Tag Archives: writing prompts

#FineArtFriday: Rhetoricians at a Window by Jan Steen ca. 1666 #prompt

Artist: Jan Steen  (1625/1626–1679)

Title: Rhetoricians at a Window

Genre: genre art

Date: c. 1661-66

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 759.46 mm (29.90 in); Width: 586.23 mm (23.07 in)

Collection: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Today we’re looking to art for ideas, and our prompt is Rhetoricians at a Window by the Dutch master, Jan Steen.

What I love about this painting:

This is one of my all-time favorite Dutch genre paintings. It has inspired some the characters who pass through my stories, people my protagonists meet along the way. These jolly rogues have such vivid personalities that the viewer immediately feels a kinship to them. Who were they? Did they keep their day jobs?

The reading of a poem or play was clearly the opportunity for the performers to have a good time. From the drinker in the shadows of the background, to the grapevines growing around the window, Steen tells us that wine and rhetoric are clearly entwined.

I love the inclusion of both “the critic” who leans his head on his hand and listens analytically, and the man behind him, who is clearly “a little over the limit,” and supports himself by grasping the window frame and heartily agreeing with some point.

The actor who reads is clearly enjoying himself, as are the others.

About the Artist (Via Wikipedia):

Jan Havickszoon Steen (c. 1626 – buried 3 February 1679) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, one of the leading genre painters of the 17th century. His works are known for their psychological insight, sense of humour and abundance of colour.

Daily life was Jan Steen’s main pictorial theme. Many of the genre scenes he portrayed, as in The Feast of Saint Nicholas, are lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness, even so much that “a Jan Steen household”, meaning a messy scene, became a Dutch proverb (een huishouden van Jan Steen). Subtle hints in his paintings seem to suggest that Steen meant to warn the viewer rather than invite him to copy this behaviour. Many of Steen’s paintings bear references to old Dutch proverbs or literature. He often used members of his family as models, and painted quite a few self-portraits in which he showed no tendency of vanity.

Steen did not shy from other themes: he painted historical, mythological and religious scenes, portraits, still lifes and natural scenes. His portraits of children are famous. He is also well known for his mastery of light and attention to detail, most notably in Persian rugs and other textiles.

Steen was prolific, producing about 800 paintings, of which roughly 350 survive. His work was valued much by contemporaries and as a result he was reasonably well paid for his work. He did not have many students—only Richard Brakenburgh is recorded—but his work proved a source of inspiration for many painters. [2]

About this painting, Via Wikipedia:

Chambers of rhetoric (Dutch: rederijkerskamers) were dramatic societies in the Low Countries. Their members were called Rederijkers (singular Rederijker), from the French word ‘rhétoricien’, and during the 15th and 16th centuries were mainly interested in dramas and lyrics. These societies were closely connected with local civic leaders and their public plays were a form of early public relations for the city. [1]

In 1945, Sturla Gudlaugsson, a specialist in Dutch seventeenth-century painting and iconography and Director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Mauritshuis in The Hague, wrote The Comedians in the work of Jan Steen and his Contemporaries, which revealed that a major influence on Jan Steen’s work was the guild of the Rhetoricians or Rederijkers and their theatrical endeavors.

It is often suggested that Jan Steen’s paintings are a realistic portrayal of Dutch 17th-century life. However, not everything he did was a purely realistic representation of his day-to-day environment. Many of his scenes contain idyllic and bucolic fantasies and a declamatory emphasis redolent of theater.

Jan Steen’s connection to theater is easily verifiable through his connection to the Rederijkers. There are two kinds of evidence for this connection. First, Jan Steen Steen’s uncle belonged to the Rhetoricians in Leiden, where Steen was born and lived a substantial part of his life. Second, Jan Steen portrayed many scenes from the lives of the Rederijkers, an example being the painting Rhetoricians at a Window of 1658–65. The piece is currently held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art which was established in February 1876. The humanity, humor and optimism of the figures suggest that Jan Steen knew these men well and wanted to portray them positively.

