Symbolism 

Symbolism is the use of signs to create meaning. It involves consideration of:

  • which images are chosen and what they stand for
  • where they’re placed and the hierarchy of relationships between each of the signs.

Placing something at the front or top of an image will create a different meaning from placing something at the back or bottom.

See Research point: William Hogarth

Image and Text

Within narrative fiction, illustrations work alongside text in a responsive way, helping to visualise characters, moods and locations. Illustrations in literature can be more imaginative than many other types of illustration – they’re there to communicate ideas, emotions, moods, drama and contexts as much as characters, actions and plots. There is a physical connection between image and text, defining where the images go on the page and how they interact with the written word.

Key questions for illustrators:

  • Start by reading the text what is the overall mood, genre and feel? What is the plot? Who are the important characters and what is their relationship?
  • Who are the readers? What is the purpose of the illustration?
  • Do you create an image that visualises the beginning, middle or end, or try to create a piece that suggests all three?

The answers are likely to differ depending on the type of book and its purpose, the age of the reader and the purpose of the illustration.

Book covers

Book covers need a bold visual statement to draw people in, but also need to present key information such as the author, title or publisher. Book covers are most successful when the illustration and the typography have
a sympathetic relationship – they’re both pulling in the same direction.

The visual word

Illustrative treatment of the typography itself.

Research point: book and magazine covers

Comics and Graphic novels

Within comics and graphic novels, the line between what’s written and what’s visual, between the image and the text, becomes increasingly blurred, with written elements taking on the form of illustrations and the whole existing within a carefully constructed visual narrative of frames, bubbles, and drawings.

Narrative fiction

There are lots of different ways of working image and text together:

  • as whole page illustrations that sit alongside the text, headers, footers or as vignettes that the text wraps around.
  • typography continuing over the top of an illustration or the illustration extending over the type (space needs to be allowed for this)

Issues:

  • Trying to focus on the overall mood, direction, genre and feel of the book will give an impression of the novel without getting too hung up on the specific content.

Research point: Kafka Metamorphosis

Children’s fiction

There’s a rich history of illustrators working with children’s fiction and poetry.

These illustrations bring narratives to life through their depiction of characters and scenes, and in many cases set the blueprint for future interpretations.

  • Sir John Tenniel’s memorable for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and Jabberwocky.
  • Roald Dahl’s and Quentin Blake’s illustration.In other cases the book’s creator is both author and illustrator:
  • The Cat in the Hat (1954) created and illustrated by Theodor Geisel writing as Dr Seuss, Der Struwwelpeter
  • Shockheaded Peter (1845) by Heinrich Hoffmann
  • Where The Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak,
  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943).

“In fairy tales, internal processes are translated into visual images. When the hero is confronted by difficult inner problems which seem to defy solution, his psychological state is not described; the fairy story shows him lost in a dense, impenetrable wood, not knowing which way to turn, despairing of finding the way out. To everybody who has heard fairy tales, the image and feeling of being lost in a deep, dark forest are unforgettable…“Telling a fairy tale with a particular purpose other than that of enriching the child’s experience turns the fairy story into a cautionary tale, a fable, or some other didactic experience. which at best speaks to the child’s conscious mind, while reaching the child’s unconscious directly also is one of the greatest merits of literature.” Bruno Bettelheim 1975 quoted course text pp 83-84

In illustrated children’s books there’s often a more obvious conversation taking place between text and image. It is often the image that catches children’s attention first rather than the text.

  • How do you visually help tell a story without giving too much away? The illustrations need to support the text without being too dominant, stealing the storytelling away, but at the same time they shouldn’t be too distant from the action.
  • Where along the course of the narrative should the images be placed? At what point in the action would an image be best suited – just before something has happened, during, or at the end?
  • What should the images focus on? should they be character-driven, bringing identities, expressions and gestures to life, or focused on location and landscape.

Some illustrations might focus on certain aspects at one particular point. For example, it’s a good idea to visualise character and location early on to set the scene before any action takes place.

Research point: Image and text in children’s books

 

Sequential Illustration

Sequential illustration responds to narrative through a sequence of images, visualising it over time through cartoon strips and graphic novels, storyboards and animations. Although writing may exist within cartoons, the images are more dominant. Visually, sequential illustrations make use of the idea of the frame and camera lens and construct the story by careful use of different types of edits.
Will Eisner ‘Theory of Comics and Sequential Art’ downloadable pdf

Types of narrative

Simple narratives have  a beginning, middle and end: the protagonist has a problem at the start, encounters conflict through the middle and reaches resolution at the end…. What makes the story complex, wonderful, entertaining or tragic are the details of the characters, the setting, the plot of the narrative and the genre in which it’s set. ‘ Course text p87.

In some cases genre codes and conventions may provide the reader/viewer with some certainty as to what they’re about to experience. On the other hand, genres may be deliberately mixed to spice things up.

Framing and storyboards

All forms of sequential illustration use the idea of the frame or panel in some way to move the narrative along. This uses visual language from film and TV – varying close-ups, mid or long shots of what’s going on. Like film, distinct grammars may be used in different genres.

