Shadows cast against walls in illustration tend to make a character look larger than life. This can be utilised to horror effect. Below, a big sister tells little brothers a bedtime story. The boys are clearly terrified.
The shadow in the Arthur Rackham illustration below catches the eye more than the head of the man.
Bright yellow is an unnatural colour to find in nature. So when yellow dominates an artwork it is often to signal that this is a fictional, fantasy or foreign world.
Of course giraffes don’t wear suits and play cellos, so the yellow background of this image indicates a fantasy world.
Offset printing often makes use of yellow along with red, white, blue and black in a limited palette.
The off-kilter perspective of the illustration below achieves a folk art feel. The background is flat yellow, to complement the other colours as much as to suggest fantasy or foreignness. Below is another example of a typical palette utilised in offset printing.
Most often white space, sometimes negative space comprises another colour such as black. In many ways, picturebooks are like film, but negative space is not an option in most kinds of films, where there has to be some kind of backdrop.
Negative space is advantageous because lack of setting means a story may not date so much. Although crisp white backdrops in picture books feel contemporary, we can find many examples which are really pretty old.
Below is a motley collection of illustrations but I feel they share something in common: They seem to have started from an assemblage of large shapes of colour. On top of those shapes, some are rendered and shaded while others aren’t.
The peak example of what I’m talking about is the illustration below.
The belief that walking under a ladder is bad luck comes from Ancient Egypt. A ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle. This is a sacred shape because it represents the trinity of the gods. Passing through the triangle would desecrate them.
The beach during daytime is mostly a fun experience: sandcastles, surf, sand in your sandwiches. Beach cricket, volleyball, fun with friends and family. Occasionally, storytellers take the happy beach and invert it for Gothic purposes.
But return to the same beach at night and you have something completely different. The beach at night requires no Gothic inversion. Under a cloak of darkness, the moonlit shoreline is now ethereal and spooky.
Okay so there’s no shore in sight in this one. Just two heads bobbing about in the open sea.
Stalking Horse: a person or thing that is used to conceal someone’s real intentions. I heard this phrase used to describe a tactic used by Woolworths Australia, who installed a digital mirror at some self-serve check outs. They said that they were not retaining any images, and if customers don’t like it, customers were free to use the staffed check outs instead. Then it turned out they were indeed (allegedly) retaining customer images after all. More literally: the stalking horse is a screen (traditionally made in the shape of a horse) behind which a hunter may stay concealed when stalking prey.