Cutaway Houses In Picture Books

Cutaway illustrations are described by engineers and architects as ‘sectional axonometric’ drawings. They exist to show the viewer the inside of an object, with emphasis on its parts. In picture books for children, the cutaway illustration is quite often educational in its intent, for example to show the reader the inside of an object of building.

For example, the image below is a cutaway image of an insect nest, designed to show the viewer what it looks like on the inside — novel exposure of an otherwise secret space.

Edward Detmold illustration from 'Fabre's Book of Insects', 1921 cutaway
Edward Detmold illustration from ‘Fabre’s Book of Insects’, 1921 cutaway

There was a time when cutaway illustrations were very popular for child consumption, and I guess that’s because they were so new and therefore impressive. Popular computer games are all about the cutaway, normalising it, removing the ‘wow’. The Sims is all about the cutaway houses.

Sims cutaway house
from Mod The Sims

I also associate ‘cutaway’ views in games as necessary but bug-like features, for example when a character in a first person game approaches a wall, then partially enters the wall. This also happens in 3D architectural software when moving the camera about. It’s called ‘glitching through walls’. This game phenomenon is visually unappealing and I think it removes some of the romance of the cutaway house.

Though the golden age of the picture book cutaway seems to have passed (for now), it’s much easier for illustrators to create these images, even with no formal design training. A familiarity with popular 3D design software affords anyone the reference material to go to town with cutaways. But perhaps this is precisely why the cutaway is less utilised now; because it is less special? Or perhaps the proliferation of images in our culture has stripped away the feeling that we are afforded a glimpse into a secret world.

In any case, I remain in awe of a good cutaway illustration. The most simple and therefore the most suited to a retro style are these one point perspective dollhouse cutaways:

The illustration below is created in two point perspective, which lends a modern complexity.

This is a sectional axonometric comic by American cartoonist Chris Ware. Frames on a page are depicted as rooms in a brownstone building, a fusion of comic book design and architecture.

Modern software allows designers to create the ‘exploded axon‘. In these exploded diagrams, not only do we get a cutaway, detailed and 3D view, but each item is separated out. In the fascinating image below, Chris Ware has taken elements of exploded axons and applied a comic book style. These images are from a graphic novel called Building Stories (2012).

exploded axon by Chris Ware
Chris Ware

And here is a three point perspective example.

1974 printing of 1960's book Let's give a PARTY, pictures by Joanne Nigro
1974 printing of 1960’s book Let’s give a PARTY, illustrated by Joanne Nigro

Various “Picture Book” Cutaway Houses

It’s not easy to find the original creators of the images below, but each of them might easily appear in a children’s book. Some of them might just as easily have appeared in 20th century advertisements.

Victorians loved to make miniatures, and rich houses often commissioned miniature replicas of their own homes. These now look like ‘doll houses’ though they were not used for play.

The intrigue for miniature houses has not gone away. Though they have a retro vibe — or precisely because of this — look on any craft website and you’ll soon find embroidery patterns of cutaway houses (a.k.a dollhouses).

THE LIVING CITY EXHIBITION

Below is a well-known image of a cutaway building. Aerial perspective is achieved by rendering the background in sepia tones, and the people outside the building as grey silhouettes. This image is my favourite cutaway illustration.

Image by Andres Marin Jarque for the Valencian Museum of Ethnology’s permanent exhibition “The Living City”. Depicts the interior of a city apartment block at the beginning of the twentieth century.
George Hughes, "Early Guests" 1957; used on the Saturday Evening Post cover November 23rd
George Hughes, “Early Guests” 1957; used on the Saturday Evening Post cover November 23rd. This illustration is not ‘cutaway’ in the usual sense, but the composition intrigues.
Les Roses bleuâtres l’oubliette dans la cuisine by Edward Gorey
Les Roses bleuâtres l’oubliette dans la cuisine by Edward Gorey
Arthur Rackham ~ Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen,1932 "When night was come and the shop shut up."
Arthur Rackham ~ Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen,1932 “When night was come and the shop shut up.”

FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

The Lost Art Of The Cutaway

A Slice of Spitlefields by Ben Rea

Adam Simpson has made updated posters for Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. By using the cutaway technique reminiscent of yesteryear, these new posters take the audience right back to the 20th century. The designs are beautiful.

Progressive Narrative Art

Progressive narrative in artwork describes 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 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 uses 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. Like sequential narrative but without the frames.
  4. Synoptic — offers the synopsis of a bigger story. You must know a story before you can understand synoptic narrative.
  5. Simultaneous — has very little visually discernible organisation 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. Progressivea 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. Instead, progressive art is a sequence dependent on its location. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compress present and future action into a single image.

Below is a children’s book on the history of France. With history itself existing on a linear timeline, it makes sense that the cover illustration is progressive.

Progressive Narrative Art

Sequential narrative art was often used in film noir posters of the 20th century.

Progressive narrative art is so embedded in children’s book illustrations that the technique hardly needs a name. Any difference between progressive and panoptic narrative is a matter of viewer interpretation.

An especially interesting example of something akin to progressive narrative can be seen in some artwork by Richard McGuire.

These images are of single scenes, but frames are cut into the single scene to indicate the passage of time. The labels on the cut outs are clear indications to the reader exactly what the time sequence is. Apparently this style of narrative art was inspired by the artist’s friend talking to him about a Windows operating system. The modern audience is used to seeing multiple frames on a screen before us, and can easily cope with this form of visual narrative. If we read the date labels, we easily decode the meaning.

The Norman Rockwell illustration below might be a depiction of three people simultaneously viewing pictures in an art gallery, but it might also be regarded an amalgamation of two separate times.

Noman Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978) ‘Picasso vs Sargent’, The Way It Is, 1966

Interesting Science About The Colour Of Human Skin

man gets inked in a tattoo parlour

If you’re buying a gift for a young artist, a favourite of mine is a box of skin tone pencils or pens.  My Crayola box of the 80s included a ‘skin’ colour — in reality no one’s skin — symbolically and problematically the crayon was ‘white skin’. An entire box of skin tones is a far more inclusive gift.

Derwent skin tone pencils

WHY THE DIVERSITY OF SKIN COLOUR?

Our hairlessness has become a source of what we think of as beauty, a reality validated in every National Enquirer article about a “wolf boy”. It also has widespread consequences for our health and quality of life. It is the reason for the origin of melanin (the compound that, when present, makes dark skin) in sunny regions. The production of melanin in cells is just under the surface of the skin evolved in Africa, along with our loss of hair. All of our ancestors produced melanin and so were dark skinned, but when some of our ancestors moved out of hot climates, melanin blocked too much sun. At least a little sun on the skin is necessary for our bodies to produce vitamin D. Dark-skinned individuals in sunless places suffered rickets. The died, and so, with time, pale-skinned genes were favoured, not just once but several times independently, with the northward migrations of humans. In other words, the variety in our skin color would not exist were our skin not exposed in the first place by our lack of hair.

Rob Dunn, from The Wild Life Of Our Bodies

MORE

1. Nina Jablonski on the Evolution Of Skin, a Research Unplugged Podcast, available on iTunes U podcast from Penn State. She also did a TED talk, breaking the illusion of skin colour.

NOTES FROM THE PODCAST

Human skin is not much different in its basic structure from the skin of other animals walking around. But other mammals tend to be covered in hair, so it looks quite different. Humans are functionally hairless. This makes us very sweaty.

The next uniqueness is that human skin comes in a variety of natural colours. This is unique to our species.

The last unique feature of human skin is that compared to other animals we actually do things to our skin. We decorate it and use it as a canvas for self expression. Makeup, tattoos, piercings have great social significance.

