How to tell the drama of a life in 15 words

My friend Spike sent me this email the other day. I’m not a person who forwards just anything, but this piqued my interest, because of the fascinating way in which the story was born. I’d never heard of this competition, but the short film that won is a lesson in the economical use of dialogue and the pictures that dialogue can inspire in the reader’s mind. If you do nothing else, watch the video. But read this first…

In April 2010 Phillips Electronics launched a global competition, giving aspiring film makers the chance to have an original work judged by one of the world’s greatest film directors – Sir Ridley Scott, director of Hollywood blockbusters including Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and Gladiator (2000). The competition, called “Tell It Your Way,” gave one lucky winner the chance to gain a week’s work experience at Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) offices in Los Angeles, New York, London or Hong Kong. The idea behind the contest was that there are a million ways to tell a story.  The competition involved creating an original 3-minute film that used the same piece of dialogue – a scant six lines.

 “What is that?”

 “A Unicorn.”

“Never seen one up close before.”


“Get away.”

 “I’m sorry.”

There were over 600 entries.  Scott Chose “Porcelain Unicorn” as the winner. Bruce Schroffel is an old friend from the ad agency biz.  He started the first Internet ad agency in LA.  Retired now, he has a couple of fun hobbies.  Sings in a barbershop quartet.  And acts in neighborhood-theater plays and, occasionally, in small movies.  (He’s a SAG member.)  He’s the man with the box at the end of the winning entry, which you can see below.

And here’s the one that got the People’s Voice award

Creating a story in 3-D

As a writer,I like to recharge my creative batteries by checking out an art exhibit or going to a concert. Using a different set of senses to take in ideas gives me a boost. So I was pleased to meet the artist Andrea Morganstern recently at the Westport Arts Center’s exhibit Foodies – where all the art has some connection to food. It’s been one of their most popular exhibits, with good reason, and you can see it (provided they’re open after the storm) until November 4th . Andrea’s artwork stands out, though; for one thing, it’s taller than she is. And it tells its own story.

In fact, the piece, entitled Corn Bird, was produced using a process similar to  a 3-D printing, a fascinating thing in itself. I wanted to know more.




GC: Please tell us something about yourself

AM: I am an artist based in Bridgewater, CT, a small rural town in the northwest part of the state.  I relocated here after living in New York City for many years.  The closeness to nature has been very inspiring for the development of my recent work.  I have been exhibiting my artwork widely throughout the US since 1995 in galleries, museums and non-profit spaces.


GC: How would you describe the figures you are currently making?

AM: The sculptures, like all of my work, are about two main concepts. The first is the interconnectedness of all things in nature. I explore this idea by blending botanical, animal and human elements to create hybrid creatures. My work is also about the existence of other dimensions or parallel universes besides this physical one we normally perceive as reality, and an exploration into who or what might dwell there.

GC: It seems to me that your figures tell a story. Could you explain the ideas behind the corn figure, specifically, or the stories which influenced you as you were creating it?

AM: My work is inspired by the art of ancient civilizations, particularly Egyptian, Pre-Columbian and Hindu, as well as travel to places where traces of these civilizations remain. Corn Bird, for example was inspired by a trip to Peru where I learned that corn is considered sacred by the native culture and I was inspired to create a deity made of corn.   I see the figures as spirit beings or deities from my own imaginary ancient civilization or parallel universe. I intended for Corn Bird to have a dignified quality, like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh or priest or some other kind of ancient wise being, with the corn husks doubling as robes. Every creature has a golden botanically inspired headpiece. I paint them gold to suggest an elevated status or high spiritual level.

GC: Most of your figures have been around a foot tall (correct me if I’m wrong here). What made you decide to make one that’s taller than you are?

I decided that as separate artworks, the sculptures might have more presence and really come to life if I created them large-scale so I decided to experiment by creating a much larger version of Corn Bird.

GC: Please explain a bit about how you used technology to make the sculpture.

AM: For my small sculptures, I make the original out of clay, create a mold out of silicone rubber and then create castings out of urethane resin. I then paint the castings with acrylics.

