Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 26 March 2016

LOVING A COLOURFUL LIFE... by Rae Cowie

Crimson, buttercup, emerald, slate, cocoa bean… I’ve always been drawn to colour, in what I wear, how I decorate and especially when writing. I love the richness and joy colour brings, both visually and through words on the page. I’ve been known, when travelling, to collect paint colour charts. An unusual souvenir but they’re great reference aids when my creative mojo goes walkabout. I flick through their pages savouring exotic names that roll off the tongue - prairie peach, climbing vine, cheetah spots, young banana - soon those ideas are coursing  again.

And so I look forward to what has become an annual treat when I meet my friend, K in one of our favourite places to visit - the seaside town of Broughty Ferry, near Dundee. As well as enjoying K’s company, a hearty lunch followed by ice cream and a stroll along the beach, one of the things I most look forward to is browsing the Eduardo Alessandro Studio, which showcases Scottish contemporary art. So what has all this to do with writing?

Artwork by Jack Morrocco
Well K is a keen amateur painter who knows her stuff, introducing me to the street café scenes of Jack Morrocco, the clean lines of fine artist and children’s illustrator, Dan Crisp along with the quirky designs of Gail Stirling Robertson. When browsing alone I tend to be quite simple in taste, drawn to exhibits brightest in colour, instinctively knowing what I like and what leaves me cold - but perhaps not understanding why. And it’s the ‘why’ K helps explain as we appreciate paintings together, providing a brief lesson in art.

First, the artist must select the palette to be used for colour scheme and harmony, choosing opposites on the colour wheel, which are pleasing to the eye. It’s also important to re-use colours to unify a painting, for example, when using a certain shade of blue in the sky to use it again in the foreground. On examining canvases carefully I found this was so – noticing the soft blush of nectarine in a snow scene or vivid mauve in the swell of the sea. And it struck me the same is true for writers when considering character development. Conflict – essential to fiction writing – works best when the protagonist and their opponent are opposite in nature. When characters are too alike then writing lacks, well – a bit of colour.

Artwork by Gail Stirling Robertson
My art lesson continues. The second decision a landscape artist must make is where to place the horizon, either above or below the mid point, avoiding dead centre, which most find too harsh. And so it is with fiction writing when selecting point of view – deciding whose story should be told, which character’s voice will grab the reader best, pulling them in. Of course in writing we have the luxury of being able to tell the story from a number of viewpoints, but they must all draw the reader towards the same final scene.

Finally, K explains the skills required when using different medium in art. My friend is a water colourist, one of the most difficult forms of painting, requiring a light touch and patience, as work must dry before the artist can continue. Unlike say the bold, layered strokes of an oil painter, who enjoys more freedom to experiment, adapting their designs. Again, this made me think of the plethora of skills required when writing– the imagery of poetry, restrictive length of a short story or novella, the need for pacing in a novel. Skills at least two members of our Novel Points of View blog team have shown in spades this week. Congratulations to Lesley Cookman on publication of ‘Murder Dancing’, the 16th in the Libby Sarjeant crime series and to Gill Stewart, writing as Gillian Villiers, on publication of ‘As Time Goes By’, the 4th novella in a collection set in the Scottish Highlands.


And so back to Broughty Ferry - and after a pleasant hour in the gallery with K, I understand more of what it must be like to stand in an artist's shoes. But then isn’t that one of the things that makes a great friend? - Someone to learn from, adding colour to life.

30 comments:

  1. Completely lovely post Rae. I've learnt so much about painting from your few lines. Great pictures and lots of food for thought. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Gill. I'm rather in awe of artists as I can't draw much more than a doodle!

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  2. I really enjoyed this post...... colour is very important to me, too, and you are not alone in collecting paint charts for inspiration ... :)

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    1. That's good to know, Linda. There is something soothing about reading a list of richly descriptive words! :-)

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  3. Stimulating words, Rae, and those combinations I'd never heard of - prairie peach, climbing vine - carry all sorts of potential and mystery. I find one of the (many) challenges of writing is to develop an actual palette to extend 'normal' colours by their associations. Although things like Marlowe's take on a sunset, for example, 'See where Christ's blood streams in the firmament', are way beyond me.

