Posted in Agonist Aunt, Agonist Aunt Letters, artists, FYI, nonfiction, Tips and Hacks

Dear Agonist Aunt: Ideas Overload, Fleshing Out Characters

Welcome to our Agonist Aunt’s desk. She’s here to help out all creatives who may be struggling with getting started, finding inspiration, dealing with blocks and whatnots in the whole creative process or getting a project complete. Agonist Aunt does not currently answer career or love-themed letters.

This week, Agonist Aunt advises a creative who’s got too many ideas and a writer who’s looking for the real character behind those Character Sheets. Much gratitude to these two souls for sharing their difficulties that so many of us can relate to.

To write to Agonist Aunt, scroll to the end of the post and fill in the form. Only three letters at most will be chosen each week.

Disclaimer: Agonist Aunt is only a sounding board. Her reply is for your entertainment and enlightenment only. Follow any suggestion at your own discretion and own it for yourself. Agonist Aunt accepts no liability and no credit in any event.

Dear Agonist Aunt,
How Do I Focus On Just One?
For my writing and artwork, one of my problems is that there are just unlimited possibilities of what to do, and I freeze up trying to decide on one. How do I focus in on one thing, the more limited the better probably? Limits seem to expand the creative possibilities, but in a manageable way.
Thanks.
Nine Tailed Foxe

Dear Nine-Tailed Foxe
Temporary ditch diverging possibilities in favour of merging possibilities.
I hate to admit I suffer from a similar problem to your own. Yes, it does lead to paralysis and procrastination, or feeling that you’ve scattered your energies too much. I have two approaches to this problem. Choose one that works best for you at the time.
Work on two or three projects simultaneously. This lengthens the time of completion for each project considerably, but also stops the other procrastinator monster, the dreaded creative block, popping up. For those bursts of creativity (or inspirons as Pratchett termed them) that intrude upon your concentration, file them in a notebook, sketchbook or other note-system. Personally, I like keeping a small notebook handy and jotting down notes or making indecipherable sketches/drawings that lead to later creative surges or inspiration for challenging parts of projects much later…sometimes years later.
Another method is to take similar or complementary (or even contrasting) ideas and use them as elements in your current or other project. This way you get to explore your current passion without losing time or getting too distracted by ‘new’, shiny ideas. I find this way great to grow as a creative and to change my style into one that’s more distinctive—more me!

I pulled a card for you and it’s Achievement. During contemplation of all these awesome ideas and ways to utilise them, it’s important to focus on what you wish to achieve with them, or how they’ll contribute to your overall achievement. Some ideas are just for fun, and you don’t need to do an in-depth exploration of them all, especially if they’re costing you too much time and energy and setting your almost complete or half-way through projects even further behind. Keep that sketchbook/notebook handy or even a character who doesn’t quite fit into you current works on file. Some ideas also need the right time to fully blossom and serve their purpose. In the meantime, you can achieve much more with your time in merging workable ideas or using them as new elements.
Wishing you more clarity, focus and achievement
Agonist Aunt

Dear Agonist Aunt,
How do I find my character’s voice?
Having a fair amount of experience crafting plots and building worlds, the one area where I still stumble most is in moving my original characters beyond a set of traits on a Character Sheet so that they can become a living, breathing person on the page.
BB Wonkycandle

Dear BB Wonkycandle
Tune in, drop out, and observe your character.
Before we get to the crux, let me congratulate you on your attention to crafting plots. Many’s a well-told story that’s sabotaged by a degenerating plot as the story continues.
Ah, yes, Character Sheets. While they make you feel terribly productive, they often only give you a clinical look at your character. To get a more visceral and rounded look at characters, you need to drop your pen/keyboard (or at least set them aside), get a nice cup of tea/coffee/tipple of choice, and find a comfy seat. Now, close your eyes and imagine your character in a scene of your story. If you see your plot like a movie, press the pause button. What is their expression in that scene? How are they feeling at that point? How are they standing? DO NOT WRITE DOWN A THING. Just KNOW this about your character. Carry on noticing your character through the scene. The way they move, the way they speak, their facial expressions. DO NOT TRY TO MAKE THEM FIT TO YOUR PLOT IF THEY ARE BEHAVING DIFFERENT TO YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Characters dictate, enhance or emerge with plots. They are not fully formed and we do not fully know them until the end…sometimes never. Let yourself discover your characters as you would a new acquaintance or friend.

