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Tag: illustration (page 1 of 4)

Storybook Farms

Farms in children’s literature are often a kind of utopia. Often these are animal utopias, and the reader is not supposed to even think of what the animals are really there for. Writing of the book Hepzibah Hen, a Children’s Hour favourite from 1926, is described by Margaret Blount as ‘the antithesis of Animal Farm‘, in which

there are a few hints of what a farm is really for, but they seem to relate to a kind of social code — one does not mention the word ‘Christmas’ to a turkey, or ‘Pluck’ to a hen.

Animal Land


Storybook farms require hens. Honestly, hens are the best kind of farm animal. They have the best personalities!

Hepizbah Hen cover farms Continue reading

What Happened To Rosemary Fawcett?

Dirty Beasts cover Rosemary Fawcett

Roald Dahl’s work wasn’t always illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Dirty Beasts, for example, was originally illustrated by a young woman new to the field, Rosemary Fawcett. The edition she illustrated is now out of print. Jeremy Treglown explains the story in his biography of Roald Dahl:

To one British critic, Russell Davies, “the buzz of misanthropy from Roald Dahl grows stronger.” Candida Lycett Green [another British children’s author] rightly said there was nothing new about this mood: she saw the first poem, in which a pig forestalls its destiny by turning on the farmer and eating him, as a version of the macabre, much earlier story “Pig”, in which a boy brought up as a vegetarian ends up in an abattoir. She thought that Dahl’s imagination was well illustrated by Rosemary Fawcett: “The nastiness of her pictures is exceptional.” This was meant as a compliment, but not everyone saw things this way. There couldn’t be a bigger contrast than between Quentin Blake’s benignly funny sketches and the giddying, lurid, surrealistic images Rosemary Fawcett produced. Her cover picture sets the tone: a child in bed with a teddy bear, both of them bug-eyed with terror at the sight of something positioned above and behind the viewer’s head. It is the perspective that is often most violent in these images–that, and the colors. For “The Tummy Beast,” Fawcett threw the greedy child over so that he is somehow flying, upside down, all chubby knees and protruding eyeballs, beneath a gaudy tableful of purple and mauve blacmanges and ice creams. And in “The Porcupine” the reader is made to peer, as if through a keyhole, onto a murky scene, lit by a single lamp, in which a goggling dentist waves his gigantic pointed pincers over the little girl’s much spiked rump.

Fawcett does more than justice to Dahl’s ferocity, but not to his humor or his underlying traditionalism. Dahl himself hated the drawings. He said he couldn’t face giving the book to any of his relations and offered to incinerate all the unsold copies and dance around the bonfire. Many of the British reviews warned that Fawcett’s pictures would give children nightmares, and this was the general opinion in the States, where the children’s librarians were in full squeamish cry: “Sadistic, predictable and unfunny”; “From stem to stern this is a gross, course [sic] unpleasant book.” The edition didn’t sell badly in Britain, but although, according to Murray Pollinger, Tom Maschler swore by Fawcett’s work, the illustrations were unpopular with Continental publishers. Revolting Rhymes, meanwhile, had sold over 100,000 copies in Britain alone. So Fawcett’s Dirty Beasts was eventually allowed to go out of print, and Quentin Blake was brought back in for the new edition.


There’s no doubt about it; they wanted a young woman because she was cheap. Blake was already fetching good money and had a good job as an illustration lecturer. Also in those days — even more than today — men were paid more than women for the same work.


I’m sad to find very little about Rosemary Fawcett on the Internet these days, which may mean, sadly, that when her illustrations were completely replaced by those of Quentin Blake, she may have become too dispirited to pursue in the picturebook industry. (I know that’s how I would have felt, at least for a while.) I can’t find another work illustrated by a Rosemary Fawcett.

Or perhaps she got married and continued an ‘illustrious’ career under another name? This is something I’d love to know. What happened to the talented Rosemary Fawcett, whose wonderful work was ill-suited to Dahl’s creepy rhymes through no fault of her own?

dirtybeastsRosemary Fawcett dirtybeastsRosemary Fawcett02 dirtybeastsRosemary Fawcett03

Dirty_Beasts_Rosemary Fawcett

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 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


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.

