How to Make Your Art Tell a Story

Every piece of art is supposed to tell a story. As an artist who is the storyteller, you should have the capacity for design thinking by default.

Star Wars Episode 1 movie teaser poster

Your arrangement of visual elements to tell a story in visual arts is called a composition. It can as well be termed as the organization of all the features included in an art piece to make it communicate to the viewer. It simply means putting together and is also used in music production, photography, and art. 

What Makes a Brilliant Design Thinking?

All the components and elements of a good illustration must line up together. To communicate a story, the elements should be aligned creating a visual connection. The alignment makes them visible and readable. That means they should be strategically positioned to be in line with each other.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood poster by Rafa Orrico Díez

Every exceptionally good artwork is known by its layout and composition; these are the building blocks of any phenomenal design. This makes it very easy to navigate across.

EMMA Lettering by Marcelo Grassi

Your design thinking must be cohesive. This means all the elements including colors, images, and fonts should match throughout. For instance; brochures, flyers, posters, and postcards of an organization should have a unified visual relationship.

Casablanca movie poster by Rory Kurtz

Sometimes the elements of a good poster lead to one focal point. This is the area that most attracts the viewer’s attention and includes the main subject. This is a point of emphasis for instance when you are calling your audience to action. Buttons like “Buy Here” or “Subscribe” are always in colors and fonts that stand out.

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For the layout to tell a story you must make the right choice of color. Colors arouse emotions and bring a connection. You also can make a lasting impression, by using more pronounced words and phrases.

The Good Hawk & Broken Raven book cover illustrations by Balbusso Twins

Visual Storytelling Through Poster 

As a design thinking artist, you have ways in which you can creatively tell a story. Decide to use different images for different moments in a narrative or chose one key moment to represent the entire narrative.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword by Jonathan Hogan

Fear & Loathing Las Vegas movie poster

But you will experience a challenge in creating a single image like the poster to represent the whole story. A Movie poster, print ad, unlike video or storyboard cannot capture the whole story using the one scene it displays. You can only capture the main scene which is among a series of many other scenes.

Jaws 45th Anniversary poster by Nuno Sarnadas

You need to carefully pick and consider the size of every image in relation to other components of the artwork. To avoid unnecessary attention and visual weight on images it should be properly positioned, not so close to the edge of the picture plane. Although some elements may go beyond the confines of the picture plane and make the poster artwork look unbalanced and edgy.

The Nun by Rafał Topolski


There are many techniques that you can use in the composition of an art piece. These include: 

Rule of Thirds

This technique is making sure that the artwork is not too symmetrical by making sure that the focal point is not at the center of the art piece.

Rule of Odds

The “rule of odds” states that an even number of subjects in an image is not as visually appealing as an odd number. With 2, 4 or 6 subjects the piece too symmetrical and makes it look unnatural than when the number of subjects would be 3,5 or 7, etc.


You as an artist must know the art of simplification. This is making the focal point more visible by removing the unnecessary elements of the design. One of the easiest methods is to place the subject on a neutral background. You can also simplify your layout considering negative space.

Into the Dark by B4Abraham

To know more about negative space in art check out our article: The Beauty of Negative Space in Art

Geometry and Symmetry

Just like the rule of odd, people love triangles. It is more pleasing and it gives a sense of stability to the artwork.

There are many other compositional techniques you can explore. Don’t limit yourself to one composition, explore more, and make thumbnail sketches before you make the layout on the computer.

Visual Style is the Message

The book Lord of the Flies over the years has printed different cover versions, depicting different illustration styles.

The top picture is an illustration of a scene in the book. The cover illustrates a frightened child surrounded by sharp teeth. In the story, these were young boys who found themselves on an island alone without an adult surrounded by all sorts of dangers.

Art and design by Adam Carvalho
Art Direction Paul Buckley

The second picture illustrates a savage and barbaric image. In the book, the writer is trying to tell us that people are potentially cruel. They can kill each other and drink blood.

Illustration cover by Amy Baxter

According to the third art, there is a pig in a person. The pig as a metaphor of greed. It shows selfishness in people. The character called piggy may also have been illustrated in this piece of art.

The last one shows divided people in a forest. The boys could not agree and were divided. They were surrounded by wildfires and animals in the forest.

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These are equally great book covers and with each unique design style, produced different tones and moods for readers to experience. 

We’ve compiled more examples of creatively composed design and illustration for your inspiration.

Check them out below.

Run by Rob Gale

Rampage by Jade Sabado

Joker movie poster by Marcelo Grassi

To the Sky by LeiLei Mo

Poster design for the movie Dunkirk by Genzo

Poetry in Motion by Homa Delvaray

Tango and Cash by César Moreno

Sorry for Your Loss: book cover design by Catherine San Juan, illustrated by David Curtis

Annabelle Comes Home II movie poster by B4Abraham

Batman poster by Aurelio Lorenzo

King Kong by Adan Arellano

Aquaman 2 – The Sea Will Rise by Phaserunner


If you are a good planner who understands how viewers interact with your work of art, your composition will be remarkable. Every good artist has a composition mindset, which is design thinking, which enables him to create exceptional work of art that sparks great attention.

What is your design composition style? Did you find this article helpful? Please comment below.

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