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Are you a Pantser, a Plotter or a Dancer



I was recently reading a blog post from writing coach Anne Helmstadter and she says, “In my experience working with writers I’ve discovered three types of writers: Plotters, Pantsers, and Page by Page”.


We creatives sprout from the same rootstock, so this applies to visual artists as well. Do you know what type of artist you are? Do you plan everything out before you begin, or do you jump into a painting and just see where it takes you? Maybe it is a step by step, or page by page process. Any of these types are great, one is not better than the other; however, understanding your process may prevent a lot of angst or self-doubt.


If you are a plotter, you enjoy the creative process of figuring out how something is done before you even pick up a tool. The process is as exciting and intriguing as physically creating the thing, whatever the thing may be. I am a plotter in the beginning. I love to figure out the technical challenges in my mind first. I may plan how to build a substructure or what type of substrate I will use and then figure out the next step and what the technical challenges are. Your plotting may look different. You are a painter, and you work on a preliminary sketch. You plan your composition, shapes, values, and color palette prior to starting the painting. You work on your thumbnail images first. You may even paint a small study and then you tackle the larger work. This can save a lot of time and set you up for success. It is simpler to make revisions on paper or small studies than to redo a large canvas. A good plan is worth having.


Some people might find the plotter approach too stifling. You prefer to grab some tools, throw some paint onto a white canvas, jump in and fly by the seat of your pants and see what happens. You are a Pantser. This is sometimes called intuitive painting. You make a mark, place a shape or color, and then respond to this. It is a very freeing and fluid way to create. For some folks this will be too nerve wracking. We are all quite different in our approaches.


A page-by-page painter is a style I call the painter’s dance. It is like the intuitive pantser method, but with a plan. You write a page and then edit before proceeding to the next page. I write these blogs in this manner. I begin with an idea; I proceed to write automatically and free flowing and then I go back and edit. When I look back over the page of free-flowing thoughts, I may find another idea buried within the sentences. I will cut and paste this idea into another word doc, and it becomes the basis for another post. The page by page, or painter’s dance, is a similar approach. Say you begin like a Pantser, then you step back and evaluate and edit. You do a back and forth and you might even discover a combination that will be a great jump start for another piece. Always keep a spare canvas, panel, or paper around to clean off the extra paints, stencils, stamps or use up leftover mixtures. I call these my accidental masterpieces.


I am a Plotter in the beginning, but then I tap into my intuitive responses. I keep notes of ideas, color palettes, textures and substrate and collage possibilities. I love Pinterest for finding inspiration in unusual places. Gardens and textiles inform my ideas for textures. I begin with an idea, a feeling, or a scientific theory I wish to explore. I read and research before I even begin my plotting process of figuring out the next step. Once I begin painting, I proceed more like an intuitive Panster. I may reach a point where I discover that I have ventured down a completely different path than where I began. Rather than tossing this work out and reverting to my Plotter Plan, I do a little dance and pivot and edit.


I still have all my original plotting ideas, and like the writing, I take those ideas and begin again. One line of plotting may result in several different pieces. I can fly by the seat of my pants and then dance with the partner that shows up.


I know this is how I operate. As a younger and less experienced painter I would struggle with the diversions. I covered up many a painting because it didn’t align with the original plan. Now I embrace the unknown and let it guide me into undiscovered territory. The process may work in reverse for you. Perhaps you begin as a Panster and you reach a point of decision and discussion. What is the painting trying to say? Do a little dance with it and listen for a story or a plot line. Trust in your process, it will save you a lot of grief.


Happy Dancing and Creating.

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