Spring Break Projects: Song Lyric Fan Art

Get inspired by a favorite song and make some song lyric fan art! Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

Both my daughters love to draw, but sometimes when the urge hits them they have a hard time deciding what to do when the pencil meets the paper.

I completely sympathize with this, as I often appease that itch in the fingertips by doodling some quick fan art of a favorite character or fictional world. When there’s a little more time, however, it’s good to branch out from the norm, and get inspired by something new.

Since many people, ourselves included, listen to music when we’re sketching, why not try capturing a song? The practice of interpreting music through visual art has been around long before the advent of the music video, and I’ve attended more than one art class where this has been a fun student exercise.

Most of the time, however, these exercises are understandably done with instrumental classical or jazz style pieces, in order to let the interpretations of each artist remain as open and free as possible.

However, songs with lyrics can be seen differently by each listener, and every song, even mediocre songs, tell a story. Treat these songs as a favorite movie, book or show, and turn them into fan art. It doesn’t even have to be a “favorite” song. Try thinking of a song that represents a certain era, or remember a simple nursery song from school. This project can also help get rid of a song that has been lodged in one’s brain for a good part of the day.

Here are three ways of taking on this creative exercise, depending on how much time and effort you want to put into this project.

Easy Method: Minimalist Movie Posters

The minimalist movie poster trend is popular among fan artists, using only simple images, or one image, to capture the entire essence of the story. For example, a minimalist page of Star Wars might just have an outline of the Death Star, or Beauty and The Beast might just have a wilting rose. There are several examples of these on sites like Pinterest. Listen to a song and find a recurring reference or standout phrase. Some will be harder to pinpoint than others, but the challenge is part of the fun.

We took a trip back into the 80s and did minimalist designs of Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” and The Smiths’ “Panic.” Images: Lisa Kay Tate

Intermediate Method: One-Page Comic Sheets

Turn some song lyrics into a one-page comic spread, or even a comic splash page (a page with just one image). This one is particularly fun with children’s songs or old standards. Give these old time lyrics a chance to be comic book heroes. To make this even easier, I took advantage of artist Tim van de Vall’s Comic Book Paper site that offers several comic page layouts available for free download for sole the purpose of getting other artists inspired.

My dad used to sing me “Twenty Froggies,” based on the 19th century poem by George Cooper. Now my girls love it. Image: Lisa Kay Tate
story of life
Splash page inspired by Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life.” Image: Lisa Kay Tate

“Hard” Method: Young Reader’s Picture Book

children's picture song books
Song lyrics are a popular source for children’s book inspiration. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

This method isn’t actually that hard. It is the most time consuming, and may take more than one day to complete. There have already been some successful picture books based on folk songs, like “Puff The Magic Dragon,” or “Sloop John B,” so it isn’t too much of a stretch to find a song that could work. There might be few songs you might love to see turned into children’s book, but no one else has taken the bait. Why wait? Just make your own.

On all of these, it is perfectly okay to find a font you like, type it on the computer and print it out. Unless you are an expert calligraphy artist or you think a hand-made style looks best, it is just easier this way, and gives you more time for the fun part.

These don’t have to match the level of art in any published book. Simple black and white line drawings will work.

Children’s book idea inspired by Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat.” Why this isn’t already a picture book, I don’t know. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Even with these leads, some kids might have a hard time choosing a song. This is a good time to sit down with some old CDs or vinyls and share a few favorite blasts from the past. Let them turn on the iTunes and show you what they enjoy. Avoid YouTube or videos, though, if you can. You might even discover there are a few current songs you both love.

This could open up the lines of communication between parent and child, close the generation gap by a shared enjoyment of a song and make these works of art even more special.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.