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People often ask me if my characters come first, or the story. Which inspires the other? Each book is different, but it’s an interesting question, and fun to reflect on. In my case, envisioning a character helps me to tell his or her story with authenticity. But they are often not fully fleshed out until my story is complete. My husband, however, fleshes his characters out with extravagant detail before the story is ever conceived.
I’d like to introduce you to my husband, artist Christopher Polentz, an aspiring writer and illustrator. He paints portraits with stunning realism inspired by actual vintage photographs he finds at antique shops. These portraits inspire stories!
I never simply copy the photograph. Over the hours of painting we spend together, developing a tangible painting, a thought process is at work. Beyond this picture; who is this person? Who were their friends? What was their position in life? Jotting down notes, organizing thoughts in my head, a real person emerges from this simple inspiration found in an antique store for $3.00.
My mental notes encourage more imagery, a background environment, she should appear emaciated-why? She’s wearing a necklace, what should be hanging from that necklace I ask myself. And so the conversation goes. And from this single photograph an imagined world of complexity evolves. None of which was planned, yet happened, spontaneously. Over the years I have found my paintings feeling incomplete in some way. My viewers had questions. A natural human curiosity wanted answers. I found myself retelling, and embellishing on my own original thoughts. And listening to my audience-they have some of the most compelling thoughts about my characters, and I take it-it’s great! Then, tying one character to another, it all slowly came together and made sense. They all belonged together, as they all came from me. I realized the need to put these stories, previously confined to my mind, on paper.
My portrait has not inspired just one idea, but several, because they are all inner-connected like a family tree. I now have a story of pictures supported by the movie of my mind that is always different and ever changing-one photograph, object, or maybe a past experience all play a role. So this is what I do. I shop, hunt, and think, never knowing where or what that next thing is adding to another piece of my puzzle, a new chapter in MY Twilight Zone.
My finished portraits are not finished at all. It’s just the beginning. A character is born with a story to tell, and we, the creator, are the ones to tell it.
Go to an antique or thrift store. Scan through photographs of real life people or things people have owned. There are games, tools, dishes, toys, jewelry, and all kinds of unexpected treasures! Each one has a story to tell, and only you can tell it because it’s from your own imagination. Let an object or photograph trigger a story. Don’t simply interpret it. Make it your own! Elaborate and invent. Even inanimate objects can come to life if you’re using your imagination. What is their story?
Have fun browsing and imagining. Find something ordinary and make it extraordinary!
Pictured: Portraits by Christopher Polentz that have inspired stories. Feel free to let them trigger stories of your own!
Christopher Polentz graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in 1985 earning his BFA degree. After a long career as a freelance artist working with clients such as; Atlantic Records, MGM/UA Entertainment, Mattel Toys and Reebok, Chris returned to college earning his MA degree from Syracuse University in 2001. Chris now pursues gallery work and has exhibited with galleries including; CoproNason Gallery-Santa Monica, La Luz de Jesus Gallery-Culver City, Sparks Gallery- San Diego and Cannon Gallery-Carlsbad. He continues to teach, and likes to think of himself as more technician than artist, working traditionally in his preferred medium of graphite and acrylic. Chris has been teaching art for over thirty years, including twenty years at both Art Center College of Design and Palomar Community College.
You can learn more about Christopher Polentz and his art at christopherpolentz.com.
Salina Yoon is an award winning author and illustrator of over 160 books for young children, including the popular Penguin picture book series and the new Duck Duck Porcupine beginning reader series. She was the featured author for the 2016 Kohl’s Cares Summer Campaign, and her awards include the 2015 Award for Excellence in a Picture Book for FOUND, by the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California, the 2015 International Literacy Association’s Children’s Choice Reading List for FOUND, and much more.
Chris and Salina have two boys, one more artistically inclined than the other (but they won’t name names) and they share one agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Christopher is giving away a print of one of his portraits (that you can use to inspire a new character).
Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.