Visualizing Text

By Wolf, Brenda | School Arts, December 1999 | Go to article overview
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Visualizing Text

Wolf, Brenda, School Arts

Illustrating a Class Book

"You have all been hired for an exciting job by Parkville Books, Inc. I'm you art director, and you are going to be creating illustrations for the classic book Call of of the Wild."

Thus began the first of my four classes with a group of seventh graders.

I had been asked to design and teach an interdisciplinary unit exploring connections between art and literature. In English class they were reading Jack London's Call of the Wild. This gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with the story, and it gave the students a chance to connect with it visually by seeing the story unfold, first in their mind's eye, and later as an illustrated book.

I wanted the problem I presented to involve individual as well as collaborative efforts. The solution was to make illustrations of Call of the Wild where each student was responsible for a few lines of the story. The illustrations would come together as a book when we were finished.

I made a book with an illustration as an example to help students understand where we were heading. From this example, I had them deduce the steps I used to arrive at the solution. During subsequent classes we journeyed together along these steps toward various unique, thoughtful, and wonderful results.


Every student was assigned a passage from Call of the Wild to illustrate. The passages were evenly spaced so that we would cover the entire book.

Looking at the Work of Other Artists

I had the students look at a number of illustrations done by various artists in order to gain inspiration. The illustrations had examples of various points of view, elaborate borders, various placements of text, and symbolic or stylized representations of animals. I included the latter because I wanted my illustrators to know they could be successful without drawing realistically.

Freezing a Moment in Time

The students selected a particular action or event from their passage on which to focus. They visualized the passage, determining what they would depict to convey the meaning of the words.

Brainstorming for Ideas

I gave my budding illustrators some descriptive written work so that they would elaborate on the scene they were illustrating. This not only helped the students get a clearer idea of what they were going to draw, but helped me know as well so I could help them find ways to solve their representational problems. I introduced thumbnail sketches as a means to visually brainstorm various compositions. By the end of our first day, everyone had a good idea of where they were going.

Transferring Thumbnail Sketches

In the beginning of our second class, I gave everyone a 7 x 8 1/2" (18 x 22 cm) piece of tagboard. These dimensions were deliberately chosen to be half the size of legal paper. I also gave them some sheets with pictures of dogs and wolves in various positions to refer to as they worked in greater detail.

The seventh graders measured off some space for the binding, and some chose to include a border around their picture.

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Visualizing Text


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