Taking Inspiration from Tattoo Artists


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Tattoos are a lifelong commitment to a piece of art, the culmination of a singular collaboration. It starts as an idea or an itch from a collector and then goes through the filter of an artist and what comes out is truly unique. It’s the reflection of a process, a moment, an artist and a collector.

The world of tattoos is where I have been for the past few months. Taking a little hiatus from writing microfiction. I joined forces with Alexx Henry Studios to produce the first ever 3D digital tattoo magazine: Art and Skin.

KL-back MM-sleeveFlow

Needless to say, it has been quite a journey. And each tattoo in the magazine has its own special story. The most exciting thing about Art and Skin aside from the visual element is the way it re-envisions editorial for the digital age. I never liked reading on an iPad or Kindle because I love the feel of a book in my hands. The ability to leaf through pages has always been part of that experience. But this app shifts that experience entirely. It was actually produced using a game engine and it uses the technology to cultivate the experience rather than ports over something that already works in hard copy form to something that, in my opinion, is less successful.

The app will be on the app store soon and has really gorgeous imagery and tons of content to find, from details on tattoos, to articles to interactive studio spaces. Please check it out here if you have a chance. It’s something we’re all really proud of and we are hoping it will be a source of inspiration for many of you.


Featured in the images above are: Kristen Leanne and Matt Menzer


Taking Cues from Art 11


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The Moma.org website describes Balthus’ “The Street”:

The Street, Balthus’s first large painting, was one of several that scandalized audiences when it was included in the artist’s earliest solo exhibition, in Paris in 1934. Balthus rendered each of the figures in his scene of Paris’s rue Bourbon-le-Chateau frozen mid-movement; none of them seem to notice the aggressive sexual struggle underway at the painting’s far left. Balthus eschewed stylistic categorization, but The Street was of great interest to Surrealist artists for its rendering of a crowded street as an uncanny site of mental isolation and for its exploration of sexual taboos.


What would this same effect be in a piece of writing? How would an otherwise normal scene with the mention of an aggression in the context of everything else happening around it strike a reader? Would it be shocking, make the reader uncomfortable or would the aggression remain almost unnoticed, blended into the scene as it is in the painting? And in writing, does this tool then become a social commentary on our numbing to this sort of behavior?

Taking Cues from Art 10


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According to the text accompanying Matisse’s Gourds on the Moma.org website “Matisse recalled that he had created a composition of objects that do not touch—but nonetheless participate in the same intimacy.


How could this be found in a piece of writing? A scene in a landscape where everyone shares the environment, is a part of it, held by it as individuals, but together in a collective experience? In this case does the landscape also become a character?

Artist Inspiration: Jean Dubuffet


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Jean Dubuffet’s 1944 painting “Grand Jazz Band (New Orleans)”

“When I want to draw a camel I no longer limit myself, as I once did, to looking only at camels.” ~ Jean Dubuffet

One of my favorite artists is Jean Dubuffet, and I am particularly drawn to his childlike paintings. There is a captivating simplicity and ongoing movement, almost vibration, that comes across through the etched-in brush strokes. The above “Grand Jazz Band New Orleans” can certainly provide inspiration for writing: How would you translate this piece into text? Would you concentrate on rhythm, on the sharpness of words, on color to hold the scene?

But more inspiring is perhaps why Dubuffet chose to paint in this style:

I had given up any ambition of making a career as an artist…I had lost all interest in the art shown in galleries and museums, and I no longer aspired to fit in that world. I loved the paintings done by children, and my only desire was to do the same for my own pleasure. (1)

There is something said for leading with what interests you as an artist. And I wonder if, when the audience does come, it is a more intimate connection than creating with the audience in mind first. There is a certain amount of trust that precedes this process as well as as freedom during it: trust that the audience will come and the freedom to follow the paths, images and stories that ignite your inner fire. Are you following your own internal sparks?

A second nugget I recently got from Dubuffet was something he said about his creative process:

I have observed that very often I gain access to a little secret that I have sought for a long time by way of a fortuitous encounter quite unrelated to the matter: for example six months I try to draw a camel in a way that satisfies me, and I make a thousand attempts without ever managing to do it. Then one day it is a drawing of a plump on the label of a pot of jam or the shadow thrown by an ink pot, or something or other equally unrelated to the matter that provides me with the solution. This kind of thing has happened so often that I have acquired the habit of always being on the outlook, and when I want to draw a camel I no longer limit myself, as I once did, to looking (only, fh) at camels. (2)

Are you open while creating and creating while doing other things? I have an uncle who solves problems by first addressing them head on and then by putting them in the back of his mind on simmer. He says they always let him know when they are ready to be pulled. The trick, he says, is to actively sub-process them.

