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A Writing Tip from Susan Blackwood, an Artist

I spent this weekend hunched over watercolor paper, surrounded by fellow artists and mounds of paint. I participated in a four-day Susan Blackwood workshop, where the theme of the weekend was Finding Your Voice through practical painting concepts.

As I jotted down notes, I was startled by how similar the concepts were to writing. 

Take this mini painting. Yes, that’s a cow butt 🙂 (I focused more on nailing the concept than getting it perfect, so no judgments.)

One of the concepts I practiced in this piece is “complementary colors.” See how the cow/cow butt is mostly made of oranges? The direct opposite of a color on the color wheel is called a complementary color—which is blue here. Next to its complementary color blue, the orangey cow really pops.

I thought: this is just like writing.

A character pops best when placed next to her complementary character. When the two people with opposite characterstics stand side by side, the differences are highlighted in neon.

For example, if your main character is a die-hard baseball fan, you can highlight this by having your MC’s best friend empty his French horn’s spit valve onto a limited edition baseball card. Not only have you successfully set off a mine field (conflict is always good!), but you also have a best friend who clearly doesn’t understand the obsession. The sport-fanatic main character pops against the musical BFF.

Today is my last day in the workshop, and I already know I’ll be hungering to both write and paint more after this.

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