Hi. My name is Laura. I’m a painter, an art teacher, and sometimes a writer.
For a long time I considered writing a hobby, something I only did for myself, and I never shared my work with anyone. Mostly this was because I was afraid of what kind of critique my work would receive. It wasn’t something I ever took courses to learn in college. So, of course I didn’t know anything about it. Right?
But as I wrote more, and learned more, I came to realize that maybe I could take what I knew of art and painting and apply it to my writing. Perhaps not the parts about how to properly wash your brushes, or what kind of oil would work best with the style I was painting in, but the basic information. Art and writing are not completely unrelated – they share a family tree in that they are both methods of creative expression.
So I figured maybe I already knew a few things I could use...
1) The drawing/plot is most important.
For a painter, the drawing is where the work begins. It tells you where parts will go, it tells you what the piece is about, and if your drawing is wrong, you’ve got problems. No matter how hard you work on the details of someone’s eyes, the fact that they’re missing a nose is not going to escape your audience’s attention.
Talk about a plot hole.
The same could be said of plot. This is what is happening in your story. Where you have missing pieces here, you have major problems. Fix this, because it isn’t going to go unnoticed.
2) Inexperience is not style. Nor is laziness.
As a teacher, I have seen so many students falter on this point. “But that’s just how I like it” becomes an excuse for laziness. They don’t want to work to get it right, so they say they wanted their apple to look flat, or their dog to have a neck that stretches far longer than a dog’s neck should ever stretch, or, or, or…
You can’t just splash paint on a canvas and call yourself an artist. Sure, there are painters who do that, but the good ones have a decided method to their madness, an education and knowledge behind it all.
With my writing, I often wonder if my own style and voice are valid, or if I’m just not yet practiced enough to understand what is style and what isn’t. I’m getting better at that, I think. Reading a lot helps. Looking for reason behind other writers’ choices is key – Why that verb? Why that rhythm?
3) Details help tell us what’s important. And not everything is.
Ever seen a painting where every single part of a four-foot by four-foot canvas was painted in reverent detail? Crystal clear from the foreground to the background, sharp edges on everything? Did you have a hard time figuring out what that painting was about, or what you should even be looking at?
And then you see a Rembrandt with gorgeous soft edges around nearly everything, only to find a few sharp places in the brightest areas – the center of focus. “Here, look here. This is what I want you to see.”
But he didn’t bother to tell us what kind of fabric he was wearing…
Same goes for writing. We don’t need three paragraphs about the inner workings of a clock that hangs on the wall in the protagonist’s father’s office. Why not? Because nobody cares. It doesn’t matter how beautifully you described those shiny gears. The delete key is still your friend.
Write about what matters.
4) Show vs. tell, or, don’t go and buy a tube of silver paint, okay?
I had a student ask me the other night, “Do they make silver oil paint?” Well, sure. They make every color you could think of. I own a tube of copper myself. Do I use it to paint metal? No. Why? Because it would look wrong.
In order to really get a painting to have the illusion of metal, you have to paint correct relationships between the light and dark. Show us how the light is reflecting. That’s all. You don’t need to slather silver all over your canvas. (Look! Look! It’s SILVERRRR!) Yes, that would make it shiny, but it wouldn’t correctly represent your grandmother’s prized jewelry box.
We don’t need no stinkin’ silver…
And as we write, we could just go out and say that Henry is an angry young child, but it holds much more punch when we show this through his actions and dialogue. In what happens in the story.
I learn more and more about writing all the time – by reading, by listening to others’ insight, and by doing it every day. But sometimes I feel lucky that I have painting to help me relate – it’s a great lens to study this subject through.
And I bet, with a little work, some of you writers out there would make excellent painters, too.
Note: all images are my own work, save for the Rembrandt. So no worries on attributing source.
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