How Art Shaped My Writing Process

I took a break from writing to pursue art, despite that I hadn’t really done it since high school. In college, I’d photoshopped images and inserted them into the narrative because my professors encouraged me to think of writing beyond words. What followed was a series of short stories that focused on just that. My obsession with textography and images left many of my peers confused. Why do you need an image when you can just describe it? They would scoff at the insertions and cross them out. In critiques, they were much harsher.

But you can’t just describe a painting or a sketch. Sometimes the boldness of sketched line can captivate you more than my writing about that bold line can. The mediums of writing and art are very different, but they compliment one another so well. Think of children’s picture books and graphic novels. Sometimes, an image has to be there in place of the written word. When I think about it, I inserted images into every story I wrote since the 2nd grade. It just made sense to have these things co-exist.

In 2014, I attended an NAEA conference wherein there were few panels on writing. Was writing not considered an art form because it lacked images? Textography, I explained to other art educators, and photoshop programs can be utilized to create a new type of text; it can create a new way of thinking about writing. Something to get a more image-driven society excited. They were intrigued, but yet, I still find these two worlds are mutually exclusive. You are either a writer or an artist, not both. Or you are both, but rarely do those worlds ever collide. And yet, students and the majority of the people in our current society, need visuals to understand concepts because not all people are, according to Howard Garner, linguistic or word smart. People are not also solely visual, either. Rather, they need a combination to complete the understanding of the concept.

When I first became an instructor, I was in my very beginning stages of my artistic endeavors. Every chance I had, I drew something, often times using the gridding method to guide me. And in practicing techniques with art, I soon developed a new approach to writing. Many of the techniques I developed, I had been reluctant about doing for many years, but once I made connection, I valued both mediums equally. I learned how I learned.


As a writer, I never appreciated the usefulness of an outline. It’s tedious! Too time consuming. Besides, real writing just happens. Right?

Once I started drawing – really, drawing – I realized real art doesn’t JUST happen.

photo 3-1 copyIf you think this picture (left) just happened as soon as I put my pencil to paper, you are wrong. And writing? Doesn’t just happen like this, either.

photo 1-2

In fact, my drawing looked more like this (right) when I began. Yes, I outlined the image before shading and configuring the lighting. I gave myself the bare bones so I wouldn’t have to do too much unnecessary erasing.

I soon applied that concept to writing, and my writing is much better for it. Editing and revision is not such a difficult task anymore.


Similar to outlining, art taught me that beginning with a complete pencil sketch makes graphic design easier. Most of my drawings are taken directly from my sketchbook, and are later digitalized.

Scan copyThe image (left) is an ink sketch of one of my first drafts. Later, I brought it to life using Photoshop, and the result was much more refined.

This was my first digitalization without a tablet. However, drawing on a trackpad is much more difficult than it seems. So, once again, because I had a near-completed image, I was able to make a fluid transition from one step to the next.

This same phenomena happens in writing. The first draft is never the most refined writing. It’s crap, with a few gems. But art taught me to be more patient about this step in the process. Let it be a little messy; I can go back and fix it in Scrivener and make the writing more presentable. It will take some effort, but I don’t have to begin from scratch again.


Attention to Detail

As a beginner in art and writing, I wasn’t into any sort of fancy detail. All I wanted was to craft an image, or the bare-minimum for storytelling. I was much more into line art and telling more than showing, to say the least. However, as I evolved as an artist-writer, I discovered how necessary some of that seemingly unnecessary detail is to the text.


In three years of beginning this endeavor, I was now inserting backgrounds, diving into color, and using most of the tools in illustrator. Prior to that, the old artist-me would have “completed” my drawing at the outline stages. But with the desire to create more breathtaking images, came the need to be more critical about what was going into the image.

I look back on a lot of my old writing, and there are instances where you can see I rushed through important scenes in order to meet the page count, or simply finish. I wasn’t concerned with my readership, or with how others viewed me. It felt done, and so it was done.

Yet, being an artist trained me to look deeper into what I was actually trying to capture. It made me want to build worlds and tension. It made me want to prove to you, the reader, that I could describe those bold lines as beautifully as I could draw them. I just needed to take my time.


Needless to say, art taught me how to slow down my process and be more reflective. It also proved to me that I could manage these steps with more practice and less anxiety.

Outlining no longer takes days, it takes hours. Drafting no longer takes months, it takes a single month. As I continue to grow, the pre-writing or pre-drawing stages take less time, and I have more time to focus on what is truly important – the detail.

But the most beautiful thing about finding this rhythm? I no longer get anxious when I approach a new project. I know what areas take less time, and which areas I can reserve more time for. Writing, and similarly drawing, become enjoyable because I am no longer racing against myself.

Final Thoughts

Never think of yourself, or your art, as only an image or words. Experiment with new things. Apply your learning processes in one field to another. Practice metacognition daily. I think you will find that by doing so, all of your work will be more enriching and enjoyable.


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