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    1. Such a beautiful quotation, Bill and very topical during Easter weekend! I confess to being a collector of colour related descriptions too. Jodi Picoult has described a character's eyes as being 'the colour of a bruise', which I found clever as it leaves it up to the reader to decide what that colour might be - olive green, midnight blue...?

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  4. A delightful comparison, Rae, between the artist and the writer. Like you, I collect colour charts - I wonder who creates the names for all these colours. I have no artistic talent at all, but I know the colours and the artwork that appeal to me. Perhaps that's enough?

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Joan. There must be more of us colour chart collectors than I thought! I wonder if there's a collective term? I think it's perfectly acceptable to find pleasure in art, without necessary understanding the 'why'. Sometimes a 'gut feel' is best. :-)

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  5. Thanks for the art lesson Rae - I learnt a lot from your post. I'm clearly one of the few people who has never thought of collecting colour charts!

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    1. Easy to pick up at your nearest DIY store, Jennie - enjoy! :-)

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  6. Nice share Rae, a writing tutor once told our class to visit the DIY for paint charts.
    I can't paint or draw but enjoy visiting art galleries and exhibitions.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Maria - I agree. No one wants to be my partner when we play Pictionary (the drawing game!) but it doesn't stop me admiring the amazing talent of others. :-)

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  7. Such a wonderful colourful read.

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    1. Thanks, Neil. But then you already knew I appreciate colour - that's why I love your photographs! :-)

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  8. Lovely post, Rae. In the midst of designing my kitchen I'm awash with colour charts and find myself wondering who makes up the names for some of the shades.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Mary. Choosing paint's such a tricking decision, as I find once applied to our walls, the colour we've chosen is always a few shades different from the one appearing on the colour chart!

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  9. Interesting post, Rae, I unconsciously colour code/match everything in our house. I suppose word smithing ones novel is the same - applying colour, (words) adding to it, taking is all off and starting again.

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Lizzie and what you say is true. My first draft of this post had far too many 'colourful' descriptions - but never mind, nothing's wasted! :-)

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  10. It must be fun being one of the people who think up names for paint charts etc. Great post, Rae – and love the phone box.

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  11. Hello Kate, I adore Gail Stirling Robertson's work. As well as the red phone box, she's created some amazing pieces featuring Eilean Donan castle in a similar style. :-)

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  12. Great post Rae, thank you. I do have a stack of paint charts and sometimes find the names helpful when writing. Farrow and Ball paints are truly evocative - my living room is 'Savage Ground' (sucks in breath).

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  13. Love it, Jenny! Those paint marketeers don't hang back when choosing names! I don't have a Farrow and Ball chart yet - one to add to my collect, thanks. :-)

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  14. What a terrific post. I had never thought of the comparison between art and writing, except in the vaguest terms, but you're quite correct. Writing has a structure in the same way as painting. Thanks for the post :)

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer. It helped having my friend explain the basics of painting. I'd love to create a character with artistic skills.:-)

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  15. Dropping in a bit late, Rae, but I loved your post as I really like colour and art! What a great day out and full of such inspiration - that's the kind I enjoy.

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    1. Not late at all, Rosemary. Thank you for dropping by. :-) A day out in Broughty Ferry is always inspiring - such an interesting coastline. But that's another blog post!

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  16. I love Broughty Ferry and also Crail, Pittenweem and Elie, such wonderful places for art but a long way from where I live.

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    1. Hello, I made it to Crail last summer and bought a fantastic, colourful teapot from a tiny, local pottery. It's lovely to look at but once filled it's too heavy to lift! Still it's a nice piece of art. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. :-)

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  17. What a lovely glimpse into your thoughts Rae - all those beautiful colours everywhere. Inspirational and amazing - love it!

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Giselle. Really appreciated.:-)

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