With his lavish and moralising style, it is logical that Steen would employ the stratagems from theater for his purposes. There is conclusive evidence that the characters in Steen’s paintings are predominantly theatrical characters and not ones from reality. [2]

Credits and Attributions:

This post first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy  in September of 2020.

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Jan Steen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jan_Steen&oldid=950709901 (accessed September 10, 2020).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Chamber of rhetoric,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chamber_of_rhetoric&oldid=975283829 (accessed September 10, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Steen, Dutch (active Leiden, Haarlem, and The Hague) – Rhetoricians at a Window – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Steen,_Dutch_(active_Leiden,_Haarlem,_and_The_Hague)_-_Rhetoricians_at_a_Window_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=355150081 (accessed September 10, 2020).


Filed under #FineArtFriday, writing

#NaNoPrep: Guernica, Inspiration, and Finding Writing Prompts #amwriting

We are two weeks away from the opening hours of November and the official start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. So, let’s talk about inspiration. Poets know that one of the best ways to kickstart your imagination is writing to a pictorial prompt.

Picasso_quote_Art_is_a_LieOften the work that is inspired by a visual prompt has nothing to do with the image. But it has everything to do with the nature of storytelling. The ability to explain the world through stories and allegory emerges strongly in some people. Many are naturally able to form and express a story, and others find the subliminal prompting of an image will be the spark that lights their creativity.

My friends here at Life in the Realm of Fantasy know that I love looking at and talking about art. I’m not educated as an art historian, but I love the paintings of great artists because they tell a story. I like to share the images I come across and hopefully give others like me access to see the art that humanity is capable of, good and bad.

Perception is in the eye of the beholder. Perception also inspires extrapolation, leading the viewer to come away with new ideas.

When I see the story that was captured in a single scene by an artist, my mind always surmises more than the scene shows. I see the painting as depicting the middle of the story. Unintentionally, I put a personal spin on my interpretation, and ideas are born. I don’t mean to, but everyone does.

We are all inspired by the intellectual things we surround and entertain ourselves with, the art, the music, the television and movies, and the books we read.

Contemplating art, either paintings or photographs, or listening to music helps us relax. When we are at peace and contemplative, our minds wander. Pondering an image offers us a view of a static moment in time, but our minds are free to invent a past, a present, and a future for the scene.

But paintings also inspire ideas that have nothing to do with what the artist portrayed. The possibilities we imagine are endless, which is why visual images make great prompts for writers.

Let’s consider Guernica, a 1937 painting by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. This painting is considered to be one of the most powerful antiwar statements of all time. This single painting, done in shades of black and white, tells the story of the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain that was destroyed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the request of the Spanish Nationalists.

PicassoGuernicaPicasso’s choice to use black and white to tell that story is brilliant. Newsreels of the day were black and white, which influenced his decision. This piece is powerful because of the emotion the artist painted into the image.

In turn, the composition and symbolism in this painting had a genesis in the great art of the past. In planning the layout of Guernica, Picasso himself was inspired by Consequences of War by Peter Paul Rubens.

Watch this excellent YouTube video to see a short explanation of what inspired the artist, his view of both the horrific attack and the fundamentals of classic art. It explains Guernica well: Picasso’s Guernica by Great Art Explained.

So, we see that history, both the past and the present, inspires art, which inspires stories.

Iparkbenchnspiration can be found in the image of an unoccupied park bench in winter. The gray weather, the barren scenery, the loneliness of the empty bench could be the seeds from which a novel grows. Who is that bench waiting for? Who has just left it? Is the story light or dark?

The same can be said for an empty bench in summer. Either way, the viewer’s mind will answer the question of a light or dark story.

Meditating on a tone, a pattern, or an image is a time-honored means of expanding one’s mind. Meditating or daydreaming turns off parts of your brain. Our brain has an analytic part that makes reasoned decisions and an empathetic part that allows us to relate to others.

Researchers have found when a person daydreams, their mind naturally cycles through the different modes of thinking, analytic and empathetic. During this time, the rational and sympathetic parts of your brain tend to turn each other off, which is why this habit is so crucial to creativity.

