Sunday, October 18, 2009

Painting your book

Just got home from vacation yesterday and I think that if you factor out the great spa and all the massages, if you can, the best part of the trip was the Norman Rockwell Museum. I went on the tour and really learned a lot about writing and how our craft is a lot like

Now at first that might sound strange, but if you think about it, writing and painting are closely connected. The painter is telling a story with his brush strokes much Ike we are telling a story with our keystrokes. And in both cases, it is up to the artist - whether it be the painter or the writer - to make sure that the details come out enough to tell the story.

Take this painting by Norman Rockwell. What do you see? A family dinner. Thanksgiving perhaps. It's actually one of the four paintings that compose Rockwell's majestic "The Four Freedoms" series. Maybe you'd stop a minute and look at the picture and then walk on. But let's look closely at this painting and "see" the story Rockwell is telling us.

In the painting is a large family gathered around their table. The occasion is probably Thanksgiving because of the huge turkey being served. Both the good china and the good silver are on the table. It’s probably Grandmother who cooked all day to make the feast.

The man in the center left is talking and everyone seems to be smiling in reaction to what he has said. The man in the lower right corner is looking at you, as though waiting for your reaction toe the comment.

Grandpa is at the head of the table and has his carving tools ready to slice and serve the turkey. Grandma is placing the turkey in its place. She is still wearing her apron in case something spills and ruins her dress. The turkey appears to be cooked to perfection.

The table extends past the bottom of the canvas, giving the perception that the viewer is actually at the table. The man in the lower right corner of the painting also seems to be inviting you to join in the feast.

Rockwell used white as the main color on the table. But look at the details; the ice in the water, the ironed-in creases still visible in the tablecloth, the light and shadows on the crisp white dishes and serving pieces.

Another painting that tells an incredible story “in the moment” is called “Moving In” it is a example of how Rockwell used his artwork to spark thought and intrigue. The image focuses on a moving truck parked in the driveway as some resident children greet their new neighbors. It seems like an ordinary scene, but it tells an entire story in the matter of one single instant. Look closely.

Both girls are wearing pink to indicate similarities. Two boys have baseball gloves, one a baseball uniform – common interests. The black children have a white cat; the white children a black dog. Do you see the separation on the sidewalk? Two children are ready to cross the line. Very typical of the time frame. Do you see six figures in the painting? There are actually seven. One is in a window to the rear left, peeking out and ready to report to the neighbors. What happens next? Who makes the first more toward friendship?

Norman Rockwell had the gift of inviting us into his work and allowing us to share the story he was trying to tell. Isn’t that what we, as writers, hope to do also?

The advice we can gleam from a Rockwell painting is this – the details are very important, but they should never tell the observer or the reader what he is to experience. The details need to be subtle enough to set the scene and allow the observer to share the story with the artist (or writer) creating it.


  1. And just like dull stories, there are dull pictures....

    I liked this entry. I never really thought about the comparison of painting and writing.
    Thanks. :)

  2. Norman Rockwell has always been one of my favorites. I enjoyed your comparison of painting to book. In essence, that's what we writers do--we paint words so that readers can envision the scenes we create, and hopefully enjoy the experience.

  3. Yow know what Kathye, I never even noticed the person in the window... and I have to give you a million thanks again for my SIGNED-by-the -OY in picture-personal-my-very own print. I love it.

  4. What a great comparison, Kathye. I love Norman Rockwell's work too...loved the blog!


  5. The pictures and your words are wonderful, Kathye. The details put into any work take on more meaning when we stop and take a closer look. As always, a great post.

  6. Kathye,
    Such a beautifully crafted post. You brought me into the paintings with your words and your attention to detail. Thanks for posting, and for reminding a developing writer to pay attention to details!

  7. Great blog Kathye! Mary waves to her friend Kathye after reading her thoughtful blog!