How to Find Clarity in your Story through Art

May 24, 2022 5 min read

By Author G. F. Brynn

The first words ever written were pictures. That’s right, pictures. Why pictures? Because pictures, or illustrations, are not abstract representations of thoughts, as text is. They are mental realities.

The first simple pictographs and drawings were invented and then slowly evolved over the ages in order to satisfy ancient peoples’ need to express their thoughts and, by dint of drawing those illustrations, were also given clarity of thought as they created.  Drawing and seeing their finished artwork further solidified their impressions of the landscape, the people and animals around them.  

A picture is not only worth a thousand words, it is a method of providing our imagination with visual feedback.

If you are having a problem visualizing your current story, a few illustrations may be just what you need to better crystallize that story in your mind.

And, in the process, give yourself a healthy creative shift from text alone.

While I wrote and created my literary worlds and became more emboldened to expand them and add more characters, I knew that pictures in the story would keep younger minds like my children’s engaged better than words alone could. 

So, something else began to evolve with the characters: my sketches. And as my sketches improved, so too did my imaginings of those characters and their situations. They became sharper, more exact.

I soon discovered that the more I sketched, the more enjoyable the writing became too and the more expansive the story became. 

The story did not just become a project to be finished, it became a wonderful, colourful and unfolding mental movie replete with conversations which flowed, quite effortlessly—first from pen to paper and then to keyboard, and the illustrations flowed just as much.

When you are drawing the landscape of your story, you are, in effect, drawing yourself further into that world in a more enjoyable way than simply “writing” the scene can accomplish on its own.

That is why those directing movies like to have pictorial storyboards drawn up beforehand. With pictures set before them, a director can better visualize and explain each scene he or she is about to shoot as the filming progresses.

The only difference in writing (and drawing while writing) is that the scene and film you are shooting is the one in your mind, and the process of illustrating gives your imagination the same boost of clarity as it does for a film director.

As you begin to roughly sketch a villain or a hero in the guise in which you imagine them, you, quite literally, bring yourself face-to-face with them.

Every time you draw a sketch of a certain moment in your story, that point becomes frozen like a snapshot that can be revisited as the story grows and develops further. You will not need to consult notes so much as reference a picture, which is much more enjoyable.

Later, if you so desire, those collected, digital story-art illustrations can also be embedded into you book to enhance its appeal to the reader.

Can I write a good story? You bet. Can I draw? Kinda. Am I an artist? Not on your life, but that’s okay.

You don’t have to be an artistic genius to create decent story-art illustrations that enhance your imagination.

If you can draw a line, you can begin to draw sketches of the fictional world and characters you are creating, and make them look pretty good too, thanks to—you guessed it—an app. Two, to be exact. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Want advanced tips for reducing distractions, overcoming writer's block, and boosting creative confidence? Book a 1-on-1 consultation with Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.


Pencil Sketching Tips

  • Sharpen your pencil for fine lines.

  • Sit comfortably and prop the sketch-pad so that it faces you directly. This prevents unconscious distortions while drawing.

  • Angle the sketch-pad at a comfortable angle to your right or until your hand rests naturally on it. Of course, if you are left-handed, just mirror the angle.

  • Begin at the bottom of the paper and draw upwards.  Most images have a base which they grow out from and, of course, it is easier to draw up from that base than to draw down to it without error.

  • Draw from left to right if you are right-handed; mirror this movement if you are left-handed. Drawing this way has a more comfortable feel and also helps prevent accidental smudging with the edge of your hand.

  • When drawing straight lines, look in the direction of the draw and inhale slowly. Looking ahead of the draw is simple eye-hand coordination which gives your hand a direction to follow.

    Inhaling a fresh breath each time keeps your hand steadier while drawing the line. Draw upward or left to right whenever possible as this is a steadier movement for your hand. Turn the sketch-pad not your hand.

  • To draw a curve, use the natural bending movement of your wrist to guide the draw.  Everyone’s wrist bends through roughly 15 degrees of arc so following that arc while drawing will result in a smooth, even curve with a bit of practice. Again, turn the sketch-pad not your hand (ie: to draw a large circle).

Drawing a Story-Map

In my experience, an overhead story-map works wonders in helping visualize the landscape setting where the story takes place. A simple map with houses and surrounding roads and other geographic features is a great reference to have while writing about your characters’ movements. It helps ensure you're being consistent throughout your book.

If simple sketches kept in a sketch-pad are enough reference for you to satisfactorily complete your book, then you need not read further.  However, if you would love to create digital illustrations with added colour and pop, read on!

Tip: To sketch on a tablet, add a matte screen protector. This will eliminate bothersome reflections and have a more natural feel with the stylus.

Scanning to your Tablet

If you’re only interested in creating simple, digital, black-and-white sketches, I highly recommend the ‘Auotodesk Sketchbook’ app—either for iPad or Android tablets.

This app is easy to learn to use and has an ingenious feature which enables you to scan a sketch directly to the app so you can immediately begin shading and enhancing it with a stylus.

Separate digital ‘layers’ can be added so that mistakes can be corrected or erased with ease while the other layers are unaffected.  A layer can also be duplicated which brings fainter pencil lines into sharper focus for tracing with a stylus.

Afterward, the original penciling can remain or be deleted for a cleaner image.  A simple illustration can be drawn, imported to the app and greatly improved upon in just ten minutes or less before being shared or inserted into a doc.

Procreate your Art

For extra colours and texture effects, nothing beats ‘Procreate’ for iPad, in my opinion, so, after you have done everything you wish on Autodesk, import your illustration to Procreate.

There are a broad spectrum of “brush” types and textures to choose from which can be adjusted in size and opacity as you become more familiar with the app’s features. 

Airbrushes for shading and 3-D effect; neon-bright luminance pens; glitter and crystal effects; smudging colours together; cloud, nebula and aurora-mist effects; charcoals and various pencilling styles—these are only a few examples of the artistic touches that one can employ at any desired degree to your original sketch for extra colour and eye-catching pop.

Once you become proficient enough at augmenting your simple sketches with these two apps, each illustration shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes from start to finish. Ten minutes for black-and-whites.

These digitized story-art illustrations can then be shared on social media platforms, as well, to invite further attention to your works which text alone cannot accomplish.

In Conclusion

Illustrating your story allows you to immerse yourself in your story in a way that text alone cannot. As a result, you'll be able to better visualize its environment and find greater clarity in your story. 

Want advanced tips for reducing distractions, overcoming writer's block, and boosting creative confidence? Book a 1-on-1 consultation with Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.

Photo credit: The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell, published by Hodder Children's Books

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