An Artist and Her Process: No Words Necessary

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Last week I walked around a San Francisco art gallery with an artist friend. An abstract painter, Kimetha had a solo show of small oils on wood. As I admired her images, I thought about how different we were as painter and writer.

As a word person, I immediately reached for words to explain my reactions to her pieces. They remind me of bright summer light, I told her, and the movement of a slight breeze through curtains or an open window.

She nodded politely. She doesn’t think about her paintings in that way. Her process, similar to a writer’s, involves putting work down and then erasing it. She might work on a painting for a year, layering color and then taking it away to let the underpainting shine through. She uses small brush strokes, tiny edges of color. She burnishes it and sands it, just as writers polish their work.

On that late spring afternoon, she had come to say good-bye to her paintings. The show closed the next day and most of her pieces were sold. For a year’s work on this painting, she will make a few hundred dollars. That’s another way she is similar to a writer, I thought.

Kimetha  struggles to name her abstract paintings and leaves some untitled. For her, the words are an afterthought. For me, they are everything.


  1. says

    Hi Diane, Your blog made me think about the impact of words versus images. Seems like images evoke emotions that are sometimes difficult to name. While words can do that, too, I think writing that gets a strong emotional response is an enormous challenge. Creativity whether creating images or stories , poetry or recipes requires patience. time, energy, support and polishing, Thanks for sharing.


    • diannejacob says

      Hey Kathy, thanks. Yes, I talked with Kimetha about how the challenge of writing is to elicit an emotional response from readers. She did not seem to think it was her job as an artist to do the same, although they certainly provoked feelings from me.

  2. Kimetha says

    Sometimes I do reflect on images sketched in words, such as are found in compressed forms of poetry (haiku, etc.) These come and go as sources of inspiration, but less so for these last paintings.
    I liked what you said in the gallery that day, and wrote down what I remembered.

  3. says

    words are awfully important to me in my artwork, especially coming from someone else. But it’s usually an adjective rather than a metaphor…maybe refering to balance, contrast, space, visual terms. On the other hand I love verbal cliche expressions because they’re so full of imagery…

  4. says

    This is really a beautiful post, Dianne. I read it last night and have been thinking about it ever since. Like you, I would immediately reach for words to describe my experience. It’s not just that my strength of description comes from text, but somehow the act of writing enhances my experience. I “see” things in much more detail when writing of them (or even thinking about writing of them), plus I will remember them for a much longer time.

    Also, it is very interesting that she must say goodbye to her art pieces at the end. I hadn’t ever really considered that aspect of non-digital art. That’s one thing that writers don’t really go through — we might be turning our creations over to the public, but we can easily access (and “own”) them thanks to duplication and digital records of our words.

  5. says

    My writing has so evolved over the past 2 years and has become the focus of my food blog, the food the inspiration. It is very important for me to connect with the reader emotionally and I try and create a mood, an atmosphere, a desire in each reader. My stories are my art, the words are my tools just like paint is for someone else. I know I find myself a little like Kimetha, working on one piece for long periods, adding, layering, erasing, moving things around on the page, working until I have found what I have been looking for. Sometimes I feel as if I am that sculptor not in front of a blank block of marble working to create something from nothing, but rather there is a statue hidden in that marble and I have to chip away at the excess and free the sculpture. Having only words with which to create an emotion and a desire in someone else is tricky and difficult, but it is a challenge I love and it fascinates me.

      • says

        Thanks, Dianne. My blog is a place for me to have fun but I also think that my pictures heighten the impact and emotion of my story, or at least I hope so! I also think that cutting up the written post with images makes reading on a computer screen a bit easier on the eyes.

  6. says

    Rational brain wants to name while abstract brain wants to show? I’ve heard theories about creative vs rational brain halves and I’m quite convinced.
    I was educated in literature so naming/putting things into words seems very natural to me and comes easily. But I’ve learned that in order to deeply experience something, I need to forget words. Man, it’s difficult:)

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