Last night I sat down at the table in my studio to write, page open where I had left off earlier, ready for the words to flow. There, on my left, was a huge canvas, taking up most of my studio space. The painting was particularly tempting because it was at a very interesting inbetween stage, starting to develop elements that were crying out for my attention. I needed to write, but last night I wanted to paint.
It got me thinking. What is different between painting and writing? Both are forms of creative expression, but sometimes one form works better for me than the other. Why?
I thought about my processes in approaching both art forms. My paintings, visual artefacts though they are, begin with words. For me, every painting starts with a story, which I write about before I even start to think about the images and colours I will use to convey the story. And my writing sometimes leads to drawings or paintings of the characters or stories I have written about. So, for me at least, the two forms are intimately connected.
When I am engaged in the activities, I use different parts of my brain. There are sure to be scientific studies showing which part of the brain is in use for which kind of activity, but what I observe, what tells me that different parts of my brain are activated, is that I think differently when I am painting to how I think when writing.
Painting requires less focus or concentration. Or rather, while one part of my brain is focusing on the paintbrush in my hand, I am also free to think thoughts (or words) not necessarily connected to the work my hands are doing. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I work more intuitively while painting.
Whereas when I am writing, everything else in my surroundings disappears and I become absorbed in the world the written words are creating. Very focused and concentrated. Although, in a sense, writing is also intuitive, because once I am give myself up to the flow, intuition directs my pen (or fingers on the keyboard) as readily as the paintbrush.
If I am tired, or upset, or muddled, painting can be very therapeutic, and helps to sort out problems and reinvigorate me. Sometimes, fifteen minutes at my easel can solve a writing problem too.
So, without trying to analyse the different processes any further, I will simply be grateful that I don’t have to choose either or, but can be thankful for the studio space and time I have, and choose whichever form of creative expression works best at the time.
And continue to write onto and into my paintings, and paint pictures of my stories.