Illustrate a Word

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Click to enlarge image Artists use a variety of materials to express themselves and to communicate ideas. There are many different types of artists, and one kind is an illustrator. This person usually makes pictures for books and magazines, and sometimes he or she creates work that will be used on commercial products such as greeting cards, wrapping paper, and calendars.

In order to sell goods, it's necessary to inform people about a company's product, so illustrators also work in the field of advertising. Besides making ads for magazines and newspapers, they help create television commercials. Advertisers know they have a short time to interest you in their products, whether you are looking at a printed ad or watching one on TV. To encourage you to buy their goods, they depend on illustrators and their creativity to attract your attention.

Think Like an Illustrator

You can get some idea of what it's like to think like this type of artist by creating illustrated words. In drawing, painting, or crafting such a word, you must ask yourself, "How can I make the word look like what it says or make it appear that it is doing what it says?"

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This is a good example of an illustrated word created by an artist.

Words which describe, such as adjectives, and those which show action, such as verbs, are good subjects for illustrated words. Other parts of speech that can be used include nouns, pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Click here to learn more about the parts of speech.

Illustrated words can be very simple. For example, to illustrate the word red, you could letter the word in red pencil, ink, or paint. To make the word sell look as if it's selling, you could change the letter "s" into a dollar sign, like this: $ell. On the other hand, you can present illustrated words in a less simple way. For instance, if you were illustrating the word metallic, you could cut block letters from a used, foil baking sheet and attach them to a background with staples.

Using an Artist's Language to Illustrate a Word

When someone creates the lyrics for a song or writes a poem or story, the person uses verbal language or the written word to express him or herself. Visual artists use nonverbal tools called art elements. In using these elements, artists are speaking in a language that is understood all over the world. No translation is needed!

The art elements that someone may use to create work are line, color, value, texture, shape, and form, and you can use one or more of these same elements to make an illustrated word. All you must do is ask yourself, "Which element or elements are important in illustrating this particular word? How can I use line, color, value, texture, shape, and/or form to make it "say" what it's doing or describing? How can I make it look like what it says it is?"

Suggested Words to Illustrate

The following are some words that you can illustrate. Of course, you're not limited to using these. If you can think of additional words that would be interesting and fun, use them, or look through a dictionary to find some.

allergy alien ballistics baptize bereave blockade blush capture celebrate clergyman decay decipher despair dough encore epicenter erode escape feline forgotten frenzy fugitive gradual gymnastics hiccup independent inferior jagged joust kindle knead leap melancholy money nature ostrich passage picket pierce pyrotechnics quantify relax relinquish reptile scholar secondhand sediment spontaneous thermometer uplifting voodoo vegetable weary wrestle word xylophone yolk yo-yo zany

You Will Need:

Materials will vary, depending on how you wish to illustrate your word, but some supplies that may be helpful include the following.

Polystyrene meat trays
Bottle caps
Fake fur
Aluminum foil
Junk mail
Grocery bags
Egg cartons
Calendar pictures
Gift wrap
Foam board
Greeting cards

Mat board
Wallpaper scraps

Other supplies and tools:


How to:

The word you choose should determine the material that will illustrate it in the best way. Some methods or art techniques you might use include drawing, painting, sculpting, weaving, or using collage or printmaking. If you need to attach materials to a background, consider using yarn, string, glue sticks, white glue, wire, brads, nails, staples, and screws.

It's possible that your word can be communicated by simply drawing or painting it onto paper or cardboard. However, there are many ways to make art, and you can use any material and method that will help you illustrate your word. Remember to think openly like an artist, and have fun with the word!

The Art Elements

Let's look at each of the elements that make up the language of art to see how we can use it in this activity. First you must decide whether or not a particular element is important in representing your word. You may discover that using just one element will be enough. On the other hand, you may find that combining two or more elements will do a better job of illustrating your word.
Click to enlarge imageLine is an extension or the lengthening of a dot. How can you change the length or width of a line to illustrate your word? Will making it straight, wavy, zigzag, curved, or dotted help?
Click to enlarge imageColor is a property of light, and we can use a glass prism to see that light is made of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo (dark blue) and violet. Warm colors are reds, yellows, and oranges, and cool colors are blues, greens, and purples (violets). Colors can make us feel a certain way. For example, warm colors are happy and energetic, while cool colors are relaxed and peaceful. What color is your word, or is color not important in illustrating it?
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Value is how light or dark something appears. Does making your word lighter or darker have an effect on how well you communicate what your word is trying to say?
Click to enlage imageTexture is how something feels when you touch it or how it looks like it might feel. Would making your word look smooth, slick, bumpy, or rough help your word tell people what it's saying?
Click to enlarge imageShapes result when lines are joined together. Some geometric shapes with which you are probably familiar include circles, triangles, squares, ovals, and rectangles. Irregular ones are known as organic shapes. How can you make the letters in your word take the shape of the object it represents?
Click to enlarge imageForm also has depth, while shape is flat, having only length and width. Since form has depth, we say that an object that has form is three-dimensional. Some common examples of forms are spheres, cones, cylinders, cubes, and pyramids. Will giving your word form make it easier to communicate your message?
Additional Ways to Illustrate a Word
Click to enlarge imageBesides using the art elements, there are other ways to change your word in order to illustrate it. Some of them include size, direction or slant, placement, height, width, and thickness. For example, you can stress size by printing the word small in tiny letters on a very little piece of paper.

Words are divided into syllables, and more importance is placed on some parts when pronouncing them. Perhaps you can ex-AG-ger-ate the emphasis.

How can you stretch, expand, narrow, break, bend, divide or multiply your word? Perhaps you can use patterned designs to illustrate it. Can you think of more ways to change words in order to get your message across in a quick but understandable way?
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Tips and Tricks:

Whenever possible, reuse materials such as magazines, pages from a wallpaper sample book or paper grocery bags to create your word. This will help save landfill space and the natural resources and energy needed to produce new art supplies.

To learn more about graphic design and other occupations in the field of art, visit the United States Department of Labor Web site.

When an artist creates something, the person can register the work with the government to protect his or her rights to the work. Visit the Visual Arts section of the United States Copyright Office to learn more.

© 2006 Marilyn J. Brackney

Volume 18 No. 3

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