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Mixing Media with Lighthouse Youth

In my first Lighthouse workshop last year, I was lucky to be sitting around the table with Megan Nix, who submitted a mosaic-style essay that was nearly impossible to critique.  We tried for a few minutes before surrendering (the piece was accepted for publication soon after).  Since becoming Youth Program Director she asked me if I’d talk with Lighthouse Youth about the similarities between writing and creating mosaics, which is something I do. (If you missed it, here is what writing and music have in common).

Goggles and bandages: a necessity for mosaicists and writers alike?

To prepare for my meeting with them tomorrow at Niza Knoll Gallery, host of an all-mosaic exhibit, I thought I’d create a cheat sheet, distilled into Do’s and Don’ts (some serious, some not).  But I hope the group asks questions and shares impressions that will help illuminate the creative process for us all, and that the art they see inspires their writing.  Here goes:

1) DO master the rules.  Grammar, spelling and punctuation are your allies, supporting your efforts to communicate.  In mosaic, there are conventions for andamento, the visual flow produced by the shape and placement of tesserae (the pieces), and each style tells a different story.  Once you know the rules, you’ll know when and how to break them, purposefully.

2) DO commit to the process, not a specific product.  Be prepared to start writing (mosaicking) without knowing where you might end up, what it might mean, what form it will have or how long it will take.  When we’re committed, the words (tesserae) will lead the way.  Eventually the work, or a body of work, will take shape.

3) DO experiment with different forms (materials) and lengths (scale) without judgment.  Although we live in a super-sized culture, bigger is not necessarily better.  A short essay can pack a punch.  A small art work might be more meaningful than a mural.

4) DO try to choose the best words (materials/shapes) possible to express an idea or feeling.  Eliminate extraneous words (poorly shaped or misplaced tesserae) so that what remains can shine.

5) DON’T use fancy words (mosaic gold) solely to impress. An esoteric vocabulary (exotic inventory) is fun to have but use it wisely.

6) DO be willing to rip up (out) sections of your work and begin again (see #2).  Yes, it can feel painful to hit the delete key or stuff the shredder (or, take a hammer and chisel to “revise” a section of a mosaic) but…maybe it gets easier?

7) DO be aware of occupational hazards….DON’T let anything, even blood or bodily harm, interrupt the creative process.  A cautionary tale:  At Lighthouser Cara Lopez Lee’s book launch party, she shared that her agent dropped a tome on his face while reading in bed, tearing his cornea.  Perhaps writers (who are, of course, readers) could borrow a page from the mosaic manual and wear safety goggles at all times.  And carry Band-Aids for those pesky paper cuts.

About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais trainee, and explorer of internal and external landscapes.

4 comments on “Mixing Media with Lighthouse Youth

  1. megnix
    November 18, 2010

    Hi Ilona! Thank you for this lesson! I’ll be emailing this to all the Teen Council kids today as a follow up to our wonderful visit to Niza Knoll last night. I also loved what you said last night about mosaics having a certain “grammar” to them. Thanks for having us and enlightening us with your process notes and your incredible artwork. The giraffe bones were a hot topic on the way back to the Ferril House 🙂

  2. Brian Sheehan
    November 18, 2010

    Hi Ilona!

    I love the insights you bring via mosaics to writing. Helps me the visually-oriented learner to really apply that in concrete ways to my writing. Helps me see more clearly what I’ve done and what I need to do, and not necessarily know where I’m going. I love it when someone helps me think differently like that! thanks!

  3. caralopezlee
    May 21, 2014

    Thanks for giving me much to ponder as I rewrite my novel, Ilona. Thinking of a novel as an array of pieces that fits together to say a particular thing has been on my mind. I’d love to take a mosaic essay class. Lighthouser Christy Bailey described this style to me recently, and it made me want to teach it to Lighthouse Youth…but first I have to learn it. Details, details. Is there a grownup class coming up in the near future?

    BTW, I often think of my poor editor getting that book in the eye, Ilona. Maybe that story is trying to tell me something?

    • ilona fried
      May 21, 2014

      How fun to see your comment today! Megan Wiedel is amazing at mosaic essays — she might know if a class is coming up (she might even be teaching it?).

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2010 by in Writing.

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