BLANKING PAGE: Part I
A crash tutorial in illustrative
and textual consideration in book design
You've got a brilliant idea for
a picture book. You've studied
what's already in print. You've written your story, you've
made sketches for your characters, you even know what material
to best render your wonderful work in. There you are—
the vast blankness of paper in front of you.
I've been so terrified of that expanse
that I didn't dare start a drawing. I was paralyzed by the
fear of making a "wrong" mark.
There are some ways of cutting the fear
quotient. Preplanning helps. Knowing something of design,
color, composition and layout also helps. And asking yourself
some questions about your project will set you on a good path.
What kinds of questions, you ask? First,
what's the nature of your piece? Is it a somnambulic bedtime
story? A raucous romp? Traditional story or something quite
new and different?
Posh, said Hieronymus Bosch by Nancy Willard,
illustrated by the Dillons is a wonderful melding
of style, lettering, and words. Hand-lettered text,
layered, multi-detailing and a humorous ornate frame
around each picture not only mirrors the words of
the book, but pays homage to Hieronyomus Bosch's
work as well.
Moo by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ponder
Goembel is another example of type placement, the
character of the illustrations and the words all
working to great effect.
Even in the classic tale of Goodnight
Moon, Margaret Wise Brown's text and Clement Hurd's
illustrations are reflective embellishments of each other.
These are a very few examples of type,
words and illustrations working for the whole; there are so
many more. If you're not quite clear on this concept, a few
days at the library and book store perusing picture books
would be advisable.
Make sure your artistic style suits your
words. The illustrations, the lettering, the pace, even the
design and feel of the piece, should be reflective of the
story. A simple storyline would not be served by stilted ornate
renderings. Whatever the story, the illustrations and text
should amplify the emotional subtext of your story.
Right off the bat, I confess my biases.
The written word is, mostly, for communication. Anything that
makes letters illegible or the words hard to read should be
avoided, especially in children's books. Children are already
grappling with word concepts and reading; besides, you need
to give the poor older reader's eyes a break. To do anything
different defeats the whole purpose of the book.
There are no hard and fast rules. Very
strong suggestions, yes. But in essence, the only question
is: does it work? You have something in your head, you should
try it as a thumbnail.
If your idea works, BINGO! You've got a keeper. If it doesn't,
you can stick it into the deepest darkest reaches of your
For a picture book to be truly successful,
it has to work on a number of levels. First and foremost,
it has to work on your intended listener's level (most picture
book ranges from baby to around eight-ish, though of course
this is one of those strong suggestions I spoke of. There
are also books directed at older or younger readers, but they
are rare). It should also work for the reader, usually a beleaguered
teacher or parent.
I like to jam pack my stuff with something
for everyone. I want someone to linger over my pages or make
a new discovery after the twenty-ninth read. Even if you don't
work in the same manner, your work should have a fresh feeling,
so people look forward to spending time revisiting your book,
yet again. Kids love repetition— my goal is to create
a well-read, well-viewed, well loved book.
COLOR ME THIS
people have heard of the color wheel, a handy-dandy invention
first developed by Isaac Newton. Segmented within are the
colors, red, blue, and yellow. They can't be mixed or
formed by any combination of the other colors. All other colors
are derived from these three.
Then there are the Secondary colors, green,
orange and purple, formed by mixing the primary colors. Mix
the Secondary colors together, you get the Tertiary Colors.
Analogous color themes use three colors
side by side on a twelve part color wheel. (Like red-purple,
purple and purple blue), usually one color predominating.
A beautiful example of this is Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflower
paintings. A Complementary color scheme uses colors directly
opposite each other on the color wheel.
Josef Albers and Johannes Itten were a
couple of wonderful color studyists and teachers (Josef Albers
being one of the original Bauhaus teachers). Itten's books
Elements of Color as well as The
Art of Color; the Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale
of Color are intriguing insights into color and
still available, though they are rather costly.
Albers was of the mind that "color
deceives continually" because of the interaction and
relativism of color (we see colors in relation to each other,
not separately). There are some fun exercises based upon Alber's
work at Marilynn
Color also has historical impact. Red in
the new world was made from the female cochineal beetle; a
pound of water soluble color came from one million insects.
One pound of the Roman Empire's color purple was derived from
four million mollusks. Both dyes were more valuable than gold.
Today those colors still have impact on our language and perception.
We especially think of the color purple as being "royal",
as only royalty could attain it from those far away times.
As for the Cochineal red, the Spanish kept
the Europeans in the dark as to the true origin of the dye,
selling it as a grain. The idea that the permanent color came
from being "dyed in the grain" is the source for
the term "ingrained".
colors soothe (green), some excite (red). Colors look very
different in relation to other colors, there's even a phenomenon
whereby you can make four colors of three. Take analogous
colors, and surround one color by two different colors, side
by each, and the color not only "vibrates" visually,
but will read as a different hue.
I love the color usage and texturing of
Kopelke, to name a few.
Looking critically at books is very good
practice. Dissect why you like something or don't, perhaps
apply it to your own work. It's much harder to make generic
(or even mass produced art), in my opinion. You have to reproduce
the predetermined image continually with the same quality
You can copy only for a little while. Your
own personality and vision will always show in your work.
So feel free to observe and learn from others; the worst they'll
do is influence and inform you. And that's how we all learn.
Coming soon: The Blanking
Page— Part II