Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

Art-Inspired Writing


Earlier this week, I ran a workshop at the Northern Colorado Writers on how art can help inspire a writer, whether it’s a story idea, character sketch, poem, or flash fiction. I grew up with a love for writing and art and found myself as an art major in college. I also owned and operated a greeting card company for ten years. You could say that I’m trying to make the most of the right side of my brain and I hope to someday get back to a children’s book that I’ve written and illustrated.

Monday’s workshop featured the artwork of Jim Fronapfel, local Fort Collins artist who works mainly in pastels. As the Visual Designer at the NCW, I get the amazing job of finding local artists to display their work in our studio. The moment I saw Jim’s work, I knew it’d be perfect for this workshop. He has this uncanny ability to capture something about his subjects, something that just tells a story. Myself and each of the participants picked one of Jim’s pieces of artwork, and we wrote for 20 minutes. Brave attendees then read what they wrote, followed by Jim describing his own inspiration behind the canvas.

So how do you spot the story in a piece of art?

The Mood. Artists often convey the mood through texture, technique, and color.

  • Texture is the actual surface of the work, or the way the work is represented.Can you see actual texture or is it simulated?
  • Technique shows how a piece of art is created. Does it look quickly drawn?Rough? Or smooth and soft?
  • Color can depict the mood of piece of art. This is often subjective where the same color canmean something different to different viewers. What do the colors say to you?

The Time Period/Setting It may not be obvious what time period the work is depicting. If you can put the subject of the work into a certain setting, such as the Depression, would that evoke a story? Does it help while doing a character sketch?

Find the Genre. Historical fiction? Young adult? Thriller? Poetry? Romance? Horror? Can you see several potential genres in the same picture?

 Online Art Resources for Writers

Art Project by Google:  Explore museums without even leaving your home. Google brings several galleries, including the National Gallery in London and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to your computer. Like giving you a street view of your neighborhood, Google does the same of the inside of galleries. View the art as if you’re actually sitting in front of it.

 Art Resource: This site allows you to browse through thousands of pieces of art. Type in a subject matter and the results could yield hundreds, if not thousands of story-inspiring art.

Jim Fronapfel’s site, of course! Click on the image under “Other Works” on the right hand side and you’ll be able to view over a 100 different works of Jim’s that are sure to inspire an essay, poem, character, or story.

While we wrote, Jim spent the time creating a masterpiece on an Etch-A-Sketch:

All I’d be able to do is a really cool set of stairs . . .


Author: April Moore

I am the author of two books: Folsom's 93, a historical nonfiction about the men executed at Folsom State Prison; and a women's fiction, Bobbing for Watermelons. I'm also an illustrator and I love collaborating with other writers and artists. Catch me at

2 thoughts on “Art-Inspired Writing

  1. I was unable to attend this wonderful evening of art and writing. How fun it must have been to hear the writer’s story from Jim’s work, and then hear his own story behind each piece. Art (both written and drawn) tells a story, and then inspires countless others to tell (hopefully) their own story. What a wonderful circle of creativity.

  2. Great post and great pictures! I really enjoyed the class. Jim is very talented. And so are you 🙂

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