Every Friday this month I’m posting oldies but goodies to celebrate The Empty Pen’s two-year anniversary!
Painting are created, not by painting the sea blue and tree green, but by adding layer upon layer of paint. If you want to paint a tree, you don’t pull out the Crayola forest green. You start with yellow or red or blue. Slowly, the leaf turns green, but not before the artist has set the foundation for the leaf’s color.
When I first started painting classes this was hard for me to grasp, but, gradually, I learned to see the variations within colors. And soon, I couldn’t see anything around me without deconstructing the colors that went into it. Nothing is ever as simple as a solid color.
This revelation of the layers of color stood out to me when I read Girl with a Pearl Earring. There are several scenes in which the main character, a maid in Vermeer’s house, explains the paintings to her blind father. In the beginning, her descriptions are simply about what is in the painting: skyline, boat, people. The longer she works for Vermeer, however, the more she learns of painting and she starts describing the whites as having hints of purple and shades of yellow.
The writing process can be a lot like this, too.
My first draft is blocky – large swaths of solid colors. A happens, B happens and C happens. Then, I reread several scenes together and am able to smooth them so they flow into one another. I can pick up a theme in one scene and carry though the rest. When something momentous happens, I can go back and layer in hints.
During my initial draft, I usually know that I’ll have to put in hint (the yellow behind the green so that the lightness shines through the finished leaf), but sometimes what should have obviously been a clue gets left out. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about which paint to lay first. I can edit those hints in. Each draft is a chance to adjust, to add yellow or take it away. And this layering makes the writing richer and the piece deeper. By the end, hopefully you’ll still see the skyline, the boat and people, but if you really look, you’ll be able to see a little bit more.