Rothko and me

For me the Rothko room at Tate Britain is a place of pilgrimage. Like anything that touches us spiritually, it is hard to explain why. When I walk in I feel a sense of peace. If there’s not many people in I like to sit on a bench and try to absorb several of the paintings at once. Then I’ll get as close as possible to one so that the canvas fills my vision and I think “This is how close he was when he painted it”

Last year I was there, sitting in front of one of the Rothko’s and I decided to try to capture the feeling by sketching on my iPad. I opened up my painting app and just started filling the space with colour, adding layers and hues of red and pink. As usual I was oblivious to what was going on around me but I gradually became aware of someone sitting next to me. I glanced up to see an elderly couple, the lady sitting next to me with her husband in a wheelchair next to her. She asked what I was doing and I explained my love for these paintings and how I was just trying to grasp something of their essence. It turned out her husband was an artist and we all had a good chat about painting. Then he dropped a bombshell. The arthritis that had consigned him to a wheelchair had crippled his hands as well. He showed me his unnaturally twisted, immobile fingers and said.

“I can’t hold a paintbrush anymore”

I barely had time to register the tremendous sense of empathic loss I felt before his wife said.

“Maybe you could use one of those”

I looked down, saved the drawing and started a new one.

“Try it” I said.

They protested for a moment but I simply placed my iPad on the artist’s lap. For a moment he did nothing. Then he made a tentative movement with his right hand. The knuckle of his little finger drew a line on the screen. He did it again, and then again and all of a sudden he was drawing.

In medieval times people would go on pilgrimage to places where a miracle had occurred. That moment felt like a miracle to me.


The technicalities of writing

Roald Dahl used to work in an old shed at the end of his garden. Patrick O’Brian wrote the Jack Aubrey series in a vineyard shelter in southern France. I write on my iPad.

Ok, so it’s not as romantic in the classical sense, but I actually love my iPad. Even before I started writing I used to carry it around the house with me, now we are rarely parted.

I use an app called Werdsmith, pictured above. I’m sure there are lots of good apps for writing but I started with this one and I’ve never had cause to look for anything else. It’s easy to use with two menus: ‘ideas’ and ‘projects’. I use ideas for just that, bits of story that don’t fit in exactly where I’m writing, ideas for short stories, descriptions of places that I might use etc. The only difference with a project is that you set a word goal. Here I have all my chapters, each with a word goal of 2500 words according to the plan (see previous post). In the menu you can see a little circle by each chapter; a tick means I have reached the word goal, otherwise it shows progress towards it. You can see that chapter thirty, that I’m working on now, is about half way there.

You can export from the app which I do by email. That way I’ve always got a back up. Plus I then take the chapters from email and put them onto one document on my laptop. 

So that’s how I work. I’m at about 75,500 words. Coming up to two years and three months. Nearly there!