I stayed up way too late last night reading Robin McKinley's Pegasus.
I love Robin McKinley.
It's amazing to me I didn't even know who she was until about five years ago, despite her winning the Newbery Award during my school years. It's possible that a later discovery, though, increased my appreciation for her complete mastery of the craft.
Whenever I finish reading one of her books, there is a satisfied sigh and a happy glow all about me.
It's like I've eaten--and savored--some decadently-rich chocolate or insanely expensive ice cream; the taste lingers on my tongue long after the treat is gone.
A friend and I went to see a Picasso exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum earlier this month. Over 150 pieces were visiting from the Musee National Picasso in Paris. I had prepared for the exhibit by reading books about Picasso in the months leading up to it.
When we arrived, the museum was packed. We had to wait in line almost an hour just to get tickets, and then another 20 minutes to get into the exhibit. Once there, the wall-to-wall people made it difficult to move without invading other patrons' personal space.
No one grumbled or complained, though. We were seeing Picasso!
The exhibit was arranged chronologically, starting at the beginning of his career and spanning a large portion of the 20th century. "How many eyes have seen this art?" I thought.
In researching, there were a couple of pieces I found particularly interesting: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and Guernica. Sadly, they weren't among those at the exhibit; however, I could see paintings that led up to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Studies of masks, studies of people in various positions . . . practice. Rough drafts.
Later, I had to be warned by a blue-shirted security guard to stay six inches away from the art; in my excitement I'd leaned on the display case with sketchbook exercises from Guernica in order to get a closer look. It's easy to look at Picasso's work and think he started with a blank canvas (in the case of Guernica, a very large blank canvas) and just attacked it. One reason Picasso's work is so powerful, though, is because he figured things out first. He tried different compositions in his sketchbooks before attacking the canvas.
I've thought about that a lot in the ensuing weeks. And even though after closing one of Robin McKinley's YA books I feel like she wrote the entire thing with an enchanted pen, I know that isn't true. I've read her blog and discovered it isn't easy for her.
Creating art--writing books, painting pictures, all of it--is hard work. There are no shortcuts, no woo-woo that happens as soon as paintbrush touches canvas. Not even with Picasso.
Yes, there are periods of inspiration; yes, there are times when we feel our muse is feeding us great material.
(There's always a but.)
Those times follow a lot of research, a lot of character interviews, and a lot of rough drafts.
A lot of sketchbook exercises.