Why Writers Should Spend Time With Other Types of Artists

Sun by Dawn Banning

We writers – when we discuss our work and our process at all – tend to restrict said discussion to other writers.

After all, who else could possibly understand our unique brand of crazy?  How can anyone genuinely comprehend, for example, the compulsion to sit up in the dead of the night and scribble down a story idea unless s/he too has endured the utter frustration of greeting the morning with forgotten inspiration?

Artists of other disciplines (e.g. painters, musicians, actors, etc.), while themselves not fully cognizant of what it means to be a narrative writer, might come pretty darn close to understanding us.

Artists imitate other each

While away on my prolonged vacation in Ontario, I had the great pleasure, by way of a mutual friend, to meet professional painter and Artists for Conservation Signature Member, Dawn Banning.

The three of us gathered in Dawn’s home, which also serves as her studio and an informal gallery of her work.  Surrounded by her vibrant, evocative, impressionist landscapes, and immediately put at ease by her warm humble, manner, we proceeded to discuss a number of points of commonality between writers and painters:

  • Plotters and pantsers

I explained this foreign terminology to Dawn and was excited to learn that such distinctions exist amongst painters as well.

In explaining “plotter painters”, Dawn used the example of wildlife artists, who tend to be quite premeditated about such things as the body position of the animal subject, the viewer’s perspective, and the use of light and shadow.  They also tend to take numerous high-quality photographs of their subjects from numerous angles to help inform their artistic decisions.

Meanwhile, other types of painters may approach the canvas with only a general idea of what they wish to create and perhaps a hasty pencil sketch or two, discovering further possibilities as they progress through the piece.

  • Working outside of one’s creative environment

At the beginning of August, Dawn was interviewed by CBC Radio Windsor and asked to produce a painting in the studio over a two-hour time slot.

She expressed to me the difficulties she experienced working outside of her usual creative environment: she was subject to unexpected interruptions as the radio host checked in on her progress, plus constant, distracting chatter of the ongoing program piping through her headset.  At one point, she feared she’d be unable to work under such conditions at all!

I’ve echoed these same sentiments in my tongue-in-cheek (yet wholly serious) post about why I don’t write in coffee shops.

(Dawn did ultimately complete the painting in the allotted time, and her accomplishment inspired me to step out of my own comfort zone and attempt (and mostly succeed at) writing on the plane during my return flight to Vancouver.)

  • Good work habits and rituals

I asked Dawn how she plans her days and discovered that she schedules (and sticks to!) her painting sessions just like I schedule (and mostly stick to; there’s always room for improvement) my writing sessions.

We also spoke about creative rituals – the cup of tea, the certain music, the particular paint-spattered clothing – and their importance in helping an artist ascend into the “zone” faster and more thoroughly.

Art is (your) life

Hanging out with other types of artists can also be great for a writer’s self esteem.

When writers encounter each other, there’s a certain jockeying for prominence that occurs: How long have your been writing?  How many novels have you written?  Plotter or pantser?  Have you published anything?  Traditional or self-publishing?  Etc.

This type of judgement is far less likely from artists not intimately familiar with the writing process.  Dawn was fascinated to hear about my novel’s plot even though I’ve never published anything, am only on my second attempt at writing a novel, and my first attempt was a complete (and uncompleted) train wreck.

Likewise, when Dawn informed me that she’s a self-taught painter and that her classically-trained peers have long employed tools and techniques she’s only more recently learned about, all I could focus on was the beauty of her work hanging on the walls around me.

Writers are often reluctant to think of themselves as artists.  Writing is the only branch of the arts in which novice practitioners feel compelled to qualify themselves as “aspiring” even when they’re already doing the work.

By spending time with others types of artists – by coming to recognize the similarities that all artists share as members of a unified tribe – a writer can come to feel more like an artist in his/her own right.

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6 thoughts on “Why Writers Should Spend Time With Other Types of Artists

  1. These are great points. I need to find some artists in my area! I’ve been thinking a lot the past few years how important it is for me to study other disciplines and see the world from the perspective of, say, a computer programmer, a financial analyst, a physicist, a teacher, etc. That has helped me to try to tailor my writing to a wider audience. But I think I could really use the inspiration (and empathy!) from other artists. Thanks for this post. I look forward to reading your old posts and getting new ones, as well.

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    • Hi JJ, thanks for the comment. I agree with you – it’s important for writers to understand other perspectives, not only to make their work more accessible, but also to find inspiration from unlikely sources (I was just reading an article today in which Joss Whedon said he was inspired to create Firefly after reading a book about the American Civil War).

      Good luck finding other types of artists to spend time with (I’m sure they will appreciate the empathy you have to share with them as well!) I hope you continue to enjoy my posts.

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  2. Cool. I never made the connection between plotters and pantsers and painters. In my Italian Renaissance courses we often discussed the Florentine style, deseigno (plotter), vs. the Venetian style, colorito (pantser – sort of). That ringing tone you hear is a very slow bell going off in my brain.

    We think it’s tough trying to get published. Imagine trying to get your art hung in a gallery? It’s not like you can e-mail MS Word files of it all over the place.

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    • I’ve never studied anything about painting before, so I was thrilled to discover how much Dawn and I had in common. We went on at some length discussing similarities, culminating in our mutual difficulties in – you guess it – marketing!

      And you’re right: us writers have it pretty good right now with self-publishing making it possible to find our own audiences (instead of going through conventional channels). Musicians seem to have similar DIY opportunities, but for other types of artists (e.g. painters, sculptors, even actors) that’s not quite the case.

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