Writing is like painting

I don’t just mean they’re both creative but that developing a book is like producing a painting.

I went to a painting class on Friday. It was time. I hadn’t painted in over two years – and even that had been at another art class.

My heroine in Vicki’s Work of Art is an art teacher. I used to teach art and pottery. Well…they do say, write what you know. (Mind you, it has to be said, painting was never my forte and, on Friday, I remembered just exactly why I chose pottery and sculpture over fine art.)

After spending the last few months writing Vicki’s story, and identifying with her passion for moving paint across the canvas, I confess I could feel the nip of the painting bug. Hence the lesson.

It was just a two-hour session and, unless you’re a prodigy, that ain’t gonna deliver fantastic results. My first attempt was torn from the board in minutes. (By me – I wasn’t being taught by Miss Trunchbull.) My second attempt started out very shakily; I didn’t have a wide enough selection of colours, my brushes were the wrong scale for the size of paper, my hand-eye co-ordination was out of whack, and I was totally lacking in self-belief. However…as the session came to an end, I found I was getting into the groove. I was feeling the same kind of excitement Vicki felt when her pictures started to come together. And, as I packed away, I resolved to invest in more paints, increase my range of brushes and buy larger paper. (No, I’m not blaming my tools…honest.)download (5)

The piece I produced is rough; the perspective on the table is all to cock, I need texture on the brickwork and there’s heaps of work to be done. It’s like the first draft of a book. Now, the beauty of working with acrylics is that you can keep working on the canvas. Layering the paint can add qualities you hadn’t anticipated and mistakes can be covered up or reworked. Adding highlights and accentuating shadows can add depth to the whole image. It’s editing with colour.

Our teacher spoke about working with an analogous palette – i.e. a palette with similar colours – perhaps only shades of yellow and shades of blue rather than the full spectrum – to create an image held together by these repeating colours. She likened it to music, where an identifiable theme is repeated. And immediately I thought, that’s like writing, too. A book has a theme – which affects the central character’s situation and, possibly, that of a secondary character, giving us recurring imagery which helps tie the whole together.

The upshot of all this – I’ve decided that my writing might benefit if I continue dabbling with paint.

Just so long as there are enough hours in the day.

4 thoughts on “Writing is like painting”

  1. I think there are lots of similarities! First the ‘big idea’ and wondering how to approach the canvas, then blocking in the main areas with a big brush and gradually increasing the focus and detail. Both stories and paintings can be overworked and end up very tired and flat; sometimes adding deeper tones will bring the strength back. As for perspective… Yes, it’s a great analogy. Didn’t know you were an art teacher; how about running some writing/painting workshops?!

    1. Excellent idea, Katie. Would you like to teach the painting part? You are so much more accomplished in that field than I am! I could do ceramics. I like your analogy with ‘blocking in’. It’s true, as a writer, I often write key scenes first. Thanks for joining in the discussion.

  2. Love that comparison Rosie. I know that I certainly write fiction in layers, building up the story slowly over time from the basic sketch of an outline. And I really like the colours of that painting – you are being far too modest.