(1) Jean Dubuffet, talking about his own start as an artist and his early love for paintings of children: ”Batons rompus”, Jean Dubuffet, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris 1986, pp. 7-8

(2) Jean Dubuffet, artist quotes on imagination and reality as source for creating art, from : a letter to Jean Paulhan (letter 123); as quoted in ”Jean Dubuffet, Works, writings Interviews”, ed. Valerie da Costa and Fabrice Hergott, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona 2006, p. 44

Post by Molly O

Rapper Inspiration: Rakim


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Recently I came across the Ice-T directed documentary “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.” In it, various artists are interviewed about the beginnings and evolution of their art as well as about their creative processes. One of the most interesting subjects is Rakim (half of the late 80’s early 90’s duo Eric B and Rakim and a celebrated emcee in his own right). What he says about his process prompted me to cull interviews to find out how he creates the poetry he does.

While rap relies on not just lyrics but the art of emceeing – or performance and crowd engagement – the great lyrics stand on their own as great poetry. The words grab you, guide you through stories, images, emotions. Rap uses metaphor, repetition, plays with bending words and meaning. And Rakim is particularly adept at creating a moment, a space, something you feel you can touch that touches you back. His goal seems to be to capture the nostalgia of now so that, down the line, you can hear his rhymes and be catapulted back to a time, a smell, a very distinct memory.

There are some great sound bites out there but here is a handful of tools the grand master has talked about. (Links to all sources listed at the end.)

1. Don’t Focus on Writer’s Block: In a 2006 interview with halftimeonline.com, Rakim talks about not putting focus on what you don’t want to have grow. He says, “I don’t believe in writer’s block for one. I never fixed my mind to believe in that shit because half the shit we do is psychological anyway. If you start thinking some shit you’re damn near gonna believe that until it comes true. You say you got writer’s block then you gonna sit there and be like damn I got writer’s block.”

2. Choose Words you Like: In the same interview, Rakim talks about some of of the ways he finds the rhyme. One of those is coming up with “sixteen of the illest words I can and write the rhyme to fit in.”

3. Write backwards: Another trick he uses is to write lyrics backwards. That way he’s sure to fit in everything he wants to say within the constraint of sixteen bars. “A lot of times I used to have ideas and start writing from the beginning and get to the sixteenth bar and I ain’t even put half of the shit that I wanted to put in the verse. Sometimes you start flowing and shits starts adding on to whatever cipher you’re dealing with. Meanwhile you got all of these thoughts in your head and you don’t get enough time to put them down. That’s [one] reason I started writing from the last word to the front word.”

4. Pull From Other Forms of Art (and Other Artists): Rakim is particularly influenced by jazz, having grown up in a musical family and listening to the greats: John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis to name a few. He also played saxophone as a kid. In Ice-T’s “Something from Nothing…” Rakim says, “My mother played a lot of Jazz music. A lot of it didn’t have no words on it. But you could see what was going on. It put you in the mood, put you right where it wanted to. So my thing was that if they could do that with an instrumental, I should be able to take somebody somewhere with words.”*

He then goes on to talk about Slick Rick, another rapper who is known for his storytelling abilities. In one of my favorite lines from the whole documentary, Rakim says, “When Slick told a story, you know, you was right there, if he was talking about running through the park, you know, you smelled the grass.”

5. Work with Visual Constraints: Rap, by it’s very nature, has the built in constraint of the beat. In “Something from Nothing…” Rakim talks about viewing the bars of music as a graph that he gets to fill in. “I try to start off with 16 dots on a paper. If it’s a 16 bar rhyme, at least I’ll know what I’m dealing with.” He visualizes a graph and explains that if he’s looking at four bars that are of a certain length, he can see that “within that, I could place so many words, just so many syllables, just so many words and at times if the beat was perfect I can take it to the point where there’s no other words you could put in those four bars.”

6. Read: In a 2102 interview with Montreality, Rakim talks about his love of books. “I try to read as much as I can,” he says and talks about how he reads anything from religious texts to well, just about anything. He explains that the more he reads, the more places he gets to go and the more he has to pull from to help himself and the people he’s speaking to through his lyrics.

