Reverse Illustration

For many years, the drawings and paintings I did were like illustrations for stories — but the stories didn’t exist yet. Many people asked me if I illustrated children’s books, and if the images were from a story. I had to say no, but one day I might write a story about them.

Now that I’m doing comics, I’m going back and looking at those old drawings and paintings in a different way. I think I really could tell their stories now, either in prose or comics form. So it’s kind of like illustration in reverse; crafting the story around the picture, instead of crafting the picture around the story.

Here’s an example of one of my reverse illustrations. The title is almost a story in itself: “They Came Singing”.

"They Came Singing" — pen and ink, watercolour, coloured pencil

“They Came Singing” — pen and ink, watercolour, coloured pencil

Who are those people in the boat? Why are they singing? What are they singing about? Why do they look as if they are made of wood? What does the bell do? Who are the figures in the forest? Are they ghosts, or do they just like wearing long white robes, and if so, how do they keep them so clean? what kind of lizard is that? Is it intelligent? What civilization produced the ruins beneath the lizard? How long ago? What fantasy world is this? Or is it science fiction?

These are the kinds of questions I have to answer before I can unravel the mystery of what this story is about. Since I drew it, I am well placed to do that — but I think it would be fun to find out what other people think it’s about, too! Sometimes cooperative storytelling can be fun.

So please comment if you’d like to suggest what the answers to these questions might be, and perhaps they will become part of the crafting of a story. (And yes, if I use your suggestion, you’ll get a mention in the credits!)

26 responses to “Reverse Illustration

  1. They are calling the white robed ones out of the forest, gathering them if you will. Singing promises of – ? They cannot resist the sound of the bell….

    I had an idea for a book long ago. I didn’t do the images, because like you, I didn’t know the story, just the overall plot (a journey). Maybe I just should try to make the illustrations to help myself and the story will come?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Thanks for starting the ball rolling!

      Now there are more questions, like what are they promising, and why can’t they resist the bell? Maybe someone else will unravel that part of the mystery.

      Yes — try making some images about what you have already, then ask questions about what is in the images — because other things will come into the pictures as you solidify your vision. Try it! I’d love to see the results, if you do, so let me know!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Another reason for not doing it, is that I don’t draw very well. 😉 large brushes and arms all over the place is my element! But I have so many ideas with figures in them, I’ll need to learn. I’ll be back in about 10-15 years? LOL (now, if only I’d begun practising 20 years ago I’d be good NOW. One of those lessons that really suck in hind sight)

        Liked by 1 person

        • You don’t need to draw “well” to put ideas down visually — just draw like you were a kid and don’t worry about things looking “real” — and enjoy it! While it’s true that if you’d picked up a skill (any skill) twenty years ago, you’d be better now, you can start anytime and get better from there. You might even be surprised that the other things you do have prepared you to learn that skill in a much shorter time than you think it would take!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I know, I’m such an overachiever AND lazy, the perfect recipe for getting nothing done. I’m trying hard to change that mindset! I read this great quote in a book that I want to remember: You were not afraid of crayons in kindergarten – why now?

            Liked by 1 person

            • I know, I’m the same way! My New Year’s Resolution this year was simply “cultivate good habits”. It’s working, too. My mantra these days is “discipline”.

              Great quote! And now I want to get out my crayons and play (do you use oil pastels? crayons for grownups, yum!)…

              Liked by 1 person

            • You have no idea how invigorating it is to have someone to say these things to, and to inspire me to get my A out of the chair and go do. Which I will, now!

              Liked by 1 person

            • Good for you! I have found this whole blog thing very motivating — a daily dose of interaction with people who are interested in the same things I am. It’s hard to work in isolation and remain motivated, no matter how many ideas I have.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe it’s the island of Avalon, and the three people in the boat are the ferrymen? One part of the boat is hidden, so you cannot tell if they bring someone over the waters. They ring the bell when they approach the beach, and then – mysteriously – they can land the boat and enter the island.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s good too. I can see some of these ideas will be mutually exclusive, but that’s OK — I’ll pick some, and then we’ll go on to the next stage. I may have to set up a sub-blog for this story line!


      • Yes, I have been eschewing sweets for a few weeks and just gave in to the urge to have some chocolate, though it wasn’t dark, rich, or organic. Oh, well . . . now I’m good for another couple of weeks, I hope. The idea is to break away gradually so I don’t feel pressured all at once. LOL


        • I definitely sensed a chocolate deprivation going on there! I don’t think I’ll make them chocolate in the story, because they would melt, but… it is an interesting idea! It would make a good commercial for a chocolate company!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not sure this story needs words, or even answers to the questions. The questions themselves are pretty interesting – let the reader answer them. Check out the new Book, “Journey” by Aaron Becker. It is beautiful, and so is your piece! Make more pieces simply by exploring the elements you have already planted for this world. Perhaps the Lizard is the reader’s guide through the mysterious world. Or some other character unseen in this picture. Whatever you end up doing it is a great start! I can’t wait to see where it goes!


    • Thanks, Steve! Another approach entirely, which would be really interesting to explore. I’ve only done one story so far that was wordless, and that was easy because it was about a cat! Someday I would like to do a whole book in pictures only.


  4. I like the thought of the mystery passenger. I say the bell keeps the water spirits from capsizing the boat. The butterfly is leading the singers to the place where the passenger will be offered as sacrifice to the mystery white ghosts of the forest. Celts?


    • Ah, a definite effect for the bell. And good, you spotted the butterfly! A sacrifice… a tithe? I think maybe not Celts, unless it’s Celts-in-Space. Or maybe druids.This is shaping up to be quite the story!


  5. For some reason I thought of this image the other day in the shower. What if those wooden people are in fact just that? Like the decoys that hunters use to lure ducks…. (and the butterfly is driving the thing, LOL)


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