Welcome to the eleventh issue of The Featured Image newsletter, a place where writing meets art. As a reminder, the goal here is to add visual creativity to our work and gain inspiration from those already doing it.
There are some interviews I'm pretty pumped to share over the next few weeks. For anyone new, over on the site
there is a growing collection of interviews that dig into the process and tools of visual creators.
I've been blown away by the generosity and creativity of everyone I've talked to, and I can't wait to keep it going.
For today though, let's jump right to some creative juice about how easy it is to get started creating visually.
3 Secrets to Creating Your Own Visuals as a Writer
I think most writers put visuals into some kind of separate creative bucket. Writers craft words in one bucket. Artists craft images in another. Only the rare creative is able to do both.
I’m here to say that this is nonsense.
The truth is that it’s never been easier to create your own visuals as a writer. It’s also never been a better time. When I see some kind of original visual on a piece of content, it stands out like a beacon among a sea of bland stock photos.
For example, when I get my daily digest of interesting reads from Medium, I always click on pieces that look like it has a hand-crafted image, even if it’s dead simple. On the flip-side, I always ignore anything that uses stock photos that have been done a million times, like the silhouette of a person with their arms outstretched standing outside. The world really, really doesn't need any more of those.
In both cases, the image signals something about the content I’m about to read. I would rather read from the creator who views the images as an interesting extension of their thoughts, not as a necessary evil that should be dealt with in the most predictable way possible.
The goal of this is to encourage anyone who feels overwhelmed at the prospect of creating their own images. There are really three big secrets that I hope eases this unnecessary mental burden.
Secret #1: You don’t have to be an artist or designer
Just trace or copy something. You’re not a professional illustrator that was commissioned to create an original piece or art. You’re simply trying to communicate a point with an interesting visual. Don’t overthink it or put too much pressure on yourself. Take a picture of something and trace over it or copy any reference image from the internet as best you can.
Janis Ozalins makes fantastic simple visuals for Twitter, and here he explains how tracing over an image from a kids book helped him get started with an image.
Or simply follow a tutorial and you’ll be shocked how good it looks. I wanted to draw the Millennium Falcon for a blog post, and following this YouTube tutorial made my life way easier.
Add your personality to your writing via simple visuals. It really doesn’t have to look like you have an MFA.
Even if you start with a stock photo that is free to alter, adding or removing something from it can make it infinitely more interesting.
Secret #2: You don’t need to spend any money
You would be amazed at what you can accomplish in the free version of Canva. You can make simple banner images or even diagrams. Sathya makes his distinct yellow visuals using Canva.
Figma is a free browser-based vector tool that is extremely powerful. It takes a little getting used to if you’ve never created something with a keyboard and mouse, but once you can the hang of it you’ll only be limited by your creativity. Look through all of Craig Burgess’s visual Twitter account for examples of what is possible.
Plenty of creators use plain ‘ol pen and paper and scan the image or take a picture with their phone. Scott H Young is a popular author who uses pen and crayon on paper. Randall Munroe from xkcd also still uses pen and paper.
One thing you’ll discover is that with all the tools out there, it’s actually nice to have a constraint to start with. If you pick any of the above and use only that for a few weeks, you’ll have much less analysis paralysis for how you should go about creating something.
Secret #3: There are unlimited ways you could go with it.
Even within the world of simple visuals, there are so many ways you could go with it.
You could draw stick figure comics like xkcd mentioned above or Tim Urban does with Wait But Why.
You could make hand-drawn pie charts like Anne Friedman or sketch simple charts like Ben Thompson.
Or you could even use stock photos as a starting point to draw your own creation like Jessica Jungton does.
Try making sketches in a notebook and combine them with words. You’ll quickly be on your way to sketchnoting like Chad Moore.
Most of these are things that anyone can start doing on day one. And it’s completely ok to start by ripping off someone else’s style. The more you do it, the more your own style and preferences will start surfacing.
Don’t put pressure on yourself. Just experiment for months or even over a year to see what feels right.
The biggest key to all these secrets is that you, right now, have the skills to make something visually interesting for the next thing you write.
More links to spark creativity:
mentioned above just launched his book called The Yellow Visuals
. It's a great collection of quotes and visuals that is very much worth checking out.
(previously featured in this newsletter
) was on The Brandon Zhang show
, and it was a really fantastic conversation about creativity and making visuals. I really loved how much Salman appreciates Elizabeth Gilbert's work on creativity. Gilbert has one of my absolute favorite quotes: "Don't follow your passion, follow your curiosity."
Some great resources pointed to in this reddit thread
Ok, that's it for this week. Back to more interviews shortly! Be sure to create something cool and share it with someone.
Twitter | The Featured Image site