Picturing Inspiration

Picturing Inspiration

Ruth E. Walker

A picture is, indeed, “worth a thousand words.” An excellent photograph offers the eye a doorway into imagination and emotion. We often use images in our workshops and retreats as prompts or to underscore an important point.

It’s always a matter of perspective — both the perspective taken in the framing of the photo or painting and the perspective of the viewer. We bring our experience, our baggage and our emotions to how we see what is before us.

Here’s a favourite of mine. The clever overlay of shadow and light draws the eye to the jumble of papers. I suppose it reminds me of my desk, often a sea of papers — mine and those of others I’m working on. The solitary blue pen invites me to pick it up. The touch of green prismed onto the papers is a subtle contrast to the snow outside the window.

So why else does this photograph appeal to me?

There’s a story here. These papers are a mix of note cards, graph paper and full scratch sheets. The different coloured ink and the variety of writing styles suggest that various hands have held these papers. And the script doesn’t look like it’s English on any of the papers.

And of course, the blank lined note card in the bottom left. Ready for…what?


There are secrets here

A group of papers that don’t seem to be someone’s journalling or manuscript could be plans or formulas. There are numbers, lists, notations in the margins.

The room is otherwise unlit with the only light arriving through the window. It begs the question: why take this photograph in particular? Was it a surreptious snapshot taken in the only light available because to turn on the lights otherwise might give away the photographer’s presence? Was the power out?

But for me, the big question is what are the slivers of green light from? We can’t see it. We can only guess at what it is. There’s no shadow of a shelf so it must be hanging there. Or is it hovering? I get lovely shivers thinking of ghosts or aliens.

Follow the questions

For writers, a great visual is one that triggers questions, emotions and ideas. Here’s a couple more to take a look at and see what they trigger for you.


There’s something about black and white photos, as in the one above. The eye needs to interpret a scene without the use of colour and with the use of shadows and light. What might be missed in a colour shot comes into stark relief with the absence of colour.

Immediately, my mind slipped back to my tour last year of the old Kingston Penitentiary. Two things continue strong in my memory from that historic place: the solitary confinement cells and the graffiti on the walls of almost every spot that held prisoners. Prisoner messages were everywhere. Rude. Full of misspelling. Poignant. Denoting territory. Despairing. And often just practical: Don’t plug in the toaster when the microwave is on.

The graffiti in this black and white photo makes me wonder if this is an homage, a snippet of poetry or a threat. Story gold, in my opinion. Message in a photo instead of in a bottle.

Conversely, colour excites other ideas and emotions in the viewer, especially in this photo with the dark twisty tree limbs that layer the forefront. Behind that “barrier” rests a bridge of possibility: red for excitement…or danger? A curved shape makes the first half an effort to climb and the last half an effort to keep from racing down.

See those leaves on the ground and the early yellows of late August or early September in the trees? What does autumn represent? Is this a bridge to “the other side” of life or a way to leave the past behind?

People who need people…are writers

Finally, here’s something just for you, writer. A story found in a face. Spend some time with this photograph and see where it takes you. Can you craft a postcard story (500-word maximum)? Can you see beyond the obvious and look deeper into this image, imagining the past, forecasting the future? Find one detail and follow that thread.

Image: Uki Eiri from Pixa
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Deadline: Midnight, Friday, June 5, 2020 (12:00 p.m. EST)

Prize: We’ll publish the best postcard story right here in Writescape’s The Top Drawer weekly blog, along with your bio and a friendly interview on what inspired your entry. Bragging rights!

Judges: Gwynn and Ruth. And we might invite one more judge to join us — someone to balance out the panel.

Open to writers age 16 or up at any stage of the writing process: published, unpublished or in between. Winner and runners up will be announced by June 30, 2020.

SUBMIT: by email to info@writescape.ca with your entry attached as a Word doc and in ms format (double spaced; 12 pt font Times New Roman or similar). Email Subject: Postcard Story Writescape

Just a note that many of our photographs come from pixabay.com with photos and graphics created by artists from all over the world. If you use Pixabay, it’s free of charge. Just remember to “buy a cup of coffee for the creators” by occasionally donating.

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