• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

9 Lessons from Hockney

Writing.ie | Resources | Developing Your Craft

Graham Dinton

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When British writer Graham Dinton went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, he discovered some interesting parallels between Hockney’s work ethic and that needed to be a successful writer. And he found a whole palette full of inspiration. Dinton says, “It is absolutely, definitely worth the £15 entry fee if you are anywhere near London and I found the whole experience truly inspiring.”

So what are the connections with writing novels or being an author?

Dinton reveals, “Here are nine I can see, not in any particular order….

He works hard

I mean seriously hard. Hockney must sketch, draw or paint every day, and he’s 74 and still going strong. The place was full of paintings. On one wall alone, there were 36 paintings all created in 2004. That’s three a month non-stop. I know that when you read the small print about some of his life story, he does have assistant painters, but he still does all the planning and creative work. Suffice to say, he’s a serious artist who is committed to his profession.

Inspiration: Write every day, simple as that. No excuse. Are you a professional or not?

He continues to learn 

In 2001, at the age of 63, David Hockney went back to watercolours that he hadn’t used since being a student. He re-learned the craft and spent many hours perfecting his skills. He sees the craft of his art as something he has to continue to train himself in.

Inspiration: Learn the craft of story-telling. Study more.

He makes sketches

Before Hockney embarks on the large canvas, he makes sketches and plans. There were numerous sketchbooks on show at the Royal Academy exhibition. For every painting on show, there must be many, many hours of preparation work unseen.
Inspiration: Keep writing, develop scenes and characters through writing material that ultimately may never get used. Don’t worry about producing too much, keep it all and use the ‘sketchbook’ you produce as inspiration for the stories to come. Also, every novel needs a plan. All the great artists have an initial plan; they don’t simply start with a massive blank canvas and paint a masterpiece.

He keeps up to date

Hockney is now famous for his work on iPad. He continues to experiment with multi-media. All are on display at the show. This is not some fuddy-duddy 74 year old – he is on the leading edge of his profession. Perhaps if he was an author, he’d be self-publishing on Kindle right now. 
An indie David Hockney.

Inspiration: Experiment with emerging techniques and technologies where they improve your craft.

He paints proper paintings

David Hockney is an expert artist with tremendous drawing skills, a great sense of perspective and amazing use of colour. Each painting is like a complete novel, not just a scene or chapter in a book.
Inspiration: Be the best writer you can be, in whatever genre you choose. Get the basic techniques right and the layers will build to create a masterpiece.

He paints the same scene again and again

There are numerous repeats in the exhibition, deliberate repeats of the same scene painted at different times of day or in different seasons, to explore the changes that occur over time. Hockney argues that you could paint your back garden and make it interesting because it would be different every time.
Inspiration: To me, this seems like a series of novels rather than a single novel. Keeping the same character(s) and developing them over time through a series of adventures is much more compelling than single stories. The backdrop of the series may stay the same, but the action moves on.

He uses vibrant, strong colours

All the paintings are strong, there are no pastels here. He uses the most amazing colours in odd situations that simply work.

Inspiration: Stick to the action. Write with passion and be fast moving, not some quiet backwater of description or narrative.

He focuses

David Hockney takes a subject, like a particular copse of trees in Yorkshire, and paints them from every angle and every perspective. He says that the shared viewpoint of artist and viewer ensures the effect of immersion in the woods. He simply focuses right down to a small scene and explores it to death. That way, he excels.

Inspiration: Focus on one area, one genre, one particular type of story, then just do it really, really well. Take the reader with you into the world you are creating and exploring.

He paints on-site and from memory

In the Royal Academy exhibition there are many paintings where it is explained that Hockney created the work from the memory of visiting the place frequently, rather than painting in the location, or from photos. It’s as if this needs to be explained because it is behaviour that is out of the ordinary for an artist, carrying the assumption that most artists paint live or from photos.

Inspiration: It strikes me as the other way round for writers. Everyone assumes write all from memory or imagination. Why not write in the setting itself? Why not write with photos? Perhaps many of you do that already, but it’s never really struck me so strongly before. I have a scene in an Accident & Emergency waiting room, so why not just go down there and sit and wait and write?

The man is a genius, and an inspiration to all of us. I bought a few postcards of his work and now have them pinned above my desk.

About the author

(c) Graham Dinton February 2012

Graham Dinton started writing fiction five years ago alongside a full-time career in Information Technology and with a lifetime of reading novels to inspire him.

Dinton has written and published short stories as part of a local writing group. Now he is breaking out on his own with his first novel, The Home Signal, a psychological thriller set in Oxford, England.

Emma, a journalist, witnesses a road accident. A young girl is seriously injured by a renowned local businessman who sets out to suppress the story and ruin Emma’s career. As she challenges his power and influence, Emma puts her life at ever greater risk until her father, recently released from prison, takes the ultimate step to rescue her and betray his past.

The Home Signal will be published later this year.

Follow Graham on Twitter @GrahamDinton


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