How to Use The Power Of Words To Paint Pictures

use words to create art

We can use words to provide a mental visualization as well as to paint pictures. Mental visualization is achieved by creating a great depth of description that allows the listener to immerse themselves. On the other hand, painting pictures can be done by obtaining inspiration or by forming different interpretations, as the article covers.

We will examine how words are used to paint pictures from two perspectives. First, we will cover how to use the power of words to paint mental pictures, i.e., how you can allow the audience to visualize a situation or the content of your speech through words. This is important because having an audience visualize your words leaves a lasting impact. Next, we will move on to how to use the power of words to paint pictures. 

How To Use The Power Of Words To Paint Mental Pictures

We can do this by using descriptive sensory words, using all relevant senses, providing vivid context, using action words, and using metaphors.

Words are tools that we use to convey meaning. When done skillfully, words can be descriptive enough to elicit a visual image that provides a profound experience to the readers or listeners. 

Related: Interested in storytelling? Check out this article to learn about some approaches.

Here are a bunch of things you could do for painting mental pictures:

Use Words That Provide A Sensory Description In Sufficient Detail

The words should provide enough depth and specificity for the reader to be able to imagine it. E.g., instead of “a scary forest,” you would need to add details that help visualize it, and the reader discovers if it’s scary themselves, “the moonlight shone through the dense, gnarled branches of the foreboding forest, casting eerie shadows that whispered of unseen dangers lurking within.” 

Use this rule almost indiscriminately. Instead of just remarking how things are using ambiguous words like “beautiful”, “astonishing”, “sad”, etc use words that describe these sensorily. People especially appreciate emotions being described this way rather than intricate contextual details.

Use All Relevant Senses

Words have the potential to include all the senses- hearing, smell, taste, vision, and touch. E.g., “As we entered, we could feel the silence creeping on our skin. My companion reported smelling an unfamiliar scent that seemed to be aimed at relaxing us into comfort, in complete contrast to our ghastly surroundings that reeked of discomfort.”

There is no need to force all the senses; only those that you feel can remarkably highlight the main things a person would naturally feel in that scenario.

Provide Vivid Context

Imagine what you would observe when in that place yourself. Then recreate it through words. Not only does this require great observation, it also requires a vocabulary that can match it.

E.g., “It wasn’t long until we came by a cave. Nested within this ominous forest, it appeared neglected and darker still- warning us of the dangers within. The entrance was narrow because Edward had to bend.”

Use Action Words

Action words are those that indicate what the character is doing. You may vividly describe the context and surroundings and yet fail to say what the character is doing. However, this is a crucial part. The character cannot just be doing nothing while everything unfolds. They will have their reactions- emotional and physical. They might even go through a process of deliberation. Feel free to bring that out.

Use Metaphors

Metaphors can encompass a lot of visual value in a text. E.g., “The city streets were a pulsating river of humanity, each person a rushing current, converging and diverging in a chaotic symphony of urban life.” We often use these in daily life as well, e.g., “You’re on thin ice.” They’re great choices in almost any circumstance.

Few tips that could help you in being able to do all this:

  1. Observe and engage your senses whenever you can. If possible, experience the setting you’re describing by yourself and make a note of what all you felt as the character(s) in your story would.
  2. Build your vocabulary by learning new words when you come across them, look up synonyms, and be curious about alternate ways to describe what you have in mind.
  3. Read descriptive texts or listen to descriptive speakers to get an idea about how others achieve it. 
  4. Make a practice of imagining when you’re reading and listening. If you’re unable to visualize something, be curious about what the author could have added to make it possible.

Here’s an example:

How To Use The Power Of Words To Paint Pictures

This can go two ways- either through inspiration or through providing different interpretations of an image.

Using The Power Of Words To Allow For Inspiration To Paint

Words can be a great inspiration to paint pictures, as history has shown us. Many great minds have read something which urged them to paint what they felt or imagined.

A few famous artworks inspired by words are:

  1. Guernica” by Pablo Picasso acted as a visual representation after being inspired by the poem of the same name written by Spanish poet Juan Larrea. It was a response to the bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. 
  2. Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting “The Starry Night” was influenced by both his own life and his perception of the night sky, as it is shown in his friend Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name.
  3. In Salvador Dali’s “Metamorphosis of Narcissus“, both Ovid’s poetry “Metamorphoses” and the Narcissus myth served as inspiration for the painting.

Creative minds tend to be inspired to express what they have read or heard through art. This, too, is a characteristic that can be cultivated the more we try to visualize the words we come across in our everyday life. So next time when you hear something inspiring, wonder what a painting of it would look like. It can be abstract or concrete; the form doesn’t matter. It’s your unique representation of it that holds meaning to you.

Related: ever wonder how public speaking can be useful in everyday life? Check this article out.

Using The Power Of Words To Paint Different Meanings Of A Picture

Describe through multiple viewpoints.

Different elements of a picture may be emphasized to provide entirely different interpretations. One could focus, for example, on the worry-free life of a teenager. On the other hand, one could also focus on the naivety of the individual who is unaware of what’s to come. 

Modulate the tone through vocabulary.

You can elicit a variety of feelings and reactions by picking particular adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. E.g., an empty garden can be described as lonely or peaceful, depending on the tone you would like to express.

Use different narratives.

Imagine a story around the picture and describe its various features to create a narrative that provides differing meanings. E.g., a person who looks very tense while running could be used in a story of a robber who is vicious and finds it thrilling to steal. The narrative could also be concocted with the focus of the robber as a filial son who steals the medicine from the pharmacy, which refuses to sell it at a reasonable price.

Using Art To Allow Different Interpretations

Abstract paintings tend to offer many different perspectives or meanings. You may create various elements that can be interpreted to mean different things if your purpose is to provide ambiguity. You can use elements that provide contrasting possibilities, i.e., there is no clarity on whether it is one or the other. E.g., look at the picture below.

using art for different interpretations

The person may be the father, holding up his daughter to take her someplace away from the dark forest. He appears caring, trying to hold her as gently as he can.

The person may be a stranger trying to figure out who her parents are. He looks full of thoughts, perhaps wondering what he can do next to help her.

The person may be a kidnapper, taking the child away from her parents. He looks emotionless.

Many more such interpretations can be obtained.


We covered how we can use the power of words to create a mental picture. We also covered how we can be inspired by words and provide different interpretations using them. Lastly, we considered how art can be ambiguous. We hope that by reading this article, you have a good idea as to how words can be used to paint pictures.

Using the power of words involves public speaking. Do check out coaching if you’re interested!

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