This course is starting us off with reflection as a basic, entry-level tool for producing work for any situation. Reflective writing allows us to consciously evaluate strategies to improve our weaknesses and repeat our successes.
By knowing our audience and purpose, stating our intentions, we can write the piece for the audience we envision. We can only review and revise effectively if we know what our intentions are. The writer who can reflect, assess and review their own work is an independent learner, one who isn't dependent on peer reviewers or teachers when they finish their writing class.
In reading Sandra Giles' 'Reflective Writing and The Revision Process' I particularly enjoyed her personal story of painting the interior of her home. The lesson I got from it was that in nearly every other form of work, we do evaluate our intentions, study our work and continually take mental notes how to do it better 'next time'. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is resistant to this process in writing, the course is taking a lot of pains to teach us this lesson.
As a reader I wasn't aware of the amount of research it takes to write an interesting essay or story. The question of who, what, when, where, why and how is usually present in any piece that I read. Up to now I had been ignorant of how the story came together.
In Writing Project #1 we were asked to provide a story. In Writing Project #2 we conducted interviews and described the physical space. I was surprised how much information is needed to place your reader 'inside' the piece so you can tell your story.
When I looked at the Writing Project assignment itself, I thought "I can't do it!". Then as the writing assignments progressed, I could see that, broken into stages, the project is much more manageable. The most challenging part was how to present the information in a progressive way. The reader is taken through a series of steps to the conclusion you suggest.
With the conclusion of two major writing projects, the most critical part of the writing process has been applying my own interpretation. I tend to 'report', to fill the piece with information with no claim or generalization. That's a mistake unless it's a newspaper article, a scientific article or an academic paper.
If today I was invited to teach someone about writing, I would suggest being more observant. In the progression of the course, we've been guided through exercises in observation more than anything else. Observation involves more than observing externalities. It requires investigation into your own motives and responses. Drawing conclusions based on the information shouldn't be avoided, it should be embraced.
Reflection and reflective writing are processes that are new to me. I can now appreciate that the reflective process is as much a part of writing as the writing itself. My major challenge in future will be to be to get as much as I can into the project before editing. I'm almost phobic about the finished product and tend to fine-tune every sentence at the expense of clarity and purpose.
Proofreading is important. Many times the document you are producing is the first, perhaps your only contact with the reader. Their only frame of reference is what they see in front of them. When they've read your piece, they will decide if you've made your point. Revision and checking for errors will make the piece understandable. Subconsciously or not, they've also made a few judgments about your competence.
If the piece has many errors, the reader may decide that you didn't care enough to proofread. They could also suspect that if your writing isn't well done, you don't know what you're talking about.
Formatting is used to apply a standard look and feel to documents and provides the reader with an effortless experience. Good formatting feels 'invisible' and the reader can focus on content.
If the proofing and formatting is not targeted for its audience, misundersandings could result. For example, documents with information on building a school. A school board will want documents in economic terms an in a certain document format. Financial institutions may need some of the same information in another form like spreadsheets. An official giving a presentation on the subject may use a slideshow.
As a writer, I feel that doing my very best to provide the easiest reading experience shows my concern for the subject and respect for the reader.
I was surprised by some of my classmates' posts on the subject of revision. Several of them had a positive attitude, but that was because they are already writers and have learned the value of 're-vision'. One of them even said he tends to revise too much and runs the risk of losing the purpose of his piece. My response was very different, I was very resistant to the idea of revision.
My problem so far in this course has been perfectionism. When I post my rough draft, I want it pretty near perfect. This makes for some nice peer reviews, but more than a little stress. The stress actually makes me work harder. Hm...perhaps it would be best to make up my mind.
Now I see that revision can be an enjoyable part of the process of writing. Indeed, you can revisit the same piece and rewrite it for different purposes and audiences. The piece itself isn't 'cast in stone' and only usable for one purpose. If it is a good idea it can be improved, used again in a different way or be a source of inspiration for yet more pieces.
The Yellow Rose of Texas-Carla Sanchez
Lisa Miller: I'm interviewing Carla Sanchez, oil painter and teacher at the Llano Art Guild and Gallery in Llano, Texas. She gives a class once a week on Thursdays. Signups are usually staggered; at any one time the students will be at different levels of painting. She starts them from absolute beginner to a finished painting, learning essential techniques along the way.
