Using Art to Drive Worldbuilding


Often it can useful to visiualise your characters and your world. Representing these with 3rd party art can be very inspiring and a great way to do so without spending ages writing descriptions and so you can spend more time developing your world.

I’ve interspersed this post with art from my Pinterest boards so you can sample the quality of the art available there.

Where to Find it? Pinterest vs DeviantArt

I recommend building up a resource of art that you like, which you can always refer back to when you are looking for something in particular or would like some inspiration. I originally started doing this on DeviantArt, but I find Pinterest is better, and here’s why.

DeviantArt hold loads of different kinds of art, with varying levels of quality and use for the worldbuilder. It can be difficult to even find decent art like you see in this post through the site’s navigation system. I found the best way to do this was to google search “fantasy characters deviantart” and then look at the links that come up and add images I liked to my collections.

Pinterest, however, is geared up for just sharing and finding art, without all the social media side that gives DeviantArt both an advantage and a disadvantage depending on how you want to use it. On Pinterest, you can follow boards which host art you like and your feed will display art from these, plus art from similar boards. Within a week or two of using it, I have followed loads more boards than I started with and I’m now follwing 89 boards, all of them posting art and content I want to see. I have my pins divided into 8 boards, which keeps it nicely organised and makes it easy to find the kind of art I want. Though I will say Pinterest forces you to be logged in to really use the site, which is both very annoying and put me off using it for ages.

That said, I haven’t looked back since I did join and I’ve been steadily going through my DeviantArt collections and pinning them on my Pinterest boards. Its easy to add to your boards. You can download a Chrome extension (I’m sure it exists on other browsers too) which lets you pin any image on the internet to your boards. The pins link back to their original location so its beneficial for creators and encourages wider range on content on the site.

Using Art for Characters

I divide character art into 4 categories, human males, human females, non human races and mythical people/ deities. When creating a character, I have a look through the relevant board to see if there’s any similar to what I had in mind. Once you’ve got a nice range of characters, which shouldn’t take any time at all to do, you can easily find one you want and add it into your World document.

One of the great things about doing this is the character in the art will prompt you to consider different things and develop the character more. I’ve often been looking at a piece of art I’ve chosen to represent a character and noticed the look in their eye, a scar or a trinket they may have and written a backstory to explain this. This really helps your characters come to life and develop into a multidimensional individual in ways you might not have thought of.

Character Art for Cultures

The flip side of this is to take a piece of character art and fit them into your world, developing your world so it can accommodate the character. Often I’ve come across a great piece of art with a character dressed in a way that none of my current characters are. Even if I don’t want to write the character themselves into the world at this point, you can build a culture based on them. Take different aspects of their appearance, their hair, their tattoos, their jewelry, their weapons, their clothes, their tools, their technology and think about the kind of culture that might accommodate this. I have done this a number of times with some interesting results. Your interpretation of these features is likely to be different to the next persons so you can come up with some unique cultures in this way, especially as opposed to basing your cultures off historical ones, which is what  most people do.

Locations & Scenes

This doesn’t just work for characters, it can work for anything, clothes, weapons, technology, you name it. But another element I particularly think it works well for is locations and scenes. On this board I put any shots of environments, settlements, action scenes, character scenes where you cant really see who they are.

You might find yourself thinking of a backstory for what is going on in the image and you can write it to fit into your world, developing characters, races and cultures as you go. If you have a place in mind, you can use the image to illustrate it, or you can take the image and place it in your world, developing the surrounding environment based on that.


The art can be as inspiring, if not more so than music, particularly Epic Music. If you’re feeling a bit short on ideas or want to refill your creative well, so to speak, just have a look through your boards and take a look at all the art that’s relevant to your world. When your using your worldbuilding depot and reading over your content, coming across the art is a great way to break up the text, keep your imagination flowing and all round enhances the enjoyment of the hobby.


Using art in this way can really help you build up your world quickly, help you visualise it and keep yourself inspired while at the same time appreciating some beautiful works of art.


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