Action: Sequential illustrations, unlike moving image or animation, have to represent movement and action via the static medium of drawing. Action has to be implied. This is often done through association, showing people mid-walk, cars moving, actions taking place, but it can also be
done through careful use of editing, jump cutting from scene to scene.

Sounds: Like actions, sounds have to be implied in sequential illustrations. Speech bubbles do the job of conveying the spoken word in a number of different ways, but actual sounds are often represented onomatopoeically, or as they sound. These KAPOWs, BRRRRRMs and WHOOOOSHs are further enhanced through the use of visual typography, creating fractured words, letters falling downwards or bursting out, anything that helps bring that sound to life.

Narrative research

Cartoon strip

Cartoon strips are perhaps the simplest form of sequential illustration. They may be said to originate in the stone carving narratives of many ancient civilisations. Early Renaissance examples had narratives running across panels.

Very simple cartoons may consist of just 3 frames using a very tight narrative of simple beginning, middle, end. Other cartoons are longer with more space to develop the story, either with more panels or a continuous story over several episodes.

Comic books

The comic book extends the cartoon strip into a publication, with longer pieces and more specific content. Fashions come and go and they vary in their drawing complexity. Comics include:

  • Weekly and annual comics for children and ‘would-still-be’ children: DC and Marvel comics of the 40s and 50s, The Beano, Dan Dare
  • Japanese Manga
  • 1960s counterculture with artists like Robert Crumb
  • 1970s punk with artists like Gary Painter
  • 1980s Viz comics for adults
Graphic novels

In the graphic novel, the basic form of the cartoon is extended to cover longer narratives. Often graphic novelists focus on more complex forms of narrative and, as the term ‘novel’ suggests, see themselves more as a part of the world of literature than comics. Graphic novels can be created by an illustrator-author or be a collaboration between an illustrator and an author.

Storyboards

The image remains free of any speech bubbles, descriptions or sounds; instead, this information is presented at the bottom of each frame, with additional information on the type of edit being used and how long for. Storyboards are more functional than other forms of sequential illustration; they’re a form of visual idea development specifically for the moving image.

Research:  Pick some examples of of comic book, cartoon and graphic novel artists:

  • What’s the relationship between the narrative and the style of drawing being used?
  • Which is most important in making the story work?

 

William Hogarth

Research Point Project 3.1

The 1751 satirical engravings of Beer Street and Gin Lane were part of a campaign to curb gin drinking among the poor in London.

William Hogarth : Beer Street and Gin Lane 1751
William Hogarth : Beer Street and Gin Lane 1751
Research Point Questions

How has Hogarth has used denotation and connotation? What has he shown literally through denotation to support his anti-gin/pro-beer argument and what is implied through connotation? Think about the visual language and symbolic structure he has used to construct meaning – for example, the use of buildings in good repair or disuse, what’s in the foreground and what’s in the distance. What about the pawnbroker’s symbol and the symbolism in the physical language of the human body – the gestures, poses, sizes? There’s even a dead body in there somewhere. How does Hogarth use these to construct meaning?

In the anti-gin image the eye is drawn particularly to the drunkennes of the woman in the centre and her falling baby – one assumes this is more shocking than the wasted thin man in the bottom right (who probably also has a neglected baby at home). The line of the woman’s body leads the eye to the brawling and coffin in the background. In the middle ground are three figures one of whom is eating bones – this is emphasised through contrasting the white figure against his black hat. The pawnbroker’s shop seems to be doing a brisk trade.

In contrast most of the figures in the beer image are jolly portly men. The woman has a fish trade and is only stopping off temporarily – it seems she is even reading – with her husband? The pawnbroker’s sign is broken and the door shut. The background is festive and orderly.

Further research on Hogarth

 

Reportage Illustration

Reportage illustration as a distinct discipline is a form of visual reporting that covers everything from exotic locations to war zones, enclosed courtroom proceedings to public events. It shares many of the concerns of written journalism and documentary photography, but reportage illustration offers something additional to both of these practices. It provides a different way to understand a place or event; it is visual but it’s often more than just a snapshot.The nature and style of reportage illustration has evolved alongside journalism and the technical development of printing.

Truth in drawing is about trying to capture the essence of the situation, whether it’s an emotional truth, a descriptive truth, or trying to capture a particular dynamic or tension. Getting to the truth of a story might, for example, mean emphasising certain aspects that you want a viewer to focus on.

(Course Guide p45 my emphasis added – illustration is inevitably a subjective interpretation. The key issue is to be aware of that subjectivity and its implications.

Project 2.1 Drawing on the familiar: Aldeburgh

Project 2.2 On Location: Aldeburgh carnival

History of reportage illustration

Reportage illustration has a very long history – going back to stone friezes depicting rules and wars of ancient civilizations, tapestries like Bayeux Tapestries and medieval illuminated manuscripts. 17th century woodcuts were used to illustrate cheap publications called broadsides and later chapbooks or rags (named after the recycled fabric they were made from). These focused on murders, robberies and executions and provided grizzly depictions of victims and consequences.