If you have trouble visualising your character so minutely, you might want to try casting your favourite/least favourite actor in their role—a great way to justify binge-watching if you need it. Now you have a template for their facial expressions and physical movement, and it should be easy to imagine them playing out the scene in your plot.
I also find dialogue and ‘hearing’ the character’s speech very helpful in revealing aspects of them: their accent, their choice of words, their verbal tics and their silences. All of these can be far more indicative of their inner workings and foreshadow their strengths and weaknesses. Similarly, having a ‘character song’—one which typifies them in some way can also conjure them up almost instantly. For example, in the movie Bunrako, music was used to enhance each character’s nature without dialogue, but it told us so much about them in that moment. Play this song/music when you write about them.

I pulled a card for you, and it’s Empathy. I think it sums up wonderfully what we’ve been talking about. The illustration even has an ear on it, so ‘hear’ your character speak and hear what they’re feeling and how they choose to reveal (or hide) themselves in that moment. Only then is it time to pick up your pen (or keyboard) and let them interact with your plot.
May all your relationships with your characters be long, fruitful and full of empathy.
Agonist Aunt

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Posted in artists, FYI, Interview, Limelight, Uncategorized

In The Limelight: Cat Leonard

Cat Leonard artist quote colors

I’ve been a fan of Cat Leonard and her work since 2015 when she illustrated a work of mine for SciPhi Journal. I fell in love with her bold style, which is so reminiscent of the Aussie Outback for me. More so, I adore her animal portraits, too, with their unusual perspectives. I must admit her portraits of people often leave me feeling conflicted. I feel she captures something beyond their mere image, beyond what most people might see—an emotion or attitude they may not admit to when first meeting you!
Though Cat agreed to an interview some time ago, it’s taken this long for us to make this happen. Life and interesting things have been coming along! I’m glad Cat managed to make some time for my questions before her next commission and workshop. Here’s how it went.

Book cover SciPhi Journal Issue 5 artist Cat Leonard

I love your cyan and orange/yellow signature paintings. How did you get into that combination?
Hmmmm…what would those colours be in my pallet? Cobalt turquoise, Cadmium orange light, Nickel yellow, Australian salmon gum…
I tend to think about colour in terms of what they are next to, because colours look their best when you can see other colours at the same time. Like pink is my favourite colour but only when I can see yellow at the same time, and because certain colours work next to specific other colours I tend to group them like that in my paintings. So, when I get out pink I also get out yellow, which is why I regularly choose my “signature” colour combinations.

Quote Cat Leonard artist painting animals
Cat Leonard Sovereign Fowl catleonardart.com
Sovereign Fowl

Your pet and animal portraits are magnificent. Do you prefer them to your portraits of people? If so, why?
Animals are quicker to paint than people, and I can really let loose with paint, colour and wild marks when painting fur, feathers and, say…the wrinkled skin of a chicken’s head. Also, I enjoy painting old people with wrinkles and age spots, and can tackle them in a similar way, but young smooth skin, especially children and babies, and candid poses at a distance where I don’t see marks, wrinkles or spots in the skin, such as full figurative work, for me is more challenging. But I’ve been learning oils and glazing so that’s slowly changing as I play with that medium.