For the larger scale version of Corn Bird, I worked with a fine art fabricator. I provided them with a small version of the sculpture which they scanned with a three-dimensional laser to create a three-dimensional model. This model was then used to create a machining path that was used to guide a three-dimensional milling machine. The sculpture was milled out at the new larger scale in high density urethane foam. A surfacing compound was then applied to the foam model to smooth out the surface and to replicate the detail of the original. The surfacing compound dried into a thin coat of resin which was sanded and finished.

A mold was created from the foam model using urethane rubber and rigid resins. The mold was used to create a hollow resin casting. The casting material consisted of fiber reinforced polyurethane. The casting was soda blasted (which is like sandblasting except using baking soda rather than sand) to remove surface residue. Then the casting was sanded. Finally, the casting was painted with a combination of automotive urethanes and acrylics and finished with a urethane automotive clear coat.



GC: Could you tell us something about how you use the smaller figures? Do you sell them as separate artworks?

AM: Originally I created my sculptures to be used as props in my photographs. I take the sculptures into nature and photograph them, incorporating many natural elements into the composition and narrative. Eventually, I began exhibiting the smaller sculptures in addition to the photographs as separate artworks.

GC: Where can readers find you? (website, art galleries if any are exhibiting, or will be exhibiting in the future, Facebook???)

AM: My work is currently on view at the Deborah Colton Gallery, in Houston, TX.  My work can also be viewed on my website at:

Repost: Katharine Britton: The Art of Learning When to Breathe

I met Katharine Britton at a book signing for her first published novel, Her Sister’s Keeper, and was struck by her air of serenity, which was the more impressive when I read the book and saw that her characters have deep, not to say painful,  emotional lives. So when I read a recent post of hers about her writing process, I asked if I could reprint it here.

Katharine is  a member of the League of Vermont Writers and PEN New England. She teaches writing at Colby-Sawyer College, and is an instructor at The Writer’s Center. Her second novel, Little Island, will be published in Fall, 2013 and you can find her on Twitter and Facebook

I like her description of what she does in her spare time: When not at her desk, Katharine can often be found in her Norwich garden, waging a non-toxic war against the slugs, snails, deer, woodchucks, chipmunks, moles, voles, and beetles with whom she shares her yard. Katharine’s defense consists mainly of hand-wringing, after-the-fact.

Here’s the beginning of the article:

I like sentences. I like words. I have always liked stringing words into sentences, and then shuffling them around to see how the meaning changes. There is a spiritual component to writing. Stringing enough words together to create a novel that someone will want to buy is an act of faith.

The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning “breath,” and so I decided to subtitle this piece, The Art of Learning When to Breathe, because learning when to breathe was perhaps the most important spiritual lesson I have learned since pursuing a career in writing.

Anne Lindbergh describes the writing process so poetically in “Gift from the Sea.” She says that when one sits down to write, one must wait to see what “chance treasures the easy unconscious rollers of the mind might toss up.” Neither the sea (nor the page) reward those “who are too anxious, too greedy, too impatient.” This is wise advice. Writing, perhaps particularly a novel because of its length and complexity, requires…read more here

June = 30 Days of creativity

Last year, in a rash moment, I signed up to do thirty creative things in the 30 days of June. I’m not sure where I heard about this idea, but I found the website and I was intrigued. I remember telling my writers’ group about it, and promising to share what I did, as a way of ensuring that I followed through. I encouraged them to do the same. There were murmurs of interest (I thought) and approval, but it turned out that I was the only one of us fool enough to do it.

And yet. It was one of the most unforgettable months in recent memory. I posted the results on my Facebook page and you’re welcome to check them out. They ranged from a not bad drawing of a lighthouse (left), to an OK weaving project, to a so-so papier mache bowl, to the world’s worst lanyard (below). I was desperate that day, having only an hour or so, and thought a lanyard would be easy. It took me an hour and three YouTube videos to work out how to start the damn thing. Anyway, point is, it’s a challenge but it’s very rewarding, and you can make it as complicated or as simple as you like. I used a great blog from a Canadian artist called Gail for a treasure trove of relatively easy ideas (Gail teaches art to elementary school children – don’t laugh, some of those projects were harder than they looked!).

