Friday, October 30, 2009

Writers Are Like Painters

When I was a teen, I took up oil painting. One of my favorite shows was The Joy of Painting on PBS, and I figured if Bob Ross could make happy little trees, maybe I could too. For awhile I actually thought I was going to be a painter rather than a writer, but that was before the writing bug bit me really hard. But here's the thing, and probably why I was confused for a little while---writing really is like painting.

These days I occasionally take up my oil painting between projects. Even though they're different (one changes a canvas, the other a computer screen) writing and painting have many similarities. One of the paintings I hope to finish someday features a rough looking cowboy (he's pictured above). He's been a work in progress for longer than I care to admit, but as I work on this painting, here's what I'm noticing:

Underpainting/rough draft

For this project I started with an acrylic underpainting, made up mostly of grays. It's like a rough draft. I can see the outline of what I want to accomplish, and the hints of where I want to be, but in no way is it complete.

Laying down the color/second draft
Then it's onto the color. I applied it generally with little thought to detail. The important thing was to get the darker colors where the shadows would be, and the brighter colors where the light would hit this character's face. Second drafts are like this for me. Since I tend to underwrite, often I'll be going back and adding layers of dialogue, character thoughts, etc. It's at this point I'll probably doubt my ability to see this project through. What was I thinking?

Getting the likeness/third draft
This is where things get tricky. This portrait must look like a human being. All the nuances of my character's face must be just right. It's the same with writing. The story needs to make sense. The character's motivations need to ring true. I'll need to sculpt away the excess, keeping only the important.

The fine details/final draft
I enjoy this step the most in both painting and writing. I can finally see I'm going to make it! I'm going to complete this project. The image in my head has finally (if I've done everything right) materialized. It's now I really step back and examine to make sure I'm satisfied. There might be some fine tuning still. I might decide I have to make the nose or chapter longer. That's okay. The hard part is done. The hardest part now is knowing when to sign the picture or type "The End".

[This is an edited version of an older blog post I wrote that's now being featured at the Scribble Chicks blog.]


Nicole said...

Great analogy, C. J.--hope we get to see your finished painting and read your finished novels. ;)

C.J. Darlington said...

I hope so, too, Nicole! :)

Christina Berry said...

Wow! You are very talented. I can't imagine painting well. I copied a painting once and it turned out looking fairly nice, but it's all one layer. Say, like a one-demensional character. :-)

lynnmosher said...

Hey, CJ! Great post! I, too, love to paint and haven’t in years. I've always thought that writing was like painting. I love your word painting of explanation. Since we have been without power, and just got it restored yesterday, I haven’t updated my blog. I was trying to think of something I’ve already written to use as a filler until I could finish writing something else. Your post reminded me of a poem I wrote about word painting. So thanks for that! And I loved your word canvas! Blessings…Lynn

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

I've had similar thoughts, C.J.

One of the hardest things to do is decide when the painting is finished. I have ruined good work by not putting the brush down soon enough. And, I've stared at the paintings on my wall, trying to resist the urge to yank them down and add some more.

This, of course, is analogous to writing. At some point, you have to stop revising, consider it done, and move on. At least until the publisher tells you to.