Picnics In Children’s Literature

Wind In The Willows

Charles Van Sandwyk

Charles Van Sandwyk

Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall

The Wind In The Willows has a great, memorable picnic scene and is used on the cover of various editions.

This artwork by Arthur Sarnoff captures the feel of a mid-century village picnic, with the women organising everything and the men carrying the heavy things. Looking at that steeple in the background, I’m reminded of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, in which Call (a cowboy born in the early 1800s) isn’t quite sure what picnics are, exactly, but thinks they have something to do with church.

Arthur Sarnoff

Arthur Sarnoff

Continue reading

Aerial Perspective Depicted With Line Art

There are various ways of depicting aerial perspective.

  1. Change the colour. (Background scenery such as distant mountains tend to look more blue.)
  2. Change the opacity. (The further away, the less vivid the colours.)
  3. Make use of blur. (Background scenery might be more blurry if you want to draw attention to your foreground image.)
  4. Darken foreground lines.
  5. Change the amount of detail.


thick lines

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


Or, you can stylize your illustrations, making up your own technique.

  1. Use white lines as background scenery.
  2. Use unfilled objects (with dark lines) as background scenery.

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

Rootabaga Stories

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

Here, Maurice Sendak does something a bit different.

The Wheel On The School

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




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.


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


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


Still Images In Picturebook Illustration

This is how my eight year old tends to begin her homemade picture books:

Once there was a dog_600x412

Professional picturebook illustrators, on the other hand, know all about movement, and are able to convey in a static image a wide variety of verbs that are happening within a scene.

Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay is an example of a picturebook in which movement is very important and expertly depicted. A loose, sketchy, generic style of illustration is very good for ‘high-movement’ illustrations, with realism best saved for sombre, more serious stories. Continue reading

Synoptic and Continuous Narrative In Picturebook Illustrations

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 but uses frames. Each frame is a particular scene during a particular moment.
  3. Continuous
  4. Synoptic
  5. Simultaneous — has very little visually discernible organization to those who are not acquainted with its purpose concentrating on repeatable patterns and dualities
  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.
Progressive Narrative Art

Progressive Narrative Art

In this post I talk about the difference between Continuous and Synoptic.


A continuous narrative is a type of narrative that illustrates multiple scenes of a narrative within a single frame.

Multiple actions and scenes are portrayed in a single visual field without any dividers. The sequence of events within the narrative is defined through the reuse of the main character or characters.

It emphasizes the change in movement and state of the repeating characters as indicators of scene or phase changes in the narrative.

Continuous narrative art is pretty much exactly the same as Sequential narrative art except minus the frames that help the viewer to know where one phase ends and the next begins.

Trajan's Column, depicting one event: The Dacian Wars

Trajan’s Column, depicting one event: The Dacian Wars

These days you find Continuous narrative art in comic strips, picture books and story boards.

This scene from In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak looks a blend between Continuous and Sequential, because although there is a frame to separate the pictures, the two frames almost seem to form a diptych (but only at first glance — there are two moons after all). I feel this is, overall, an example of Sequential narration.



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.

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.

This causes the sequence of events to be unclear within the narrative.

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

They’re not just used in ‘art’. Here’s an image from the Stihl home page:

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had that many clones of yourself working in the yard whenever big jobs needed to be done?

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

This is Mughal painting — a style from South Asia.

By the way, it would be unusual to find a painting like this in a modern, Western picture book because the characters are facing the wrong way! In picture books, the action goes toward the page turn, unless there’s some unusual reason to reverse it.


Continuous narrative art gives you clues, provided by the layout itself, about the sequence of phases depicted.

But you have to know the story before you can understand a synoptic narrative. This wasn’t a problem anyway, because everyone of the era understood the basic plot of the myths, fables, stories and wars depicted.

Wanda Gag’s  Millions of Cats

cats drinking milk

the double spread

cats drinking milk close up 2

a better quality image

cats drinking millk close up

a closer look


The cat drinking milk is an example of continuous narrative because the fall of the hill forms a clear temporal guide.

Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow


Again, the road itself provides a temporal guide. So this is an example of Continuous narrative art.

Marla Frazee’s Books

Marla Frazee makes a lot of use of this technique.

For example Mrs. Biddlebox (There’s an image of the thumbnail sketches for this book on Frazee’s webpage.)

from Boot and Shoe

from Boot and Shoe

Jan Ormerod’s books

Usually have the action repeated. See “Sunshine”, “Moonlight”, “Putting Mummy to Bed”.

Sun and Moon continuous narrative

Getting dressed scene in Sunshine

breakfast scene from Sunshine

Falling asleep Sunshine

Sunshine continuous narrative

Ian Falconer

Olivia waited and waited and waited

Here, Olivia the pig waits impatiently for her mother to sew her a different colored soccer shirt in Olivia and the Missing Toy. Not seen here is the bit where she walks off, bored.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

From Olivia and the Fairy Princesses.

I make use of this same technique to show a child getting ready for bed, but in an interactive picture book app, Midnight Feast.


Panoptic Narrative Art In Picturebooks

suburban happenings

A panoramic narrative is a narrative that depicts multiple scenes and actions without the repetition of characters. Actions may be in a sequence or represent simultaneous actions during an event.

This form was popular in the medieval era and often depicts a myth.

Panoptic narrative art is often a bird’s eye view. The ‘camera’ is above. But the art isn’t necessarily three dimensional: Illustrators can create panoptic artwork in 2D if they’re after a more folk artsy style.

The Conquerors by David McKee

The Conquerors by David McKee

Child Life May 1979

(The term has nothing to do with Foucault’s panopticism — I believe it is made up of ‘pan’ + ‘optics’ as in ‘all-seeing’.)

In modern picturebooks, there is a gradation of activity in a scene. Often, there is way more going on in a single picturebook illustration than would ever be happening in a real life photograph. For example, in the scene of the school fair from Shirley Hughes’s Dogger, below, we can see sorts of things going on — all of which would have happened at the fair — but all of the individual actions are meaningful and it’s unlikely they were all going on at the same time. The work is therefore on the panoptic continuum.

Dogger the fair

Film makers, too, often need to arrange characters within scenes in a way that wouldn’t naturally occur. But we accept these film conventions to a large degree, even when realism is the aim.

What if it’s clear from the context of the story that multiple actions in a single scene are definitely not going on at the same time? This is called Progressive narrative art, in which ctions displayed by characters compact present and future action into a single image.

I believe Progressive narrative art is a subcategory of Panoptic art, and in picturebooks and film the two terms merge, for the simple fact that we in stories, characters live in ‘storybook worlds’, in which it’s perfectly possible all of these things are going on at once. We can’t possibly distinguish between the two states unless we were to know the ‘real events’. But these aren’t wars we’re describing — they are made up from the get-go; there is no basic ‘reality’.

Roland Harvey

Australian artist Roland Harvey is an expert at busy, detailed landscapes and has created a whole series of books with massive panoptic scenes: In The Bush, At The Beach, In The City and panoptic scenes occurring throughout his others.

Eureka Stockade cover

The First Fleet


Where’s Wally/Waldo

Where’s Wally was created by Martin Handford, English illustrator. These books make the most of that wish to hunt and search, linger and examine.

Where's Wally

Migrant by Jose Manuel Mateo


This book uses a single vertical illustration and brief text.  It folds up accordion-style and recounts the story of a young family who immigrate illegally to Los Angeles, one huge image that is slowly unveiled over the course of the story.


The Great War : July 1, 1916 : the first day of the Battle of the Somme


an illustrated panorama by Joe Sacco would be worth a look. Not exactly for your younger crowd but an amazingly detailed depiction of what this battle site was like over the period of one day


Children’s Authors Who Did Their Own Illustrations

Even though they weren’t illustrators…

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince

the little prince 2 the little prince the little prince 3

Eleanor Estes

Ginger Pye

Ginger Pye

Pye house

Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons

pearl diving

dick overboard

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