Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Plein Air Writing

This past weekend my husband took part in his first plein air festival. Sponsored by Billsboro Winery on Seneca Lake, the art created in just over twenty-four hours was incredibly beautiful and fascinating in its diversity.

For those unfamiliar with the plein air style, there is a wonderful explanation here but, for the layman, the short version is that it is painting from real life. It's an attempt to capture on canvas the light, the sound, the mood of a particular place in space and time. It is painting "in the open air."

And while he painted, I spent the weekend wondering why writers didn't do more of the same. We think nothing of accepting an artist, easel upright and paints at his or her side, creating art in public for all the world to watch. We go to museums and galleries and ooh and ahh over paintings that were created in this style. 

Why don't we do the same for writers?

Answer: we have a different stereotype: that of the lonely writer, locked in a garret room with only a typewriter for a companion and a whiskey for sustenance. Writers spurn the outside world. We live inside our heads and crave solitude.


It is time to put to rest that tired old picture of a writer and the best way to do that -- is to go public.

You heard me. Get out there. Go to parks, to restaurants, to festivals - and write. Don't find a quiet corner, sit right in the middle of the action and whip out your notebook and pen and start sketching with words. Capture phrases, conversation, write sentences that fill in the flavor of the scene. Work fast and don't edit. Create. Create art with words.


For this week's prompt, get out of the house. Shake up your writing routine and go somewhere public. Outside in the sunshine if you can. Plein air artists focus on capturing the light. How can you do the same but with words? Look at the scene and focus on mood. Don't worry about full sentences or editing. This is a sketch.

1. Find a comfortable place where you can both observe and be observed. Look around you and focus on one part of the scene as a 5-10 minute warm-up write. Use this time to relax and get your head in the writing game, so to speak. Let people watch you write if they want (you may need to ask them to hold a question until you've finished a thought).

2. Choose a larger portion of the scene for a longer writing, 30-45 minutes. Be cognitive of the choices you're making as you're writing. Note the techniques you use, the sentence structure, the arrangement of words, but do not let your thoughts trick you into editing. Pause, watch, listen, write.

3. Reflect. Do this step at home or in private. After you've done both writings, take another 10 minutes and, in writing, record what you did, where you wrote and how you felt about both the process and what you created. Don't skip this step!
This is where you learn. 

4. Optional: Edit. Painters do not have this luxury, but writers do. Take a look at the work you created. Where can you tighten the phrasing? Add words to fill in the picture? BE CAREFUL! Just as painters need to be careful to not overwork a painting, writers must also be wary of overworking their sketches.

Have fun with this! If you're adventurous, let me know how it went in the comments below.

If you find this useful, please leave a tip in the jar.

Diana (who thinks it might be fun to create a plein air festival for writers...)



Julie Jindal said...

A Plein Air Writing Festival -- it exists! Actually we call it The Plein Air Writing Exhibition, but the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, Oregon has been organizing an annual Plein Air event that includes painters and writers for eight years now. Over the span of five days, writers and painters visit a specific location each day for creative inspiration. Painters' work goes on display (and for sale) in the Center's gallery, and writers choose two works to submit. Each submission must be less than 500 words and can be prose or poetry -- essay, memoir, free verse, flash fiction, anything inspired by the outdoor locale. One item is displayed on the gallery's wall, both items are included in an online anthology published by the Center, and one (sometimes both) items can be shared by the writer at a public reading in the Center's theater. Frankly, it's fabulous. Our deadline has passed for participation this year (the event starts next week) but yes, such an event is possible, popular and not terribly difficult to organize. For more details, contact me at julie@onlineprose.com.

Diana Hunter said...

Julie, this sounds wonderful! I'm sending you a private email to find out more. I'd love to do something like this on this coast!