Tuesday, August 2, 2011


by Ginger Nielson

People like to say, "One picture is worth a thousand words."

But, words themselves are extremely important and the right words can make a huge impact in an illustration.

Think for a minute about these words, while you say them out loud:
fissle, crinkle, swish, crunch, jangle, snuffle, sputter, clink

Don't they create the most interesting images or thoughts as you say them, or just read them? A couple of those actually make me want a cookie and an iced tea.

Let's add, Fluffy, Plush, Spongy, and Silky.


Slimy, slippery, rubbery or twitchy.

They are amazing words to pronounce and to visualize. They have the power to create imaginative thoughts for the reader that may even go beyond their original purpose.  Words can invoke fear, smell, taste, sound, calm and chaos.

Because many artists write picture books as well as illustrate them I am always conscious of how much the right word in the right place can make a difference.  Some authors have a gift for choosing just the right word to plug a bit of excitement or drama into a sentence. When that happens words and pictures go hand in hand creating a magical world all their own.

If an elephant is simply “walking” through a jungle, you can just imagine how much more exciting it could be if the elephant “crashed” through the overgrown bushes, thorns and all and came to a screeching halt in front of a stupefied photographer terrified of the outcome.

Imagine walking into a room that reeks of something foul, moldy, musty, malodorous,rancid or mildewed.  We might want to walk right out, but the author gets the point across. You only have to turn the page to find out why the room smells like that.  Maybe you will be squinting at some scaly object that needs closer inspection.  Is it nubby? scratchy? can it sting?

Does the character have a problem with some new clothes?  Are they chafing, irritating, gritty?  Do they make the character shiver, tingle, prickle, twitch or wince?

The words that an author uses often dictate the illustrations an artist creates. If the words are simple, bland and predictable, the illustrations will emerge as bland and boring.  Just imagine the difference between "look" and "scrutinize."  Two very different images arise, at least in my mind.

When an author takes the time to search for great words that give a reader a sense of time and place and action the reader enters into the world the writer has created.

 In the same way an artist tries to create action, emotion, suspense and sometimes mystery in his or her illustrations. Words, pictures, readers -- they go hand in hand.

Every once in a while I get stuck looking for the perfect word.
I began by searching the internet for “quiet words.” I needed the perfect balance for a line to accompany this image.  Creative writing would include words such as: noiseless, silent, hushed, still, calm, peaceful, tranquil,silent, still.

 I decided the word I needed was simply -- peaceful.

I like to think that one word is worth a thousand pictures.


  1. That was so cool, all those great words! And you are so right, too. The words are the illustrator's food.

  2. Great article, Ginger, for writers and illustrators.


  3. Thumbs up, Ginger. I love the examples you give, especially between a look and scrutinze. *wink*


  4. Loved the words and examples, Ginger. As an author/illustrator, you're the perfect person to write this piece because you know "both sides" of the word. Terrific article. Thank you!

  5. Great post, Ginger!

    Mark Twain also wrote about the importance of the 'right' word:

    "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."