Category Archives: Exercise: Turning words into pictures

Exercise: Turning words into pictures

Why are ‘Adjectives’ described here as “most difficult to draw”? Surly these are words like ‘Blue’, ‘Big’, ‘Wet’, ‘Furry’ which are all visually obvious. Does this only refer to the other adjectives like ‘Noisy’, ‘Heavy’, ‘Fast’, ‘Revered’ which are not visual? Are the non-visual Adjectives a bigger set than the visual ones? Answers on a peer-reviewed postcard please.

Aren’t Adverbs quite hard? To illustrate the way in which an action is performed sounds hard. How to show ‘Running carelessly‘ or ‘Reading longingly‘ or ‘Stroking gently‘? Some of those are more easy than others too.

You see how sceptical I am when someone writes a ‘fact’ – I instantly question it… ‘is that a fact?’




A tentative start with childhood. Bearing in mind the way that the previous exercise went I tried to allow myself to introduce more kinds of thing… but it’s still largely based on objects that are part of childhood and doesn’t deal with abstract concepts.


I tried to loosen my approach with some random things… drawing on typography and puns a bit to see what the possibilities might be with respect to ‘doodling’ and linking ideas in my head to imagery on the page. Puns are interesting  I-Patch has a double meaning… a patch worn on the eye, or a patch in the shape of an ‘i’. I pondered that I could illustrate the whole of the Paul Simon song ‘Call me Al’.


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With ‘Destruction’ I began to break out of the habit of looking directly for objects… there is  a small sketch of a tree falling over next to a cow with a ‘McDonalds’ M on its side. This is in the realm of editorial cartoons and represents the idea of rainforests being cleared to make way for profitable Beef stock – notably happening in South America. It helps here that ‘destruction’ is an action or the result of an action. These actions are carried out using tools – it is the tools of destruction that I have mostly drawn. The mushroom cloud is an exception it being a symbol or by-product of destruction.

The strange rocky tower at the bottom of the second page was going to be a glacier receding but I’m not sure to to make a drawing that is recognisably a glacier – this is an important point as, although it doesn’t need to be of photographic realism, the illustration must somehow communicate that it is the thing that it is in order to deliver its message.



I had a breakthrough of another kind when I moved on to travel. Initially I was going to send my pen on a random journey around the page and use that as a stepping stone to the next lot of thumbnails. Before I started I though of drawing a coastline rather than a random line so I drew Europe from memory (forgetting Italy). This gave me a new viewpoint… instead of just ‘Travel’ I had ‘Travel in France’, ‘Travel in English Channel’ etc and it allowed me to expand my idea of what travel meant. This became a set of ‘modes of travel’ or transports.


I wanted to explore other aspects of travel… I tried ‘Routes’ instead of ‘Modes’. This page shows Europe and some of its larger cities with airline routes drawn in. The network of travel between centres of population is representative of our travelling mindset most of the time – we move between labels on a map rather than along a route. It is not important what the specific route is only the start and end points. I think this sketch could connect with something later on and become inspiration for a further development. It resembles stars in the sky. We’ve also seen this kind of map occasionally when travel agents use it to demonstrate a large number of destinations or the many possibilities of travel.


I listed some other aspect of travel that I could investigate and ‘meaning’ made me think again about what the image represents. So I made a scene of a Pilgrim who has reached his destination. This is a journey with great meaning and, although the destination is of great significance, a pilgrimage can be made on foot and the journey is a significant experience. Although not illustration here when we see the end of a pilgrimage it puts us in mind of the journey – I have not shown the journey, but it is there if the idea of reaching the destination is communicated.


When I drew Europe I wondered if the location itself was affecting the kind of things I drew… would I not draw the same modes of transport regardless of where on Earth I was inspired by? Apparently not. I drew the Americas (from memory!) and found that the thoughts of the individual cultures inspired a lot of new ideas… Canada game me Sled and Huskies; the US encompassed the Wild West Wagon, Armoured Helicopters; a ‘Segway’; the A-Team’s GMC Van… the Space Shuttle. Oil tankers and Container ships came to mind and the row-boat in the Pacific was inspired by Hawaii (as in Hawaii 5-0 opening titles). The speedboat… Miami Vice… or perhaps it’s just Jeremy Clarkson again?

Containers: I tried just colouring these a little to make the Lego-brick look they have when at sea but I found that vertical hatching mimicked the texture if the real containers – the vertical corrugated design.

Since starting this exercise I’m finding ways to expand my visual vocabulary. It is still mired in the objects rather than conceptual meanings so I tried to find something to illustrate that was specifically a non-noun. I cam up with the idea that ‘Travel broadens the mind’ and made this:



The traveller has a very big head in order to accommodate the whole world, her eyes are globes and her face is inscribed with Maori tattoos – impressions that will stay with her forever. Monuments and icons of locations orbit the globes and her mouth is full of greetings in other languages. She stands in a pose of wonderment as if finally home. Her shadow grounds her.

On her face are also tears… a sign of emotional impact of her journey (not necessarily tragic)… and a spearhead from the American Indian tradition.

I’ve started to use a variety of media for the colour – fine and broad ink pens and coloured pastel pencils, which are occasionally smudged to create softer impressions.


An interesting aside is the role music played during these drawings. My working environment is not ideal – often a little too noisy with people about – so I sometimes use headphones and music to block out the type of distracting noise that is less helpful with something more ‘energizing’. I just used Spotify to play TV theme tunes and it was interesting how many of them suggested travel ideas… not all of them made it to the sketches: Dr Who and Black Beauty were left out… I didn’t cover Time Travel and bareback horse riding. ‘Lost in Space’ did make me think a bit wider than terrestrial conveyance though.

While writing this up I’ve turned to John Williams for some pleasant background and am now listening to the OMPS for the movie ‘The Terminal’ which is set in an airport terminal. Travel is a big, big subject – it touches everything… parted lovers, heroic quests, acts of war, pilgrimages of peace, journeys of discovery and coming-of-age (both literal and metaphorical journeys). The reasons and results of travel are wide-ranging and I probably could plumb the depths of this subject much more deeply than other concepts.


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I’ve carried on developing the style and idea of the last image. This one is notionally set in an airport (although that it is not communicated directly) and the two characters are travellers with differing experiences. I’ve tried to capture here the ‘lightness of being’ one feels when travelling – culture shock – and this is a case where they are perhaps returning home but their most vivid thoughts are of where they have been… the character on the left is full of thoughts of a peaceful place, and the other character has been to a war zone (if she were to resemble Orla Guerin that would be sweet… but I didn’t intend it so).

I drew the head contents first using ink pens, pencils and a touch of coloured charcoal. The background was sketched in using black ink and the colour added mostly by filing soft colour pastels and brushing the ‘dust’ onto the page… I then used a small paintbrush to arrange it before squashing it onto the paper and smearing it with my finger. I tried a number of ways to crush it including a pallet knife, a pencil end and, for the red dots on the right, I covered the area with thin paper and rubbed over it firmly.

At the end of all this the characters looked too flat so I shaded them with grey ink so they could be better defined.

I’m very pleased with the specific effect produced by the soft pastels… I would like to find a more striking way to represent the imagery in their heads. Perhaps that area needs to have a dark background or use a less ‘sketchy’ method – perhaps areas of tone rather than lines or stuck on elements making them 3D. At the moment they look too uncontrolled like the background (but in a different way) – it would be good to create more of a style contrast so that the head thoughts are clearer.