Synoptic Narrative In Picture Books

A synoptic narrative depicts a single scene in which a character or characters are portrayed multiple times within a frame to convey that multiple actions are taking place.

The sequence of events is unclear.

Synoptic narratives typically provide visual cues that convey the sequence, but still might be difficult to decipher for those unfamiliar with the story.

There are 7 main categories of Narrative art. Narrative art is art which tells a story.

  1. Monoscenic — represents a single scene with no repetition of characters and only one action taking place
  2. Sequential — very much like a continuous narrative with one major difference. The artist makes use of frames. Each frame is a particular scene during a particular moment.
  3. Continuous — Continuous narrative art gives clues, provided by the layout itself, about a sequence. Sequential narrative without the frames.
  4. Synoptic — offers the synopsis of a bigger story. You must already know a story before you can make sense of synoptic narrative.
  5. Simultaneous — has very little visually discernible organisation unless the viewer is acquainted with its purpose. There’s an emphasis on repeatable patterns.
  6. Panoptic — depicts multiple scenes and actions without the repetition of characters. Think of the word ‘panorama’. ‘All-seeing’ (pan + optic)
  7. Progressive — a single scene in which characters do not repeat. However, multiple actions are taking place in order to convey a passing of time in the narrative. A progressive narrative is not to be interpreted as a group of simultaneous events but rather a sequence that is dependent on its location. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compact present and future action into a single image.

Synoptic is the adjectival form of ‘synopsis’, which should give us a clue about what’s going on. Synoptic art = the synopsis of a bigger story.

You can find examples of synoptic art in ancient murals. The viewers of these murals knew the plots of these stories. The art simply triggered their memories of a familiar story. Everyone of the era understood the basic plot of the myths, fables, stories and wars depicted.

This is Mughal painting -- a style from South Asia.

This is Mughal painting — a style from South Asia.

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What Colour Is Your Sun?

Ask a Western child to draw the sun and they will draw it yellow.

Ask a Japanese child to draw the sun and they will draw it red.

(The sun is actually white.)

A Sound Of Taiyoo Organ

A Sound Of Taiyoo Organ by Ryojii Arai

Taiyou Organ

The sun in A Sound of Taiyoo Organ is very similar to the sun as depicted in this Russian picture book.

Russian sun picturebook

This is a realistic depiction from Australia -- the final page of The Snow Dragon by Vivian French and Chris Fisher

This is a realistic depiction from Australia — the final page of The Snow Dragon by Vivian French and Chris Fisher

the-fox-and-the-hen

The Fox and the Hen by Eric Battut, who is French

It’s no coincidence really, since sunlight really does look different from there.

This is an Aboriginal tale from Australia, where the sun is most definitely yellow.

This is an Aboriginal tale from Australia, where the sun is most definitely yellow.

How Maui Slowed The Sun

This is a Maori legend from New Zealand, where the sun also seems yellow.

This picture book is about n Indian immigrant girl in New York City

This picture book is about n Indian immigrant girl in New York City

from The Very Hungry Caterpillar

from The Very Hungry Caterpillar

An orangish sun by Beatrice Alegmagna from Bologna, Italy.

An orangish sun by Beatrice Alegmagna from Bologna, Italy.

And Into The Water They Fell

Mr Gumpy’s Outing by John Birmingham

MADELINE IN LONDON BY LUDWIG BEMELMANS

Bemelmans is an interesting case, having grown up in Europe then emigrating to America as a young man. It’s safe to assume Bemelmans saw the sun through a number of different hazes. Generally, Bemelmans depicts the sun as yellow. For him, yellow is the ‘unmarked’ version. But he does something interesting with the sun in his picturebook Madeline In London — after the horse tragically eats all the gardener’s flowers, the flower-loving gardener gets out of bed, opens the door and sees a yellow sun in the shape of a flower greeting him. But once he realises his flowerbed has been destroyed, Bemelmans paints the sun as red. In other words, Bemelmans uses a red sun to signify a downward emotional turn.

Aerial Perspective In Picture Books

Aerial perspective refers to distance. When looking at an image, how does the viewer get a sense of depth? The artist can add depth to an image using various tricks.

There are various ways of depicting aerial perspective.

Change the colour

Background scenery such as distant mountains tend to look more blue.

