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6527212 June 24, 2011

Releasing Complexity: Claudia Furlani

"Through art , I synthesize, play, and let off all the complexity of my inner world."

I have a strong suspicion that my inner world is more complex than the average Joe's.  I began to suspect this around age six, when I was lamenting about the kid in our class who was rumoured to have a mother who jumped off a bridge (and eaten by alligators) while I was trying to stop my own mother from killing herself.  

By the time I was a teenager, my high speed turmoil and associated thought processes began to fuse with my innate outwardly sunny disposition to create a persona that most people couldn't quite compute ... causing all kinds of issues.  Once I finally realized this, I stopped expecting to be fully understood, and I started writing novels.

Now I understand myself better than I ever have.  Like my guest today, artist Claudia Furlani, I write and paint as a way to let off some of that complexity.  I didn't bolt out of bed one morning with the bright idea of doing this.  The need and desire to do it simply evolved as I grew up and stepped away from my afflicted mother into my own life. 

Recently a few folks have referred to me as a creative.  It sounds like some kind of Star Trek alien nation.  When I considered myself solely a writer, I never thought I'd be called a creative.  I wasn't even familiar with the word (used that way) until a couple of years ago.  Everyone has the capacity to be creative and to create, so what exactly is a creative? 

I researched the use of the term creative to describe a group of folks and didn't come up with too much.  Writer Jeff Goins ran a blog post about it in February.  He says:

"A creative is an artist. Not just a painter or musician or writer. A creative is someone who sees the world a little differently than others. A creative is an individual. He is unique, someone who doesn’t quite fit into any box. Some think of creatives as iconoclasts; others see them as rebels. Both terms would be quite apt. A creative is a thought leader. He influences people not necessarily through personality but through his innate gifts and talents.  A creative creates art — not to make a buck, but to make a difference. She writes to write, not to be noticed or to sell books. She sings to sing, for the pure joy of making music. And she paints to paint (and so on…).  A creative colors outside the lines… on purpose. In so doing, she shows the world a whole new picture they never would have otherwise seen. A creative breaks the rules, and as a result, sets a new standard to follow."

Is that what I do?  I don't like being put into categories, but being a creative doesn't seem too bad.  I still want to be my own category.  It's called being a Penelope, and there is no one else who can join me in it.  It's lonely sometimes but it's where I need to stay.  I'm driven to write and paint even if what I produce sucks.  It's a simultaneous trap and release.  An obsession that sets me free.  An escape that holds me down.  Freedom among the ruins. 

For me, the process of creating is like worship, therapy, vacation, work, and communication all swirled up into one.  When you're like me, you create because that's what makes life bearable on a deep personal level that transcends even love.  The people you love and who love you are supposed to be what makes life worth the effort, but I feed on something different.  Perhaps this makes me narcissistic or psychopathic.  Not sure.  Perhaps I just need art to keep me sane so that I can love others and accept their love.  Art makes love possible for me.

Oh, the mysteries of life.  I think too much.  I try not to, but it's difficult to shut down the machine.   Like Claudia, I'm introverted, observant, and very imaginative.  We are passionate.  I am still full of love that's trying to get out.  I grew up in an environment that was overwhelming.  Art defined as "imaginative skill as applied to representations of the natural world or figments of the imagination," has enabled me to bring my inner and outer worlds together in a way that best represents who I am.  Almost everything else seems frivolous.

Art lasts forever. 
  



[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPCTgyND_tw]

Have you always know you would be an artist? How has your artistic life evolved?

Since I can remember, I've always been involved with color, paint, drawing or painting. During college I worked on several things including advertising agencies in the area of computer graphics, an area that has always fascinated me, but my passion for art and sheer will to create freely guided my choices.

How would you best describe your personality, and how your art relays that to the world?

I am an introverted person, observant, and very imaginative. Through art , I synthesize, play, and let off all the complexity of my inner world.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Yes, there was a big "Ah-ha" and fortunately it's becoming a new project that is underway. It's about people their dreams and nightmares. I still can't give many details in this moment so as not to spoil the surprise.

You seem to enjoy both painting and graphic art. Do you have a favorite or do you enjoy both equally? Can you tell us a little bit about what each gives to you in terms of the ability to express yourself creatively?

