Norman Rockwell allegedly once said: "If a picture's not going well, put a dog in it." Obviously this is very bad advice, especially for those of us who aren't that good at drawing dogs. But if he had said, "If a picture's not going well, write words over it." that would have been excellent advice, since words can definitely improve how a picture looks. At least in my opinion. Read on...
To be honest, I think that's why I started writing on the drawings and paintings I make, simply because I thought that pictures look better with writing on them. Even a painting that already looks fantastic just as it is, like Rembrandt’s "King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy", would look good with words written on it. It would just look good in a different way.
I think scribbled childish writing looks particularly good, but a nice cursive script works too.
Another good thing about words is that they mean things, obviously. And often a lot of different things at once. One thing I particularly like about putting words in a picture is that they then tend to do the opposite of what words are supposed to, which is clear things up and communicate a nice tidy meaning. Combined with images they can suggest lot of possible meanings, without actually dictating one specific meaning. When it works well it can produce a kind of visceral, intuitive communication that images or text alone might not.
That may be because using text creates two images – the actual physical image of the letters that make up the words, and also the image their meaning creates in the reader’s head.
The combination of words and picture therefore adds a whole new dimension and a greater complexity – especially when it comes to humor, which is very important in my work, and is very hard to achieve satisfactorily using only visual imagery.
Obviously that means that you have to consider very carefully the words you incorporate in a picture.
So where do the words in my pictures come from? Well there’s no one answer to that.
They come from pretty much everywhere and anywhere; overheard conversations, misread quotations, bastardized marketing slogans, confusing, badly written instructions.
And very often they just pop into my head from who-knows-where while I'm staring vacantly into the middle distance.
Sometimes they are fully formed, sometimes they are just a half-idea that I have to work out more fully.
Often they don't make a lot of sense. But there's just something about a phrase – about the way the words go together that just grabs my attention – it just seems right. It’s a bit like the way notes go together to form a piece of music.
Sometimes I just read something, a sentence, or part of one or whatever, and it's like I recognize an image in it. I can kind of see the idea, and go "Oh, there's my picture."