writing toolbox

Writer’s Toolbox: Describe and Critique Art

Mona Lisa - Leonard Da Vinci - Wikipedia.Your characters head for the local museum or art gallery. Their eyes are filled with wondrous sights. Colors, patterns, shapes, textures, renewing their spirit, giving them the beauty they crave in their life. Or boring them to tears as they’ve just been dragged to another thing-they-don’t-wish-they-had-to-do-in-order-to-save-a-realtionship-or-get-sex.

Either way, it helps to have words to describe and critique that art.

Describing artwork is one of the fascinating uses of language, in any language. How does the writer capture a painted expression, a twisted sculpture, an abstract painting? Could you describe the Mona Lisa with the right words to make the magic of Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait explain why it continues to attract millions of visitors eager for a glimpse of the woman’s face with a lack of expression?

Interior with Girl Drawing - Pablo Picasso.Artwork is encountered in most books in some way, a photograph of a suspect, a painting on a wall, a quilt, lacework, or arts and crafts item that tells us more about the character, place, or solves a mystery. How do you describe it to not only let the reader see see it, but also choose words that match the tone, scene, time, and owner?

In general, use the following tips for presenting a work of art, though how you choose to describe it and use it in your writing is your personal, creative decision.

  1. Identify the artwork type and medium (canvas, photograph, painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.).
  2. Identify the artist (if possible or relevant).
  3. If a well-known piece, name it.
  4. Describe the objects in or subject matter of the artwork (field, flowers, sunset, ocean, person, portrait, sky, furniture).
  5. Describe the colors, lines, patterns, shapes, and textures.
  6. Describe the first impression of the artwork, what your character or your reader would see at first glance.
  7. Where is the light source? Is the source from the sky, electric, natural light, artificial light, and light direction (top, under, side, backlit (behind)).
  8. What are the sensory qualities, the mood and visual effect, of the work?
  9. Why is it placed in this this particular spot?
  10. Why did the owner buy it?
  11. If the artwork has sentimental value, what is it? How does that help with the character development and backstory?
  12. If the artwork has financial value, what is it and why is that important to your story and character? Did they buy it only for investment? Or to support an artist they found interesting? Or maybe a relative trying to be an artist? Or is it part of their nest egg, saving for the future, betting on the artist? Would they sell it? When? Why?
  13. How does it fit into the rest of the room, building, or scene? Would the character seeing this, if they didn’t own it, think it fits perfectly there or not?
  14. What does this artwork tell the reader about the character or place?
  15. Many people interpret and respond to artwork differently, some with contrasting viewpoints. How would your characters respond? The same, differently? Would they each have a different reaction to the artwork? Does that add to the conflict?
  16. If important to the story, interpret the artwork from the perspective of the artist. Why did they create this? What was their inspiration, motivation, and goals to do so? This might reflect back on the personalities and backstory of your characters.

To help you learn more about learning how to describe arts and arts and crafts, we’ve put together some resources.

Here is a YouTube video for writers on how to describe art.

The following will help you describe artwork and critiquing it to help you flesh out the experience of your characters.

Writing Tips: Shoelaces, Knots, and Ties

Another tool to add to your writer’s toolbox is Ian’s Shoelace Site. The tagline is “bringing you the fun, fashion, and science of shoelaces.”

How does your character tie his or her shoes? The choices they make may tell the reader much about their personality, their past, culture, and experiences with shoes.

Do they tie them tight or loose? Use a specific technique for tying? Why? How? How do you describe how they tie their shoes?

Are they athletic? Maybe they were in the past and tie their shoes based upon the technique they used for their football, baseball, ice skates, hockey skates, or running shoes, even though they haven’t touched the sport in decades.

Maybe they are old and need the helix twisted shoe laces to hold their shoes on because their arthritis can’t tie a bow any more. Or maybe they had to go through physical therapy to relearn how to tie their shoes after an accident or stroke. How would they do that and what are the different shoelaces and shoes available to help them?

What types of laces do they have in their shoes? Leather shoes often have thin strings for laces. Many people today slip colorful shoelaces into their tennis shoes for fashion or attention.

Can you name the parts of a shoelace? Are they shoe ties or shoelaces? What’s the tip called that helps slip through the loops or rings to threat a pair of shoes? What is it made of? Are there different kinds?

Did you know that there are almost 2 trillion ways to thread a shoelace through eyelets to tie a pair of shoes?

Ian’s Shoelace Site offers answers to all these character development questions. Ian even has a book published in 2007 called “Laces” to help you learn even more about shoe laces with detailed pictures and graphics.

Check out the following web pages on Ian’s site to learn more about how your character might tie their shoes.