Blog / 2019 / A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

November 11, 2019

I know that’s the saying, but it’s always seemed a little silly to me. How can you compare two things that are so different?

Written words and images are both visual, of course, and they’re both made by people for the purpose of communication. But the differences run so much deeper.

Words tend to give the impression of specificity, with a dictionary to back up your interpretations. Meanwhile, pictures almost never convey just one thing. Even a hyperrealistic painting that depicts its subject precisely leaves you wondering about meaning. Why did the artist make this image in particular? What were they trying to say with their choice of subject, lighting, and composition? There is so much left unspecified with a picture.

The push and pull of text versus images is something I’ve talked about a lot over the years, lamenting the way words take over and celebrating the ascendancy of images, while also musing about effect of the artist’s own words on their work. And the play of pictures and words is very much on my mind as I start to think about embedding first names directly into the paintings for my ABC book.

painting an angelfish
November 9

I want the names to be legible, but not to take away from the image. I’m struggling with determining the right moment to introduce the names into the painting process.

Too early and the image is still shifting too much because I don’t plan my compositions that carefully. (In the image above, I didn’t know there would be coral in the background when I started, and once I landed on painting a sea fan I had a bit of a freak out about how to actually do it.)

Too late and the names will appear to be laid on top of the brushstrokes, not integrated enough into the image.

And then there’s the question of how large and how noticeable to make the names. I know I’ll eventually figure it all out, but, as with anything new in my painting practice, there is a good deal of mulling things over before I put brush to panel.

LBI artist Gwenn Seemel’s studio
November 9

I’ll tell you what though, when I’m working intensely on a project like this one, every word I read is precious to me—each one worth at least a thousand images! I devour audio books as I paint and, when I’m not working, I love nothing more than to relax with a book. In my world, reading makes painting possible.

Here’s what I’ve finished since my last alphabet book post:

  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L Sánchez

    This YA novel touches on so many important topics: everything from mental health and violence to sexuality and what it means to be an American. It’s sad and hopeful, angsty and sweet.

  • Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson

    This is the robot apocalypse told as if robots care deeply about humans and the earth. It’s an exploration of the strange symbiotic relationship we already maintain with our technology and of where that connection might take us. Robopocalypse is a richly layered and beautifully written story. It’s my favorite of the four books described here.

  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer

    Fun and fantastical, this is one of those stories that keeps me painting just so I can hear how the chapter ends. When I got to the final few minutes of the audiobook, I realized that the story wasn’t really complete, and that Cinder must be part of a series. Cue: happy dance!

  • Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird by Katie Fallon

    I skimmed this book in places because it talked a lot about caring for injured vultures, but the parts I read I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the author’s way of talking about vultures as being beyond the kill-or-be-killed mentality, and the turkey vulture’s role as a kind of gentle recycler is something to aspire to. The chapter about vultures in Virginia and the odious practice of murdering birds and hanging their corpses in trees made me want to puke—much like turkey vultures do in self-defense.

UPDATE

November 18, 2018

I have added the names to one painting now, and I am feeling a lot better about the whole process!

UPDATE

June 24, 2020

Baby Sees ABCs is out and available here! You can see all the illustrations from the book in this online gallery.


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