Creative people are often guilty of mind-wandering, but researchers have shown that daydreaming makes you more creative.

You could be sitting on your porch watching the birds, as I often do. Or maybe you’re perusing the display in a local art gallery, or listening to Orff’s cantata, Carmina Burana—whatever you choose to meditate on doesn’t matter. The act of mind-wandering generates ideas. Soon, you may have the idea for a novel, a painting, or a piece of music.

Here are two good places where you can find both visual and non-visual writing prompts:

1100+ Creative Writing Prompts To Inspire You Right Now (reedsy.com)

Creative Writing Prompts – Writer’s Digest (writersdigest.com)

Alternatively, go out to www.wikimediacommons.org and see what the picture of the day inspires in you. Will those thoughts become your novel?

Perhaps so. But take the time to write those thoughts down. Writing them down in a journal offers you a mental image to contemplate, leading to the story, which grows into the novel.

Every step you take leads to another, and your notes become a storyboard, which becomes your novel. How you execute those ideas will be uniquely yours, your voice, your art.


#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?  (the storyboard)

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

#NaNoPrep, Connections and Interconnections

#NaNoPrep, Construction and Deconstruction

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 1

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc Part 2

#NaNoPrep, The Story Arc part 3, the End

#NaNoPrep: Signing up and Getting Started

Credits and Attributions:

Guernica by Pablo Picasso. 1937. Oil on canvas. © Picasso’s Estate and the People of Spain, Fair Use. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(Picasso) accessed 10, October 2021.

Neglected Park Bench, Park taeho, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, accessed 10, October 2021.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Facades of Handelskade, Willemstad, Curaçao – February 2020.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Facades_of_Handelskade,_Willemstad,_Cura%C3%A7ao_-_February_2020.jpg&oldid=598836309 (accessed October 16, 2021).


Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: San Gabriel Mountains in the Haze


Today’s image is brought to you by Wikimedia Commons. It is an image of the San Gabriel Mountains in California rising out of the smoggy haze, taken by Doc Searls. In my mind it evokes a fairytale place, a somewhere full of possibilities. A writing prompt? Perhaps, but mostly it is a peaceful image, designed to rest the mind, a visual place where ideas are born.

S.GabrielHaze, by Doc Searls from Santa Barbara, USA – 2007_06_24_iah-lax_71.JPG, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7737446

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Filed under #FineArtFriday, writing

#amwriting: A Writer’s Armamentarium by Jennifer Vandenberg

armamentarium coverWe all have times when we are at a loss for an idea. I love books that will give the creative muse a little kick in the pants. An intriguing little book in the writer’s arsenal is available for pre-order now.  A Writer’s Armamentarium, by Jennifer Vandenberg is a nifty little compendium of lists and writing prompts–things to  nudge your muse when you are a little bit stalled and blocked.

I came to know Jennifer through the online community of the Lewis County Writers Guild, a wonderful group of people I met at the 2015 Southwest Washington Writers Conference

CJJ: A Writer’s Armamentarium is an awesome title for book. What exactly is an Armamentarium?

JV: An armamentarium is a collection of resources used for an activity. It is often used in a medical context, but I loved the idea of creating a collection of lists that writers could use when they needed a bit of inspiration.

CJJ: Who did you create this book for?

JV: At first I created it for me and all the varied topics I’m interested in. As I started getting remarks from beta readers I learned that writers were more interested in these lists than non-writers so I included the chapters that writers would find most interesting. I hope that all writers, from hobbyists to professionals, can find inspiration for their stories among these lists.

CJJ: What made you decide to embark on such an ambitious project?

JV: I had dreamed of creating this book from my personal lists for about four years. I finally felt I had collected enough knowledge to fill out a book and I was excited to get started. Cleaning up and fact checking these lists took longer than I expected, but I loved every minute. This book is definitely a passion project for me.

CJJ: I was fortunate to read an advanced copy of this book, and loved the list of unusual words. What is your favorite unusual word, and why?

JV: I have so many favorite words that it is hard to pick just one. My favorite word from the Writer’s Armamentarium is omnology, which means the study of everything. I consider myself an omnologist, which sounds better than “someone who can’t decide what to focus on.”

