Sunday, June 3, 2012

This Is Not A Chainsaw

This is not a chainsaw. Can you turn it on?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Pearson Scott Foresman

I was going to post a concept sketch of the cover illustration for my upcoming fiction collection, The Fool's Illusion, but had to look for a chainsaw online. No, I haven't taken up woodwork. Actually, I was only looking for an image of a chainsaw to sketch from because one of the characters on the cover is supposed to use one.  He hasn't taken up woodwork either.  I write horror, as many of you probably already know and so that should tell you enough what the character on the cover is using the chainsaw for. For now, anyway. You'll see the rest when I post the concept sketch next week and after I've mastered the art of drawing chainsaws within the art of drawing period.

Researching the details of a chainsaw for a story illustration reminded me of Stephen King's advice that he gives in his book, On Writing: research for a story is back story in which back story is just that, back story. It stays in the background. It shouldn't take over the story itself; it's there simply to make the story as a whole believable.

As a writer and artist I'm learning about a variety of subject matter all the time. And so I'm glad that I can do the research on a given topic, yet we artists and writers have to be careful not to turn our story into a term paper or our illustrations into technical drawings like seen in science textbooks (although most of those are done by computer graphics now). We don't write fiction or we don't make illustrations to show off our knowledge of what we researched. We write fiction and make illustrations to tell our stories in as convincing a manner as possible. And so we research to know how the chainsaw works and what it looks like in as much detail as possible so when we write about a character using it we'll know how to describe him/her using it. If we're drawing it in an illustration, we need to know how it works so we can show the person holding it correctly or, if he/she is a psychopath, believably. If we drew every damn detail, every damn bolt and screw and the most precise detail of every tooth on the blade, we're going to end up with a character holding a giant technical illustration of a chainsaw. Or maybe even worse: a photographic painting of a chainsaw with a comparatively sketchy background painting of the person who's supposed to be holding it.

If you are a writer or artist, just remember what the 20th century philosopher, Michel Foucault said about the artist Magritte's painting of a pipe: "This is not a pipe."

Until next time . . .

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