I am usually loaded with words—too many sometimes, if you ask Dave, my writing partner. You’d think that would be a blessing if you’re a writer. Well, I have learned that it’s more about finding the right words rather than having just a massive pile of them.
One afternoon in the senior art class at school, a student asked me how to make light purple. I kept it very simple and I directed her to dioxazine purple and titanium white. Shortly after she came back and said “that’s not the right colour—I need light purple.” Huh.
If you’ve ever stood in front of the paint chip counter at the hardware store and looked at the wall of paint color samples, it is a good illustration of the specificity that this young artist needed.
Which purple did she need?
I asked if she needed it pinker or bluer; warmer or cooler; brighter or duller. I asked what it was compared to and what it was for and what it would be beside in the painting. I asked her if it needed to be lighter or darker than what she mixed. I asked a lot of questions and then I offered my new suggestion of what colors to mix for the light and right purple she desired.
She came back and said, “That is exactly the color I needed. Thank you.“
Words are important in getting what you need and getting people to see what you want them to.
I do an exercise with students when I try and teach them that there is no wrong answer in creativity. I have them close their eyes and ask them to picture a coffee table. I ask them to imagine the table with all the details. When they are done I have them to open their eyes and jot down everything they saw. Then and I begin asking questions. What is it made out of? What shape is it? How tall it is? What types of legs does it have and how many? What’s on it? And you know what? If there are 25 students in the room, there are 25 different coffee tables.
Everyone is correct
No answer is wrong. I ask them to picture a coffee table but each is different based on the knowledge and experience of each student. If I wanted them to picture a rectangular glass top with four simple
black iron legs, I should say so. But I didn’t. They came up with their own. No wrong answer.
When telling stories, I do want to direct readers to see specific people, places and things. The direction is in the detail and it was never so well-illustrated (pun intended) than the day the young artist asked for light purple. Words really do matter when sculpting a visual story. If I want the reader to fill in the
blanks then I should keep details vague. I guess it’s a bit of a game of what I want to build and what we want the reader to build in their mind.
Parts of this post were initially written in January, 2016