Mannequin Monday – Ebony Fingers on White Keys

Hi. Welcome back to Mannequin Monday. Our ongoing goal here is dressing the blank form: words, images, clay, paint, movement. This week I will again rely on images to spark creativity.

Today starts with artist and writer Austin Kleon, who continues to inspire me. He recently posted architectural image collages on his blog.

Kleon in turn led me to designer/writer Frank Chimero, who specializes in interactive web design.

And I wrap the weekly post with a writing sample of my own, a writing exercise on haiku. One: Ebony fingers on white keys sprayed wild notes on the air.

This Week’s Story

Austin Kleon describes himself as a writer who draws. He recently posted a series of architecturally-inspired collages. Beginning with an image of an ordinary house, he added elements to create artful collages.

image of architectural collage created by Austin Kleon

The writer, too, starts with something ordinary. A plot, a character, a setting that is anything but original. Story elements that have been done time and time again.

A good writer then displays artfulness with elements of singularity, individuality. The writer creates a fresh construct, word by word, scene by scene. Clads the frame with solid walls. Finishes with the drywall and the paint of polished words and metaphors. Weaves characters in and out of the plot as a story enfolds. The result: a “collage” of words and scenes creating an artful tale.

Kleon makes reference to designer/writer Frank Chimero. Chimero describes himself as a designer who writes. In Chimero’s blog post, The Web’s Grain, he discusses designing for the web. I will cherrypick a few quotes that I think have reference to writing as well.

First quote: “In Buddhism, there’s something called the beginner’s mind. If you’ve ever done any kind of guided meditation, you’re probably familiar. It refers to having an attitude of openness, of eagerness. You drop your heavy preconceptions and revitalize a practice by finding a new way to look at it.”

Yes! Revitalize our writing by finding a new way to look at it. Beginner’s mind. Drop our heavy preconceptions. This could mean writing in a new genre – definitely a new way of looking at writing. It could mean playing with poetry, or experimenting with style. Working on sentence length. Using short sentences for punch, drama.

Chimero goes on in his blog to talk about artist David Hockney. Specifically, his photo collage work. “In essence, Hockney abandoned the notion that a two-dimensional work of art needed to exist at a fixed, rectangular size. Instead, small individual photos were overlaid and assembled until they formed a complete picture. Individually, the photos don’t mean much, but collectively they… does this seem familiar?”

Chimero cites two examples.The first we are all familiar with. “With the Mona Lisa, we have fixed, uniform edges that can be planned for with a high degree of certainty and control. We revere and celebrate this painting because of that exquisite control.”

The second example, one of Hockney’s own “joiner” photo collages: “With the joiner, we have a different kind of beauty. It is an edgeless surface of unknown proportions, comprised of small, individual, and variable elements from multiple vantages assembled into a readable whole that documents a moment.” This is Billy Wilder lighting his cigar.

image of David Hockney's photo collage Billy Wilder lighting a cigar
Billy Wilder lighting his cigar

Without being too literal, can’t writers take inspiration from these concepts? Small, individual, variable elements assembled into a readable whole. This might at first glance refer to a collection of poetry. But it can also imprint fiction writing. Perhaps writing shorter chapters, each with a different POV. Maybe an assortment of written vignettes, maybe earlier short pieces pulled together into a fresh composition. Nothing terribly esoteric here. Just a few ideas to re-vitalize our writing.

My Current Writing

I’m in the middle of an online writing course offered by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. One of the exercises involves writing haiku, something I’ve never tried. Below are five attempts of mine. A few follow the traditional 5-7-5 pattern. Several are more free-flowing. I hope you enjoy them.


Sky-blue canopies failed to lighten her dark-as-night memories. 

The white-fringed surf clawed at the body in the sand.

image of art titled Paint Man II, by Justin But
Piano Man II by Justin Bua. The Black Art Depot

Under a noon sun, the boy wormed bare feet into hot sand.

Ebony fingers on white keys sprayed wild notes on the air.

Bronzed tentacles splayed out from under a banana-colored bandana on her sunburned forehead.