Shakespeare Sonnets To Inspire Illustrations

Illustrators are a remarkable group of artists. Their mind is artistic and hands pulsating with technique and talent. As they produce heaps of work for clients or just for fun, they must remain inspired. Illustrators have little time to hit those creative roadblocks.

While writing can inspire other textual work, it can also inspire illustrations and other forms of art. More specifically, William Shakespeare’s sonnets. His sonnets are exquisite forms of work that includes incredible language and imagery that is sure to help with the creative process.

While this blog post only features a taste of Shakespeare’s sonnets, click the link to read them all, he has 154 in total: shakespeare.mit.edu/Poetry/sonnets

Sonnet 14

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.

In your own style, illustrate the sky or the atmosphere that stretches into the beyond. Draw the stars, the phases of the moon, the spinning planets, the darkness and deepness of the Milky Way. Illustrate the type of sky Shakespeare described in his sonnet, or sketch your favorite sky, the types of sky that intimidates you, or the version of sky outside your window.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

In your own style, illustrate summer. Illustrate flowers that bloom in the summertime. Illustrate the landscapes that summer winds blow through. Draw the items that fill your memories of summer; swimming, popsicles, late nights, and more. Sketch the things that make summer the most happiest, beautiful, and lively season.

Sonnet 33

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

In your own style, illustrate the sun. Draw the sun in a realistic manner or an abstract fashion. Sketch the sun with rays short and long. Illustrate an item or scene drenched in sunlight. Illustrate the sun’s capturing color in a yellow, orange, gold-like hue. Draw with a special warmth, a particular coziness.

Sonnet 68:

Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
When beauty lived and died as flowers do now,
Before the bastard signs of fair were born,
Or durst inhabit on a living brow;
Before the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchres, were shorn away,
To live a second life on second head;
Ere beauty’s dead fleece made another gay:
In him those holy antique hours are seen,
Without all ornament, itself and true,
Making no summer of another’s green,
Robbing no old to dress his beauty new;
And him as for a map doth Nature store,
To show false Art what beauty was of yore.

In your own style, illustrate a map, either brand new or vintage, edges crinkled with intense creases, folded over and over again. Illustrate a globe, one that has been spun twice or two hundred times. Sketch the roads you have traveled down and the paths yet to be walked upon. Draw the longest bridge, the busiest highway, the abandoned dirt road. Illustrate paths in the dead of winter and the green of summer.

Sonnet 99:

The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol’n of both
And to his robbery had annex’d thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or colour it had stol’n from thee.

In your own style, illustrate something soft and delicate, like a flower, from a bud to a blossom. Sketch the petals and the deep colors a flower can provide to the world. Illustrate the sweet comparisons Shakespeare mentioned; eyes, hair, skin, breath.

Sonnet 108:

What’s in the brain that ink may character
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?
What’s new to speak, what new to register,
That may express my love or thy dear merit?
Nothing, sweet boy; but yet, like prayers divine,
I must, each day say o’er the very same,
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
Even as when first I hallow’d thy fair name.
So that eternal love in love’s fresh case
Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
But makes antiquity for aye his page,
Finding the first conceit of love there bred
Where time and outward form would show it dead.

In your own style, illustrate ink as it spreads itself in water. Draw the twists and turns ink can take. Draw the substance, the darkness of the liquid and the reflectiveness of it all at the same time. Sketch the ink as it leaves pen tip, sketch the ink in relation to a feather, notebook, parchment paper. Draw ink in a vintage style. Illustrate ink with modern influences.

Sonnet 147:

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly express’d;
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

In your own style, illustrate love in a deathly, painful way. Allow the dark language of this Shakespeare sonnet to control the idea of love in a way you may not have interacted with before. Sketch in midnight shades. Draw with the idea of sickness and medicine. Illustrate how a prescription can weave itself into the picture.

Sonnet 154:

Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
A maid of Dian’s this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrow’d from this holy fire of Love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distemper’d guest,
But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire–my mistress’ eyes.

In your own style, illustrate love in an opposite way as the previous. Draw cupid in an anatomical way. Sketch cupid in an abstract form. Drench the canvas in all the whimsy fanciness expressed in this sonnet and that has taken main theme in Shakespeare’s plays. Illustrate in spectrums of bold color, the happy pinks and reds.

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