7. Train your Mind to Dip Below the Surface: From a 1997 article by Michael A. Gonzales for Ego Trip (reprinted January 2012), Rakim talks about thinking like a lyricist: “You know, I think as long as I keep on living, I’ll always have something to write about…I’m training myself mentally every day. I can take a walk in the city and by the time I get to the end of the block I got a whole head full of thoughts. When I’m walking down the street, I don’t see a burned-out building or a homeless person or kids thuggin’ in the streets because my thoughts go deeper than that…The most important skill of a creative lyricist is to have versatility, even within one’s thoughts.”


“In the Heart of the Beat: the Poetry of Rap” by Alexs Pate cites the following Rakim lyric from Eric B and Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul”. It’s the perfect metaphor for the writing process.

I start to think
and then I sink
into the paper
like I was ink
when I’m writin
I’m trapped in between
the lines
I escape when I finish
the rhyme


Article from Halftime.com, May 10 2006 (1, 2, 3)
For info Ice-T’s “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” click here (4, 5)
Interview with Motreality on DDOTOMEN.com, June 18 2012 (6)
Michael A. Gonzales Article for Ego Trip #11, 1997 (7)
*In another recent interview with Red Bull Music Academy, Rakim talks about his Jazz influence. It’s not quoted here, and it is long, but worth a listen. To check it out, click here.
Lyric excerpt from “In the Heart of the Beat: The Poetry of Rap” by Alexs D. Pate. Scarecrow 2010. To check out the book, click here.

Post by Molly O

Cartoonist Inspiration: Joe Dator


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As creatives, it’s easy to think we are the only ones who struggle with the creative process or be incredulous that there is not more ceremony for our navigating through it. Here is a brilliant cartoon, “How We Do It (A Week in the Life of a New Yorker Cartoonist),” from very funny New Yorker cartoonist Joe Dator. It appeared in a September 2012 issue of The New Yorker and Joe was gracious enough to allow us to repost it. For more of his work check out his facebook page as well as his web site.

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Joe Dator, Cartoons, “How We Do It,” The New Yorker, September 24, 2012, p. 65

Artist Inspiration: Wassily Kandinsky


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That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul ~Wassily Kandinsky

kandinsky book

“Concerning the Spiritual in Art” is a small but packed book by Russian expressionist artist, Wassily Kandinsky. In it he outlines his theory of art and the place that artists hold in society. He shuns “art for art’s sake” which is a “neglect of inner meanings” and a “vain squandering of artistic power.” The truth is, even for such a short read, there are parts that are a bit confusing. But there is a great take away in how he talks about honoring meaning in what you do as an artist.

The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather adapting of form to its inner meaning.

There is something in what Kandinsky says that reminds us to be the artists we are. To be true to our expression but also take care to craft our work: to use words not just for the lovely sounds they make but because they serve a narrative, a character, a larger story. And in terms of form, are you in sync with how your work wants to express itself or are you struggling to expand a piece of micro fiction into a novel or shove what wants to be a novel into something shorter?

George Saunders Writing Challenge Results 2


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Here is part two of the results from the George Saunders writing challenge. They come from a couple of wonderful writers in their own right, Alex Keegan and Cheryl Klein. Both admitted the exercise was way harder than it looked but their results were stunning. Enjoy! And do try the challenge if you haven’t already done so.



I go to work. Jennifer says I’m boring.
I don’t go to work. Jennifer says I’m lazy.
I say I want to make love to Jennifer. Jennifer says, “I want to work.”
I let Jennifer work. She says I don’t love her.

Jennifer says I need space. I give Jennifer her space, now Jennifer says I work, work, work, work. I ignore her. I don’t love her.

Jennifer, I say. I love you. I love you. I will work at this. I will give you space – not give you space. I will do what you want. I need this to work. Please, Jennifer, please.

Jennifer says, “Why don’t we make love? Is there something wrong? Is there someone else? Is there someone at work? Do you love her? Do you make love to her at work?”

But I say to Jennifer, no, no, no. I love you, Jennifer. You, you. I want to make love to you, Jennifer. I want to go to work, Jennifer, come home and make love to you. I want to stay home, not go to work and make love to you, make love to you all afternoon.

Jennifer says, that’s all I think of.

