The Parallels of Writing and Drawing

Cropped Eagle Drawing

Writing and drawing are two different forms of artistic expression, sometimes even utilizing the same medium. Drawing seeks to capture an image on a page, while writing seeks to capture an image in a reader’s mind. Drawing is about the right combination of elements such as shading, proportion, and detail, whereas writing is about the right combination of elements such as words, creativity, and originality.


When I’m drawing, I pay attention to many of the same elements as I do my writing. Nothing has really changed except that I have an image in my mind that I am trying to convey to my viewers with LITTLE to NO words at all. A writer, on the other hand, basically fulfills the same purpose in an inverse style. Either way, we tend to pay attention to many of the same things.

Take the time to look at some pictures. The subject matter is unimportant; what makes it memorable is the way in which the subject matter is conveyed. Analyze it and try to discern which feature(s) are the central part of the whole. What stands out and demands your attention the most? Once you are able to determine such things, try replicating the effect in your own way.

To “illustrate” an example, take a look at the picture featured above. In the eagle drawing, I had to pay attention to details like the shape of the beak and head and how the feathers would turn out-which ones appear darker than the others depending on where the light is hitting (yes, you still have to think about that in a picture where the light source is not included). If you were writing about an eagle or any other type of bird, would you describe its feathers-how they shine when the light hits them, what color they are? Do you have this sort of picture in your head when you’re trying to write about it? Adding descriptions like that can really help characters stand out better. They can also serve as an anchor for foreshadowing (foreshadowing is including a detail in your story that seems trivial when introduced, but ends up becoming important later on).

To continue this example, let’s say the eagle, when it’s first introduced, is found hovering around an old castle that’s supposed to be abandoned and rumored to be cursed. Your character finds it odd that it keeps circling over it; after all, isn’t that what vultures do? That one observation is enough to make your character uneasy, and yet curious enough to find out more.

Consider the following example:

Prince Jorin walked along the outskirts of Perin, observing the crumbling ruins of the old castle at the edge of the Forbidden Kingdom of Oth. He looked up, and saw a dark shape hovering over what remained of the tallest spire. It was a bird; most likely a vulture. But what was it doing there? There had been no signs of life on those grounds for centuries, not since the Great Battle, when Sir Theradin the knight had banished the sorceress Lilith from their land. Jorin looked away, removing the curiosity from his mind. But then the next day he snuck out to the same spot-and saw it again. 

Here this is already painting a picture in our heads, and drawing on our intrigue. But see how in this passage the depiction of the creature is vague, even though it is crucial to providing context for the story? Watch what happens when we add more detail:

After having seen the same bird every day for over a week, the prince decided he needed to take a closer look. He walked into the woods until he was nearly at the foot of the castle. By that point, it was easier to tell what it was, because it dove down and cawed at him before flying over his head. Prince Jorin ducked, and watched as it perched itself on the headless statue of a dragon. It wasn’t a vulture-its head was too large in proportion with the rest of its body, and its beak was the wrong shape and color. It turned and looked at the young prince with yellow, beady eyes.  What was an eagle doing here? Eagles didn’t swirl over their prey. 

Notice how specifics about the land of Perin or the castle, or even exhaustive background into the Great Battle are unnecessary here, because the eagle is what is driving the action forward. Now that we know exactly what kind of bird it is, we can see even better why it is strange to see it there. The description of the eagle then allows the reader to follow in the same direction as the writer is intending. After all, would prince Jorin have even bothered to venture down to the castle if he hadn’t noticed the eagle?

Now for just a little more context:

The eagle cawed again, and then waited-quietly, patiently. Suddenly someone emerged from the shadows-a slender woman of raven hair and matching black eyes. No, it couldn’t be; it was the sorceress Lilith! 

And finally we begin to see the full picture because of the writer gradually adding more to just one element. The only considerable difference between a writer and an illustrator is that an illustrator would use a series of pictures to convey the same message. The illustrator would make the eagle so that it would be impossible to make out exactly what it is in the first scene, adding more details as the scenes call for them.

If you have talent in more than one kind of art, then try experimenting with them all, and see if they can’t add more together than any could do alone.

Embrace your artist side, and let your imagination run free.


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