Art Lessons

You may recall that during the height of the pandemic I went on quite the painting binge with art providing a welcome respite as well as soothing creative outlet. I’m at the point where painting is now a part of my daily schedule (even nudging out my writing now and again) and a couple of weeks ago I participated in my first art show (!) and had my first work accepted into a real exhibition (which was very exciting!). Since then I’ve been reflecting on these experiences and have realized that the lessons I’ve learned though my painting are resonating with my writing as well. I fact, I think painting is actually helping me regain focus when it comes to my writing career.

For a start, I had no real expectations when it came to my painting. I was braver and less inclined to worry about the potential for failure (actually, I expected to fail but thought ‘what the hell’ anyway). Most of this bravery stemmed from an initial meeting I had with another artist who encouraged me to think more professionally about my art and who mentored me through the process of applying for exhibitions and shows and helped advise me on the business side of art (of which I was completely ignorant). It was also clear from the start that all I really needed to do is just put my work out there – and this was the first real lesson I’ve taken to heart when it comes to my writing. For many (many…) years I’ve relied more on my agent to send out my work while I focused solely on the writing aspect, only to realize that this meant that many (many…) projects ended up stalled in a kind of weird limbo. Not that this was anyone’s fault necessarily, but I realize now that I didn’t really take charge of my work or push for submission the way I should have. My experience with painting has shown me that I really need to adopt a more proactive ‘send it out into the universe’ approach…something which feels both liberating and terrifying, as well as necessary.

I have also been far less critical of my painting (probably because I had no expectations of success!) and happier to let a painting emerge and evolve over time. This has given me the freedom to experiment and try new approaches and techniques without obsessing about the end result. Of course it’s easy to paint over a failed painting and far less soul destroying than rewriting a novel…but when it comes to writing I’ve always been far more critical and ‘editorial’ from the start of the first draft. Now I see that if I adopted the kind of approach and attitude I have to my painting, the writing process could be far less fraught with self-doubt and criticism (well, maybe…).

Finally, I’ve learned that while preparation and professionalism remain key to both painting and writing – the true heart of the issue lies in the concept of identity. Once I allowed myself to identify as an artist, the rest flowed naturally. This fact alone has helped reinforce how important mindset really is to success. I wonder if over the years I’ve never really accepted my identity as a writer and this is why I’ve been far less confident and proactive than perhaps I should have been. In this way my painting has really helped me refocus on my career goals, both as a painter and a writer.

So TKZers, are there lessons you’ve learned from other creative endeavors that have helped inform your writing process or career?

31 thoughts on “Art Lessons

  1. Good morning, Clare. Congratulations on dipping your toe into new and different waters. That’s great news about the art show and exhibition. I hope you’ll let us all know before the fact about the next time your work is shown so that some of us in the area (and those given to road trips) can attend.

    I think that venturing into other artistic endeavors can inform our primary one, particularly when it comes to writing. I am a (somewhat poor) songwriter. That process involves recalling or imagining events (similar to fiction writing) and sending the result down an aural rather than a visual path, but it involves a similar spark.

    Good luck on both of your endeavors and please keep us up to date.

  2. Good morning, Clare. Congrats on having your work accepted into an art show. I hope you’ll share the picture with us.
    Once I allowed myself to identify as an artist, the rest flowed naturally.
    I recall, back when I thought writing might be a fun and interesting thing to undertake as a ‘midlife’ project, hearing a newly rising author speak about getting started. Her first question to the group was, “When someone asks you what you do, do you say you’re a writer?” She also recommended telling your mother-in-law you were writing a book to keep you motivated.

    • Terry, I was planning on uploading a picture but realized none were on my phone (as everyone else took them) so will have to get them on my computer:) I love the mother-in-law motivation idea! I’m lucky mine is a huge supporter of both my writing and my painting!

  3. Good post, Clare, and important ideas. Congratulations on your art success!

    My identity issue has always been fighting perfectionism. I was always afraid that what I was “putting out there” would not be perfect.

    In a prior occupation, I always worried that I did not know enough, or was not good enough. When I let go (or tried to let go), I was finally free to be myself and finally enjoyed what I was doing. I accepted the fact that no matter what I did, some people would not be satisfied.

