Many people tend to capture the dry facts of a subjects, forgetting (or not knowing how) to push the emotional value of it.

In this post, I’m going to capture an image of an old Danish country house in 2 mediums: painting and writing.

With both mediums, I’ll start with a rather factual capture and then try to make it more entertaining.

A few tips to think about while you study the examples:

  • You can describe the same things in different ways.
  • Being interesting is more important than being accurate (in other words – choose subjectivity over objectivity).
  • It’s perfectly ‘legal’ to exaggerate, alter and even completely invent stuff to make the piece juicier.
  • Quick captures are great for exploring different ways of describing a subject in an entertaining way.

Capture – painting examples

Danish House Capture Exercise

Capture Exercise painting thumbnail sketches

These quick sketches are called “thumbnails”. They are painted very small, which serves two purposes: (A) to avoid tinkering with details, and (B) to be able to take in the entire picture at a single glance.

Here’s a breakdown of the 4 thumbnails above:

  1. An objective description.
  2. A more juicy description, exaggerating my observations (e.g. “crooked house” now becomes even more crooked) and giving more attention to cool details.
  3. Here I tried (just as an exercise) to describe the picture as foreboding. Not easy, because there’s actually nothing foreboding about it at all). To do this, I’ve looked for visual elements that might communicate danger: shaped the trees as twisted fingers, made the roof as spiky as I dared, made the wooden framework look a bit like spiderweb, and so on.
  4. Stepping even further away from the original picture, I converted image 3 to nighttime.

Capture – writing examples

Danish House Capture Exercise

The writing equivalent of thumbnailing is anything that can be read within a few seconds – almost at a glance.

Writing a “thumbnail”, keep your sentences short and grammatically simple. They can also be grammatically wrong. Lists can be good as well. (see this post for more ideas).

Here are some examples for written thumbnails of the same image:


1. Objective description

  • Long house, timber framed, VERY crooked
  • White walls, brown straw roof, grass vivid green
  • Two black doors, one very small window
  • Cloudy, grayish atmosphere
  • Bare trees, thin branches, like hair(*)

(*)Notice I used expressions like “vivid green” and “branches like hair”. While these are somewhat subjective, they’re very far from carrying any real interest or emotional baggage. Compare with the next capture and you’ll see what I mean.


2. Make it juicy: house like an old man

  • Bent walls spilling over crooked timber frame – like old man skin over bones
  • 2 dark doors – like missing teeth in white wall
  • Unkempt – Straw roof like bristles, tree like dwindling hair
  • Grass like shabby green pullover

[Tweet “Being interesting is more important than being accurate.”]


3. House as ominous

  • White against the gloom, like ghost haunting the barren landscape.
  • Timber skeleton so twisted and rotten it should have collapsed.
  • Dark tree, like thin fingers waiting to clutch
  • A single tiny window – like a horrible one-eyed creature


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