Hey, do you have any tips on how to tell a story in one picture? Do you know of any exercises or anything that I could try? I want to create more intricate and 'deep' pieces, but I feel they always fall flat because I can't convey the story and emotions as I need to
Interesting question! How to convey a story in one pic!
The first thing to do, even before starting to sketch anything, is telling the story to yourself. Who is the main character? Is there any other character? What do they do? How do they interact with the main character(s)? In what environment? What is the mood of the story? Is it something “factual” (like a character falling from a bike for instance) or is it much more of an introspection piece? Picture it in your head. It’s the first step, if you can picture the image in your head, its composition, its mood, its colors, you’ve already done a lot.
you start laying your idea on the paper/PS canvas, you have to keep in mind the
things listed below. To help you understand, I’m gonna use one of my own
drawings that you can find HERE, without all the color guidelines. It shows a
missing scene from the movie Civil War: Bucky Barnes is on the run, in a small apartment in Bucharest, Romania.
composition and the lighting. When you look at this art, the first thing you
notice is Bucky and before you tell me “Yes,
but on the other hand, it’s the only character on the pic so it’s obvious!”,
I’m gonna tell you: NOPE. Your eyes are attracted to Bucky first (and not to
the fridge or something on the foreground) because thanks to the lighting and
the composition, he’s the main focus. You are looking where I wanted you to
look (*evil laugh*). The main light source is right above his head and the rest
of the artwork is in the shadow. The closer you are to Bucky, the lighter the
picture is. In addition, I surrounded Bucky with elements that create a kind of
circle around him (the cupboards, the fridge, the cushion on the sofa) so you
know that he’s the main element. However, this “circle” is suffocating, it’s
here to show how small and uncomfortable the apartment is. I created a circle
thanks to the lighting and the position of various items but you can also achieve
this in your artwork by playing with blurred elements on the foreground or the background.
It creates an interesting depth of field. Thanks to this kind of tricks you are telling the viewer what is the main focus
of your story but you also set the mood of the picture. I couldn’t see this
picture with a bright and flat lighting and or scene happening at daytime for instance, it
would have lacked this claustrophobic atmosphere.
2) The colors: the palette is going to set the mood of the picture alongside the shadows and highlights. On this pic, that I consider a sad picture because it’s a moment where Bucky remembers who he is and everything he did in the past, I went for a warm palette but I desaturated it a bit. If the colors were too bright, we would have lost a good part of the sad narrative in the pic. It’s also a subjective choice but I like warm palettes for introspective art.
3) The details hidden in the pic itself: The old wallpaper, the shitty apartment, the rotten walls, etc…it shows that Bucky is not in a happy environment. He’s not in cozy apartment in NYC, he’s not in a luxury hotel room, he’s in an old apartment in Romania, with the bare minimum. He’s still trying to figure out who he is and to gather details about his life (look at the fridge). However, some details are here to tell you about his daily routine and what he is doing: the grocery bag on the foreground with vegetables and fruits is here to show that he’s trying to eat healthily. The food above the fridge are Romanian snack bars so, even if life isn’t 200% great, he seems to enjoy little pleasures like junk food. However, his backpack with a gun right on top of it, is here to let you know that he doesn’t feel secure and that he’s ready to leave at any minute if the circumstances were not in his favor. Same with his clothes: they are convenient clothes (a Henley, a pair jeans, Timerberland/Dr Martens type of shoes), he’s not wearing them to be fashionable. Thanks to fashion and various accessories, you can show a lot about a character, look at this pic of Natasha for instance. She’s wearing Chanel earrings, you have Louboutin shoes and a “Birkin” bag at the back (I let you check the price of these items…). She is a sophisticated and elegant lady, she loves fashion, even the decoration of her apartment tells a story about her.
tiny details you can tell a lot about a character: blue circles under the eyes,
scars, clothes, messy or sophisticated haircut, etc…Think about that when you
draw your characters or even the environment they are in. The
devil story is in
4) Body language and expression of the characters: Is Bucky smiling? Does he have a cocky attitude? No, what you see here is a guy that is not looking at the camera. He’s exhausted, his shoulders are bent. You can feel he’s lost in his thoughts, which is normal because it’s an introspection piece. It’s also a full body shot: thanks to this way of framing the character and his body language I showed you how alone he is. He looks almost small, vulnerable (and god know Sebastian Stan was buff when he shot this scene). Does it mean that every drawing with a full body shot means that the character is alone and sad? No, of course but this particular framing coupled with a dark lighting, a brown desaturated palette, a character with this precise body language and face expression does. If you don’t know how to express body language properly, I recommend you this link: Body Language: An Artistic Writing Tool
All these elements are important, particularly the composition and the lighting. Remember what an absolute FAIL the “loss.jpg” image was. OMG, “loss.jpg “or how a picture supposed to depict a terrible and sad story (a miscarriage) became the internet’s laughing stock because the artist was unable to convey the right atmosphere. Read about it here, it’s very interesting.
are gonna tell your story through the composition, the lighting, the colors, the
setting (a cozy place conveys a different kind of story than a wide open
space), all the details in the pic that will show your viewers what kind of
characters (or places) we are dealing with, but also the body language of the
If you want more info, you can also read this article called:
18 tips for telling a story through an artwork
Hope it helped! Sorry if it was a bit long :)