By the nineteenth century news reporting had widened its scope and, with it, the breadth of material illustrated. As the market for newspapers increased the quality of the illustrations improved with the use of more expensive wood engravings and etchings. It took a while for photography to become integrated into newspaper publishing as a form of journalism, mainly because of the technical issues of printing photographs.

In Fine Art painters at the end of the nineteenth century painted social topics, for example:

Contemporary reportage illustration

Reportage illustration is still practised as a way of providing a viewpoint on hard to document events, from courtrooms where cameras are banned, to personal experiences such as travel that are difficult to sum up in one image. And to convey mood of a piece. Particular sources of contemporary inspiration for my work include:

Frank McMahon

L S Lowry urban landscapes for their perspective and stylisation

and stylistic possibilities of:

Graham Dean  watercolour

Franziska Neubert simple linocuts and woodcuts

Jake and Dinos Chapman: reinterpretation and reworking of Goya and other contentious issues.

Sally Pring for the flat colours

Olivia Lomenech Gill for her very diverse style with gouache, pencil, printmaking, collage

Practical Issues

  • How to draw something that might only be in place for a few moments? It takes practice to analyse a scene and commit the essential elements of fleeting impressions to visual memory, then make those impressions into an image.
  • Initially at least the aim is not to make a finished picture, but to capture information. Focus on the key elements – a person’s face and hands, how they’re standing, the dynamic of a group of people huddled together. You might also have to draw a lot quicker. You’ll need to do a number of drawings. Movements are often cyclical even for people. Decide when to do the background and when to do the people.
  • Interactions with the subjects – how to stop people being embarrassed or self-conscious See some of the hints in Urban Sketching
  • Many reportage illustrators include written notes with their illustrations, reflecting on their perceptions, describing dialogue, thoughts or events. This adds to the personal perspective and gives the drawings a sense of personal identity.
  • Final image: Mood, Media, Cropping, Colour etc

 

 

Dan Eldon

I first came across Dan Eldon as part of my OCA Book Design course, and was struck by the impact of his combination of photographs, collage and text. Although some of the videos and media coverage of his work since his death in Somalia is somewhat idealised – and he is still an outsider, I think combining different media to present different perspectives can be a powerful way of documenting both journeys and also social and political documentary.

Google Images

Netflix video

Travel illustration

Drawing on location, especially abroad, is another example of reportage illustration work.

For this project I used a trip to London in March. This trip was a weekend break with a boat cruise along the Thames. On the actual journey I focused on sketching and did not take supporting photos to see just how much I could fill in from memory. Then what the lessons would be for future. Also we were travelling fast and I wanted to draw as much as possible. I then produced final images in Procreate later, using the sketches directly or combining several into one image.

2.5 There and Back Again: London Journey

Inspiration

Tourist material: Seaside and Railway posters

Here  travel illustration tends to be used as a way of promoting a place through tourist material and visitor guides and so can be less concerned with objective drawing. In Europe and North America the railway poster served as a way of presenting these destinations as desirable locations for trips and holidays. The posters were commissioned by train companies and were presented on train platforms and station buildings. Following the current illustrative and painting styles they present picturesque and idealised views of landscapes and landmarks, often with the inclusion of people enjoying themselves.

John Hassal: eg image of the Jolly Fisherman skipping along the sands in ‘Skegness is so Bracing’

Tom Purvis: bold use of flat colours

Us and them: ‘Exotic’ or anthropological illustration

The danger of any form of reportage representing other people, cultures and  places, is that it is framed from the perspective of difference. There is a tricky fine line between ‘cultural interest’ and racist stereotype.

Early travellers and image-makers often took on a voyeuristic and often disapproving tone. Images often make comparisons between different
peoples and are framed within the sense of ‘discovery’ of ‘Darkest Africa’, of the west exporting civilisation to dark and forgotten corners of the world for their own good. These images reflect that message back again, reinforcing the values of western culture.

The same traps exist when visually representing class, poverty or wealth, or in fact any area of life where differences are noticeable.

I am inspired particularly by the work of Dan Eldon with his multi-layered collages. I first came across Dan Eldon as part of my OCA Book Design course, and was struck by the impact of his combination of photographs, collage and text. I think combining different media to present different perspectives can be a powerful way of documenting both journeys and also social and political documentary.

Documentary photography

I did a lot of work and research on journeys for my OCA Landscape Photography course (not assessed).

http://photography.zemniimages.info/portfolio/assignment-4-a-new-safari-reflections-on-shooting/ 

 

Documentary

I also looked at other forms of travel photography:

Lee Friedlander’s fragmented images that strongly accentuate the distance between the viewer and the world outside the car.

Robert Frank’s journey across America and its much more engaged social commentary through juxtaposition of contradictory elements

Dana Lixenberg‘s much more long-term socially engaged studies.

Many of the issues highlighted there are also relevant for illustration – and are explored further in:

Assignment 4 From the Edge where I look at different ways of thinking about and then representing diaries

Assignment 5 Oromia: A Collaged Journey

I also looked at a number of You Tube video courses on sketching techniques:

Urban sketching: people

Urban sketching: watercolour

Urban sketching: approaches and materials

Urban Sketching: pen and ink