What Stephen King can teach us about painting

I love Stephen King for a variety of reasons. He’s obviously a pop culture icon at this point who has contributed greatly to film and horror for decades. But what can he teach us about painting? King has a notoriously simple answer to aspiring writers who wish to achieve success. The simple answer is “write” . King has stated that “The muse loves a working class ethic” and by this he means that someone who works consistently every day is gping to achieve much greater success as opposed to someone who only works when they’re inspired.


One question that King gets frequently is basically “how did you write so many books?” and he has answered this on numerous occasions. He works around 3 to 4 hours a day, and produces around 7 pages. That’s it. It adds up rather quickly, and at this rate you can finish a 200 page novel every month(of course he has an editor too)! I think many have the idea of the tortured artist so ingrained to them, that they forget the working class turtle who wins the race. In my studio practice I’m a morning person. I get to the studio around 745, after I drop off my daughter for school, and I don’t have to teach until 1. This gives me around 4 hours to work, and an hour for lunch. People are often amazed at my output, but it’s just my consistency which makes this possible.

Stephen King doesn’t care about being one type of writer. He’s someone who has written westerns, coming of age stories, horror, supernatural fiction, and the list goes on. Many people don’t know that King also wrote The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Stand By Me. Now, is it King’s genius that allows him to meander into all these different genres? Partially, but again, it’s also the work ethic at play that creates a situation where trying something new isn’t something which causes anxiety, it’s just something you do. Want to write a detective story? No problem. Do it. Will the first one you write be perfect? Of course not, but you’ll learn a lot during the process and now you can go forward and get a better grasp of what you’re doing. The same should be true for painting. Want to make a painting in a narrative style with multiple figures? Just do it. Instead of worrying about “getting better at drawing” or “creating the perfect composition” just jump in, and start painting.


Another thing that makes King a great example to look at is the fact that he’s also extremely well read. He did much of this in his early years when he read voraciously all of the classic horror masters. From Edgar Allen Poe, to H.R Lovecraft, King knew about all of these writers in depth, and he read all their work. So how does this relate to painting? Well, you need to become as knowledgeable as possible about who it is that you’re attracted to artistically. With the internet this is quite simple, and it means that you need to document who you’re looking at, what their ideas are, what techniques they use, and when they are painting. Don’t just find one artist, find 20. Go to exhibits and see these works in person, take close up pictures of the paintings for examination later, and read about the artists and their ideas. Also, become open to the possibility that you don’t know what you like. Check out the people I follow on the paintingcourse instagram page. Here I follow only painters that I find interesting, and I’ve also separated all of these different artists in the highlights section, so you can begin to discern whether you like portraits, or landscapes more, and then begin to funnel down exactly what it is that moves you, and what you also want to share with the world. A good question to ask yourself is “If you could have a show, with any group of artists in the world, who would these artists be, and where would it be?”

What would King be without his publishers? This is a relationship which he no doubt has had to navigate throughout the years, and one he became quite good at. WIth painting, we’re often lead to believe that we’re engaged in this purely creative pursuit that shouldn’t be tainted by “the market”, but that’s kind of silly. Of course the market influences everyone, and one can create work that appeals to this market and still retain their artistic integrity. There’s a strong anti capital feeling among many artists. Perhaps it’s because it’s so difficult to make money making art, and so we get turned off to it completely. But there’s also this idea that if money is involved, somehow the work is cheapened. And this is a belief that basically only pertains to artists. Would we believe that Stanley Kubrick isn’t a “real” director because he oversaw multimillion dollar budgets? Is Freddie Mercury not a real rockstar because he took advice from sound engineers about how to sing certain words? In the same respect, King had to take advice from publishers, and screenwriters that helped shaped what he wrote. Sure, some of the suggestions were probably awful, but some weren’t, and he learned how to write a screenplay, and he became insanely successful because he knew where the home was for his works. In the arts we like to use the nebulous term “the audience” or the more intellectual way of saying it “the viewer”. It’s really a coded way of referring to a market, and the capital we’re after is people’s attention. Find out where your work’s “home” is. I’ve seen so many artists over the years that get caught up in their heads, and they don’t really think about where the work is supposed to end up. Do you see your work in a coffee shop, or an international art fair? It’s an important question to answer for yourself.

So make a schedule for yourself. Be realistic with your goals at first so you can actually achieve them. You don’t want to push yourself too much, too fast because then if you fail then you’ll be sad and possibly give up. Slow and easy wins the race, and consistency is key. Over time you’ll see tremendous progress, and you’ll be able to realize just what it is you’re trying to do with paint.