Every Writer Needs to Exit Themselves: Exploring Visual Form as a Non-Visual Creative

Written by: Abigail Campbell 

I grew up in an artistic family. My plain white suburban home in central Connecticut housed the minds of a musician, an illustrator, and a graphic designer. My father could capture an audience with the hum of classical music, my mother could impress with her digital creations, and my sister, quiet as she was, could command the attention of an auditorium with her intricate illustrations. But then there was me: the writer. There was never anything easy about consuming my craft, which often materialized in long form poetry or prose. As a result, I envied the products of my family’s creative energy. I thought in a similarly visual way, but the brilliant creatures in my head remained in the privacy of my mind, coming forth only in the form of words. When I tried picking up a paint brush or a pencil to tap into what seemed to come to my family naturally, all I could create was disappointment on canvas.

Source: Emily J Campbell, Illustration

Lacking  diligent practice and preferring the company of a blank word document and the possibilities of language, I dropped my paintbrush for what I thought would be forever. But when the world was flung into mandatory detention in March of 2020, space and time seemed to melt into nonexistence. Confirmation of my sustained humanity came only in the form of going on long walks, watching the sun in my car by the water on the UConn Avery Point campus, holding my breath in the grocery store, and painting.

I might have been discouraged from trying  painting again in a different context, but time and boredom were on my side this go around. An enormous perk to growing up in a creative family was having what I like to call creative clutter. Most creatives I know have a method of organizing the space where they work, but my family’s method is simply chaos and the creative clutter of my mom and my sister benefitted me most. My childhood home’s basement is only second to Jerry’s Artirama or Michael’s Craft store, so I had my pick of the litter when it came to supplies. With blind confidence, I rummaged and filled a bucket full of half empty acrylic paint bottles, threw a canvas wrap of paint brushes on top, and drove home to start my first masterpiece. 

Source: Abigail Campbell

My first painting was less than impressive. It looked a little something like the person I was trying to paint, but it looked a lot more like a child’s interpretation of the person I was trying to paint. Over the following months, my practice became remote work followed by several hours messily covering myself in bright blues and neon pinks. I put little thought into which colors would work together and chose colors most pleasing to me. Because nothing I was creating was for any reason other than to simply create, there were no rules or limits on my art. What came of this practice was a brief exploration of artistic forms of artists I admired over the course of six months until one day, I had a cathartic visual art experience in the form of blobs and colors on a piece of paper. 

Source: Abigail Campbell

I remember showing the finished piece to my dad and laughing when he shrugged at it. Very nice, Abbey was about all I got out of him, but the satisfaction that came from creating something uniquely mine kept me going. Writing kept the seat on the back burner warm while I produced dozens of these funny blob paintings up until the start of the fall semester. When school began again, creative writing slowly trickled back into my day to day with precision and explorative form more so than I had experienced before. My writing has continued to be supplemented with wonderful writing courses, but I owe much of my creative rigor to taking my own break from writing to explore an art form that I abandoned as a child. 

Source: Abigail Campbell

Stepping outside of my chosen craft and creating without rhyme or technical reason but rather purely for the joy of exploring creative form reminded me why I write in the first place. Now whenever I experience writer’s block or feel trapped by the bounds of a class assignment, I shut everything off, step into my basement, and allow myself to create without limits. It is truly my belief that every writer, or artist of their craft, needs to exit themselves and their craft in order to remain grounded in why humanity produces art in the first place: to persistently inspire, intrigue, and cultivate curiosity in our day to day lives, and to remind ourselves that even in the darkest of times, beauty can be created if you just remember to pick up a paintbrush. 

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