I read your website bio and it said that early on you were discouraged from pursuing art as a career. How come?
At first I was discouraged but I come from a family of artists. My grandfather was a fairly famous local artist in the Hamptons and my mom went to Art Students League in New York City. When I told her I wanted to go to art school and make a portfolio, she laughed and told me I didn't have any talent and not to bother. So I said, "OK, well, I guess I'll do something else" and went into the sciences instead. I kept working on art on my own and shoved everything under the bed. I thought, well, out of sheer persistence I'm going to get somewhere.
In a way it worked out because I was a fuller person when I went back to it. I was just a kid. It was always my dream to be like my grandfather, he died a month before I was born and I always felt that my life was supposed to continue his. At an early age, just as his art was coming into its peak, he died suddenly of a heart attack.
When you finally got back to painting, how much did your former frustration affect the intensity with which you went back to it?
I took a drawing class with my friend and we were going to sit in the back and just be terrible at it. It was drawing and tapping into your innate ability-I thought it was just a drawing class. I started crying and thought everybody's going to see I don't have any talent. I found out I did have talent and it just opened these floodgates; it kind of gave me permission. I never get tired of it, when I started getting into it I was painting 8 to 10 hours a day, I couldn't get enough.
Like a guitarist with bleeding fingers...
Yes, I was painting on everything I could find, boards, cardboard, anything I could find. To this day I go to workshops, like with David Leffel. We paint 9-5, everybody's exhausted. I take a half hour break and go drawing or extracurricular painting until 10:30 at night. They say "You're crazy!" but I GET to do this now.
What would you say to a student who thinks it's too late to start art?
You do art for a lot of reasons. Most people just do it for relaxation and to express themselves. It gives them pleasure. If you wanted to do it as a career...it might be too late but...I have one student who's 91 and she says, "I'm not ever going to be much better than this." But you know, you never know what's going to be your 'great piece'. So I don't think it's ever too late to do art but maybe at 91 it's getting late to become world famous.
When did you come to Llano and how did you go about joining the artistic community?
My sister invited me to come here to live 3 years ago. Everywhere I've lived I've joined the local art groups because I think it's important to be involved in the community. I think they thought I was a little weird when I said "I'm going to teach art classes" and they said "You are?" and I said "Yeah, I do it everywhere". "Well, we don't do that yet" so I said, "Well, you can." So I did.
You've taken art classes with some great artists. Did you take their methods, adapt any of their methods? I noticed everybody's at a different level, sort of a one-room schoolhouse approach.
I've taken mostly from one artist, David Lafell. I don't really believe in workshop-hopping, I think you end up with several peoples' ideas and palettes and you end up spinning your wheels. A lot of what I teach are his ideas, but I teach them in a different way, to be able to teach groups of people on all different levels.
I found that if I put everybody through a series of photos, each one has some techniques I want to teach them. They go from simple to more complex all the way to the end. It doesn't get easier because every time you get better, the next one gets harder. They always feel like they're struggling but by the time they finish, they pretty much have the tools they need to make their own paintings. Then they can go off and do their own thing from there.
Does teaching ever cut into your painting time?
Yes, but I love to teach. I really didn't want to at first, but I got coerced into it. I did one-on-one and didn't like it, then started doing classes, which I love. When I first started I had my own business, a horseback riding business, I homeschooled my kids and I had a family and I was painting. So I would get up and feed the horses, get my kids started on their schoolwork, paint, feed them lunch, do errands, paint for 2 hours, go to the barn and do the lessons, come home at 8 and make dinner, everybody was done by 9 and I'd paint 'til 2 in the morning and then get up and do it again. Because I wanted it. So, people who say they can't find time, I don't buy it.
How did moving to Texas affect your art, or did it?
It did. At first I was not happy. I don't like the Texas landscape, I'm not a cactus person. It's kind of dry and dreary and it doesn't inspire me, but I do like working in the earthtones. Here everybody likes things earth-tony and rusty and that's kind of what I do. I started doing Texas still-lifes and found it satisfying. I could do what I like and the colors that I like in a totally different scheme that people here like.
Your style is lush and classical, somewhat Renaissance, and celebrates color and water. I can see how Texas would be frustrating to a degree. But when it rains here, oh my gosh, everything explodes.
Yes, it's feast or famine. It's so much color you lose your mind, or dry and brown with oppressive heat.
