An Entire World In A Single Illustration

Sometimes illustrators want to convey an entire storyworld within a single scene. These are useful as establishing shots in stories.

Some call these illustrations ‘panoptic‘.

Panoptic refers to ‘showing or seeing the whole at one view’. Panoptic narrative art is often a bird’s eye view. The ‘camera’ is above. This is the art world’s equivalent of an all-seeing (omniscient) narrator.

The first to do is bring the ‘camera’ right up into the sky. The viewer now has a bird’s eye view of the setting.

But there’s more to it than that. It is an advanced compositional skill to incorporate mountains, deserts, forests and cities into a single scene.

Below is a collection of examples, with various ideas for composition.

National Parks - detail from cover of 1958 AAA Travel brochure
National Parks – detail from cover of 1958 AAA Travel brochure
J.R.R. Tolkein, illustration of Hobbiton for his book The Hobbit 1937
flying hat from the Tenngren Tell It Again Book, Gustaf Tenngren
from the Tenngren Tell It Again Book, Gustaf Tenngren
By Peter Kľúčik for unpublished edition of The Hobbit
Harry Clarke Cinderella illustration for The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, first published in this format in 1922
By Peter Kľúčik for unpublished edition of The Hobbit
Buzzati, Dino, The Bears' famous Invasion of Sicily, 1947
Buzzati, Dino, The Bears’ famous Invasion of Sicily, 1947
Jaro Hess Poster of The Land of Make Believe 1933
Jaro Hess Poster of The Land of Make Believe 1933
Wheat harvesting, 1984- by Ashour Meselhi
Wheat harvesting, 1984- by Ashour Meselhi
Trouble for Trumpets by Peter Cross
Trouble for Trumpets by Peter Cross
1940s illustrations by Helen Sewell for Books of Knowledge Thanksgiving Day
1940s illustrations by Helen Sewell for Books of Knowledge Thanksgiving Day
'Steinberg's Panoramas' 2.11.1938
‘Steinberg’s Panoramas’ 2.11.1938
Gustaf Tenggren (1896 - 1970) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves poster 1937
Gustaf Tenggren (1896 – 1970) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves poster 1937
Things of Summer, Kathryn Jackson; illustration by Richard Scarry from The New Golden Almanac, 1952

Header illustration: Luis Helguera, Routes of the Flying Clipper Ships Pan Am, 1941

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