Writing for Artists: Creating Space

Did you know that your readers need to take a breath? To stop here and there just to absorb what you’re saying. When you read your work out loud you’ll notice the need to breathe. How much of a stop do you want to give them? Punctuation can help. It can also make your thoughts and ideas really clear and effective.
What follows are definitions of the different types of punctuation, along with ideas and examples of how to use each one. Again, just as the tiniest dot of red can change an entire painting, good punctuation can change the meaning of a whole piece of writing – and that’s exciting.

Let’s talk about “End Marks.” This includes the period, the question mark, the exclamation point and abbreviations.

Period: The most important use of a period is to end a sentence. It is also used in the abbreviations such as Mr., Ms., Dr. etc, and  F.B.I., I.R.S., N.Y., and U.S.A.  Periods (dots) are also used on the internet and should only be used as a separation of an extension (smith.jpg, smith.pdf, http://www.artist.com)

Interestingly enough, previously end punctuation marks separated sentences with two spaces, now the accepted convention is to use one space only.

Exclamation Point: These should be used at the end of an emphatic declaration. It can also be used as an interjection or a command. i.e. What a beautiful sculpture! The show amazed me! That’s an unbelievable color! Be aware that exclamation points tend to be overused, especially on the internet. I find myself doing it a lot especially on Social Networking but I think about it before I hit the return/enter button. When it’s over used it can dilute the effectiveness of it. I try to think about it before and after I put it in.

Question Mark: This seems obvious but… A direct question is followed by a question mark. Generally it is used by itself, without other marks but an exception would be “She said what!?” There are times when  a question mark should be used and questions where it should not:

• Direct Questions – a question that you are asking another person when you are speaking to them or when one person in a narrative is asking another person a question. i.e. “Do you know what happens when you mix red with green?”

• Indirect Questions – usually when one person is talking about something that happened. You should not use a question mark in that situation. i.e. “She asked what would happen if she mixed red with green.”

Other punctuation marks are used in the middle of sentences, to break up a thought or concept, or to extend the space between words. I think of an end mark as a dead stop/breath break. A semicolon is a large stop/breath. A comma is a slight stop/breath.

Comma: The formal uses of a comma are:

• To separate elements in a series. i.e. paint, brushes, pastels, pencils, charcoal

• To connect two independent clauses. i.e. The painting was beautiful, but the lighting in the gallery didn’t suffice.

• To set off introductory elements in a sentence. i.e. Despite the lighting in the gallery, the painting was exquisite and the smallest lines were quite evident.

• Parenthetical elements – depending on how strong you want to offset the comment. i.e. The artist was in the studio, creating a painting, when the curator walked in.

• Colon: use this to mean “what follows” in situations as this:

• Before a list of items, especially after expressions like as follows and the following. i.e. The Julian Easel held just about everything: brushes, all of my paints, linseed oil and there was even a place for my canvas.

• Before a long formal statement or quotation. i.e. The Museum Director made a formal speech: The works of art that you will see here represent the period of Post-war Modern Art.

• In certain conventional situations such as:
• The time. i.e. 4:30 P.M.

• Semicolon: The is an under utilized form of punctuation and is something I’ve come to love recently. Using it also makes your writing more professional and intelligent. A semicolon can also break up a run on sentence. There are different situations to use it in:

• To join independent clauses that are not joined by and, but, or, nor, for or yet. i.e. Over 100 artists showed up for the demonstration; it lasted from 5 to 8pm and there was a reception afterwords.

• Between to independent clauses joined by such words as for example, for instance, that is, besides, accordingly, moreover, nevertheless, furthermore, otherwise, therefore, however, consequently, instead, hence. i.e. Artists always seem to just make the deadline for an exhibition; for instance, we always get at least 50 submissions on the last day.

• To separate clauses that include a comma. I find myself using this one often. i.e. The exhibition included Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; Edvard Monk’s The Scream; Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Iris; Joan Miro’s Moonbird among many other ground breaking pieces.

Tip: sometimes you can look at a run-on sentence and see where it can break up clearly. Decide how much of a break you want to give your reader and place the appropriate punctuation. As I keep saying, good writing is essential to your success.  So please keep following these posts.  It can make all the difference.

*The definitions of punctuation here are adapted from the following sources

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, An Encyclopedia Britannica Company, 2005.

Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition: Complete Course, Heritage Edition by John E. Warriner and Francis Griffith, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.


• http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/marks.htm