Were you surprised by the number of artists here?
I was surprised by the many different types of artists here. Llano has a great depth and breadth of artistry for such a small town. Community galleries are pretty much at the same level in most places. The purpose of community galleries is to bring art to the community. That's what I like about this group, they have a lot of community outreach. I'm looking forward to having more and larger events to bring more people, especially kids. Then the kids bring the parents, that's where it all starts.
Thank you so much for the interview and being a part of the gallery's influence on the community.
The Llano Fine Arts Guild and Gallery is an artist-run gallery. The active members work one day a month and classes and activities are scheduled throughout the month. Every Thursday morning 10-12:30 our member and fine artist Carla Sanchez conducts oil painting classes. Each artist purchases materials prior to the class; Easel, canvas paints, brushes, glass palette, paint thinner, etc.. Students sign up for a block of 6 classes at which they'll paint one or up to four paintings. Like a one-room schoolhouse, each artist is at a different stage, from beginning backgrounds to finished product. The teacher supervises each stage, makes sure the student learns different techniques in each painting.
The gallery is two storefronts connected by a back hallway, with a kitchen area in the middle so there are ample walls that are suitable for display. Various cases throughout the gallery hold smaller and 3D artworks. The space is also multi-use and can be rearranged for shopping, classes, featured artists and parties.
In the right side 'working gallery' for classes, 6 or more 6ft. folding tables w/sheets of heavy clear plastic accommodate one or two students at each table.
The Thursday oil painting classes manage to be a combination of serious and fun. Each artist is at a different stage in their work, from a beginning painting to a nearly finished one. Some students are brand new and a couple have been painting with Carla for a couple of years. Most of the painters come not only to learn painting and go home with a finished product, but use the classes for meditation and calmness. There an occasional quiet call for help as Carla circles the room, makes suggestions and provides encouragement.
Sometimes there's a little burst of conversation;
"It's time I gave it up, I feel like I'm fingerpainting at this point."
"No, you've really jumped ahead, you've cleaned out this corner beautifully."
"Oh, no, what have I done?"
"You're doing good, but always work your way out from the middle"
Most of the time it's so quiet you can hear the air conditioning switch on and off.
When it's time to go, there's a general cleaning up of one's own mess and some visiting time to catch up with friends. There's a faint smell of an 'odorless' mineral spirits called Gamsol used for thinning paint and cleaning up.
Dry, red, smooth, beaten-earth floor. Area shown has no evidence of food preparation or storage, perhaps a dedicated sleeping area.
Sturdy walls appear to have a structure of two layers of scaffolding made of thin trees or very thick vines, chinked with red earth or clay and strengthened in each interstice with a sturdy rectangular-shaped white rock. Walls strengthened with large beams across the bottoms and tops. No windows shown here but can be inferred from light sources behind and to the right of photographer.
Roof constructed with rafters of 5" wide or larger thin tree trunks about 3' apart, covered with a tight lattice of vines, and then perhaps thatched (can't see from inside). Ample openings between walls and roof and at the apex of the gable for ventilation. Very whetherproof, as neither walls, floor or furniture show any sign of water damage. Posts jutting out from tops of wall to hang bags and gear.
Thin pallet bed in the corner about 6'x6' about 4" off the floor, lightly covered with thin fabrics for sheets/blankets. Clothes draped over a clothesline hanging from two walls appears to be storage, no closets or chests visible..
Area has a clean, dry, healthy, natural look and feel.
Fuel is a coffeeshop that sells coffee, tea, lunch and snacks and is a community hub for local groups, gatherings, live music, and non-denominational worship services. People come in to meet, work on their computers with the free wifi, study, eat lunch, practice music or attend concerts by local music groups. It is run as a non-profit by a committee as an outreach to the community. The spoken language is English, occasionally Spanish, as Llano has a small Mexican-American population.
Originally built in the mid-1800s, it sits in the middle of a historic row of buildings just off the town square. At the entrance, built 6 feet up from the street is a concrete sidewalk with iron railings, accessable by stairs. The walls have never been painted and show the raw rock and mortar of the original construction, inside and out. On the street side are two huge plate glass windows and 2 large windowed doors, each of which is topped by semi-circular, 4-piece transom window. In the past before air conditioning the transoms opened for ventilation and to release heat buildup at the top of the building. Floors are original thick wood planks held down by visible screws.
