Becoming a painter has influenced my writing in countless ways. Here are 10 of them by artist & author Yana Stajno
Colour in art. I discovered red can be overwhelming. You only have to look at Venus at the mirror by Ingres to see the power of a tiny splodge of red. The word red has the same power. I love the colour but try to use it sparingly. Black is another stonker of a word. Five innocent letters summon social causes, injustices, the void, the space between sunset and sunrise. Grey used to be a dull civil-servant sort of a word but it is no longer. After Fifty Shades - grey is the new red and all writers will have to view it with caution.
Art taught me to look at the form of things, even the shape of sentences. Some are top heavy with all the difficult words at the beginning, tailing off with spindly legs like a Gerald Scarfe cartoon. Some have no firm middle - this sentence from Tony Blair for instance - 'The referendum will, for the first time since we joined Europe after years of trying unsuccessfully to do so, put exit on the agenda.' The middle of the sentence waves around like a piece of gauze held in place with bookend injunctions.
Tone is the hardest thing. I stare at the photographs of Man Ray, Picasso's Guernica, their use of light and shade, the slow slight increments of line over light and wonder how it is possible to achieve anything like that in a novel, varying it out in different ways over the whole work. In writing, it's either funny or it isn't, tragic or it isn't. You get the bittersweet hybrids but people are pretty intolerant of works set in a half-light.
Space is a big subject in art. After WW2 the word 'place' in art was replaced by 'space'. It's the quality that gives an artwork work breath. I reread Brighton Rock by Graham Green recently and was astonished at how dense the work is. How oppressive. When I paint I try to allow a space for the viewer to enter the work. Quentin Blake's figures tell everything you need to know with the slightest of outlines. This is why the impressionists are so popular - because everyone interprets the cues quite differently and are able to relate them to their own experience. A place needs to be left open for the reader too. And for that to work, things have to be left unsaid.
Rhythm is as important in writing as it is in painting. Well, I think it is. Everything human begins and ends with a heartbeat. When I paint, my body's movements dictate the strength and fluidity of the marks. And if I transport this physicality into writing it works a lot better. Computers kill physicality. Working in longhand first helps a bit. But then I can't read my own writing. And neither can anyone else. Pacing about, muttering makes for better prose than staring grimly at a screen. Some writers abandon computers altogether and the clattering of an old-fashioned typewriter.
Size. This might sound strange but ideas always come in a certain size. A sketch can't fill a huge canvas. And a haiku can't stretch into a novel, however many elements I add. Damn.
Continuing a work. Art is a brilliant help on this. Okay, so I've liberated a piece of writing from its drawer where its been moldering. And I want to finish it. Polish up its good points and take it from there? Absolutely not. That ends up with all leaf and no tomato. Matisse said that you should always enter a piece of work from its weakest point. So, don't fiddle I tell myself. Attack the character that doesn't seem convincing and build from that.
The best thing art has to offer prose is the invitation to relax a grip on gritty realism. So what if a pig is flying overhead or people are running busy lives on the ocean floor. So what if a woman has three heads and one leg? It all makes perfect sense in a painting. If a work interests and moves someone for a while it's a good piece of work, however many random tigers float on small boats.
'There is a conflict between light and line.' (Matisse) Understanding this has taught me how to be easy on myself in both art and writing. That if you want to describe everything too exactly - lines in art, plot in writing - then the work will end up being lifeless. And conversely if you abandon line or plot altogether and glory in magic, colour, light, plenty of lush descriptions, you might have a wonderful time but are in danger of losing the interest of anyone else.
Finishing. It's hard to know when a painting is finished. I abandon them while they're still crying out for changes. Signing the work helps. Selling it is even better. Although Francis Bacon was known to take a brush and add paint to his works after they were sold. But with text - boy, you have to keep revisiting it - reading it aloud or having other people read it and its almost impossible not to kick a few commas around at the very least. Many novelists made alterations in subsequent editions of their books. I write 'the end.' That works. For a while.
Born and educated in Zimbabwe, South Africa Yana Stanjo enjoy an artistic and eclectic start to life. Graduated in English and Drama at Cape Town University. Previously Yana has written plays including; Postcards from the Swamp and Confessions of a Love Addict and short stories including; Ten Plastic Roses, published in the Bristol Short Story Prize 2010 and Flash in the Park - published by SelfMadeHero 2012 - a collection of graphic stories set in London. When not writing, Yana's second love is painting. A member of the Crouch End Open Studios and owner of an artist studio at the Chocolate Factory, Wood Green, where she happily splashes paint and hosts workshops with the Booster Cushion company for kids of all ages with varying abilities and disabilities.
Her first novel , Rules for Thursday Lovers by Yana Stanjo (published by Clink Street Publishing 16th July 2015) For more information www.yana-words.com or follow her @YanaStajno