Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The First Stroke is the Freshest

I had the privilege of getting to know Author Sylvia Rochester through one of my favorite groups, WritingGIAM. Imagine when I learned she not only excelled in writing but at painting. So many times I've wanted to sit down for a chat. Now thanks to the Five Scribes blog, I have the opportunity, and so do you. Please welcome multi-talented Sylvia Rochester to the Five Scribes. ~ Donnell

y mother said I was born with a paintbrush in my hand and wasted no time expressing myself on the walls and furniture. I survived the paddling with fingers in tact and was ordered to confine future paintings to paper and canvas. From the beginning, those unrecognizable shapes and swaths of color conjured up stories. Didn't matter that no one else saw what I did. I could talk for hours, oblivious to the what-the-hell-is-that expression on their faces. Today, the surprised looks are few, but the stories continue to leap from the paintings.

When Donnell asked me to join her on the Five Scribes Blog, she suggested a title, "When an Artist Knows Two Worlds." Thing is, Donnell, painting and writing are one world to me. While different mediums, they both tell a story. The artist speaks with a brush; the author, with words.

Ask yourself, "What is it about a painting that holds your attention?" Is it the composition, the palette, the subtle blending of colors? Or is it more than that? The visual image should evoke emotions, take that which is but an illusion and make it real. When you look at a landscape, can you feel the wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of a winter's day? Do the flowers tease your nose with their sweet bouquet? Are there hidden mysteries within the shadows? Can you taste the fear of the unknown?

It's the same with writing. The author must make real what exists only in the mind. When I describe a setting, I see it in a painting. The scene comes alive with color and texture, yet is captured only by words. The scene applies to characters. Moving between the two mediums is second nature to me. I find that one feeds off the other.

Dividing my time between the easel and the computer presents a problem. Lately, I've neglected my painting. The more novels I write, the harder it becomes to pick up the brush. I have characters screaming at me to tell their stories. When I finally ignore their pleas and turn my attention to the canvas, my paints take revenge for abandoning them. Colors turn to mud, values distort, and perspective is lost. My compositions are not balanced and refuse to hold together from a distance. I have become a stranger in my studio and making friends again is not easy.

How do I work through this? Perseverance! Turn off the computer. Give the canvas undivided attention. Some music and a little wine also helps. Put a horizontal line to represent a horizon, a couple of vertical lines for trees and dive into a simple landscape. Ah ha! Already a story begins to unfold: Who lived here and when? What happened to them? Whose paths did they cross? What hardships befell them. How did they die? Did they have children? What if...and here my mind runs wild, new stores begin to form.

Cursed by the sign of Virgo, I'm never totally satisfied. What writer or artist ever is? You won't believe how many times I look at a passage and revise it or pass a painting and not wish to change something. Then again, I bet you do. Painting has a lesson to teach here. The first stroke is the freshest, overworked the color dulls, the spontaneity is lost. Likewise, constant revision can destroy the voice, cloud the meaning, in painting and writing often less is more.

Promotion! Promotion! Promotion! Ever consider what your local nonprofit gallery can do for you, the writer? That's right. A guild or nonprofit gallery's mission is to make available art of all forms to the community, even literary art. I joined the River Region Art Association, Their mission, as stated on their website, "...shall be to follow artists from all disciplines to work together to improve public awareness of all art forms. We associate to help individual artists in whatever way they need, and to help promote the Arts in the community. ...Most of all, we associate to share the sheer joy of creating!" How great is that?

Why not give a nonprofit gallery a try? You might be surprised at the results. If you volunteer to run such a gallery for a day, you can sell any of your own work at no commission. Think of it as a once-a month book signing. I picked the first Tuesday of every month. The week before, I send an e-mail and invite all my friends and future clients to come by, have coffee, and visit. I look forward to meeting new people and handing out bookmarks or other promotional items. Between customers, I'm free to work on a painting or my next work-in-progress. Surrounded by walls of creativity, I can't help but get inspired.

