Writing As a Painter

by Elizabeth Kelly

When I write I paint. The two go hand in hand. A character description is a verbal painting. The essence of a character is the emotional component. How to express red hot anger so the reader feels and sees the characters response? What visuals describe insecurity or loneliness?

By using an overlay of texture, colors and shapes, Edward Munch creates a vision in his painting The “Scream” that gives me a deep throbbing ache in my stomach. A writer uses words to construct those same types of layers through background, a character’s thoughts, dialogue, and the specific overlay of words that create the rhythm of good prose. I have often heard actors, writers, and painters talk about the music or rhythm they hear when creating. That inner music or rhythm gives the order of words their flow like ripples in the river that glide and dip into rapids creating the tension in a scene whether it is character description or a part of the plot.

As a painter I can add or blend a color, build up or dilute the texture to communicate. As a writer it is adding adjectives for depth and texture, adverbs to quicken the pace of the sentence or slow it down, and wonderful prepositional phrases just for fun that make a story complex and interesting. With both painting and writing, it is the building up of layers.

Painters and writers both start out with blank canvas and the anxiety of not knowing how to fill it. Some painters sketch and draw the subject; they experiment with different compositions before preparing their canvas. Other painters intuitively attack the canvas allowing the muse to direct them. Writers are the same. One writer prepares detailed outlines before writing one word while another writer has an idea and goes with it to a blank piece of paper hoping the idea and the characters will develop on their own.

Many writers are painters. Sylvia Platt, William S. Burroughs, Lewis Carroll, and Kurt Vonnegut are only a few who are known more for their writing than their art work. Natalie Goldberg, a writer/writing teacher also published a book of her paintings. She says painting makes her a better writer because it forces her to look carefully at the hues of color, geometric shapes, and arrangement of objects to see the usual in an unusual way.

A good painter is better for his pursuit of music or writing and a good writer can show rather than tell by pursuing painting and/or music.

Being creative is a gift. I don’t mean you are either talented or not talented, but rather you are born with the passion to create. Regardless of the outcome we are lucky to be able to see outside the box.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Writing As a Painter

  1. Beautifully illustrated, Elizabeth!

  2. K.L. Gore

    Nicely written article, Elizabeth. I agree whole-heartedly. 🙂

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