I’d already read Susan Vreeland’s books, and Tracy Chevalier’s wonderful Girl with a Pearl Earring. I fell for Of Human Bondage as well — it remains my favorite novel, even though I did throw it against the wall when I finished it because I was so distressed at Philip’s decision. But it wasn’t until I took a college class called “The Painted Word” that I considered mingling my twin loves of writing and art.
When we students were asked to write about art, I wrote a short story based on a painting that turned out to be my first work of fiction ever published. The person who published the piece said I should write more about art. An agent who read the story agreed. So I’m fond of writing about art.
Writing about art shares skill sets with all writing, of course, but I do have some tips that can help you make the journey from yearning to write about art to actually doing it. In fact, I’m so convinced that there are hints and tips that can help that I’m writing an Ebook about it. Until it’s out, here are my top tips. While they can be used for writing in general, they are more art writing centered and because I write about historical art, can be applied to historical writing as well.
1. Print eight by ten photos of the main paintings you are writing about and put them in a binder. Print them on photo paper, not on regular paper. It will be so much more inspirational. Trust me.
2. Break out the old school notecards and rubber bands. There’s nothing wrong with using typical research recording methods for fiction. It just likely will not be enough.
3. Have a binder for essays as well. While you’ll make your notes on notecards, sometimes just revisiting old territory will yield a little gem you missed the first time around. Or perhaps you just want to capture the tone of the essay.
4. Keep a record of all of the books and websites you consult. You may not end up citing them all at the back of your book, but then again…in any event, you can always include them on your website. (You do have a website for your book, don’t you?)
5. Draw your notes, to make sure you keep your novel image driven — you’re going to want to do this with art, right? Seriously. Even if you’re not a great artist, try it. Bonus tip: as you read, pick out startling or vivid images to open and close your book with.
6. Google “art terms.” Learn them. Use them liberally in your works. Those who know them will respect you, and those who don’t know them will learn and be in awe of you. 🙂
7. Make timelines of art and artists during the time period you are writing about. Because no one (or at least I can’t) can keep all of those dates straight without a little help. This is also a bit of an outline, brought to you courtesy of history.
8. Dig into all the key players and some who aren’t. While I’m certain that your main character is fascinating or you wouldn’t be writing about her, be sure to delve into the background of secondary characters to complicate your plotlines.
9. Consult any surviving family. It’s a longshot, but maybe…while the last two artists I’ve written about sadly did not marry or have children, you may have better luck. Even a cousin could be a great resource for family lore.
10. Make things up if you don’t contradict facts. I was actually told this in a workshop where I was gently chided for writing too timidly in spots where I had no information. I quickly realized my workshop leader was absolutely right, and I now make up anything and everything with abandon if there isn’t contradictory evidence. It’s quite freeing.
These are only ten of the top tips I have to share about art writing. While I don’t have a definite release date for my Ebook, I’m guessing it will be within the next three to six months. Look for The Grammar of Painting coming your way in, say, September. Or sooner! If you’re an art writer (or just a wannabe!), what do you need help with? I’d be glad to take a try at addressing your need in my Ebook.
P.S. Clearly the photo on this post is not of my forthcoming book. But it’s cool, because it’s a book from 1891 that shares the proposed name for my book.