    In creative endeavors, I let go of achieving perfection, and jumped in and tried new things. I expected that it would take three attempts (or more) before I would learn how to do what I wanted to do. And in the process, I learned to enjoy the journey.

    Wishing you continued success with your art, and new revelations of how it informs your writing.

    • Steve
      Letting go of the unrealistic expectation of perfection is very hard even though deep down we all know it’s the only path forward. I’m looking forward to silencing that inner critic for my writing moving forwards (well, trying to anyway!)

  4. Clare, you have really captured the creative mind and its many positive and negative variations. It’s a dichotomy to take charge and expose your creations to the universe while at the same time letting go of expectations about outcomes you can’t control. How do we reconcile that???? No wonder writers go crazy.

    “I had no real expectations when it came to my painting. I was braver and less inclined to worry about the potential for failure (actually, I expected to fail but thought ‘what the hell’ anyway).” Dylan puts it another way: “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose” (Like a Rolling Stone).

    “…how important mindset really is to success.” Yes, attitude is paramount. If you don’t think you’ll succeed, you won’t.

    My technique has been to shoot out my books, articles, posts, etc. to the outlets I target then get to work on the next project. Keep so busy that I (almost) forget about what’s going on with what’s already out in public. Then when someone responds/buys/bestows an award, it’s a pleasant surprise.

    Am I getting rich? Uh…no. But I love what I’m doing and don’t fret about things beyond my control…well, most of the time.

    If you put your work out, you never know who might read it that could lead to unexpected success. I’m not talking about pie-in-the-sky dreams like scoring Oprah and Drew but rather about invitations to speak at a conference, sales to a book club that tells another club about your books, requests to write for a publication, etc.

    Great post and congratulations on your exhibition! Next time, can you give us a peek at some of your paintings?

    • Debbie
      Will totally post more with my paintings:) I am glad I’m shifting my mindset to more ‘getting it out there’ and seeing what happens rather than being as hesitant as I have in the past.

  5. Clare, this is the perfect post to start the week with. Your insights from painting really hit home for me. Expectations have been the bane of my writing for many years, and the source of various fears, principally of failure or being pigeonholed, but also of being exposed, ridiculed etc. Common I think to most writers–certainly many of the writers I know have them, which can lead, among other things, to imposter syndrome.

    The key for me is letting go of those expectations and play, with only the creative endeavor in mind. There’s work involved, sure, but losing yourself in that creative work is also a kind of play.

    The other thing is to not shy away from getting input from first readers. Writers can be helpful, but my time in critique groups writing short fiction tended to be filled with “shoulds”, “don’ts”, and “do it this way,” or admonishes to not write that sort of thing, etc. I kept my novels to myself, and it wasn’t until I shared those with others and got some honest feedback that I felt the scales falling from my eyes and seeing what worked and didn’t in my novels. Beta readers are now an essential part of my writing process.

    As for other creative endeavors, I was involved in a local board game play test group at my friendly local game store for a few years before the pandemic, where designers would bring in a game they’d created and we’d play test it, and give them feedback on how it well it worked. Essentially, we were beta players for new designs. That process reinforced the importance of feedback, but also of figuring out what we, as creators, intended to do with a particular project–what was it about, did a player or a reader understand it, etc.

    Have a great day!

    • Dale
      Love that you have been a beta player for new game designs – how cool that must be! I’m also glad you brought up the imposter syndrome issue – I meant to include that in my post as it’s something I definitely struggle with for both my writing and painting!

  6. That’s awesome that you are trying out visual art as well! Especially in these days when it’s hard not to have creativity dampened. Great take-aways you’ve learned as well.

    I’ve only done a very little bit of visual art (and not art show level stuff), but I’m regularly in touch with other visual artists in my local area and the one commonality I see between visual art & writing is that whether through our books or our art, we have the ability to connect with whomever is meant to be our target market. And even if they aren’t our target market, through our artistic efforts we can touch someone’s life through our work.

    A good reason to pursue creativity–whether writing or any other creative form, since we all want to make a difference.

  7. I’ve been taking pictures!

    There’s a whole world out there, at my feet, up in our upwards of 24 trees on our property, in my potted plants, that are all begging for a photo shoot. I’ve taken pictures of honey bees doing their thing; frogs; open-mouthed baby birds; our 80 foot poplar trees shimmering their leaves in the sunset; our dog, Hoka, rolling in the grass or poking her nose down a random hole.

