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Inspired by Matisse


For more than ten years, off an on, I have taught a class called Journal and Sketchbook. The class alternates between writing and visual-art activities in order to heighten a writer's "seeing in the mind" and sense of story-telling. I co-taught it with Patty McNair until recently, when I have taught it solo, to small classes of between three and eight people. Even during a one-day class, there is a noticeable difference in people's writing by the end of the day: more sensory detail, more sense of scene, more fully told moments.

In the most recent session of teaching this class, I have increased the level of visual art stuff. Each week, I took as inspiration a book by an artist that combines text and image. So we had Frida Kahlo week (using her Diary as inspiration), Paul Gauguin week (Noa-Noa), and then Matisse week (Jazz).

First, I read a piece by writer Maija Rothenberg that uses the format of an alphabetized list to tell the story of a life:


Stage 2: invite the participants to write a similar list-based piece (45 to 60 minutes of writing time).

Stage 3: invite the participants to create a series of pictures in their sketchbook illustrating or related to their list piece, in the style of Matisse's "Jazz," that is, by cutting shapes out of brightly coloured paper.

The result? The best class so far, with some really great Matissean-pictures:



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