Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to How-To: Part 5a - Combining Art with Text

When integrated correctly, art enhances the text, and text illustrates the art. Working together, art and text become one dynamic duo.

Have you ever tried to explain something to another person and, after several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts, said, “Let me draw you a picture”?, and suddenly the proverbial light went on?

Can you remember one illustration from a beloved childhood storybook that still evokes the essence of the story?
When you ask for driving directions, do you prefer the text, the map, or both?
Art can be a powerful enhancement and learning tool for your readers. This post explains how to combine art and text to add value to your words and help your readers easily grasp what you want to convey.
Strolling through the gallery
You can use several types of art in your text, and each type serves a particular purpose. Here are some of the most common types of art and the best places to use them.
  • Photographs provide readers with accurate depictions of people, places, things, and events. When you include a photograph, be sure to identify it correctly, either in the surrounding text or in the caption. Spell the names of people and places correctly and, if appropriate, include dates and other important facts.
Marilyn at the beach
  • Screenshots appear liberally in software user guides to show readers the state of a computer screen during a process or task. As readers follow the steps, they can compare their computer screen with the screen shot in the user guide to see if they’re doing the task correctly. If they aren’t, they can correct the error before getting into more trouble. You can use a full screen shot, or crop the file to highlight a particular portion of the screen. Place screen shots where readers will need to see them—not too early and not too late in the steps. To help readers fully understand the point of a screen shot, use callouts, a caption, or both.

Your chart now looks like this
  • An architectural drawing provides an accurate, detailed rendition of an actual item. (Think of a drawing of a computer, or a dresser or table after assembly.) Unlike a photograph, which shows everything about the item, an architectural drawing highlights only the parts your readers need to be concerned with. To increase the drawing’s usefulness, include callouts, a caption, or both with an architectural drawing.

A relic: VCR
  • Conceptual art illustrates an idea or concept and can take many different forms. Often, concept art distills a complex idea, concept, task, or process into a simple, graphical metaphor that readers can grasp immediately. It can be a spare, single drawing of an idea, or a combination of photographs and architectural drawings that together explain an entire process.
Here’s an example of conceptual art illustrating the evaporation-precipitation cycle:

Notice how the conceptual drawing in the following example emphasizes the information about making meatballs:

Measure one rounded tablespoon of the meatball mixture for each meatball.

This conceptual drawing illustrates how ideas are sparked:
  • Blow-out diagrams area type of conceptual art that shows how something (such as a picture frame) is assembled. These drawings get their name from the exaggerated amount of space shown between each part—as if they’ve been “blown out” or “blown apart” from each other. Readers can study a blow-out diagram and understand how the various parts, including hardware, fit together.

  • Decorative art often appears in gift books and books for younger readers. Decorative art breaks up chunks of text and complements and enhances a book’s theme or personality. Hearts, flowers, birds, butterflies, stars, crosses, shapes, festoons, and patterns are just a few examples of decorative art.
Next time, I'll show you how to use callouts and captions with your art, and give you more tips for using art with your text. Until then, happy sketching!

Copyright ©2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

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