Llama by Cat Leonard catleonardart.com

So, I’ve often wondered, just how long does it take you to paint the animal portraits? Do you now have a kind of system for getting them done to a deadline?
If I’ve got a deadline I can paint them quicker. I once had a deadline of a day, so I told myself I could do it and painted a glorious pig overnight. I didn’t think about it and I just painted; knew the formulae from a previous painting and used that.
I can re-paint my paintings a lot quicker than new ones and some commissions ask for those.

Horse and rooster art by Cat Leonard catleonardart.com

You’ve had an unusual series a few years ago which featured animals juxtaposed with text—old books and newspapers, I think it was. Do you enjoy mixing media and the seeming incongruous, or was that an experimental phase?
I love mixed media and I do work this way still today. Often the back of my work has interesting pages torn out of books stuck on them with the title of the work painted next to or on them (a little surprise for the buyer). But that body of work was inspired by a photographer/poet, and I worked with them on several projects over several years.


Quote Cat Leonard book cover creation

Tell us a little about your book and story illustrations. Do you still work on them?
Mainly I do covers, and at the moment I illustrate the covers for Francis Porretto. I’m commissioned to do my 6th cover for him. He sends me chapters to read and from those I conceive a visual.

Book cover The Wise And The Mad by Francis W Porretto artist Cat Leonard catleonardart.com

It’s quite a responsibility creating a book cover because it gives the first impressions of the book, so you’ve gotta say something about the story, make it intriguing but not give anything important away and not create a visual that will direct the imagination away from what’s described in the story—like you don’t want to present a character from the story that doesn’t do that character justice.

St Michael by Cat Leonard catleonardart.com
St Micheal

You’ve also shared some religious icon-inspired pieces. Is that a path you’d like to explore further?
Yes, religious art does interest me, especially Christian liturgical art. Being Catholic myself, having grown up in a large catholic family, I feel that I haven’t quite found my feet in this genre yet, but I’ve certainly dabbled and painted St Michael by request three times, and Monsignor Ian Dempsey and Philip Wilson when he was archbishop of Adelaide, the passion of Christ and the resurrection and the Mother of God three times, and some other stuff. The most recent St Michael was an interesting experience where I kind of re-interpreted Guido Reni’s famous painting St Michael Defeats Satan, and I used a familiar process I often use where I take a messed up canvas and then draw him out through the mess as I pull together the marks—like bringing him forward through the mess of postmodernism. It was most enjoyable.

Oil painting by Cat Leonard catleonardart.com
Oil painting

The South Australian Fine Arts scene seems quite healthy, and I reckon you get commissions from all across the country. So, are you working on expanding your presence abroad, too, by working with international commissions?
I do get commissions from all over the place, but most are from Adelaide.
It’s a standard question I ask these days with commissions: “Are you from Adelaide?” Because I’ve gotta consider the options for painting things that are suitable to post or the shipping fees are ridiculously expensive, so I would prefer to send a small work or one I can take off the frame and roll up and it gets re-framed at their end.

As for the future, any predictions on what we can expect from Cat Leonard, Fine Artist
and experimenter?
Well, I’m learning how to properly teach others the craft—I do already give painting workshops, but now I’ve joined a small team of art tutors at Splashout Studios and am being taught how to teach by an expert, so that’s quite a learning curve for me, extremely confronting and challenging but so very enjoyable as I see the fruits of my efforts unfold…

Montage of art by Cat Leonard catleonardart.com
Works of Cat Leonard

About Cat Leonard

Cat Leonard artist selfie

I am an artist, painter of portraits, contester of postmodernism and proverbial blunderer. I declare through my craft that perfection is the perfect amount of imperfection, that there are moments of organic messiness in beauty when it is arranged correctly, and that is what I strive to achieve in my paintings, an ordered chaos.
Since 2010, I’ve been building up my art business. Painting commissioned paintings, Illustrating covers for books by various authors, exhibiting in galleries, selling products on-line and teaching workshops and tutorials in schools. I also mentor for Year 11 and 12 students who are interested in pursuing the fine arts as a career.

Find Cat online
website: catleonardart.com
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