Drawing was my first real love in life. We've been in an on-again/off-again relationship ever since I became infatuated with writing.
During my summer flings with writing, I've begun to notice how much drawing has shaped our relationship. As much as I felt burned by drawing, I couldn't help but see the same qualities in writing. It's like looking back on a past beau and realizing that despite how frustrating he was, he somehow taught you something about being a better person.
This is what I've learned:
How to slow down: We live fast paced lives. Think words like “streamline,” “efficiency,” or “productive.” Most of us are constantly in a rush with places to go, people to see, things to do, and all that jazz. We're almost always “on.” In my experience, the arts give you a space to just be. It's immersive. Here, moments aren't measured in minutes. I don't need to be productive. I'm not reaching for a quota. I'm not on a deadline. I'm observing my drawing subject and carefully transcribing what I see and feel to the page. I'm picking colors that resonate with me. I'm side by side with my characters, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear, or feeling what they feel. I'm understanding their relationships and preferences. We're considering where to take the story next together.
If I'm rushing I can just tell, and odds are your readers/viewers will too. My line work looks sloppy. My scene feels hollow. Rushing feels like a Sunday afternoon, where instead of enjoying the remaining hours, I'm cutting my weekend short by dreading Monday.
How to create balance. Drawings are a combination of visual elements arranged on a page. Values, hues, size, focal points, rhythm, line weight, etc., and all get different levels of attention depending on factors such as mood, medium, intent, or artistic style. Same applies to writing, with plots, characters, scenes, imagery, prose, dialogue, themes, etc. Exaggeration, prioritizing, or removal of certain elements can change a piece.
An understanding (but not absolute obedience) of balance is key, regardless of what your intent is. If too many elements are piled on one side of the page can make a drawing seem lopsided. We've all seen movies where there's more emphasis to the cinematography than the actual plot.
How to observe. In art, I spend time evaluating the relationships between objects in a composition, the ways colors offset each other, the effects light has on a subject, etc. In writing, I'm picturing the placement of characters and their surroundings in a scene, understanding how a character feels about his estranged brother, or noticing how someone else perceives their world.
In Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the author states drawing is an exercise in observation. Sometimes my drawings don't turn out the way I want them to because we aren't actually looking at my subject. If I'm writing mindlessly I notice my interactions seem implausible or stilted.
How to experiment. If you primarily draw in black and white, adding color can be a different challenge. A novelist may dabble in poetry from time to time. Maybe you'll mix media, like ink and collage or merge forms, like textbook definitions juxtaposed with prose. Experimenting is a process in learning how the paint dries, handling mishaps, using pentameter, fiddling with word choice. In my experience, I'm trying not to fixate on creating an Instagram-worthy composition, but treating experiments as a time to play.
How to attempt to build confidence. I've learned pen and ink is a test in confidence. Each mark is permanent and hesitation will show in my pen/brush strokes. Tackling a new subject in writing can be intimidating. Experimenting is a cocktail that's one part fun and two parts nerve-racking.
There's a particular vulnerability in showing your sketchbook to someone else or submitting a manuscript to a publisher. At its core, creativity is self-expression. When you put so much of yourself into your work, a rejection letter feels more personal than it should. It takes guts to put your work on display.
I believe building confidence involves a willingness to fail and an understanding that mistakes aren't fatal. It's the courage to keep going and growing. Confidence gives you perspective and security in who you are as an artist.
Until next time.
Photo credit: "Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper" by Edgar Degas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art