HOW TO WRITE LIKE AN ARTIST PAINTS
'Dancers Tying Shoes,' Edgar Degas, 1883
It's not unusual to come across writers who paint and painters who write. I have close friends who have written and published novels; they have also painted and exhibited their visual art. They oscillate between the two forms of expression, loving both, but occasionally conflicted about having to choose between their two highly-creative children.
To move from the amateur level to the professional ‘I will make a living from my art,’ we have to find our way across a wide crevasse. Like intrepid mountaineers, we will lay down ladders, spikes and ropes to make the hazardous crossing to the other side.
In this article, I draw five parallels – out of many - between the art and craft of writing and the art and craft of drawing / painting. (These parallels also apply to other forms of visual art such as sculpture, film, ceramics.)
1. A FORTRESS MINDSET
To be successful and sustain it, we need to build a ‘fortress mindset’ which we vigorously defend, allowing nothing to break it. Such mindset thinking and acting as:
‘I have unshakeable confidence’ (I will do what it takes)
‘I am serious about my creative practice, I am disciplined.'
'I focus on doing the work.' (I cannot cross the crevasse by putting in a half-hour here and there)
'It will take however long it takes to make it to the other side.'
'I am ready to overcome failure and rejection.' (which accompany everyone on the creative path)
(Tip: You could adapt these five affirmations and put up where you’ll see them every day.)
2. FIND YOUR UNIQUE STYLE
To progress from being a week-end writer or artist necessitates discovering and developing our unique style, our own voice. We may start out by admiring other writers and artists and absorbing how they create their unique artistic stamp. We recognise an Edgar Degas painting, his themes, techniques and style. No one else painted quite the same way. Frido Kahlo developed her own unique style which is unmistakeable. There is the mono-brow! Equally, if we have read them closely, we recognise the unique writing styles of Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens (among many others). Acquiring our unique style is about taking in a whole range of influences and twisting, shaping, discarding and adding until we have created something which is ours.
'The Wounded Deer' - Frida Kahlo, 1946
3. BE CHILDLIKE: PLAY AND OBSERVE
As creatives, is it possible to be like a child: playful, curious, unlimited? We learn and experiment with whatever we can lay our eyes and hands upon. We eagerly tap into the inspiration all around us from the smallest lizard darting around the pot plants to a song which mysteriously comes forward in our consciousness. For example, yesterday afternoon, coming from nowhere, the old folk song, ‘Greensleeves’ started playing in my head. I began humming it. I thought, ‘Why now? A song we sang as kids. Is there a story beckoning to be told?’ Maybe.
4. WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS
Another parallel between writing fiction and creating visual art is how both are ‘worlds within worlds.’ There is depth and complexity in a great novel which can be read on a number of levels. A visual art work is also telling a story which we interpret, often unconsciously, as we gaze at it. Is this why people will stand motionless for many minutes, mesmerised, in front of a painting or installation? They are absorbing the work’s story through their senses and constructing their meanings from it. As we become more confident and proficient in our practice, we can introduce more layers, colours and textures into our writing which is what painters do.
5. YOUR CREATIVE TRIBE
Another parallel is also a paradox. A work of fiction is generally written by one author which also applies to drawing, painting and sculpture. Other visual forms are highly collaborative (plays, films, television shows). But when we think about it, individual writers and artists also need a collaborative tribe around them to maximise their opportunities to create distinctive work and to promote them and their work. Meeting one influential person in the publishing industry or art world can open many doors. As an example, many Australian artists in the 1950s, 1960s and onwards owed their success to Rudy Komon, an art dealer and gallery owner, who went all in with the artists in his ‘stable,’ people like Olsen, Brack, Pugh, Williams, Molvig, Dickerson and others. In the early days, Rudy even drove around Sydney selling William Dobell’s paintings off the back of a truck.
What does this strategy mean for writers of fiction who want to take their work to the professional level? Every creative needs to find and cultivate their tribe of other writers, agents, publishers editors and readers. Face-to-face encounters are best for building rapport and fostering productive relationships and being able to interact and communicate effectively with people you haven’t previously met.
In summary, the world needs more artists and writers. Equally, artists and writers need to build sustainable creative practices. In this brief article, we have highlighted some parallels and strategies for success which we recap as:
Control and protect your fortress mindset.
You are unique. Find your unique style.
Imagine and create like a child.
Build worlds within worlds.
Assemble your creative tribe.
Have you ever thought about the parallels between writing and the visual arts? There are so many. Please feel free to comment below.
Doing the write thing (and lovin’ it!)
Managing Editor and Publisher
LLOYD MOSS publishing
p.s. For any aspect of manuscript editing or self-publishing, contact us (no obligation) via the contact form, or by text, phone (0421 998749) or email email@example.com
p.p.s. Point 5 above is about building our tribe of supporters and fans, and connecting with influential people in the publishing world. But what if you don’t like going to group events where you don’t know anyone and you are not confident about striking up conversations? For some practical tips and techniques for how to handle group interactions, the what, when and how, look out for our next blog article in early April. Subscribe below so you don’t miss it!