In the second in our blog series of Creative Writing exercises, Creative Writing BA (Hons) Course Leader Dr Jack McGowan describes how we can use ‘ekphrasis’ as a writing exercise to create exciting new material and approach subjects in a novel manner.

This session introduces 'ekphrasis', a rhetorical technique (a technique used to practise and develop your writing skill) that you can use to inspire and revitalise your writing.

What is Ekphrasis?

Ekphrasis comes from the greek ‘ek’ (which means from or out of) and ‘phrazein’ (which means explain). So, ekphrasis literally means to ‘point out’ or to ‘describe.’

Ekphrasis involves a written or verbal response that has been inspired by a visual work of art. This could be a painting, sculpture or even a dance, any of these can act as a prompt.

The trick to ekphrasis is to try to avoid simply describing the work in front of you abstractly. You want to avoid merely saying “the painting is green,” your description should also include some elements of your own personal opinion of the piece you are using for inspiration.

A classical art meme that shows a man painting a self portrait. The text says "Trying to take a selfie 1646."
Classical art memes can be a form of ekphrasis. Image source: facebook/classicalartmemes

You might discuss how a piece of art makes you feel or what it makes you think about (even if your train of thought goes in a completely different or unusual direction). It is all about using the artwork as a stimulus to help you explore your thoughts and create your writing. There's no wrong way of doing it.

Ekphrasis has been used throughout history as a technique to create new writing. For example, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ by John Keats ‘Landscape with the fall of Icarus’ by William Carlos Williams or even classical art memes.


Writing Exercise: Ekphrasis

  1. Take your favourite painting, movie poster or book cover or whatever else inspires you (Often, it’s easier to start with an image you're already familiar with).
  2. Give yourself a few moments to take a proper look at it.
  3. When you're ready, write a short story or a poem that is inspired by the image. Try to really get to grips with how it makes you feel.
  4. Maybe you’ll notice something about the image that you hadn't seen before and explore what it makes you think about, that’s good!
a tree which is upside down
You can always try flipping your object upside down

5. If you're having trouble getting started consider flipping the image upside down to see if it gives you a new insight or a new perspective to work with.

6. If inspiration still isn't striking, you don't have to go with a man-made object for inspiration. While traditional ekphrasis is a response to a piece of artwork, you could always take an image of something from the natural world.

Remember, there's no wrong answer or wrong way of doing it.

Here’s an example of a piece of work based on ekphrasis. This is a haiku about an upside-down tree:


Carried on branches
Busy roots are fingertips
Grasping for the moon

See what you can make based on your chosen art piece!

We look forward to seeing your work and remember to join us for the next installment in our series.





Want to try the previous exercise? Learn how 'Show don't Tell' can improve your writing. 


This is the second part in our Creative Writing Exercises blog series to help you improve your writing and to act as inspiration. Our Creative Writing BA (Hons) course offers chances to explore these ideas and many more in greater depth under the guidance of published authors.

All views expressed in this blog are the Academic’s own and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Worcester or any of its partners.