2.3 Words to pictures

The purpose of this research task was to explore a process driven approach to developing ideas to increase the number of creative options I have to work with.

Key words from the brief:

  • Choose one of these words [from a list supplied] and make a written list of the different manifestations that the word can take
  • Visualise this written list
  • Thumbnail sketches of each of the words and phrases
  • Drawings can be observational studies of objects or people
  • Once you have made your collection of sketches, incorporate some or all of them into one A2-size image

Written list

I chose to create a written list around the word designing.



I started sketching out ideas from my list of phrases. After the first two that were drawn using a fountain pen I decided to extend the value of the sketches by trying out different media, missing the point of the exercise that was to not overthink things, but rapidly produce thumbnails to explore an idea. No detail is necessary.

At that point I attended the Mini Life Drawing Symposium run by Melanie Reim and Veronica Lawlor.

The morning session of the workshop was all about image design and composition, and involved several exercises designed to test ideas rapidly.

After the workshop experience I completely adjusted my approach to this exercise and gave myself one-hour to complete the remaining thumbnails. The shift in approach can be clearly seen from page 6 onwards.

I selected three of the thumbnails to incorporate into an A2 image and develop further based around the word ‘designing’ being used to describe someone that is scheming and unscrupulous.


Drawing on lessons from the Mini Life Drawing Symposium, I spent several hours designing the images.


To bring life into the images and give me direction I added a sentence of dialogue that one of the unscrupulous characters would be delivering to the other: “We’ve looked weak to them ever since you cocked-up”.

This really helped me to imagine different scenarios and design the visual dynamics.

As well as using components from the original thumbnails I also experimented with additional props to help strengthen the narrative.

Using thumbnails to explore composition and narrative

The process of developing the thumbnails allowed the story to develop. With this number of alternative compositions I felt I has enough to narrow down further.

I created two further thumbnails to test out alternative layouts for the final image sequence.

I used the exercise to testing what I had learned from the afternoon session of the Mini Life Drawing Symposium, which was all about drawing expressive hands and faces to strengthen narrative.

Thumbnails testing two possible layout options for the final artwork

Visual style

The brief required the final images to be created at A2 size. This caused a quandary for me because my usual way of artworking a sequence of panels is to work on top of thumbnails, making a series of refinements on a lightbox until the final image is created – usually at an A3 size.

For this set of images I wanted to experiment with a more expressive/fluid visual style. I liked the feel of the thumbnails and was interested in trying to retain some of that spontaneity in the final artwork.

The previous evening I’d been experimenting with different media in a figure drawing class. The following image was a 20-minute pose that combines liquid watercolour, watercolour pencil and bamboo dip pen with Indian Ink.

What I like is the combination of line weights from the bamboo dip pen and watercolour pencils, and the washes of colour – albeit this would need to be toned down.

Importantly the drawing is A2, so I knew the approach worked at the right scale.

Life drawing reclining figure
20-minute figure drawing pose using liquid watercolour, watercolour pencil and bamboo dip pen with Indian Ink – A2 sized


I decided to work with a limited colour palette. I’d done a test for Assignment 3 – A graphic short story that I liked but never used so revisited this. The whole image was created using a total of 3 x liquid watercolours and 2 x watercolour pencils.

The following photographs show the development of the artwork at different stages.

Image development 01
Foreground lineart added using a bamboo dip pen and Indian Ink
Image development 02
The midground drawing added using a fountain pen with the initial layers of colour using liquid watercolour
Image development 03
The final layer of colour/definition added using watercolor pencils

Final artwork

The artwork was photographed (I can scan up to A3). The white boarder and black panel outlines were digitally enhanced to give stronger contrast, otherwise the artwork is ‘As Is’.

You made us look weak artwork
“We’ve looked weak to them ever since you cocked-up” – Liquid watercolour, Indian Ink, Watercolour pencils, A2 sized


  • It was interesting how I shifted gears part way through this exercise, from being precious and safe to rapid and creative.
  • I wanted to take my learnings from the Mini Life Drawing Symposium  and apply these in a different context, so spent more time and effort than I usually would considering and testing different designs.
  • I also tried a new approach for creating the final 3-panel artwork. My usual process is to start lose but then tighten up the design through a number of iterations. Tutor feedback from previous exercises has commented that sometimes the thumbnails are more successful than the finished work because working in iterations takes the spontaneity out of the images. I wanted to avoid this by working directly into the finished artwork using just analogue media.
  • The final artwork is a bit caught between two places. My original intention had been for the drawings to be loose with exaggerated facial features to help with the narrative. I drew the women character with the exaggerated eye and then the actual execution of the drawing was more conservative. I think my mistake was to draw the midground using a fountain pen rather than bamboo pen. For some reason this makes me tighten my drawing style.
  • Lesson – pay close attention to the tools of the job and make sure they match the intended outcome.
  • Question: How do I use this process in my future work?
  • Apart from the oversized eye, I think the final artwork is successful, particularly the composition – which was one of my objectives.
  • Using a limited colour palette worked well and created a consistent feel across the panels, and I like the way the watercolour pencil adds detail on top of the watercolour washes.


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