Point is, it stretched my brain in a completely different way. This is the third year that the organization is running this project. here’s what they have to say about it:

30 Days of Creativity is a global social initiative encouraging people to create stuff (anything) every day for 30 days in June. 2012 is our 3rd year. We hope to make it a big one. Your brain is like a muscle. When you exercise it, it gets stronger.
Give it a try. I can’t do it this year, because I’m going to be away from June 3-13, which takes a chunk out of the moth, but I’ll be signing up again next year.

Go on – I dare you

Okay – I’ve done it again. Signed up to do something creative that I’m not actually sure I can manage. But at least this thing has a lo-o-o-ng deadline (January 2013). It’s called The Sketchbook Project. The Brooklyn Art Gallery in New York is affiliated with the Art House Co-op, an independent company that organizes global, collaborative art projects.  And they’re not kidding. Their flagship endeavor is the Sketchbook Project: an evolving library featuring more than 12,000 artists’ sketchbooks from 100 countries and counting. When I’ve added mine it will be 12,001. The point is that you don’t have to be an artist. You can fill the book with any creative effort. You choose a theme (usually, but not compulsorily) and then you have a year to fill the sketchbook they send you. There is a cost to enter. Prices start at $25, which gets you the Sketchbook, entry to the project, your book catalogued in the library, exhibited in NYC, and your artwork included in the printed book. That’s plenty, but if you want more, check the website.

Here’s what the Art House Co-op say about themselves:

By focusing on the intersection of hands-on art making and new technology, Art House Co-op nurtures community-supported art projects that harness the power of the virtual world to create something real.

I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I do know that my friend Adair Heitmann just sent in a book of haikus. Her topic: The writing on the wall.

In the meantime, in order to get your creative juices flowing (and in order to help raise money for the Project), there are things you can do without signing up for the whole Sketchbook Project.  Over the next 10 weeks (which is when the Sketchbook Project 2013 launches) they’re offering a weekly project you can participate in. Or not, as you choose. Here’s the first one, which I thought sounded intriguing. There are only 500 spots per project. I’m # 27 for this one, since I just signed up for it. The deadline for signing up is March 1, and the deadline for sending stuff back is March 15th.  Go on – I dare you.

Week One: Letters to Home

What would you say to your childhood home?

It’s been awhile, and the house you grew up in is starting to wonder about you… If your childhood home could hear you, what would you say? Letters to Home is a community art project that asks creative people like you to write a letter to your childhood home. Share an epic backyard adventure, ask a lingering question, or reveal a long-kept secret — we’ll transform our storefront exhibition space into a mailbox from the past. The letters will join us as a mini collection on the Sketchbook Project 2012 Tour!

They also have a free project called ‘The Meal’. Here’s their description of it:

One moment. One meal. One photograph. Let’s eat.

On February 24th at 12pm EST, join thousands of people around the world in a simultaneous global meal. Whether it’s breakfast in LA or a midnight snack in Beijing, let’s take a moment from our hectic lives and share it with strangers around the world. Snap a photo of yourself and your meal and mail it to us — we’ll create an exhibition from these self-portraits, documenting the world’s largest communal snack.

You can manage that, can’t you?

Guest Post from Jessica Jonas: 33 Ways to stay creative

Jessica Jonas
Jessica Jonas

Jessica Jonas was born in a cicada year, crossed an ocean for the first time at 2 months old, and, according to her parents, loved to turn pages of books long before she learned to read. She started writing at what she considers a late age (19!) and is working towards an MFA in Creative Writing & the Publishing Arts in 2013. She has an interesting blog of her own and you can check it out here: Here’s her post about how to stay creative… Most of the ideas are simple, but I can see how they might move your mind into another groove.

I borrow tonight’s list of creativity tips from The World’s Best Ever, a fun and bizarre assortment of inspirations and oddities. A skim down the home page gave me photography, a clock, Lindsay Lohan, hot sauce, striped Oxford shirts, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and cartoon spheres arguing about culture. Quite the grab bag, and while I doubt any one person will enjoy everything, it’s neat to see the sheer breadth of what creativity can offer. Right now, on breath-catching breaks between assignments, I’m reading over:

I’m working on numbers 6 and 33 in particular tonight, trying to remember to 32, and hoping some 9 is in my future.