Painting and Writing Processes

Creative process – visual and written

In a previous post I considered the difference between painting and writing and wondered how each process differed. Each artist, writer or painter, has his or her own process. Some have been generous enough to share. For example, Paul Klee, in addition to diaries and notes about his work, wrote two massive volumes (The Thinking Eye and The Nature of Nature) in which he detailed his philosophy of creativity and the lessons he taught at the Bauhaus, where he was a Master. Stephen King shared his writing process in his book On Writing.  There are many others who have shared more than just their mechanical habits of synthesizing their own reality (read, truth). In the final analysis, each artist, each person has to develop a unique approach to ‘making visible’ (a term used by Klee) what is trapped inside his or her head/body. This applies to the visual and writing arts.

Visual arts

Since I was a child, one of my goals was to reproduce on paper, an image that was in my mind’s eye. There must be some kind of connection between that image (wherever it resides in one’s brain) and the hands that render the image visible.  How is this possible?  Perhaps an intermediate step of drawing something at which one is actually looking, would be a good way to practice. When I draw what is in front of me, I try reproducing the proportions, and the shading of the surfaces. If I am not in a representational mood, perhaps I will exaggerate a feature that I find important or emphasize a spatial relationship that is not there in real life. Reproducing a mind’s eye picture is not that simple for me. My mind’s-eye image is not as stable as real life and drawing it is like making a pencil drawing of smoke.

It would seem that the process of visual creation shouldn’t involve the verbal part of the brain. Paul Klee suggests that creativity is a ‘form of matter’ and function ‘in union with matter’ (Paul Klee Notebooks,edited by Jürg Spiller. Volume II: The Nature of Nature, translated from the German by Heinz Norden London: Lund Humphries Publishers (1973) pg. 63).  Although I may have missed it in his writing, Klee never quite describes the linkage between the mind and the hands which are, of course, the agents that allow a union of creativity and matter.

Verbal or written arts

What are the brain processes at work in writers?  Writers can create moods and vistas, evoke fear, longing and a host of other human feelings with mere words. Far more than creating a single visual image in someone’s mind’s eye, a writer connects images. He or she connects them with a purpose: to convey a fanciful story, to narrate a true sequence of events, to link similar words or opposite words to form new connections, as poets do. Most writers want to tell a story.

Today’s creative experiment: my use of language as part of my painting process

I wrote down my conscious (verbal) thoughts before I started my painting and during my painting process.

Inspriation: Time travel (I had just finished Stephen King’s book, 11/22/63 about the Kennedy assassination)

Idea: Reflection – past and present

Painting action: Paint green line down center of wet paper dividing it into two halves (past and present).

Idea: Eyes looking at each other – past looking at future. Past and future should be pictured as opposites (use complementary colors).

Painting action: Interlocking ‘C’s blue and yellow on one half of painting (past); complementary colors orange and purple on other half (future).  Wash the blue and yellow half (past) with orange and the other side (the future, containing purple and orange) with blue.

Touch up after observing results: After looking at the results after the washes dried, I touched up the yellow and orange shapes with the more opaque yellow and red gouache. Then I tried touching up the surrounding backgrounds with the appropriate colors.


At this point, I stopped painting. To me, what I had just made had no connection with the initial inspiration of time travel. I thought of inserting iconic symbols that everyone associates with the passage of time, but I did not travel that route. The original flat shapes now look 3 dimensional. There are after-shadows where my touch up of the shapes left residual shadows behind.

The best thing for me to do at this moment is to put this work aside for a while, pick it up later and see what it suggests then.

Watercolor Sketch - Abstract - Opposite Colors on Opposite Halves

Abstract 91214
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

Closing question:

I know that many people think in pictures. I do. When I try to remember something I have to remember a picture of it or even a picture of the word before I can say what I’m thinking.  My question is: Do some people paint without thinking in words?  The converse to that question would be: Do some people write without thinking in pictures?  I can’t imagine either scenario.

2 thoughts on “Painting and Writing Processes

    • Thanks Liz. Yes it is hard to imagine either way… Yet, I wonder what life would be like without pictures at all. If someone loses sight does s/he also lose the image in the mind’s eye?. That would be hard to take. I do know one fellow who went blind from a virus and had vivid visual dreams afterwards. I guess it depends.


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