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Saturday, 6 November 2010

If a thousand words paint a picture ...

Ok, I know that is not the quote we all know and love, but it seems to me that when we write a story, of whatever length, the parallels between writing and painting are quite profound.
First and foremost a painting must have good composition. The eye should be drawn to the focus of the painting, background objects should not compete with the foreground and there should be a good balance to the painting. Easy to apply that to writing.

(Eye-catching composition courtesy of David Webb's Beautiful Northumbria)

There should be good tonal balance to the pallette chosen, use of complimentary colours adds definition but clashing colours are only applicable to certain types of paintings. (Complimentary colours are those opposite each other on the colour wheel, like red / green, yellow / purple etc) In writing our characters need to balance one another without being all the same. Contrasting characters add tension and conflict, but should not jar, neither should they jar with the landscape of our story.

(Lovely use of complimentary colours courtesy of Richard Taylor Art)

Perspective is very important, it gives depth and believability to the painting, It aids composition by drawung the eye into the picture and helps to set the various elements of the composition in relationship to one another. How do we achieve perspective in our stories? By introducing elements of back story, sharing glimpses of possible futures; through world building and context.

(Perspective courtesy of Raphael, School of Athens)

In the end however it comes down to the basic skill of the artist; the ability to choose just the right brushstroke, with the right colour in the right place. Some artists paint in exquisite detail, while others apply seemingly haphazard blobs and splashes, which the brain somehow converts into a detailed scene. The same is true of a talented wordsmith. The choice of exactly the right words, phrased just so, allows the writer's vision to enter the reader's consciousness without snagging their attention. Sometimes in just a few sentences the wordsmith can create whole scenes which the reader's own imagination furnishes with layers of detail. Another wordsmith might lovingly fill in every lush detail, delighting and entrancing the reader with the richness of the wordsmith's vision.
For me the test of a great painting is whether it is believeable, whether it connects with my emotions and whether it tells a story. Which, if I am not mistaken, is more or less where we came in!


  1. What a beautiful picture you've painted with your words.Sketching out and embellishing the comparisons so well. A lovely post. :O)

  2. Lovely analogy. :) I have to find some level of emotion connection when viewing art, and also when reading. Nicely done! ;))

  3. An excellent analogy Dom. Thank you for adding such a great comment to my Sunday Bible Study.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  4. Wonderfully written. Immersing myself in paintings has often inspired me to push myself more as a writer. I love feeling that connection "in my gut" when studying a great work of art or reading a powerfully written passage. Terrific post for reflection. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for your comments everyone.
    I dabble in watercolours, with decidedly amateurishness results, I have to admit, so I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to create a pleasing, let alone saleable, painting. One of the things that has held me back over the years has been a worry that my ability as a word-smith might match my ability with a paintbrush. Don't ask me what it was exactly, but something over the last couple of months has made me put that concern behind me. Onwards and upwards!

  6. Ach! If my writing has to match my painting I might as well give up now :-/
    Seriously, I found your analogy very helpful.


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