The Old Red Hen – Jacki Kellum Watercolor – Painting with Words and Watercolor

She was like an old, red hen
With a small and unadorned head,
She didn’t cock-a-doodle-doo.
She merely clucked,
As she picked her way along.
Jacki Kellum

Yesterday, I discussed how writing–especially memoir writing–can be beneficial for painters and other kinds of artists, too.

In another post, I attempted to explain how writing helps an artist better “see” his subject matter:

Learning to actually SEE is vital to becoming both an artist and a writer. Actual SEEING is complex and requires more than opening your eyes and fixing on something. That is the way that a dog or a cat looks. Seeing is much more than looking. In order to see, we must recognize the spirit of a thing, as well as its physical characteristics. When we see, we capture the essence of the subject. As authentic artists and writers, we must be able to actually SEE, and much of that involves learning to BE in the moment about which we wish to create.

Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth. – Pablo Picasso

In our efforts to survive in the 21st Century, most of us have become inundated with text messaging, social media, television, surfing of the net, videos, music, whipping in and out of traffic, multitasking, etc.; and it is very, very difficult to keep ourselves focused on anything other than the periphery of things. It is necessary to truly SEE something more deeply than that to FEEL anything about it, and my art is all about feeling. If I don’t feel anything about what I am painting, I have nothing to say about it. When I do not feel anything about my subject matter, I produce hackneyed images. All too often, they are repeats of things that I have painted before, and I am merely trying to deceive myself that I have something new to say:

Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Having a background in visual art helps me to See better as a writer, and it helps me to describe what I am seeing. When I begin to write, I close my eyes and I concentrate on something about which I want to write. When I see the thing in my mind’s eye, I merely write the words that describe what my mind sees. This is a very visual kind of writing. It is a physical thing. After I feel that I truly see what I want to create, I begin to write and then I begin to refine what I have seen, seeking something deeper–something more philosphical, perhaps something more spiritual, too. As I narrow down the image of what I am tryinng to reveal, I am able to write more specifically. When I paint, something similar happens: words and even songs fill my mind, as I paint. Ultimately, the titles of my paintings come from those words. But if I am not fully present when I create, this does not happen.

Imagery, or the use of figurative language, is a way that a writer paints pictures for his readers. It is a way to make his message more vibrant and specific and because it helps his reader “see” what he is saying, it makes his message seem more alive.

I teach several art classes, but I also teach a writing class, and I am continuously advocating the use of figuratve language to paint with words.

Simile is a type of figurative languagethat stems from comparing the subject to something else. by using the words “like” or “as.

She is as pretty as a peach. – Simile using “as.”
My love is like a red, red rose. – Simile using “like.”

Here is an exercise using simile to help writers develop characters for their books:

Think of a character and compare that character to an animal, using simile. Here is an overly used and cliche example: He was as mean as a snake.

Once you have thought of your example, try creating a short verse or phrase that uses your simile.

Night before last, I was awakened by some words that were screaming for me to write them down. I arose from my warm covers, and I wrote this simple verse:

She was like an old, red hen
With a small and unadorned head,
She didn’t cock-a-doodle-doo.
She merely clucked,
As she picked her way along.
Jacki Kellum

Picking with the Chickens – Jacki Kellum Watercolor
16.25″ x 10.25″
Original: $400 – Prints Are Available

After I jotted down the words, I began to see the chicken that the words described, and then, I began to realize that I was prbably talking about more than a mere chicken. I can imagine an old, homeless lady, picking through the garbage in a city.

This is not the way that the painting process normally works for me.  I normally begin to paint, and the words come to me AS I paint–or even AFTER I paint.

Little Napoleon – Jacki Kellum Watercolor
Original Sold
Prints Are Available

Not long ago, I painted a rooster, and I wanted to call attention to his strutting, his pride, and his dignity. Just to be sure that everyone had some clue about what I was saying, I named my rooster painting Little Napleon. Little Napoleon is a barnyard dictator and not unlike several small men that I know, he is full of himself.

The Old Red Hen is not a rooster, and I painted her differently. She also called for different words.

Before I close, I’d like to say one more thing about chickens.

You’ll never soar like an eagle, as long as you pick with the chickens.

In another blog post, I encouraged painters to paint what they feel and not what they believed that others wanted them to paint. I offer the same advice to writers.

I’ll be honest in saying that I want people to like my paintings, and because of that, I am often tempted to over-work an image–to make it seem more real–hoping that more people will like what I have done. Fortunately, however, I have decided that I would not be the kind of person who continually rides the fence–hoping to please a wider audience. Fence Riders compromise on every issue. They seem to have no real opinions. People without opinions are like piles of mashed potatoes.  Mashed-Potato-People have had the life boiled and whipped completely out of themselves, and they tend to ride the fence on every issue.

When we sense that someone doesn’t like our work, we tend to question and doubt ourselves, but often, our imagined “critics” usually know nothing about painting or writing. That is a silly mistake, and it is definitely a type of selling oneself short. We need to quit selling ourselves out to try to gain the approval of the chickens, and we need to acknowledge that your space that of soaring in the sky. with the eagles.