Fine Art and Instruction by Lisa Underwood

Images with Words

Posted: July 22, 2019

Calligrams ~ Visual Poems

When I was in third grade, my teacher invited parents to visit our classroom to observe our daily activities. My mother came and sat in the back of the room with other parents. During our cursive writing lesson, my teacher used my practice sheets as examples and complimented my work. I was thrilled because I thought of cursive writing as a true art form (and still do). One night, more recently, I started doodling. I ended up creating a tree using my cursive handwriting, overlapping words about growth to develop different values. I was entranced. I instantly loved this cathartic creative process. Since 2014, I have been using my handwriting to form images. My clients give me lists of words, phrases and dates that are meaningful to them. I turn these words into images of their choice. They appreciate being part of the process and I enjoy learning about their experiences. I also offer a workshop called "Images with Words" to bring this interesting art form to students of all ages.

This all has brought me to research "calligrams" (images with words). Guillaume Apollinaire popularized the art of making images through the novel arrangement of words via his 1918 book Calligrammes. Making pictures with words can be traced back many centuries. Aratea includes poems written by Greek poet Aratus in the 3rd- century BC. These poems were translated into Latin, describing astronomical constellations. The constellations were then drawn above the poetry with red dots indicating where the stars appear in the sky. Words that describe the constellations were used to form creative images on the page. The words used to form the drawings were taken from passages in Hyginus' Astronomica. The images and words become tied to one another, completing the scene. Today, there are numerous examples of graphic designs that turn words into shapes. Some of these creative works are called "concrete poems", "shape poems", or "visual poems".

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