– Alexx Keegan (Alex’s web site)


The Muse Eyes

She never wanted to be a muse, but here she stands in a fig leaf of navy blue cloth and a pool of window light. The painter is a woman, a friend of a friend, named May, who swears liberally in a porny purr. Make me light, the muse thinks. Give me eyes. Worries her fig leaf area is not porny enough. 

Former muses watch from the wall. Some of them are dead.  

May brushes blue. The muse is in the Navy here, on watch, standing and not dead. She is a former leaf and worrier. 

May gives. The dead are paint. The dead are painters and eyes. The walls purr but not think. Death is Not Making. Porn is a wall is not enough. Some may leave. The muse may. May may. May brushes her watch and watches her brushes.  

Muses give, thinks the muse. Cloth is enough. The dead are friends. She swears to them, she thought brushes purred for painters! Here, the pool swears, Never them! 

The muse wanted to be a painter, but canvas is a wall, death is a wall. Light is not her muse to brush on canvas. It pools liberally, it names her.

– Cheryl Klein (Cheryl’s web site)

Image Placement


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On of our favorite stories is Paul Bowles’ “A Distant Episode.” There are many cues that can be pulled from this story about narrative, character development, dialogue, the list goes on. Recently someone in the group brought it up to illustrate the effects of precise image placement.


The story is about a Professor who comes to the fictitious Arab-speaking city of Aïn Tadouirt after not having been there for many years. From the moment we meet this man, it is evident that he desperately wants to belong and is willing to go to the ends of the earth to understand and be understood by this foreign culture. The story follows him as his journey becomes more and more treacherous, due to the choices he makes.

As the Professor literally walks into danger, Bowles gives us a snapshot of the cozy and safe hotel room he has left behind.

He was now well down the gigantic cliff, but the moon, being directly overhead, gave as much light as ever. Only the wind was left behind, above, to wander among the trees, to blow through the dusty streets of Aïn Tadouirt, into the hall of the Grand Hotel Saharien, and under the door of his litte room.

We all had the sense that in this moment you are not just heading for the unsafe but are getting a glimpse of the safe alternative, and that alternative creates more tension as well as continues to build character (by highlighting the Professor’s choice). Are you crafting image placement in your work? How can you drop crumbs for a reader to heighten tension or build character?

On Writing (and weaving): Isabella Ducrot


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We continue to be inspired by The Cahiers Series, journals that explore translation from novel angles: art to literature and back, music to literature, architecture to words and images, the list goes on. Most recently we picked up Journal #6, “Text on Textile” by Isabella Ducrot, which as you can imagine talks about the nature of textile, the weaving of fabric as well as of story.


In it, Roman textile artist and painter Ducrot talks about textile and weaving as it appears in mythology and art and you get the sense of her relationship to the craft. The Cahier aslo includes a poem specifically written about Ducrot’s process by acclaimed Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli. The poem was translated from Italian into English by Olivia E. Sears and Ducrot’s Italian text was translated into English by Adelaide Cioni and Ornan Rotem.

What struck us most about this edition was the story Ducrot retells from Homer’s Odyssey about Penelope, who “would, by night unweave what she made by day. Attempting to postpone her nuptials, she would undo by torchlight what she had achieved in sunlight.” She continues:

By unweaving that which she has woven, Penelope was using fabric as if it were a clock whose arms she could move back at will…However, trying to unweave a piece of fabric is almost as hopeless as trying to arrest time. Anyone skilled in the craft knows that it is very hard to undo a piece of woven textile without breaking the weft; precisely because it is a continuous thread, the weft is what gives the textile its quality and its durability and severing the weft kills the weave. Perhaps that is why the weft has come down to us as a symbol of continuity.

So if weaving has that kind of permanence then making a textile is not exactly like writing a story. Because words can easily be disassembled without damaging the integrity of a piece. It got us thinking and trying to figure out the correlation between weaving and writing. Of course, one “weaves a story” but it felt like that was not the correct relationship. Then it clicked: textile, with its continuous weft that evolves and grows, from past to present and on, is really more like language than story. So does this mean that textile makers are not writing story but, in essence, are creating language? And with the language of a textile do you create the story of the dress you wear or purse you carry?

As a writer, do you view each word as part of an intricately woven fabric with traces of society, history, and depth, that continues to weave itself even after you use that word? In micro fiction, where it is so important to pay attention to every word chosen, are you conscious of the history each word evokes? And how can the richness of a word or a language serve your piece?