Monday, 17 February 2014

Character from Portraits: The Young Man in Hat

 Painted by Laura Knight

Building fresh original characters from portraits is another way to add creative play to your writing process

As I have said here ad infinitum, observation is the key to good writing. As novelists in search of fresh, original characters we keep our eyes and minds open and observe people everywhere we go..It is important that we observed  strangers so that we may instantly add our own imagination and insight to what we see on the surface.

One good way to tackle this in a steadier, more focused fashion is to apply this method to observing great portraits - building character from portraits.

Here we add our imagination not only to  artist's observant eye but also her or his interior interpretation of a living human being.

On this page are two portraits of living beings.

It is important just to look and look  at the portraits. Use you eyes, your imagination and your mind. Don't check on the artist or on  her method. Don't consider the sitter's identity.

Just look at these portraits with your mind and your imagination. What do you see? How can you incorporate them into our imagination so that they emerge as an original character to walk into your novel.  Remember this is not an art-crit session, It is a writing session.

 Painted by Isidore Kaufmann

 How best to do this?

Take one portrait at a time and  write down answers to the following  the twenty questions - deal with each portrait separately No more that two lines for each answer.

  1.  What is the sitter called? First and second name please?
  2. Why is the sitter dressed in this way?
  3. Where is the sitters going  next after the business of the portrait is over?
  4.  What is the sitter  thinking/at this  minute?
  5. What is the sitter's greatest quality?
  6. What is the sitter's greatest weakness?
  7. Why are they having their portrait painted?
  8. How does the sitter speak?What is his/her tone of voice?
  9. What kind of houses do the sitters live in?
  10. What can they smell here in the studio? 
  11. What do they smell as they walk through their own door?
  12. Whom in their life do they love the most?
  13. Whom do they rather dislike?
  14. What os their favourite season?
  15. What is their favourite place?
  16. What is thier long held secret.
  17. Whom do thye most fear in life/
  18. What is the greatest risk they have ever taken?
  19. How do they see themselves?
  20. Make a list f the colours you see in ech portrait. 

What have you done? You have used the power of your imagination to invent their lives.

Congratulations ! Now,  springing from your notebook will be fresh characters who will move around in your own imagination of their free will and will add surprises and fresh energy to your novel. You have built fresh new characters from portaits by great artists. And there are so many out there...

Happy writing! wx


  1. Hi Wendy,

    This is fantastic. I can't wait to work on it. It will really nurture the imagination and enable us to look more carefully and think about new characters and their many facets. Thank you so much for the detailed questions and the lovely portraits. You support us all the time.

    1. Hello Geri
      Thank you for your generous comment. I hope your writing is going well and you are keeping cheerful, wx



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