Characterization in Art and Writing

I happen to be an artist as well as a writer. As I’ve grown in both areas, I’ve realized that there are similarities between the two arts. One of my favorite similarities is characterization.
Characterization is hands-down my favorite part of writing. And why wouldn’t it be? I get to make my own imaginary friends!
Characterization can be hard, though; sometimes we think we’re characterizing when in reality we’re merely describing.
Example:
Jace is a twenty-one-year-old woman. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. She is wearing a pink shirt with jeans. She likes history and cats and surfing the Internet. One day, her parents kick her out of the house.
Vs.
Jace is a twenty-one-year-old woman. She doesn’t go to college because of her severe social anxiety and depression. She lives in her parents’ basement with her three cats, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. She’s a YouTuber who is popular for her hilarious (yet somehow still informative) videos about the role legumes played in ancient conspiracies. Three framed pictures of Napoleon Bonaparte hang on her wall. There’s a picture of her crush from high school taped on her microwave. She makes her bed every day even though she’s the only one who ever sees her room. One day, her parents kicked her out of the house.
Why do you feel more connected to her in the second example? It’s because I focused on the things that make Jace Jace. Her pink shirt isn’t that important when it comes to understanding her character, but when you see that she named her three cats after characters from The Three Musketeers, Jace comes to life.
But what about in art? Take this picture, for example:
2017-02-25 22.21.41
I drew this using pencil and charcoal a few weeks ago. I often have a hard time putting exactly what’s in my head on the paper, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. The dude in the sketchbook bore an uncanny resemblance to the main character of my historical suspense novel, Andrè Valapart.
How?
It’s not easy. First, I had to make a mental checklist of Andrè’s most prominent characteristics. He’s schizophrenic (not a good thing in 16th-century Europe), so he’s got a lot going on in his head. He’s usually more annoyed at society than society is annoyed at him. He’s blunt. Introverted. Does mathematics in his spare time. Likes guns. The list goes on, but you get the idea. The real challenge is figuring out how to manifest those characteristics in a picture.
I started with his eyes.
20170113_214457
Why? Because visually, they’re the most important part of him. They characterize him. One of my characters says to Andrè when Andrè is in the process of telling a lie, “You have to be truthful with me. Your eyes give away everything. If anyone ever had the courage to look you in the eye, they’d see straight through you.” So I focused on the eyes first, trying to make them as intense as possible. After that, his jaw (a firm one to make him look determined), his scowl (to add a touch of rebellion), and his skin (pale as a symbol of how ostrasized he is from society). The combination (hopefully!) gives Andrè an interesting face.
So how do YOU characterize in writing and/or drawing? How do you think the two activities compare? Comment below; I can’t wait to hear from you 😀
-L

16 thoughts on “Characterization in Art and Writing

  1. Wow, amazing art.

    And yes, there is so much more to a character than their physical description. Even in romance (which is my chosen genre), I always like it better when the writer focuses more on the character rather than their exterior.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for the compliment! And I totally agree with you on that point. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to physical appearance, so it’s better when the writer focuses on personality. Thanks for reading! 😀

      Like

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