A few months ago. at my suggestion, my gallery reached out to members of my RWA chapter and sponsored a writer's workshop and book signing. The response exceeded everyone's expectation. Another workshop is planned for later this year. In October, members of HeartLa and SOLA, along with other local authors, will hold a signing at the gallery's annual Awesome Art in the Gardens Show. This two-day festival, held at the Houmas House Plantation, is an elegant and spectacular event which draws hundreds of people from across the state. While not everyone can afford a piece of original art, many are happy to meet the authors and buy an autographed copy of their book. The advertisement for all such events and the contacts made are invaluable.

Thanks, Donnell, for letting me share my world, and I invite everyone to visit me at Please tour my on-line gallery and view my latest books. I write romantic suspense, time travel, and general fiction/paranormal. My books are available in trade paperback, ebooks and Kindle at,, and a variety of ebook publishers. Autographed copies can be purchased from my website.

Sylvia, thanks for being with us today and explaining how you move between the two mediums. I finished Shadow of the Soul Monday night and fell in love with Matthew, Shadow, Wolf, Jesse, Naomi, Rachel, Leah, Aaron...they became quite real to me. For anyone who leaves a comment today, you are entered in a drawing to receive Sylvia's new release.


Edie said...

Sylvia, I love your paintings! And your blog. I've dabbled in painting and cartoons. I wasn't good enough to be a professional, but I did it for my own enjoyment. I think creative people are creative in many ways.

Sylvia said...

Donnell, thanks for having me. I'm glad you enjoyed Shadow of the Soul and am happy to offer a copy to some lucky person today.

Edie, I agree. There are so many forms of art and many of us have talents we never explore. Keep dabbling in your art. Who knows where it'll lead. Thanks for visiting.


Theresa said...

Interesting blog. I agree that writing is simply one way of expressing one's creativity. Most writers I know are extremely creative in other ways as well as writing. In a way I think it helps keep creativity fresh. Additionally, I think painting must help hone your skills of observation. All great writers are great observers, and eaves droppers, that then take what they see and extrapolate on it. Kudos to you in blending the two and making creative promotion venues!

Judy said...


Your paintings caught my eye. I am from Louisiana (southern part)and I know you are either from here or been here at some time. I am so envious that you have both of these wonderful talents, writing and painting. I can only imagine that your plate is always full!! I enjoyed checking out this blog, it is really interesting. Thanks!!


Donnell said...

Sylvia! Thank YOU for being here with us today. Edie and Theresa nailed why I wanted you to be here today to explain this creative outlet. Writers are visual, great listeners. Perhaps that's why I never made a great court reporter. I listened! My instructors would say oh, don't worry you'll eventually start thinking about your grocery list or your laundry while taking down some painful testimony. Not me, I'm afraid. I hung on every word.

As I read Shadow of the Soul, I could see Sylvia's landscapes. I think she melds her art and writing perfectly.

Also, disqualify me from your drawing, Sylvia. I own the book. It's on my keeper shelf :)

Thanks again or being here!

Sylvia said...

Theresa, you're right about writers having other interest. I never met a writer wasn't involved in other things. The trouble is in finding time to do everythings.

Donnell, you mention my description. Sometimes, I have to watch myself and not get too involved in specifics. Easy to do. Like the title says, "the first stroke is the freshest."

Judy, hello neighbor! By all means come by and have a cup of coffee. I'd love to meet you. The painting shown here is typical of my back yard. I'll even take you on a run of the bayous in my boat; and as they say here, "Pass a good time."


Donnell said...

Oh my gosh, does that apply to Coloradoan neighbors just passing through :) I can't imagine having such a gorgeous landscape for a back yard.

Signing off for a while while I go tour Seattle :)

Liz L. said...

Love the "first stroke is the freshest" line. As writers, we aways think our first draft is crap, when in fact, it is our first glimpse of the world we are creating. I am defitely not an artist (can't even color in the lines!), but I appreciate the beauty of good paintings like the ones you paint. I'll look at my early first chapters in a different light now.

Thanks for the insiteful blog, Sylvia. Donnell, don't include my name in the drawing for Shadow of the Soul since I am already halfway through my autographed copy and loving it.

Magnolia said...

Great post, Sylvia. I neglected the drawing/painting side of me for years in order to write the fiction I also love. But what I found was the longing to draw or paint always pulled at me.

