Telling a Story

Soused Mouse by Meg Lyman

9×12 gouache on Bristol


During my humbling “art-reaming” at Dragon*Con, I was given the same advice by several great artists: Tell a Story. Doesn’t matter if it’s an illustration or fine art or just a character pinup – it’ll be much more interesting and successful if it tells a story.

Tommy Castillo gave me a great set of guidelines to help with storytelling. Once you get an idea, ask yourself these questions:

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Sitting down and writing out even quick, one-sentence answers to these helps immensely. The first four are pretty easy; usually you’ll have those answers in mind when you originally have the idea. The last two, however, can be tough. Those are the important ones. They can turn a viewer’s attitude from “So what?” to “Oh, that’s GREAT!”

I have about a zillion doodles in my sketchbook that I intend to turn into paintings. The first project I undertook after Dragon*Con started with this doodle:

Originally, I was going to ink and color him as-is. But after D*C, I answered those questions. I gave him a story. Instead of just an inebriated rodent, he became a drunk sot having trouble making his way back to his apartment after a late night out. The resulting painting was quick and messy, but I love it, because it tells a story. That makes it much more successful.

I highly recommend giving it a try next time you’re arting something from your imagination.

14 thoughts on “Telling a Story”

  1. The little puddle of brew under his foot tells the story. I love the subtle colors, and the street light reflecting on his fur. Nice work!

  2. This is fantastic Meg! I love the expression on his face and his fumbled beer say it all. I had to chuckle when I saw this one, great work!

  3. Wow! Great storytelling. I’ve actually been thinking about the same thought: telling a story. It seems like all the artists that I admire the most do work that tells stories.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Thanks, Casey. I can’t write worth a damn but I love telling stories with pictures. :D

    Lisa, thanks. I’m glad you like the lighting. I found it way more fun to colored light than white.

    Rita, I’m thrilled to make you laugh. Thanks!

    Kasie, thank you. You’re right about those excellent artists, although before I learned this lesson, the fact that they’re such great storytellers never even occurred to me!

  5. Well I guess lol the mice that were in my shed must have been drinking cause they all found them selves as trap sandwiches. ;)

    Oh and yeah, art that tells stories not to mention a good eye flow, is always good advice.

  6. Tigress, I bet if you left beer out for them they’d pass out on the floor and you wouldn’t need the traps. ;D

    You’re right about the eye flow. I find that in progressing my art abilities, I can only work on one thing at a time. Once I get the storytelling down, I’ll work on flow, composition, anatomy, line… the list goes on! Sometimes it seems impossibly daunting…

  7. Now thats what I like. Great job Meg. Great advice those guys gave ya. seems to be working! Don’t worry about the daunting aspect of it all just look at it as a path full of new treats you pick up on the way. Every now and again just look back and you will be amazed.
    Again I tip my hat to ya and hoist a fine ale in salute to you.

  8. Thank you, John! Those guys really did give great advice. Sometimes overwhelming, but I’ll store it all for later. :D

    Hear, hear!

  9. I don’t know if it is intentional, but when I first saw this (following the link from the 17th) my thought was that this is a sad, unhappy lil guy with a tummy ache from drinking too much. Almost like he has been trying to drink away his troubles but they are still there and he doesn’t feel the better for the effort, which is why he let his latest beer fall. Seeing the preliminary sketch, and the much larger grin, I realize he is supposed to have a smile there, not just neck wrinkles in his fur- yet like those old pictures of the old woman/young girl, I am now seeing both the happy drunk mouse and the sad lil guy at the same time. Now THAT is storytelling! Which is true? Is he the happy guy- or the sad one? Is one of those just a fake mask he shows the world? And if so…which is the real soused mouse?

  10. JoAnn, thanks so much for your comment! It’s so inspiring to learn how people interpret paintings, and especially intriguing when it’s your own painting! ;)

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