Build observation skills – Supercharge your imagination
To kick us off I’d like to introduce you to Rowena Evans, a multitalented artist, published author, musician, mother or 3, wife and a lovely human being based in Cooma, Australia. Rowena has a very unique illustration style that stands alone in itself but also features in a number of children’s books as well as having her own published books including ‘Sealskin Coast’ for young readers, and her latest children’s contemporary fantasy and adventure novel, ‘Drums & Power Lines’. When she’s not drawing or writing you can probably find her behind her french horn or dual recorders (that’s right, two of them at once. Scroll down for a photo.) or singing a lilting European folk song in the corner of her garden or in a community hall somewhere.
In this interview, Rowena shares about her creativity and imagination, where it comes from and a bit of behind the scenes in how it comes together. We learn about her inspiration growing up and some of the challenges that she faces. I really enjoyed doing this interview and I hope you get some encouragement, inspiration, and motivation to continue your daily practice of observance and Imagination.
– So let’s dive into the interview
I can remember a lot about what it felt like being a child such as the feeling of always being slightly bewildered by the many things I didn’t understand, but I have not much idea what I was actually like. Not long ago I was looking at an old family photo album, and what I noticed about little me in these photos was a look of eagerness or excitement. At the time it made me a bit sad because as an adult at the time I felt I had lost that – though I don’t think I really have. In fact, I have since then acted to change that.
As a child I loved drawing and writing stories, and thought that all adults could draw pictures because my mother, father and grandmother and a number of other important adults in my life all could. (My grandmother and mother were artists and my father could draw ships!). I was surprised when I met an adult who (said she) could not draw. I liked school and was good enough at it not to learn to work very hard, which is a disadvantage later (take note, kiddies), and liked music. I also liked climbing trees and playing in the dirt.
My parents always read to my brother and me, and when I learned to read I was an indiscriminate reader reputed to put on one item of clothing, then read a few pages before I continued getting dressed. My mother says she got worried about me being late to school… So I think imagination to a great extent developed from a love of stories, something I think I possess in common with all humans. My brother, cousins and I played incessant games of imagination with blocks, teddies, lego, marbles, running around the garden and bush etc etc. which is I think an important way children develop imagination.
I am more selective about what I read…
It’s interesting that to me and I suspect to many other people, the world of stories and the imagination is almost as real as the real world – the characters, scenes, happenings and meanings in stories are in real, other, worlds. I’m not sure that this is different to an adult from what it is to a child, though as an adult I suppose one is more aware of the divide between reality and the imaginary, and the layers of meaning that exist in stories.
It’s important to have some unfilled time in the day – walking, gardening, doing the washing up, gazing into space, humming, carrying small rocks around or whatever doesn’t fill up one’s brain too much. Walking is best because of the changing scene.
Creating something, anything, builds creativity because of the ideas that build upon the foundation of earlier ideas. So observance of regularly making something is extremely important. This doesn’t happen simply from thinking about it. You have to DO it. Every day. Draw anything, improvise a tune, write something even if it’s only one page, a bad drawing or a tune you think is silly. It may seem crappy when you do it, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes later it looks worse, and you can throw it out, but sometimes it looks better. If every day is impossible because of responsibilities, make a longer period such as a week, but be strict with yourself. Not only is it the way of getting things done, but it creates a habit.
[Thank you :)]
I don’t think we create anything from our own minds – I think creation comes from putting together things we’ve seen, heard, experienced, in interesting ways. However I do feel that I have a particular knack for putting together ideas or images, of thinking “what if…?” and trying it, linking things, or seeing funny or different possibilities.
I’d had a sort of secret desire to write stories since childhood, and wrote some truly dreadful ones. I concentrated on visual arts until I was in my twenties when I started to write as well. This was spasmodic for a while, and then I began to put a lot of effort into deliberately developing writing skills.
I think that pictures and words express ideas or the world so differently that it is fascinating to see how they complement each other. The saying “A picture shows a thousand words” is indeed true looking at it from one side: I can describe the appearance of something or someone in detail, but a picture can describe it instantly to the viewer. On the other hand, a picture can be a blunt instrument sometimes, for instance when portraying complex emotions or someone’s thoughts, or perhaps a long sequence of events – though of course film, animation and graphic novels can all achieve this. However I still feel that there are places where words can do what pictures cannot, and vice versa. I think this conviction is behind my love of books, because they can combine words and pictures.