Someone once told me I needed to 'pick one'. Drawing or writing and I explained it would be like letting go of part of me to choose.

Sylvia said...

Hi, Liz. Glad the book arrived and you're enjoying it. It's oh so easy to overworking a passage. Wanting it be perfect, I play with the words like I'm mixing paints. But overmixing turns a color to mud, and one can squeeze a phrase until it loses its spontaneity. Wish I had someone nearby with a hammer to hit me over the head and say, "Stop!"

Lynn said...

Sylvia -- you are so right. Perseverance is key. I've often heard that the most successful screenwriters aren't necessarily the most gifted -- their success simply hinges on the fact that they stuck with it. If you give up you can't succeed. Glad I read this!

Lynn L.

lwprudhomme said...

I sent a comment but do not think it went through....I have not read "Shadow of the Soul" yet, but, if it's just half as great as "Come Back My Love", I know I will thoroughly enjoy it.....Always a fan, Lorna

Sylvia said...

Don't give up something you love. Go for it. I'm one to dive in while others are testing the water. What the heck. You only live once so do all that you can. Think of da Vinci, a multi-talented man who jumped from one thing to another, always exploring, filled with a zest for life.

You are so talented, I don't doubt I'll read your name on the big screen one day. I already have your DVD and love it.

Lorna, I promise you'll fall in love with this story. Can't wait for you to read it. Thanks for your encouragement and support.


EL said...

Your talents are amazing. The versatile books, all of which I've read, the beautiful paintings--one of which I own--demonstrate just how awe-inspiring you are. Keep it up!

Sylvia said...

Thanks, El. your books. I've read them all and can't wait for the next one so keep your fingers on the keyboard.

Josephine Templeton said...

Sylvia, I've known you for a long time, and I admire your drive, your writing and your enchanting paintings. Here's a cyber-toast in your honor!(clink clink)

Sylvia said...

Thanks, Jo. I've enjoyed your books and am looking forward to your next one. Thanks for stopping by and visting.

rhonwrites said...

Great Message Sylvia! You are so right perseverance, determination, setting your mind to something and sticking with is such an important thing to remember. Thanks for sharing your art and your stories with us, you are so very talented!

Sylvia said...

Rhon, thanks for visiting. There are so many well-known writers who believed in themselves when no one else did. They are my inspiration. But no matter what happens to me in the future, I'm going to write and paint. It's in me, and it's got to come out.

J K Maze said...


Your comments were right on, especially since I'm involved in more than one art. Aside from writing, I paint and sing and can't imagine giving up even one. And perseverance is a necessity in this field. I love your paintings and plan on getting at least one of your books to read.

Joan Maze

Sylvia said...

Hi, Joan, thanks for visiting. If we could figure a way to add more hour to the day, maybe we could try more things. You must have difficulty spreading your time around to handle your many interests. Singing is good. I love music. I play a baritone uke and also write songs. I do hope you will get a chance to read one of my books. I'm especially keen on Shadow of the Soul.

jwhit said...

Hi Sylvia. As soon as I read Donnell's announcement about this article, I clicked on immediately. I had to hear from someone else who balances multiple creative areas. Who knew there were so many who are, as shown by the comments as well. I've been neglecting my painting lately and must get back to it after being sucked at by writing for so long. Music is mostly limited to humming along with commercial break themesongs, sadly, too.

And, I'm a Virgo as well! I wonder if that has anything to do with having to cover all the creative outlets.

Keep expressing, Sylvia, in whatever medium you choose. There's something distinctly human about it.

Sylvia said...

Hi, Jwhit,
I do believe Virgos are driven, and I can relate to you neglecting your painting. Seems I can't leave the keyboard for any length of time, either. So, I decided to teach a couple of painting workshops. It's my way of making myself paint. Terrible, isn't it when you want to do so many things and just can't seem to find the time.

Flavia said...

Sylvia, I must be your greatest fan as I have read all of your books twice and can hardly wait for the next book to be published. God has blessed you with many talents and I want to thank you for sharing this with all of us.

Flavia said...

Sylvia, I must be your greatest fan as I have read your books twice and can hardly wait for your next book to be published. God has blessed you with many talents and I want to thank you for sharing these with all of us.

