Teacher’s Birthday

In my post about plot and structure, I replayed to you Ray Bradbury’s message to all writers: read one poem, one essay and one short story a day. To that I added my own appendix and said we should watch one painting a day. In this part of the website I will post material from my own collection of ‘idea generating’ material. Do keep in mind that there is a very obvious personal bias here and that what I post here may not inspire you at all. But at the very least, I hope it will send you in search of your own heroes from whose art you can not only derive pleasure but also learn.

I am beginning with a painting called ‘Teacher’s Birthday’ by Norman Rockwell. It shows the image of a teacher who gets a surprise birthday present from her pupils. Now there are two levels at which you can look at a painting: you can look at the moment itself and how it is composed. You can make an inventory of all the things that the artist has chosen to show the viewer, and how each element adds to the effect that it creates in your mind. So when you write something about this, make your first few hundred words completely about the moment itself.

So in part one, focus on description. Imagine you’re describing the painting to a friend who isn’t there and you want to build an image in his mind’s eye. Try not to miss anything that you think is of significance. Pay attention to features, postures, colours, lighting, dresses, expressions, hairstyles – the more detailed your piece, the better.

But there is also another level to a picture, and that is to do with the story it tells. That is what we will do in part two. Here the focus is on the story. So assume the identity of one of the characters in the image and describe the story in which this moment is the most significant part. You have some leeway here – you can either choose to use this moment at the beginning or at the end or in the middle. It doesn’t matter, as long as it tells the story of the character you’ve chosen (you don’t have much choice here, do you?) and this image forms the central theme.

If you’d like me to read what you’ve written in response to this, feel free to link me to your blogs in the comments section below. And also include a link to this post in your post so that people that visit your blog will know the context.

Happy Writing! (Click the image to see it full-size.)

Teacher's Birthday - Norman Rockwell - 1956

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