CJJ: Let’s talk about your other work. Tell us about your Travis Eldritch series of short stories. Who is Travis, and how did you come to write about him?

JV: I love my Travis Eldritch series. He’s a private detective living on a moon in a system that has thirteen moons. In this system everyone is given a Problem at birth by the gods. Travis’s Problem is that he turns into a statue at random moments. This Problem has both advantages and disadvantages. Travis follows his gut more than his brains, but he and his partners manage to stop the bad guys eventually.

Each story is about 9,000 words. Six books have been published so far as eBooks on Amazon and in total there will be twelve books. Each story stands on its own, but there is an overarching subplot that connects all the books.

I’m a discovery writer and sometimes I just sit down and start writing with no idea of what is going to happen. I had this Sam Spade-like character talking to me so I started writing down his thoughts. Travis was born and he continues to tell me about his adventures.

CJJ: You have also written a book, Goofy Tips for a Happy Disney Vacation. What inspired that book?

JV: For three years I wrote a Disney travel blog at www.agoofyidea.com. New posts came out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. At the end of each post I wrote a Goofy Tip, a quick suggestion to improve the reader’s Disney vacation. I put all of the tips from the first year of the blog into a book so people could access helpful tips in one source.

This July I will be overhauling A Goofy Idea. I am creating a serial that is part fantasy, part Disneyland travelogue, about a teenage girl who was born in a book, but now lives in our world, and her fight with story spirits that want to pull her into their worlds. This story will be published on the website one chapter a week. It will be free to anyone who loves Disneyland and great stories.

CJJ: I love serials–some of the best work out there began as a serialized novels. I look forward to reading this. But, what has been the largest hurdle for you as an indie author?

JV: I love to write but I don’t love to market. My largest hurdle is balancing my time between the creative end and the business end of indie publishing. If I could have someone else do my marketing I would, but instead I’m working at finding techniques that are both successful and enjoyable.

CJJ: It is indeed a business, whether you are indie or traditionally published. The indie has a more difficult path as they must finance the entire endeavor on their own, and nothing happens overnight. So what advice do you have for the author just embarking on the indie path to publishing?

JV: Join Facebook groups. Join both virtual and in-person writing groups. Sign up for helpful blogs. Writers love to talk about writing and you can learn so much, but more importantly you need to surround yourself with a group of people who will support you as you embark on this exciting and sometimes difficult path.

CJJ: If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?

JV: I’d write more. Every day I didn’t write set me back from achieving my publishing dreams.

CJJ: Finally, where can the reader find your books?

JV: All of my books are published as eBooks on Amazon. All my books are listed on my author page.

CJJ: Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the time to talk with me today about your forthcoming book, A Writer’s Armamentarium.

This intriguing little book is a fun and useful little guide for the author who may need a little jump-start to their creative muse. Once Jennifer has it in paperback form, it will also be a nifty little book to have on the coffee table as a conversation piece, or as a gift for anyone who likes odd little self-help books.


steampunk Jennifer - CopyGeology student, National Park ranger, secretary, tax preparer, swim instructor, Hallmark sales associate, school aide, library assistant, children’s bookseller, merchandise supervisor, property curator, volunteer, food service employee, farmer, and blogger. Jennifer has had all these jobs and she’s not even old enough to receive social security. However, no matter where she worked, Jennifer has always been a writer.

In 2014 she won the Short Fiction Writers Guild Flash Fiction award for her evil Christmas entry, Advice from Siblings. She was a panelist at 2015 Left Coast Crime and gives writing workshops around her southwest Washington community.

Check out her website www.jennifervandenberg.com to learn about all her various writing projects. She has turned her Mattie Garrets/Jackson Pierce mystery series into a podcast on iTunes and will be starting a YouTube channel in summer 2016. She also plans to publish her first non-fiction book in May and start a fantasy/Disney travelogue serial in July. There are no limits to Jennifer’s imagination.

You can find Jennifer at:

Jennifer’s Author Website:


Filed under Literature, Self Publishing, writing