Writing Dark Fantasy: Art as Inspiration

There are many ways that writers are inspired to write, spanning the gamut of available entertainment modalities, occurrences in daily life and well just about everything in between. And writers are typically inspired by a variety of things all of which can change over time. However, for me, the single most impactful form of inspiration for my writing has come from art. That is, imagery mostly in the form of fantasy and science fiction paintings or illustrations. It is my desire to share some of those images with you along with the way that they affected me as a writer.

This story really starts in the Santa Clara Public Library somewhere around 1984 as I was just beginning my foray into being a teenager. Specifically, there were three sections of the library where I spent unsearchable amounts of time pouring over the many images that informed the worlds I would later create: the paperback section that resided just inside the library entrance, the art book section deep in the rows of shelves in the middle of the library and the science fiction/fantasy section in a cozy room in the back.

While I haunted all of these areas quite regularly, I can keenly remember being completely engaged in the works of Froud, Valejo, Frazetta, Waterhouse, Leighton, etc. in the art book section. There had been oversized, hardcover books there that contained compilations of fantasy and science fiction genre art, sometimes from many decades earlier. There were also the periodicals such as Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction both boasting amazing cover art and illustrations within. How many summer days did I lose to the giant chair in that back room thumbing through them, my mind drinking the art on those pages? No, the aesthetic sum of those works and artists does not necessarily represent Dark Fantasy as a genre, but it is how it manifested coming out of my own creative process. There were times I would string together entire stories from images that were completely unrelated. I wish I had then the presence of mind to write them down rather than just dream them. But dreaming was a way to cope and served a vital function.

Life during that time was not ideal. It would get worse before it would get better, and during those difficult years the images in those precious books gave me stability and cause for hope in a way that is difficult to explain. They were always welcoming and true, even when I could not be; even in the midst of poor circumstances and still poorer choice-making on my part. That library became very important to me.

The sheer formative power of those images to my imaginings and my future writing is a curiosity to me. As I consider that past, I realize that there was a limited amount of content available to me. There was no internet and libraries could only hold so many books. The availability of content was still very much affected somewhat serendipitously by geographic location and was represented by physical objects that could be sought, found and studied: books. Yes, they contained ideas and new worlds but they were also objects, occupying space-time. 

I look around now and it seems as though there is an abundance of that kind of art in a likewise abundant array of mediums. In every pop-culture corner is an exhaustive offering of pastiche fantasy and science fiction art to the tune of option paralysis. In general, I think this is probably a good thing, really. But in some small way, a bit of the magic has seemed to wane as a result of the relatively effortless availability of it.

But as I mentioned, I want to share if I may some bit of that magic that I experienced as a way to maybe inspire others to write. I know every writer has their own process. For me, all of my stories have started as images in my mind, still and vibrant. I would then allow them to adopt motion and then emotion. As it evolves, I see where it goes, but not too far. At some point, I begin to determine the course with words. It is like lucid dreaming really. I follow it to its end, for better or worse. In this way, I explore the boundaries of who I am and the landscape of my soul. Imagery. It is my muse.

I would like to periodically focus on an artist or an image from that time that inspired and influenced me to write. Below is a painting called The Accolade. It was painted in 1901 by Edmund Leighton. It is certainly not an obscure work, most having seen it at one time or another. However, when I first saw it, I was affected viscerally and it projected in my mind this idea of being worthy by way of ceremony; a study of how a person starts as one thing and becomes another from one moment to the next. How many ceremonies of this type do we indulge in during our lives? Weddings, graduations, promotions, etc. These are symbols, ratified as being suddenly true by the witness of onlooking members of our communities. Oh how much we strive to be the knight in this image. It is high drama and great material for writing.

What art inspires you to write?


The Accolade by Edmund Leighton

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