Friday, May 27, 2011

Words and Pictures

Illustration is about communicating an idea pictorially. Sometimes illustrations stand alone, other times they accompany text. When words and pictures work together in harmony, the whole can be much greater than the sum of the parts - pure magic!

In a picture book, for example, words and text do not simply reinforce one another, they complement each other. They each provide different information. Each is somewhat ambiguous, possibly meaningless, without the other, and the reader's enjoyment comes (whether s/he knows it or not) from connecting the two internally to create a third reality that is not explicitly stated.

For example, the words,"Charlie had put in a long day's work" might accompany a picture like this:

"Charlie had put in a long day's work..."

Ok, so first off, Charlie's a pig. And he seems happy and proud of his work, not particularly tired or experiencing anything negative for that matter. I guess he's built a wall, so that's probably going to be important to the story later on. The fact that the final story is assembled completely in the audience's head, something like: "Charlie is a pig who just built a wall (for some reason we're going to find out about later), and is really pleased with himself (so I suspect things might take a turn for the worse at some point...)... and lots more things I'm sort of sensing but don't need to put into words..." is what makes the experience so deeply satisfying, and engages the audience in a way that is similar to what we all naturally experience in real life. 

What if those same words accompany a very different picture? Something like this, maybe:

"Charlie had put in a long day's work..."

Now we see that Charlie is a person, in fact, a young girl. We don't know precisely what she spent the day doing - since we do see a picture of her but it's leaving that information out, it's probably not important. What's important is that she's completely exhausted. Something is probably going to happen because of that... maybe she'll fall asleep early and have a strange dream... or maybe she's coming down with the flu... We almost hear in our heads what the next phrase might be: "...and was completely worn out." For Charlie the pig the next phrase might be, "...building his wall." - his follow up looks backward in time, while Charlie the girl's looks forward, or to the present time.

This is truly a feat of conjuring - the story blossoms into existence, and in fact only ever lives in the mind of the viewer, from the seeds you have carefully planted there.

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