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Friday, August 23, 2013


Sheila Webster Boneham is the author of the Animals in Focus Mystery series as well as 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. Along with showing her dogs in various canine sports, Sheila founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Learn more about Sheila and her books at her website and blog.--AP  

Dog Hair in My Palette

Most creative people are creative in more ways than one. I know writers who compose music, musicians who stitch quilts, textile artists who throw pots. For my part, I write, I take photos, and I paint. Mostly I work in watercolor, sometimes combined with ink, but I occasionally work in oils, and I love colored pencil. Although I’m best known for my dog portraits, I paint other subjects as well.

Writing and painting engage different parts of the brain, and the processes complement one another. Here are three lessons I’ve learned about dividing my time between the two modes of expression.

~Taking time out of my word-intensive work life to paint makes the writing come more easily. This makes sense, of course, because while writing and painting both create images, “painting” with language and painting with pigment engage different parts of the brain. I often work out plot and character and other writing issues while I’m painting, and I often have flashes of paintings I’d like to do while I’m writing.

~My photos are mostly of nature—landscapes, animals of all kinds, other interesting outdoorsy things. To find my subjects, I often have to walk fair distances. Getting out in the open and immersing myself in natural environments, helps my writing in several ways. The physical activity away from a keyboard stimulates my subconscious to work out elements of story. Encounters with wildlife and with interesting plants reinforce my sense of my small place in the world. And sometimes something happens that inspires a story or a scene in a story.

~Cropping photographs and focusing a painting to show the essentials and eliminate elements that interfere with the real story reminds me that less is often more, a lesson that surely applies to writing as it does to the visual arts. Clutter and mental noise distract. (Now if I could only apply that principle to my desk!)

As I wrap up the third Animals in Focus mystery, I find that working in other media not only support my inspiration and craft, but also remind me that Janet, my protagonist, is herself an artist, the camera her tool, and the image her creative expression. Like creative characters in and out of written stories, she brings a different way of seeing to her life and to her sleuthing. I wonder whether she has as much dog hair in her camera case as I have in my palette?

The Money Bird
Animals in Focus Mystery #2

Animal photographer Janet MacPhail knows that trouble is in the air when Labrador Retriever Drake fetches a blood-soaked bag holding an exotic feather and a torn one-hundred-dollar bill during a photo shoot at Twisted Lake. One of Janet's photography students reports seeing a strange bird at the lake, but he turns up dead before Janet can talk to him. When she learns that the mysterious retreat center near the lake is housing large numbers of tropical birds, Janet is sure there's a connection and decides to investigate between dog-training classes, photo assignments, and visits to her mom at Shadetree Retirement. With help from her Australian Shepherd Jay and her quirky friend Goldie, Janet is determined to get to the bottom of things before another victim's wings are clipped for good.

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Suzie Tullett said...

Great post, Sheila. Lovely to read how one creative avenue can feed another, sometimes without us even realising it x

Sheila Boneham said...

Thanks, Suzie! That's the best part - painless self-improvement! :-)

Angela Adams said...

Thank you so much for helping our four-legged friends!

Sheila Boneham said...

Angela, they help me more than I help them. :-)

Yolanda Renee said...

Such talent! Beautifully done, the painting / photography and the book! I'm a mystery fan and look forward to reading your book!

Sheila Boneham said...

Thanks, Yolanda. I would say a teensy touch of talent a lot of good instruction and hard work! :-)