WRITER’S JOURNAL – Jan 17/18 – Art for Art

The beginning of my painting.

As a writer, I get to learn a lot about the world in which I live, and the people in it, while doing research. Sometimes I even get to travel to destinations I would not have thought about and thereby fall in love with the landscape as I did when I visited the French River. I even get to offer workshops so I help others in some small way. I meet amazing people, expand my horizons. It’s great.

For a long time now I’ve known that I’d need to take art classes if I wanted to write about what it’s like to be an artist for the character in my next book. I want to get inside the mind of the artist, feel the paint move beneath my brush, hear the sound of the palette knife as I scrape it across the canvas, and watch how the colors change when I mix them together.

The only thing is, my past forays into the art world have been most disappointing. Classes I took sat me in front of an easel with paints and brushes and told me to paint the bowl of fruit in front of me. There were no lessons in technique and I became quickly frustrated. Until, that is, I met Elizabeth.

Her paintings were on display at a book venue I was at, and we started to talk. I was excited about her work and she was excited about mine. I knew right away she was the person to take me into the world of the artist.

I began my first lesson last week, and I’ve learned so much about myself already. We started out with a meditation to clear our mind of the everyday clutter by doing zentangle. I’ve never been one much for zentangle but I decided I would just go where Elizabeth led and be open to the whole experience. My first thought was to design a logo for my workshop, then I hit myself on the side of the head and said, “Why must this always be about work? Just relax and have some fun.” Twenty minutes later I was completely in the zone and ready to expose myself on the canvas to this woman I had only met one or two times, and even then, only briefly.

I wanted to start with abstract so I wouldn’t have to get all caught up with painting the “perfect” picture. Painting is much like the beginning of a novel — really messy, so it’s easy to beat yourself up if things don’t turn out right. With abstract I could relax and just go where the painting led me. I chose the colors I wanted to work with and picked up a paint brush. And when I say paint brush, I mean a house painting brush. It was huge. I added some colors to the bristles and began by scrubbing the canvas in whatever way I felt like it. This left areas that were darker and others that were lighter. From their I chose a smaller brush and added more paints. I kept doing this until I was using the smallest brush and trying out a palette knife. I got so lost in what I was doing as I made decisions about what color to add next and where.

Elizabeth noticed that my brush strokes really flow and my colors tend to connect here and there. It was in that moment that I realized that this is how I write too. I’m constantly making connections in my scenes, in events, and how one thing leads to another. And rather than having a detailed outline to work with, I tend to gather research information and make the connections later. This made me feel really good about my process. I do this in life as well. I went away from that class feeling really good about myself and I absolutely loved the process.

I While I’m happy with my painting, I feel that it’s not really done. Yet, I am afraid to mess with it too much and ruin what I have accomplished so far. Life is like that sometimes. Do we take the risk of ruining things when we try to make things better? .

I do believe that taking this art class is going to make me a better writer. When I get bogged down in the details of my book, it can be very stressful. I get all tied up in knots. It’s not pretty. I feel like I want to have control, when sometimes I need to step back and allow things to go where they want to, especially characters. With painting, I have to step back. It’s very good practice for someone who likes to be in control. In this way, one form or art will benefit another.

ADDENDUM: 2 weeks later.

The completed painting.

When I went back to put the final touches on my painting, I was afraid of ruining a beautiful painting if I did any more with it. Once again I wanted to control the outcome, while knowing this was exactly what I shouldn’t do. So rather than taking oil pencils, I opted to use a stencil and spray paint. I knew I wanted to add a shade of something earthy because I was seeing lots of moving water in the picture figured rocks and water go together. I’ve always likes polka dots, so the stencil design was easy to pick. But where to place it. I felt frozen. Should I choose one row of dots or use a larger single dot. Then I decided I use the entire stencil across the bottom of the painting. This created an overlap of spray paint that I hadn’t anticipated, but I liked it and took it a step further by spraying a line across the top. Too much. I wanted to soften the straight edges so I picked up the palette knife and did a little feathering. Now I had the effect of two sides divided by the bronze. To bring it all together I poured the blue paint right from the tube and swirled it down the dividing line creating the focal point of the painting. Now the eye is drawn from one thing to the next around the painting. Voila! I’m done.



Categories: My Writer's Journal


  • Nancy Broadley

    OMG! You have now officially made me want to go out and paint! So love your insight, your connection with the artist inside of you and of course, your wonderful writing!!!!!

    January 17, 2018 at 1:10 pm Reply
    • Gillian Andrews

      Oh my, you are in the perfect place to paint — up there in the wilds of New Hampshire. Let me know if you do decide to take up the paints. One more place where we connect. I can just imagine you and I going camping with our food, tent, paints, easels, and writing supplies. Now, that would be a funny story.

      January 17, 2018 at 4:06 pm Reply
  • Elizabeth

    What a fantastic dialogue about our first class together! I am so looking forward to our next meeting— you ask such great questions it forces me to really think about WHY I do or don’t do things. Amazing! 🙂 🙂

    January 17, 2018 at 5:30 pm Reply
  • Gillian Andrews

    Thanks Elizabeth. I really enjoy our time together. I’ve updated my post to include the completed painting.

    January 25, 2018 at 3:46 pm Reply

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