Saturday, July 9, 2016

Overcoming Obstacles by Michelle Lee

Hello cover art aficionados. My name is Michelle, for those of you who haven't read any of my past posts.  I am a part of the BWL community, but not as an author - I am the one who gives the books their outer wrapping. 
In the past, I have done a series of posts about all things covers.  Please feel free to check them out.  They are linked at the end of this post. 

Now for the purpose of today's odd topic - Overcoming Obstacles.

I want you to take a moment, close your eyes and imagine a beach.  The waves of the crystal blue ocean flicking against the tiny white grain of sand along the water's edge, turning them a damp beige.  The feel of the wind rushing through your hair, the heat of the sun against your bare arms.  Picture dolphins jumping from the water, playful and free, just off in the distance.

Now come back to me.  Remember that scene ... I will get back to it in a moment.

What some of the BWL family knows is that in addition to being their resident pain in the rear cover art goddess, I am also a biology geek and a teacher.  What most do not know (but will now) is that I am dyslexic.  I can't read long streams of numbers without getting a headache.  Math is a nightmare for me - especially algebra.  And until I was in the fourth grade - reading was also  major nightmare.  I avoided it like most sane people avoid snakes and spiders.  But something happened the summer after third grade ... I discovered that I didn't need to understand all of the words.  That my mind would fill in and adapt, if I gave it a chance.

Take a look at the following image:

What you are seeing is what reading is like for me - and yes, this passage above makes perfect sense to me.  When reading aloud in earlier classes, when we came upon an unfamiliar word, we had to sound it out.  But my sounds never quite matched what the words were, so I great discouraged.  I was called stupid by other kids, and as a shy person naturally, it made me withdraw more.  But that summer, my sister spent a lot of time with me, reading to me, and as I heard her voice, I would link the words to the sounds in my head, and pull it together.  Something I wasn't able to do in class with other kids snickering and teasing me.

That summer, I discovered reading.  And the more I read, the more I loved it, and the better I got at it.  Now, as an adult, I read bout 3-10 books a week, sometimes hitting 45-50 in a month (various lengths of course - some are novellas, some novels).  I still struggle when reading aloud - so I avoid it when possible.  But when I read silently to myself, but brain is able to infer, fill in, and adapt to what I am seeing.  Sure, I might miss an occasional word, struggle with the difference between form and from, but it doesn't decrease the please of reading.

I am very up front with my students about my troubles reading (and writing) so that when I do write something wrong on the board - they know they can correct me, that I WANT them to correct me.  And yes - it does happen often.  Some are amazed that I am "allowed" to teach, others that I made it through school (including college) with this cloud hanging over my head.  But some, the ones that need it the most, understand that the things that might get us made fun of, the things we struggle with, are not insurmountable obstacles.

For me, dyslexia was simply an obstacle that I needed to know how to overcome ... and then I did so.  In addition to being a teacher, I am also a published author ... something else that my obstacle could have held me back from, had I let it.

So what does this have to do with the scene I asked you to imagine earlier?  In addition to dsylexia, I also have what it called by many 'mind-blindness', the technical terms that has been proposed is Aphantasia. 

Phantasia is the ancient greek word for, among other things, imagination and images.  A is a prefix meaning lacking, without, or not.  So aphantasia means without images, or mind blind.

Think about that for a minute and remember the ocean scene.  When you closed your eyes, did you 'see' the ocean?


I don't.  I can hear a narrator telling me what it looks like, and I have found that if I keep up a running narration in my head during some moments, that I can recall them as an auditory memory later.  

I can look at images and recognize things ... like an actor, or a certain type of owl.  But closing my eyes and telling my principal what a certain student looked like, if I didn't already know the student?  Describing a bird I just saw flying by, and trying to identify it from memory?  Practically impossible. I can't visualize the person or owl to give the details.

Now remember that I said in the beginning of this post - I am BWL's Art Director and primary cover artist.  Which means I take stock photo images and somehow morph them, blend them together, to create covers.  Covers like these:





Each of these covers is at least 2 images, some contain up to 5.  Somehow I had to 'visualize' how the images would come together - right?

Nope.  It's not that simple. I can't just close my eyes and use my imagination.  When I am working on covers, I have numerous windows open on my computer and I have to place images side by side, so that I can see how they would fit together.  I can't just close my eyes and let them merge, trying out different combinations.  

For example, I could tell you by looking at these two images side by side, that the dolphins could be placed into the beach image, and with the right text, make a great cover.  Maybe with a woman in the foreground standing, looking out over the water.

For many of you, you could probably close your eyes and actually see it come together.  I don't.


So much of my process, I don't even understand.  I know some images I will see and have a flash of insight - that it would make a great cover with the right other elements, but I don't actually visualize the finished product.  

I never see it until I actually create it.  

So what are my dreams like, you might ask?  Well ... that is a topic for another post. :)  (Have to keep you coming back somehow - right?)

As for why I posted this ... I admit, the obstacles I face are NOTHING in comparison to what many others face (and I do not in any way want to trivialize those obstacles) ... but at the same time, while mine are seemingly small in the grand scheme of things, they can seem insurmountable to dreams of becoming a writer or artist.  Just like I want my students to know, I want those reading this blog to know that they can be overcome.  More than that though ...

When it is physical, we can point to it and say 'ah ha! there is the issue!'.  But when it is something in the brain?  I always knew I was a little different, and thought something was truly defective in my brain for the longest time.  I couldn't read word correctly, I couldn't visualize images when I closed my eyes. I had to be broken somehow right?  But guess what ... aphantasia and dyslexia are a lot more common that I ever imaged when I was growing up, thinking myself damaged somehow.  

If you are interested in learning about Aphantasia, check out some of the following articles:

* * *

And for those who wanted to find my older posts ... here they are.

* A whole series about various aspects of covers:
     - Image Selection
     - Cover Elements
     - Series
     - Cover Branding
     - Heat Levels

* Dear Artist - a Dear Abby kind of thing, but for cover art questions (feel free to leave questions in the comments for future posts)

AUTHOR RESOURCES -- well worth checking out!!!!

Black and white and shifters all over -- probably one of my favorite posts :) Research is so very important!

I also have a couple odds and ends posts