The art of painting speech

When I write something my aim is to put forward an idea, thought, or concept, or to tell a story. How do I do it? I make funny little abstract marks on a page. It’s a bit like painting.

What are those abstract marks? You’re looking at them right now. They’re called letters and with them you build words.

Instead of a canvas I use the screen of a computer or a sheet of paper, and instead of a brush I use a keyboard or a pen. My colour palette is the words I use and the brush strokes are my sentences and grammar.

Speaking to the eyes

To write anything is to colour thoughts and paint speech, making those thoughts and words visible, just as an artist paints a picture to represent a scene, an idea, or a notion.

Wielding a pen – or a keyboard – has the same effect as wielding a brush. We are attempting to paint a picture that the observer can relate to; creating a world that the reader can believe in, just as we see an image in abstract marks on a flat surface in a painting.

The mind has a wonderful way of piecing together sweeps of colour or sentences and building an image that we can ‘see’. For the mind to do this there has to be something on the canvas or page that helps us on our way.

Language is the artist’s colour palette

The skill is with the artist in putting the right marks in the right places so that the mind doesn’t have to work too hard, and doing it so that the reader sees what you mean to portray.

Turner would not be so famous if he hadn’t painted what he saw in the atmospheric style he used. He didn’t just use blobs of colour to make pictures, he mixed them and applied them in sweeps and layers. Steinbeck would not be so famous if he hadn’t written about the world with a sensitivity and cutting observation of people’s social and political environment. It’s not just the words he used that made his images vivid – it’s the language as well, the way in which he mixed them to make sentences.

Perfecting your craft

Neither of these artists (and I only choose these two because they spring to mind at the moment of writing this article) gained their skill without hard work, practise, and observation. They had to hone their craft just like any other artist, whether they be a musician, painter, writer, or sculptor.

The lesson is to play with your tools and materials. As a writer I love to play with words, to make sentences and to explore grammar. These are my brush strokes, my colour palette. How I apply them to the page is what makes my painting, my story.

Ultimately, showing your work to an audience tells you whether others see what you see and what you want to portray.