Sylvia said...

Flavia, I must say, you're my greatest fan. Not only did you read the books twice, but you posted twice here. Hey, I did the same thing when I first posted to a blog. Thanks for your kind words. When I need encouragement, I know where to go. Like the song says, "You are the wind beneath my wings."

Donnell said...

Sylvia, I leave you alone for a few hours and come back to such wonderful support. Thank you all for checking in and reading about this outstanding talented woman. You know what makes it especially worthwhile? She's as nice as she is talented. I expect great things from Sylvia Rochester. Thanks for joining the Five Scribes today. Happy writing!

Sylvia said...

Thank you, Donnell, for having me. And thanks to all of you who stopped by to comment. You're welcome to visit with me at my website whenever you get a chance.

I wish you all success in your writing and any other creative adventure you might pursue.


Sandy said...


I've always wondered how you could go back and forth between your computer and painting. I thought it just came easy for you, but now I know it isn't.

You have a studio to work in with a view to die for. What a wonderful place.


Sylvia said...

Hi, Sandy,
Thanks for visiting. Yes, my studio is built over a cyrpress swamp. I can't help but get inspired looking at the scenery and the wildlife.
I'm on my way out this morning to see what my muse has in store.
Have a great day.

Marie-Nicole Ryan said...

Hi Sylvia,

As someone who's tried almost every form of creative endeavor I can only admire your way with a brush and canvas as much as your way with words.

Keep up the great work.


Connie said...

You are an awesome artist and a very wonderful author. I am anxious to get SHADOWS OF THE SOUL and read it. I have everyone of your other books. Each, hooked me from the beginning and took me on a diffrent journey that I enjoyed. I can tell by reading your books that you are an artist. Your words flow with artist descriptions. : )

Sylvia said...

Marie-Nicole, Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by to visit.

Connie, you are a jewel and most talented. I can't wait to read your new release.


Tiffany James said...

Sylvia & Donnell,

Thoroughly enjoyed this interview. Sylvia, your paintings are gorgeous! I, too, dabble in several different creative endeavors and was pleased to see how you embrace the two, creating a cohesive, authentic whole. I also understand the curse of the virgo...Yikes! I'm posting that paragraph on the bulletin board above my computer. I don't know how many times I have overworked bits of my manuscript, gotten frustrated, gone back to the original and tried again. "The first stroke is the freshest." I like that!

Tiffany James

Sylvia said...

Tiffany, sounds like we're a lot alike. Virgo IS a curse! Nothing we can do but go for it, huh? Thanks for visiting.

Happy writing, painting, or whatever your muse throws your way.


Laurel Lamperd Diary said...

I love your painting, Sylvia. And reading about your life history. How talented you are to be good at two very different art forms. The not for profit art gallery sounds a great idea. All the best with your books and paintings. Laurel
Excellent chapter, Kate. Parts of it makes the blood curdle in expectation. I look forward to future chapts. Laurel

Laurel Lamperd
Substitute Bride - a Regency Romance
available from

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Sylvia,
You are one talented lady. Your paintings are beautiful. Have you used any of them as a book cover?

Sylvia said...

Margaret, so nice to hear from you. Thanks for the compliments. Yes, the cover on The Sweet Smell of Death is from one of my paintings, View from Rue de Kajun. That was a double thrill for me.

Sylvia said...

Thanks for visiting my website and glad you enjoyed my article here. Always good to hear from a fellow Wingie. Hope you get a chance to read Shadow of the Soul.

Kris said...

Sylvia, thanks for posting this inspiring article. I too am a writer and painter attempting to blend both. I struggle with all the same issues especially those of time. I tend to get caught up in one medium and neglect the other but manage to balance. Both muses are there and they let me know when it's time to switch which is quite amusing. I belong to several writing and art groups but the non-profit art league concept is one I haven't tried ... yet! Thanks for helping me feel like I'm not doing the impossible. I'm quite a few steps behind you but surely encouraged to move forward.

Sylvia said...

Kris, try not to feel like you're pressured to write or paint. Enjoy which ever activity you're doing at that moment. Nothing is impossible, only that which we don't try to do. Thanks for commenting.