Writing and Painting: More Alike Than You May Think

The obvious similarity between writing and painting is that both are creative endeavors. And there is no one right way for someone to channel their creativity.

There are the writers who create a complete outline before constructing sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Similar to that are the painters who draw their composition on paper or sketch it on the canvas before applying paint.

Opposite that are the writers and painters who look at the blank screen or canvas and begin applying their ink or paint directly. They let the images flow directly from the brain to fingers and delight in what comes out. This unplanned, or organic, process has greater risks. The end product may need a lot of work to massage it into a form that conveys meaning to the creator and viewers.

Somewhere between that is where a great many creatives fall. I find myself starting out in an organic fashion. Then the organizer in my brain begins to speak. It pushes me to reflect on how far I want this aspect of the work to extend, any new layers of complexity to introduce, and what to adjust.

I credit the reason for this to my what DISC personal profile revealed many years ago. Over time, one pattern stood out, even when the numbers within the pattern shifted. I was prone to the D/C shift–where my high D factor (seeing the big picture) would back off and let my C factor tackle the accuracy and consistency needed to bring a project to completion. I frequently shift back and forth between big picture and details, which is why I always was able to view how my corporate work fit within the overall company structure while having a firm grasp of the small details. Back and forth, zoom out, zoom in, until I’m satisfied.

My writing and painting efforts pretty much fit this pattern. I work from an idea (big picture). About halfway through I step back and assess everything and examine and pull in whatever else is needed.

For written projects, is there enough conflict or tension to support the plot? If it’s a mystery, are clues and red herrings (to throw the protagonist and the reader off track) sprinkled throughout? Do my characters convey emotions, desires, and goals, or are they stick figures in the background?

For paintings, what does the overall picture convey? Is it too bland or too busy? Is it lifelike or abstract? Can I add something that would draw the viewer’s focus? Is it done or does it need more?

Those questions get resolved through layering. Between layers, the creative project needs time away from its creator. In writing, the time away (days? weeks?) lets you return and read it with a critical eye, especially if you’ve given it enough time that you’ve forgotten details. In painting, each layer’s drying time accomplishes the same purpose. Step back and look at it from a distance, then bring it in close.

I photographed this seascape painting when I first thought it was completed. I later added a village and worked on the color in the sky and the rock’s vegetation (far right).

I did similarly with this desert scene.

In both my writing and painting, I enjoy working at a pace that lets me see something to an end and then explore ways to expand on it or enhance it. Not every result is better than the original, although more often than not, I’m satisfied at the end.

My current work in progress (WIP) is the short story that I’m expanding into a novella. Over the last few months, I’ve been layering in more of the underpinnings of the society in which the story occurs. What are the economic, religious, and political issues of this feudal society? I don’t need a lot–just enough to make it feel like a real place world with problems the reader can identify with even though the story is set on another world in a period somewhat equivalent to our medieval era.

And just like with my paintings, I think I’m done and wham! I realize I’ve omitted something that might make it work just a little better, bring things into the picture more clearly, or enhance the reader’s/viewer’s experience.

Until next post, happy reading (or viewing).

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