Using Photos to Inspire Writing

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Reflect & Write: Claude Monet's Impression Sunrise and The Magpie

Writers Can Find Inspiration in Paintings by Claude Monet

Clearing Writer's Block Through Impressionism

By Hank Kellner | Updated April 22, 2019

What do you do when your fingers become icicles, your keyboard freezes, and your cursor refuses to move from its position at the left hand side of your monitor? And how do you respond when your students or members of your writer's group claim that their brains have turned to stone because "writers block" has overpowered them?

When that happens, some people vacuum their rugs, make fresh pots of coffee, yearn for the class session or workshop to end, bite their fingernails, or distract themselves with hundreds of other diversions.

Look to the Masters

That's not true for Elizabeth Guy. A storyteller, poet, and the co-editor of Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing, Guy sometimes uses paintings by the masters to trigger ideas for her work.

"I wasn't born to vacuum rugs," she reports. "That's why I use the Internet to find paintings by the masters to give me ideas. Doing so is like dipping into the mother lode of inspiration and writing prompts."

In the following two poems, Guy used Monet's paintings, Impression Sunrise and The Magpie as her inspiration. One can only wonder how the artist would have responded had he known that two of his paintings would become the inspiration for two poems some 140 years after his brushes kissed the canvas.

Monet's Painting: Impression


Impression, sunrise
Short and sweet
Succinct, concise, and pithy
And yet, and yet
So lingering in the mind
Evocative of mists and lifting fogs
A gradual clarity
Lifting veils of unsubstantial weight
Doubts swept away on ebbing tides
Revealing crystal visions
Destinies defined

Monet's Painting: The Magpie

Reflections on a Winter Painting

I saw a winter painting and I smiled.
Then once again my brother lived.
Tall and strong, he pulled the sled
When I was just a little child.

Trees black laced against
An orange smear of sunset.
The evening star a diamond in the dusk.

Below, the crunch of snow beneath the runners.
Toes numb in buckled boots.
Frozen misted breath, and mittens caked with ice.
Riding like a princess across a frozen tundra.

Home at last!
Stomping. Laughing, pulling off our coats,
Breathing in the kitchen's fragrant warmth.
Fingers tingling underneath the tap.

Winter memories of my brother.
Rest in peace my childhood knight,
And angels guard your soul.

Now the rising pearl of moon
Casts its ghostly pale
Upon my withered lawn.
Frost lies everywhere—
Like fairy dust turned cold.

A Bonanza for Teachers

Writers in all walks of life can find inspiration in paintings by the masters, but for teachers those masterpieces are especially valuable. Rich in color, detail, and content, they can help students develop new ideas that will help to overcome their reluctance to write poetry, prose, or non-fiction.

Next: Black & White Images Stimulate Writing

"Reflections on a Winter's Painting" originally appeared in Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing by Hank Kellner and Elizabeth Guy (Prufrock Press, 2013).