Exercise: Visual metaphors


Collect as many examples of visual metaphor as you can find. Often metaphors are used within political and issue-based works to give complex or subtle ideas greater clarity. For this reason you are likely to trace them more easily within editorial contexts: newspapers and articles in magazines.

Next I was asked to select and create a visual metaphor from a list of words.

  • Reaching retirement
  • Dreams of romance
  • Broken relationship
  • Censorship of the press
  • High achievement
  • Economic catastrophe

I chose “Broken Relationship”

From the start, I had a good idea in my head for a Broken Relationship metaphor. I imagined incorporating a typical romantic scene filled with cues for the viewer that not all is what it seems.

I decided on a dinner date and found a reference image to  get started:

Ref Image

Next, I started on some very rough sketches of the scene. I imagined a couple on a date with neither interested in one another.

Another sketch, looking at posture and body language of the couple:

Once I had the layout of the subjects correct, I started to colour block and render.

While working on each subject, I changed a few parts. You can see I added a phone to the man’s hands to show him reading a text or browsing his phone. This was to give the effect of looking uninterested by his surroundings. I also moved the woman’s hand to make it look as if she was upset and crying about the situation and realisation of the soured relationship.

This was my final image.  The waiter can be seen revealing a broken heart:


I think that this visual metaphor works well. I do believe that it would need to be accompanied by a title in a magazine as it is not immediately obvious what is happening. I like the idea of putting a twist on a subject or scene that people can associate with and I think each subject in this illustrations tells a story of a broken relationship.

I did initially draw an actual human heart on the platter with a crack through it, but when shown to my wife, she thought the woman was sick because of what she was seeing. This taught me that a very subtle change to an image could give a whole other meaning.