The trick is to find pictures that speak to you in some way. Browsing through photographs is one way to find them. Another is to be alert to great photo opportunities as you wander through life. If you enjoy the process of creating art, then I'm told splashing paint onto a canvas is a particular joy that can also unleash your creative self.
For me though, sadly not a painter by any definition, an old picture can make a great prompt. There's something about vintage photographs that makes me immediately start to wonder about the expressionless character depicted. Does that gentleman with the stern face look that way because of the twelve kids in the picture? Is the lady not smiling because she realizes a spider just fell inside her blouse? Questions like are often all I need to start daydreaming, then jotting down ideas for a story.
If you're looking for pictures you can use with your kids, try that dusty shoebox in Grandma's cupboard or some old photo albums. If you'd prefer someone else's digital photographs, I like Morguefile where you can use pictures you download without attribution. You can also try Public Domain Images Online which can be searched via categories like Historical. But my favourite source of really old photos is Wikimedia Commons, a database of over 7 million freely usable media files.
Once you/the kids find an old photo you like, ask some questions:
About a thing
who owned this?
what was it used for?
did it cause a problem?
then what happened?
About a person
who is this?
what's their name?
what's their occupation?
what do they want more than anything else in the world?
what's stopping them from getting it?
About a place
where is this?
what once happened here?
or what is about to happen here?
how does this place make you feel?
what can you smell, hear, see, taste here?
Jot down ideas as fast as you can, scraps of phrase, words, whatever comes to mind. Save them in an ideas book, then let the sentences flow once your story becomes clear. Don't forget to ask what if? What if the old castle walls begin to crack and the flood waters are rising? What if the unicorn loses his magic?
What I did
I found a Keystone Cops photo from 1914 at Wikimedia Commons. The date meant it's in the public domain, the attribution is : By Mack Sennett Studios [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. I'm not actually old enough to remember the films, but I loved the looks on the cops' faces, so I jotted down a snippet of telephone conversation and ideas.
"What's that you say? The mayor's in a fish? Oh, in a fix. What kind of fix? Yes...Yes... I see. He's in the bathtub and his bow is caught in a flap. What? Oh, his toe is trapped in the tap!" and so on. I decided the room smelled of dust, mildew and onions, I could hear a cow mooing outside and my what if entailed the cow, festooned in someone's laundry, breaking into the police station and charging the chief.
Old photos make a great start for illustrations in a child-created picture book too, as Tania McCartney told us recently in Crafting a Picture Book with Photos - Guest Post.
My article today is the twelfth in a series of prompts that I hope might spark some creative expression in your kids, and maybe you too. I hope you'll join me so we can all challenge ourselves to be more creative. You can catch the rest of the prompts at the first post in the series, by scrolling down to Update.
If you and/or your kids respond to this prompt and you'd like me to showcase it on my blog, I would be thrilled to do that. If you post it on your own blog, please let me know (in comments or email, via the Contact Me tab), and I'll add your link to the relevant post.