I mentioned the interplay between these two things in an answer above. I have for the past few months had quite a strict “write a page a day” rule for myself because I am currently writing a story which I want to finish within a foreseeable time frame and I want to find out what happens in the end! I have found this very helpful in both getting the story written because there’s the page each day… but also because while I write something down, I am thinking of all the things that might happen next. And it’s true that characters sometimes come up with something unexpected, even to their creator.
My incredible two-recorder act is a feat of concentration and a bit of a party trick. I’ve found from experience playing recorder/s as an interlude with unaccompanied singing that I can keep pitch, which is a useful skill.
Here’s a song with recorder, an example of that sort of thing (but only one recorder!)
I’m in a community choir and a wind/ brass band and irregularly play/ sing with friends in a less formal way. The experience of playing music with others is one of the great pleasures of life.
(I can play the piano in a random sort of carry-it-off-by-bluff kind of way, hiding my lack of talent by using my ability to improvise and transpose, but I’m actually quite bad at it. I occasionally play chords on guitar with singing, but it’s mainly to have something to hide behind, and often stop playing because forgot the chords, and just sing).
Playing music (especially the French horn, which is in every respect a long-term project) is to me a very similar enterprise to gardening (or artwork/ writing, actually). The results are waiting there in your imagination no matter what the current result is, and a lot of the pleasure in it is the golden glow of that achievement that you imagine over the horizon. Then there are moments when it does all fall together…
I love folk songs and know so many (mainly English, Irish, Scottish, French) that once driving to Sydney (420 km) I didn’t repeat one, singing to myself. The stories and emotions in the strongest of these are so sifted by time that they become archetypal, like myths or fairy tales. I think this is a strong influence on the imagination and a link to our overall culture. I earlier mentioned how real stories can be to people; it might amuse you to hear that I think I expended most of my adolescent rebellion in being (in my imagination) in the wild world of these songs.
Music is interesting in relation to imagination because it is so NOT visual, yet has a very strong emotional element. I find instrumental music that is strongly descriptive fascinating because I love art forms that attempt the impossible, by which I mean books about music, music about pictures, pictures about emotions; but I also like the opposite kind of music that is completely abstract, i.e. J. S. Bach.
Observance and music… well, I think making music is very dependent on being aware at all times of the relationships between things: for instance the intervals between notes, timing, the participants. You can’t make music without these observations; or at least, you can only make bad music. Because I don’t specifically create (compose) much music, I can’t really say more about that: occasionally I arrange it, in which case these observances are important in relation to knowing your own intentions, while also being sensitive to the original tune. (I arranged the harmonies for recorder and voice in The Ballad of the Greet Selkie of Sule Skerry, for instance.)
It’s very kind of you to say so.
It is lovely to hear that others react to my work in such a way, because working as an artist or writer can be quite isolated at times, and others’ reactions are sometimes difficult to interpret, or even get hold of. I’d say my ultimate aim in making art of any kind is to bring pleasure to others one way or another, and the knowledge that it does indeed bring pleasure is a huge encouragement.
God, because God created everything.
I’m not sure. Probably no one particular favourite. I am fond of my collaborative project “The Greet Selkie of Sule Skerry” partly because it was collaborative.
Time is essential. I’d like to add one other, which is to occasionally put yourself out of the familiar i.e. travel, or in simpler ways such as just getting out of your comfort zone. This is important as a trigger for creativity because you look at things differently when you are away from the familiar.
Don’t fiddle around. Just do it.
Be keen to try ideas out – don’t be afraid of failure. If something doesn’t work, you have still learned something.
I think it’s important for people who want to consider themselves as professional artists of any kind to understand that if you can do something once, you can do it again. The amazing luck of wonderful results has to be reproducible – you can’t rely on brilliant flukes!
My Artist page/ defacto website until I get (re)organized
My latest book, Drums & Power Lines
Earlier novel for young readers, Sealskin Coast
Just for fun: In the Tea Leaves visual blog
If you’ve been encouraged by Rowena and would like to let her know or would just like to drop her a line or two, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More artlicles by Steve Nossiter