Image Play: Using Pictures to Write by LA Bourgeois

Image Play: Using Pictures to Write by LA BourgeoisLet’s welcome back LA Bourgeois as she shares with us “Image Play: Using Pictures to Write.” Enjoy!


Many seasons ago, when George Michael sang that I had to have “Faith,” I ventured onto a college campus for the first time.

Fresh from the backwaters of the Arkansas Delta, my eyes and mind expanded with each new experience. During this time, my art history professor handed down an assignment, a classic that stuck with me over the years, Image Play.

Her version sent us to the Denver Art Museum to study their Asian collection. We were charged with looking at an item, making notes, and then writing up the story of it without any further research.

As I recall, I turned in an essay that imagined dancing with the figures parading around a pot, adventuring with dragons, and floating on clouds.

Since those days, Image Play continues to serve my creative writing. Whether finding inspiration for a story, enhancing my descriptive skills, or helping me uncover the nature of a character, this exercise unveils the secrets hidden within my imagination.

How Image Play Inspires New Stories

A provocative image can push you to new heights of imagination.

sharing a ghost story over their spinning wheels and needlework

Look at these ladies, sharing a ghost story over their spinning wheels and needlework. 

  • What is the story the central girl is relating? 
  • Is the woman behind her a ghost? 
  • What’s up with those crazy hats?

Leaping into the story of an image jumpstarts your mind.

The artist has already selected this moment, the exciting point of the tale. 

Your writing takes advantage of their work and picks up from where the visual artist left off.

How Image Play Can Enhance Your Descriptions

Perhaps your descriptive skills need brushing up.

antique Japanese screens

These antique Japanese screens depict a graceful scene in nature and are abundant with subtleties. Describe the scene in detail.

  • Are those mountains in the distance majestic or cozy? 
  • Are the branches of the pine tree frothy or fuzzy? 
  • What sort of ducks populate the lower right corner? 
  • What colors make up the peacock’s tail?

Use an image to enhance your descriptive skills and hone that tool in your writing work bucket. 

This particular image is sparse, but you can also find pictures dense with color and objects.

Once you’ve gone in-depth with this exercise, move to your regular work and see how you’ve expanded your field of vision in each scene.

How Image Play Can Create a Character

As we write our novels, we all end up with a character or two who feel more like they’re part of the background rather than full members of our cast. 

However, our writing benefits from developing every character, giving them interesting backgrounds and definitive characteristics. 

After all, you never know when a character will go rogue and push themselves to the forefront of your story!

To help create a more fully-fledged character, find an image that evokes the person you are creating. 

"Housewife canning, Dalworthington Gardens, Texas" New York Public Library Digital CollectionsFor example: let’s say I’m writing about a housewife.


  • Who is she? 
  • Why is she canning? 
  • How did she pick her outfit? 
  • What does the decor of the room say about her? 
  • She has a slightly impish smile to me. Is she flirting with the photographer as she pickles?

With an image, you instantly access your character. 

By allowing your imagination to run free across these artistic representations, people come alive under your pen.

Where to Find Pictures for Image Play

I found these images through the free service Museo, which serves up copyright-free images from around the world.

However, as long as you aren’t publishing the images, you can use whichever ones you choose. 

Delve into an artist’s portfolio, visit your local art museum, drop by galleries, and search through your personal photo albums. 

One of my very favorite places to find these inspiring pictures is in those large coffee table books that we never read.

Using images can enhance and inspire your writing, and finding those images can be a fun artist date! 

Take some time and find a picture to inspire your creativity today.



LA BourgeoisLA (as in tra-la-la) Bourgeois supports writers, makers, and other creatives in growing their creative businesses and breaking away from their day jobs.

As a creativity & business coach, she believes that exploring your creativity invites joy into your life, embracing your creativity infuses your life with joy, and manifesting your creativity gives you a joyous purpose. Writing and knitting are her non-negotiable mediums, and she can usually be found with a pen or knitting needles in her hands.

Find her free guide, Tricking Yourself into a Creative Habit online at and start writing those words today. She can’t wait to read them!

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