There’s something to be said for the way words and images compliment each other. They’ve been partners for thousands of years. In fact, some of the earliest writing was simply pictures. So, in a way, images gave birth to words.
I think that images can add another level of depth to a story or poem. For most of us, when we read something we immediately form an image in our mind of a character’s appearance, or what a setting looks like. Words are like different colors of paint, and they all come together to form a beautiful picture.
A great example of this comes from one of my inspirations, Shel Silverstein. He was a writer, poetry, songwriter, and illustrator. You may be familiar with some of his more popular works, The Giving Tree or Where the Sidewalk Ends. With both of these books, and most of his other output, Silverstein wrote all the content and drew all the illustrations. In Where the Sidewalk Ends, he illustrated each and every poem. They’re just simple line drawings, but they capture the essence of each poem so perfectly.
I’m always in awe of people with a talent for drawing and painting. I used to draw quite a bit, but I ended up focusing more on writing and let the sketch pad sit on a shelf and collect dust. I wasn’t bad at it, but I wasn’t that great. But that wasn’t why I let is slide. I simply wanted to spend more time with words than images.
Now that I’ve entered the self-publishing arena, I’m finding that my interest in visual arts is being rekindled. For my first short story collection I created the cover and had a blast doing it. I found a great photo with a creative commons license, then manipulated it to compliment the content of the book. I think it turned out to be the perfect cover. And because it was so much fun, I’m going to create the cover for my next collection.
Of course, it’s not just illustrations that compliment words, it’s also photography. One of the best short story collections I’ve read was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler, who was inspired by old photo postcards he found in second-hand stores. He’d read the cryptic messages on the back, examine the photos and images on the front, then write a short story.
I did something similar with an artist friend a year or so back. She and I would find random images, then we’d each have to create something based on that image. She’d draw or paint, I’d write, but we’d do it separately so we didn’t know what the other was creating. It was a fun exercise and we ended up with some fantastic output. In fact, on more than one occasion we both created something similar, where her image would match up with what I’d written. Artistic minds on the same wave length.
Words and images are like salt and pepper, bacon and eggs, beer and pretzels. They can stand alone, but they work much better when together.