    And my absolute favorite: did you know that praying mantis are photogenic? If you wiggle the camera in front of them a bit, they’ll look right at you and pose.

    Magic. 🙂

    I hope someday I can have some conversations with these creatures. The stories they could tell . . .

    • Deb, I saw a photo of a praying mantis you posted on Instagram. I’ve seen that expression before. “Please, can’t you see I’m busy.”

      Very nice!

    • Long ago, I realized that I couldn’t do everything that is out there, and I focused on photography as something I would not do. Much. I took it in high school and enjoyed it. I sort of miss the smell of developer on my hands, seeing the prints appear as if by magic. Wonderful stuff, but there’s too little time for it. Maybe if I lived in Japan, where you could shoot an entire roll* of film and only need to pitch one or two shots…

      * Yes, I’m that old.

      • The magic of developing those black and whites. We had simple darkrooms in our Florida homes. I wouldn’t say you’re that old. I was an adult before I took photography classes. 😉

  8. Nice piece, Clare. I think the key element in creativity is passion. Years ago, I was passionate about decoy carving. Working in a 3-D element of wood and paint was fun. Lots of fun. But there was no commercial element in it and only a few folks who appreciated inanimate ducks so the passion slowly passed. At this point in life, I’m still passionate about creative writing – especially because there is a commercial market for it. 🙂

  9. Good morning, Clare, and congratulations on your artistic success! I’ve seen some of your paintings on Instagram and I hope you share the one that’s been accepted in the exhibition. It’s wonderful that your painting experience informs your writing. Those synergies can produce more than the sum of the parts.

    I did a little painting years ago, and I was definitely a “realist” artist. I wanted that flower to look like that flower. 🙂 But I never went beyond that stage to paint the essence of the thing. I also play the piano, but like Elizabeth Bennet, I play very little and very poorly. Words, however, are the fulcrum around which my creative talents revolve. I find the world of writing so rich in color, so varied in texture, and so mysterious in power, that I expect to spend the rest of my life exploring this new world.

    • Kay
      Thank you so much for your support on Instagram! I’m certainly not a realist painter but I appreciate those who can achieve realism as well as capturing the essence. That is true art. Love that writing provides you such satisfaction – aren’t we lucky to be able to explore the richness of the world this way?!

  10. Super congrats for making it into another art show, Clare!

    All excellent observations. You’ve really captured the mindset of a creative. We’re definitely our own worst critics. *sigh*

  11. I always wanted to draw cartoons. There was a girl in my elementary school class who was so talented. She loved drawing horses. They were awesome. And it seemed to come so easy to her. I tried drawing some horses and they came out looking like mutant dogs. I just gave up. (Note: this girl went on to work as a cartoonist for Disney!)

    A few years ago I decided to try again. I found a cartoon course online and got a good book on the subject. And I found out you CAN learn to draw! But for some (most?) of us it takes a lot of time and practice and frustration and trying again. I started to produce some pretty good cartoons. I’ll never be a Gary Larson, but if I really wanted to I could create some entertaining panels. And it was fun!

    It hit me that this is how it was with my writing, too. I didn’t have the natural talent of some others in my writing classes. And I was told more than once I didn’t have what it takes…and that I couldn’t learn it from books. After years of believing that, I knew I had to try. And lo and behold, with lots of study and practice, I began to get better. I kept practicing. Eventually I got published, and I’ve done pretty well since.

    Maybe I’ll spend some time coming up with a comic strip. Just for fun. As you say, this freedom is a happy experience and gives me a creative jolt. Thanks for the nudge, Clare

  12. Bring on the paintings, Clare! I’m anxious to see them and how you sign your wonderfully evocatory name!
    For me, the danger of creating in several arts is ???????????, plowing a large field inches deep instead of digging a hole down to treasure. I avoid that by focusing strictly on writing. And things involving writing or related to writing, like copyright and cryptography and psychology and music. I studied acting ???? for my dialogue. I learned GIMP ???? for book covers and play programs. Thus I avoid dissipation . . . says the man who has yet to publish in the same genre twice.

Comments are closed.