7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing from Watercolor Painting

I’m taking a break from reading this week to make time for family and some final writing assignments (this is the first time I’ve spent five days straight with my parents and boyfriend since the summer…hallelujah for that!)

So I thought that I would post some lessons this week that I’ve learned about my writing from my time in a watercolor painting class this semester. I took a watercolor class simply to get to full-time status for my final semester of college.
However, I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s been surprisingly influential for my own writing.

1. Be patient.
When you paint with watercolors, it’s often better to make sure a color is dry before you wash over it with another.
Rushing to finish means your work is going to be lacking, and the same is true for writing.
Give yourself time. Is your work getting tired? Lacking that “oomph?” (Yes, that’s the official term.)
Maybe it’s time to move on to something else and come back. Fruitless obsession is going to drive you crazy.

2. It’s not about how well you mimic the subject. It’s about how your piece turns out.
If you’re painting a still life and it turns out super weird-looking but you still like it, it’s a good painting.
If you start with an idea for a poem or story and it doesn’t turn out like you intended but it’s weird and endearing or funky, you’re good.

3. Use stronger pigments than you think you need.
Watercolor is a soft medium. It dries much lighter than it looks when it’s first put on the paper, so you need to start with stronger colors than you intended.
Don’t be afraid to use strong language.
I don’t mean vulgarity. Just intense vocabulary.
Challenge yourself to use words that means something, that stand out. That way they will truly connect with your reader.

4. Plan ahead.
A watercolor painting turns out much better if you plan ahead how to approach it. That doesn’t mean it will turn out like you intend, but a plan makes things go smoothly.
I find this applies well to working on a project, like a collection of poems.
Come up with an overarching idea or theme, however broad, or at least a game plan for how to accomplish what you want to do. It’ll make it seem like a far less daunting task.

5. You often have to mix colors to get the best hues.
Pigments straight from the paint tube are pretty, but they’re not the best colors.
The coolest colors I’ve found, the most interesting and life-like come from playing around with mixing colors.
I think the same is true for using another person’s writing as your writing inspiration.
Yes, David Foster Wallace may have some of the best contemporary fiction (I would agree), but writing exactly like him, using all of his “pigments” means you’re going to write like a second-rate DFW, not a first-rate you.

6. Ground your painting.
If you paint an apple, it can’t be floating in the middle of the page.
It needs shadow, shading to seem realistic. You need the dark tones to ground it.
You can’t write a perfect utopian world. Sure, write love poems. But unless there’s some humanity and darkness in them, they won’t be realistic. Life and writing needs the dark tones.

7. Experiment. Try new techniques.
Sprinkle some salt on the wet pigment to add some texture. Crinkle some Saran Wrap over the page. It’s funky, but it works.
Try new things. Blackout poetry. Write a poem without any nouns. Write a short story in second-person.
Who knows, maybe something cool will happen.

Enjoy some family time this week, friends.
Gain some inspiration wherever you can.
Who knows, maybe you’ll write something fantastic about your crazy uncle.

With thanks,
Abigail Joy