Love le renard by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci

Buildings can be blued out:

blue aerial perspective

In this image the general real life rule of ‘blue for distance’ is exaggerated.

People can also be blued out:

Or a blue outline may suffice.

The Wheel On The School

Whereas aerial perspective is more noticeable across vistas covering large distances, artists can also use it to create depth in very intimate settings, for instance when foreshortening:

by Claire Elan

 

At sunset, or in the city, the blue is often swapped out for orange hues:

aerial perspective orange

Warms in the background, blues in the foreground definitely convey the feeling of a place cooling down after a hot day.

by Jamey Christoph

But not always. I feel the image below aims to convey atmosphere rather than time of day.

by Chuck Groenink

The general rule of cools in the background, warms in the foreground can also be inverted for a surreal, pop-art kind of look.

by Guy Shield

In a utopian setting where you don’t want any desaturation, you can change the palette. Often it will be cool colours for the background palette, warm for the foreground, but the cools are as bright as the warms.

aerial perspective change palette

Desaturate Colours

The further away, the less vivid the colours. Or even if there are no colours at all, the background will seem more see-through. In digital illustration, this can be achieved by lowering the opacity of the background images.

aerial perspective in black and white, by Jon Klassen

aerial perspective in black and white, by Jon Klassen

Fantasy illustrators tend to make heavy use of this technique as it creates a highly atmospheric image — often dystopian.

fantasy aerial perspective

In a Near Future by Francesco Lorenzetti

Make use of blur

Background scenery might be more blurry if you want to draw attention to your foreground image. This is a natural consequence of taking a photograph using an SLR camera and can also be applied to art. (It’s also a natural consequence of being short-sighted…)

by Elly MacKay

aerial perspective blur

Or, you might blur out the foreground and leave the background layer in focus.

by Mike Bear

Frame With Very Dark Foreground

In this image of Beauty and the Beast’s castle, artist Petur Antonsson has used four distinct perspective layers, starting with almost black in the foreground, brightest for the focal point (the house), an ochre layer of trees and a misty, blue castle behind.

aerial perspective foreground silhouette

Darken foreground lines

thick lines

Here’s a rather extreme example of line thickening in the foreground.

Change the amount of detail

 

Use white lines as background scenery

Heidi aerial perspective

white lines forming a gesture of mountains in the background

The Snow Queen

thin white lines for the background building, thicker lines for the trees in the middle ground, full colour for the children in the foreground

Use unfilled objects (with dark lines) as background scenery

In Drahos Zac’s illustrations for The Pied Piper, there may be ominous reasons for avoiding the sepia fill on background buildings: The inhabitants of those particular buildings may have already died. This theory holds up when you consider some of the foreground characters are also left unfilled. This feels reminiscent of ghosts.

Pied Piper Drahos Zak drahos zak2

aerial perspective lines

Silhouettes As Background Objects

by Erwin Madrid

Or the silhouette might have a bit of detail. You can be as silhouette-y as you like.

Rootabaga Stories

Silhouettes don’t have to be relegated to the background, as proven by this photograph:

Winterwonderland by Sabine Thöle

Upside-down Knitting In Picturebook Illustration

School Library Journal (Betsy Bird) posted an article about knitting as depicted in picture books — so often the knitting needles are coming out the top, whereas if you’ve ever knitted in real life you’ll know that the needles come out below the hands.

This is a wonderful observation, and once you’ve noticed it you’ll see it all over the place.

illustration by Takeo Takei

illustration by Takeo Takei, dating from the 1920s, Japan

 

OTHER INSTANCES IN WHICH REALISM IS MODIFIED

Raindrops

There are instances, however, where a realistic portrayal of nature isn’t necessarily warranted. Raindrops are actually round when falling from the sky, but in the collective imagination a raindrop is, well, ‘tear drop’ shaped. Where does the teardrop shape even come from? Probably from the leg of moisture coming off a droplet as seen when running down a surface such as a cheek.

Raindrop

round droplet from Midnight Feast

round droplet from Midnight Feast

See also: Animating A Droplet Of Water

Big Walking Legs

You don’t see this so much in modern books, but it seems children of yesteryear marched everywhere.

weird walking

Manic-Enthusiasm

I can’t find the credit for this image and it may be a pie advertisement for all I know. But we haven’t really seen these facial expressions since the 1970s Ladybird books.

manic enthusiasm