There's a semi-circular 25 ft. long raised stage against one long wall with a good, always-in-tune piano and sound equipment. On the opposite wall are the sound booth and coffee bar, kitchen, storage and office. 12-foot drop ceilings conceal retrofitted AC and electricity. A long beam down center is supported by central posts. There are 3 sofas for lounging, tables and chairs all around for meeting and working, long wood bar along left wall with stools and lots of bookshelves with books to read, board games, and kids' toys. Lining the walls are posters and artwork, as well as decorative signs for local businesses who help support Fuel with donations. Upstairs has large empty space, currently unoccupied.
Every time you come, there's a different group depending on the day, some customers who come in for coffee, knitting, after-school teenagers hanging out. Local business people, Llano residents, students, employees and jurors from the courthouse across the street often come here on their lunches and breaks. There's always a strong aroma of coffee, as it's a coffeeshop and the staff keeps buckets of coffee grounds for local gardeners.
So many people come here from all walks of life, from lawyers and judges to local teens to store owners and employees as well as homeless people who come in for a coffee or to cool off or warm up. There's no one who would be automatically excluded from Fuel, unless of course they were being rowdy, in which case they'd get a firm talking to by some of the other guests. The baristas are locals and if anyone comes in appearing to be in need, they are knowlegeable about local services and can usually get people help if it's necessary.
A map with our chores and interests and the distances we cover in our routine driving. Texas is big, y'all.
I live in a small community of about 500 people, as we say "during fishing season". Tow, TX is located on Lake Buchanan in the chain of the Highland Lakes area in Llano County, right in the middle of Texas. The core population is about 350 full-time residents, but some homes and cottages are used as vacation homes and rental cottages.
Texas is big. Unless you live in an urban area, much of the reality of life is tied to its size. Driving time has a big influence on lifestyle, in fact many Texans don't judge distance by miles, they mentally convert distance to driving time. Except in the urban areas, Texas has no public transport worth mentioning, so having at least one working vehicle at all times is crucial. Many people have a primary vehicle and a backup of some kind, for hauling stuff and as a backup 'just in case'.
The nearest small towns to me are at least 20 minutes away. That means stores, restaurants, schools, entertainment, auto repair, clubs, etc. aren't just 'down the street'. I feel lucky that we have a convenience store with gas pumps in our little community. From my location in the middle of Texas our largest cities; Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas are anywhere from 1:45 to 4 hours driving time away.
This has the effect, at least for me, of being potentially isolating and at the same time promoting emotional self-reliance. You have to make a concerted effort to connect with people outside the obligations of work and school. These physical realities of place have a significant effect on our perception of the space we inhabit. Since I come from another state, Florida, I've been able to observe here in Texas how physical place has an effect on your conception of your place in the world.
My physical place in a small community has affected me deeply, in a positive way. If I had to describe my personality, it would be that of an Extroverted Introvert. I can and do like to socialize, then I don't. Alone, I can indulge in reading, working on and producing art and music, taking online classes, internet activities in relative isolation. Then, when I want to socialize, there are opportunities in the nearer small towns and in the closest large city of Austin.
My husband's and my band works in the neighboring towns, providing a little added income and a lot of friendship and community. When I started painting a couple of years ago, I yearned to hang out with artistic people so I joined the Llano Art Guild and Gallery in Llano, TX. They are welcoming and inclusive. I've formed many close friendships there and have participated in meetings, events, taught and taken classes and have a venue for my work.
I was surprised that composition takes several steps and can benefit by leaving the project alone for a time. For some reason, I had envisioned writers just plugging away without a break until the project was finished. Michener came to mind, but I had forgotten about his rigorous editing and revising processes.
For this project, very little was frustrating, as this was a story I had thought about and wanted to tell. To get some more peer review, I asked my Facebook friends to read my project and offer suggestions. Two of my friends who are writers responded and I believe their suggestions helped.
If I were to try to teach someone about writing, I would encourage them to keep a journal or diary of some sort and write in it every day. It helps to define what you have done and how you felt about it. If you haven't done any other writing at all, at least you've accomplished that.
Reflection and reflective writing somehow gets closer to the real reason you are attempting to write. Be it to inform, entertain or instruct, you're forced to dive deep and think about not only the process, but your own motivation.