And now for something completely different …
Linda Plaisted is a visual artist whose work I’ve been following on Flickr for a few years now (full disclosure: sometimes Linda and I send each other neat stuff in the mail, and I have a few of her prints around my house). Lately, I’ve been thinking about storytelling and how it has a broader reach than writing alone, and while browsing some of Linda’s images, I was struck time and again by the narrative quality of much of her work. Linda agreed to let me interview her about her art, and about being an artist, and her answers are interesting not only from a literary standpoint, but also from the perspective of being a person who is driven to create. Enjoy. — Jamelah
Jamelah: Where do your ideas come from?
Linda: I am informed and inspired by literature, mythology, popular culture, history, current events, my personal life experiences, and by my roles as a woman and mother. I pull in bits and bytes of data and imagery by osmosis and allow these pieces to gestate in the back of my mind until larger thematic ideas emerge. I find I get the best results when I just allow ideas to develop organically without overthinking or trying to analyze the process or even the product.
Jamelah: I see a narrative quality to much of what you create. Do you see your work as a form of storytelling? What stories are you interested in telling?
Linda: I have been making up stories since I first found words and crayons to use as a small child. In addition to driving my mother crazy, I guess I have just always found a way to express something in whatever form was at hand, hence the origin of Manymuses Studio. I have always drawn, written, painted, sang, acted or otherwise found a narrative voice. I am interested now in telling the stories that often go un-noted in our world; the simple, small truths about being alive and aware. The subtle suggestion in the gesture of a woman’s hand or the particular arch of a bare branch against the sky speak more to me about what is real than the constant barrage of “must-see” media.
Jamelah: While it’s true that looking at images allows a lot of freedom of interpretation on the part of the viewer, do you have something specific in mind when you create that you hope viewers read into your final creations? How do you direct them? (Examples?)
Linda: I have learned that the lens through which I see is not the same one that others use to view and interpret the work. Though I do sometimes use archetypal symbolism or suggest an underlying message in my work, I don’t otherwise like to direct viewers. So, while it pleases me when people “get it” or make a connection with a piece, I am happy to allow for other interpretations. I am sometimes surprised when people read into some of my images a “darker” meaning than I had intended, but perhaps the images act as a collective clearinghouse for the subconscious hobgoblins that might otherwise rattle their chains at midnight. Examples — Four and Twenty Blackbirds series.
Jamelah: Describe your process.
Linda: I try to get out nearly every day to shoot a steady stream of images of my sights and surroundings. This is my daily practice and well of ideas that I draw upon just as a writer would make notes in a daily journal. I use this “stream-of-consciousness” archive as my starting point to express larger thematic ideas that pique my interest, but I also send myself out “on assignment” with specific project ideas in mind, whether it is shooting a model, a still life set up or a specific kind of landscape for an evolving theme. These images are my “rough drafts.” I also shoot a large body of texture images, backgrounds, lighting effects, borders and incidental images to use in my illustrations for future reference. I then come back to this varied archive of photographs when inspiration strikes and layer many different images to create my finished narrative pieces. I like to work in series to expand on a concept and see an idea through to some sort of resolution.
Jamelah: How much of what you read finds its way into your work? How does it influence you?
Linda: I have always been an avid reader of everything from children’s picture books to literary fiction and everything in between, so I’m sure what I read finds its way into my work, but it’s not an immediate process. I tend to internalize stories and characters that might reappear months or even years later in some form. I just did a series based on Shakespeare’s female characters, harking back to my years as an English major.
Jamelah: In looking at some of your series, particularly Girlie, Thy Name Is Woman and The Women, I see images that confront the notion that women — their bodies, their names, their lives — are objects to be acted upon by outside influences (scientists, writers, lovers). Do you see your work addressing the gap between this tradition and reality? How?
Linda: In my own quiet way I am certainly out to confront the rusty, ill-fitting notions of a woman’s place in society. The honest history of the world’s women has yet to be told. The story of women’s lives are still not being told when history is written as the dates of wars and the men who won them. By heredity, by history and by simple biological necessity, our voices have been muted and the full spectrum of our powers reduced to black and white. Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “The torment that so many young women know, bound hand and foot by love and motherhood, without having forgotten their former dreams” applies to so many of us, myself included. I have made it a personal goal of mine to show and tell more womens’ stories in 2008 and going forward. The pretty pictures I make pay the way for the important work.
Jamelah: Whether it’s writing or painting or photography (or some other art form), many people dream of being able to create for a living, and that’s what you’re doing. Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue an artistic path?
Linda: I spent nearly a decade giving my creativity away to others while not creating anything from my own heart or for my own soul. Your creativity is your gift. Share it. Do what you love and the universe will reward you.
Jamelah: Bonus: Anything else you’d like to add?
Linda: Always wear sunscreen. Seriously.
Photos — October, Ecce Cor Meus, and Baptism — copyright Linda Plaisted, used with permission. Manymuses.com.