors who have no real grasp of the subject.

The second challenge in writing thrillers is to blend reality with fiction. Most authors with whom I’ve discussed this topic admit that they have a tendency to base characters on people they know. It’s a better policy to build your individual characters from a composite of people – ones you may know well and others whom you may only have observed somewhere or read about. I did this with the personalities of the six members of the black ops unit in my novel Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening. Interestingly, many people I know think they recognize themselves as one or the other of these characters.

When basing characters on other people, the writer has to use caution not to openly commit libel or callously invade the privacy of a fellow human being. That’s not always as easy as it may seem. There’s something of an exception in this area, however, and that’s the public figure. Part of the price of fame and glory is the surrender of a portion of your right to privacy. I would not suggest you go so far as to use the same name for your character as the person on whom he or she is based. That may be crossing the line.

As for blending reality into the story line of the thriller, that’s relatively easy. Read newspapers and magazines, tune in to the news media on radio and television, and follow blogs and online forums. Despite the bias inherent in much of what you see and hear, there’s enough political intrigue in the world today for any serious writer to craft a good techno-political thriller.

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Genre – Techno-Political Thriller

Rating – PG

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