Sunday 13th May 2018

Can drawing make me a better writer?

A few weeks ago, I started a course in drawing. Every Monday morning I go the Adult Education Centre to do a course in drawing and sketching. If I learn to draw, will it make me a better writer? Will I become a more able novelist?

Much of my fiction writing uses images and pictures. Writing a story is, for me, like making a film. Instead of calling sections of my book chapters, I call them scenes. My hope is that learning to draw will help me to see the world around me, to visualise it and above all to observe it. In sketching we need to employ high levels of observation – there is one way of seeing which we do with our eyes partly closed – squinting – seeing only rough shapes, proportions and relationships. Then we open our eyes and look at the details. We also have to observe colour, shades, tones, shadows and textures. Drawing helps me to do this. It helps me to observe what I see. If I can see the world – or people – as an artist would see it, I might be more able to describe it through words.

Drawing of the head of a young man by Jean Baptiste Greuze.

Being able to draw is not the only thing that might make my writing more descriptive and more visual. I must be able to decide which words are the most evocative when it comes to describing a scene. Sometimes, the story requires only a rough sketch of a room, a landscape or a vista. At other times, it is useful to add details – as long as they are pertinent. Adding in details simply for effect (and not because they are required by the story) is padding. True as much for a novel as for a drawing.

Attending the course on drawing was not something I needed to do. I thought it would be interesting; it has also proved to be a rewarding social experience. I have no ambition to become a visual artist or to exhibit my drawings in a gallery. Studying sketching is, for me, a way of training my eyes to observe and my mind to interpret what I see. As I walk along the street, I see the world – just as any other pedestrian would – but my mind interprets it differently. I see the shapes of buildings and the colours of the trees, but I see the relationships between objects, their proportions, their textures, the moods they evoke and I analyse my surroundings as though they are a picture.

As a writer, I want to take my reader to the place I am telling them about. I want them to see it as I see it. After all, none of my books will have actual pictures in them. It is very easy, these days, to insert a picture into a text document. If you happen to have the right picture. If I was to become an expert painter or sketcher, I suppose I could draw any scene or face for my book. This has been done by a few authors who have illustrated their books. I am not sure that is likely to happen in my case. Of course, I need to leave something up to the reader’s imagination. I can show them something – a person, a scene – but I should not want to spoon feed the reader. I give them an outline and leave the rest up to their imagination.

Photographs are things I take regularly. When I take a picture, I have to position the shot at the right angle relative to the camera screen. That is the same as deciding how to layout a sketch on a sheet of paper. We have to decide where the focus of the shot or drawing should go. That requires observation and the skill of composition. Each of the drawing classes that I attend trains me to observe and to position objects in a layout. That skill comes in handy when I am writing – describing a scene or a person. So. Yes. I do think that my drawing classes will help to improve my writing skills as a creative writer.

A selection of previous posts to my blog

Sunday 6th May 2018 – Masks and characters

Sunday 18th February 2018 – The swinging sixties

Sunday 4th March 2018 – London: past and present

See the home page for my blog for a complete list of posts

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