I do not have a favorite. Painting is something very lonely, and graphic art process is the opposite. I usually go out to photograph people or places, depending on the subject that I want to express. I choose one language or another.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations (issues) in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Yes, I believe that has caused many, but today I do not worry about it. The creativity just helps me to cope and overcome the problems.

In what ways does art sooth or inspire you during difficult or challenging times?

The art helps, but you have to want to indulge yourself while you are creating, just so you move away from everything else. Your focus is just in your art. And at this moment all problems are dissolved

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Oh, many times, including the first years of my marriage.  I always worked during the night and never had a strict routine. With great patience and persistence, all problems have been worked out.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

Ideas come from everywhere, from all places and from all things that I see.  Also, all the people I talk to.  I like to observe everything and everyone. Without that involvement, the artist closes.

I am self-motivating. I enjoy working with ideas that challenge me.  At creation time, I try to enter the "flow" of the here and now and not worry about the results.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

For an artist to stand out as a great talent, he really has to have talent. His work should stimulate and provoke curiosity. He might even do something that's been done before, for example, writing the lyrics of a song that speaks of "Love."  Something so common, yet his ability to create will differentiate it from others.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I follow my intuition.  I think this is my only mantra. It's important to me because up until now has always worked very well.

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6527212 May 18, 2010

An Author's Dream: Sheila Parr

You can't judge an apple by looking at a tree
You can't judge honey by looking at the bee
You can't judge a daughter by looking at the mother
You can't judge a book by looking at the cover
- Willie Dixon, 1962

Haven't we all heard about the deception of book covers a million times? Legend Bo Diddley even sang about it. While there's certainly a profound nugget of truth there, when it comes to actual books, it isn't always fitting.

Book covers play a key role in building literary careers. James Fox, Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review, has this to say about book covers:

For the post-publication reviewer, the cover is the gateway decision that decides if a book will be summarily rejected, or if the reviewer will invest additional time and energy into a further exploration of the book's desirability for being reviewed. Book reviewers must prioritize submitted books in a manner that would equitably utilize their time and energy to best effect for their audience or readership.


Think of it as going shopping in your favorite bookstore to buy an armload of books as gifts for yourself, your friends, and your family. You want to pick the books that you are going to provide as gifts which will be as appropriate to the intended recipient, as attractive to the recipient, and as reflective of your own good taste in the recipient's behalf, as possible.


That's why, for the post-publication book reviewer, one of the key selection elements is how the book will "sell" to its intended readership based upon its physical appearance.


This literary triage selection process is not a review. Rather it is decision process on whether of not to accept or refuse a book for review. It is not a critique of the literary content, but as an assessment of the book's viability in the competitive context of the book selling marketplace. It is passing judgment (or reviewing) the book-as-product and the publisher as that product's producer.

If you share this author's dream, your primary goal is to write a fantastic book.  A critical secondary goal is to find a fantastic publisher that can transform fabulous content into a product that will not only grab the attention of the intended reader but also that of book reviewers, booksellers, media representatives, the movie industry, and perhaps even Oprah. 

To create this spectacular package, the publisher carries the burden of accurately reflecting the book's content in its title and book cover design. Doing so is critical for satisfying all players involved, and for building and maintaining a stellar industry reputation.  Designing book covers is not as easy as some might think considering there's about a 10 to 15 second window to satisfy.  That's about how long the average person spends glancing at a book before deciding to pick it up or move along. Wow!

If you're Stephen King, Philip Roth, or Jodi Picoult, you've built an established audience who will likely give your next title their full attention. However, if you're an unknown, the book cover becomes a critical piece of the success puzzle.

With all this in mind, I was fortunate enough to have my debut novel land the desk of graphic designer, Sheila Parr.  Her fantastic cover design for ABERRATIONS was recognized by Print Magazine as one of the best of 2009!  Print Magazine is the premier publication for the graphic design industry.  Sheila works for Greenleaf Book Group, a small publisher based in Austin, Texas.  Her ABERRATIONS cover design was selected along with covers created by designers at New York-based powerhouses HarperCollins, St. Martin's Press, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Pantheon, and Scribner.       

Sheila is incredibly talented at what she does, and provides a great example of someone who has tapped both sides of the brain to achieve her creative goals.  Her design was likely instrumental in convincing James Fox at Midwest Book Review to put ABERRATIONS into the "yes" pile during his literary triage. Their Small Press Bookwatch division went on to say that ABERRATIONS is deftly written ... very edgy ... engaging ... insightful ... and fascinating!  They gave the book a 5 star-rating, helping me to relay that ABERRATIONS is just as good as its cover.

Thanks Sheila!


I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be a graphic artist or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist. I drew, painted, designed, glued, colored, glittered, and sculpted whatever I could. I also wanted to be a writer, so I filled notebooks with stories I had written and illustrated. Then I reached a point when I realized that I wasn't very good at drawing, so I decided I would be a writer. I took a required basic design course in journalism school, and fell in love with graphic design. That's when I knew I wanted to be a designer. I kind of went full circle.

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I go through creative cycles. Right now my job is very demanding so I don’t have much time for personal projects. I find it difficult to have a very demanding day at my job, and then go home and work on personal art or crafty projects. So I channel my creative energy into my work and enjoy simpler creative outlets in my free time, like my backyard garden. When I am on the other side of my creative cycle, however, I sketch, paint, crochet, and design all kinds of things at home, and I do it for my enjoyment, not because I'm really good at it.

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I think there are all kinds of creative people. My job requires me to be highly creative, but I also have to be professional and proficient at client management. I work on a lot of business titles, and the authors sometimes aren't used to interfacing with creatives. So it's the constant duality of Business Sheila and Creative Sheila. Different hats for different parts of the day.

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Being a creative person has caused me to pursue challenging work, and to push the limits and really explore who I want to be. It has definitely helped me deal with life’s aberrations. When I’m going through a difficult time, I think it’s great therapy to make something: collages, paintings, drawings, journal entries. Creativity is an outlet that I feel lucky to have.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Both of my parents always encouraged me creatively. I have always been my own worst enemy when it comes to letting myself be creative.

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how were you able to distinguish yourself and your talent despite any doubts along the way?

Absolutely. I think that for a lot of designers concepting comes very naturally. Developing a professional demeanor, organization, flawless execution, and client management are areas where they struggle. I am in many ways the opposite of this: I worry that I won't be able to come up with a good idea. I am not naturally filled to the brim with great ideas. I have to work at it. There is a lot of impostor syndrome in artistic fields. I have to remind myself that everyone else thinks I'm doing a good job, my clients are happy, my boss is happy, I win awards from time to time . . . that must mean something.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How have you coped with disappointments?

I try to be realistic about what I can achieve, and I give myself room to fail from time to time. I accept that I am good at some things, and I have to work very hard at others even though I still might not be successful. I feel I am so lucky to be doing creative work for a living, that my failures so far have felt pretty small.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

My creative process begins by trying to understand the essence of what I'm working on. I design book covers, so for me I need to get an accurate idea of what the author is trying to communicate. My professional creative work is very goal-oriented: I am packaging a product to sell, and I have a small space to interpret the author's vision in a marketable way. There is a lot of back and forth with my creative work. I have to put myself in the shoes of the author, the distributor, and the consumer. Then I have to create something that is true to the book's message and is artistically sound. I spend a lot of time in bookstores.

My personal projects are totally different. I try very hard to not approach them with any preconceived ideas about what they should be. I let them develop as they will, and the goal is the process, the enjoyment I get from creative work.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

1) The ability to see something new and unique in the ordinary

2) The desire to combine craft and concept to create something meaningful and beautiful

3) The willingness to approach a problem from several different angles

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

It can be difficult to find the drive to make creative projects happen. For me, creative work takes a lot of energy, and sometimes I have it, and sometimes I don't. I deal with this by being very understanding of my lack of creative energy.

If I'm getting frustrated at myself for saying "I should [fill in creative activity here] more" I decide to either accept that it's not going to happen right now, or build time into my life to do it. It is a shame to let creative talent lie dormant, but it's worse to live with constant guilt for not using that talent. If I decide to build time into my life to bring my ideas to fruition, it helps to have a plan. I have a friend who decided to do a painting a day to kick-start her creative projects. Some days she would spend 10 minutes painting, and others she would paint for an entire evening. It's much easier to develop the drive, organization, and focus to complete creative work when you have a realistic plan.


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