Nakedness and sweatiness go together. In the course of evolution of our lineage, skin is hard to learn about because skin cannot be preserved. Nevertheless we have good evidence and we know we’ve had naked skin for a long time. This has been necessary for us to be more efficient sweaters. Humans and other primates are excellent at losing body heat through sweat. A dog pants to lose heat. A sheep loses heat through a mechanism at the base of its brain which allows it to cool a lot of blood flowing through the brain in particular via its nose. The more active the primate the more numerous its sweat glands. We come from a type of ape that has a moderate number of sweat glands. Other apes were extremely energetic in their activity, similar to modern humans so they must have had the ability to cool themselves with sweat glands. We’ve had excellent sweat glands for 2 million years.

When a horse sweats a lot they actually lose their ability to keep cool because their hair becomes compressed and their ability to lose heat through evaporation is limited. So the more hair you lose the more cool you can become by sweating. This is why we became hairless.

The ancestral form of our lineage lived only in equatorial Africa (2 million years ago). Hairless skin without pigment is very subject to burning. Recently we’ve become very aware of the sun but before that people didn’t protect ourselves well from the sun. Before that unpigmented skin burned a lot. This damage is not just the kind that causes you to have wrinkles and have skin cancer when you’re older but is actually damaging the DNA in your body essential for normal health and reproduction. So all of a sudden sun doesn’t become a little bit bad for you but a positive liability.

It was at this time in our evolutionary history that our species became darkly pigmented. All of us around 2 million years ago were darkly pigmented. The story of skin pigmentation then really starts out at this common denominator and it becomes interesting as the population disperses. This occurred quite quickly and we have humans going into Eastern and central Asia then Europe over the next million or so years.

When people went into these places their skin colour underwent major changes. Pigment in skin not only protects against dangerous effects of ultraviolet radiation but also is to do with making Vitamin D. Evolution is happening in our skin all the time. The pigment is filtering out a certain amount of radiation but also allowing a little bit in so that you can make vitamin D. Organisms like humans are remarkable in that through the course of natural selection we’ve tinkered with the amount of pigmentation in skin exactly right.

Outside the tropics, where humans first evolved, there isn’t very much of the UV radiation that makes vitamin D, and yet we need vitamin D to be healthy. That’s why, as humans moved into higher latitudes lost pigmentation, many of us have lightly pigmented skin, especially in northern Europe and northern Asia. This pigment (melanin) can be produced temporarily by people who tan. It was an important response that evolved in some people to deal with the increased UV that occurred for part of the year. (Summer)

We use skin constantly to advertise ourselves. Even for those who put no decoration on our skins, our skin tells a lot about your state of health. It immediately gives a signal to any observer about age, how much sun exposure you’ve had and what your likely ancestry is, even from 50 yards away.

If you have a certain amount of makeup on of a particular kind, or if you have tattoos of various kinds and positions we learn even more about you before you say anything. We use these cultural mechanisms to great advantage, to give people info about ourselves before they even talk to us. In modern society where speedy social interactions are the rule rather than exception more and more people are relying on this kind of advertising. (eg black and white goths)

Little Girl with Lipstick, Norman Rockwell, 1922

There’s a difference between cosmetics and something like a tattoo or piercing. Many older people can’t relate to tattoos as a visual medium and think it’s a foolish thing to do. After interviews, I realise young people think extremely carefully about it because they want a tattoo to be another symbol of themselves. Tattoos are not something people undertake frivolously. The vast majority consider it very carefully. It speaks of very deeply held aspirations about themselves, and have become extremely popular in the last 10-15 years.

There have always been men who tell women not to wear make up. One example from history is a London minister of St Giles in the Fieldswas not fond of cosmetics and in 1616 railed against ‘paps embossed, laid forth to men’s view’.

A treatise against pain and tincturing

We use our skin to gather information about our environment through the sense of touch. A lot of animals do this but we use our sense of touch tremendously, especially the tips of fingers and face. We gather a huge amount of info about our environment and about each other. Primates evolved to constantly touch one another. Humans living in a hunter gatherer society have a tremendous amount of physical touch between members, but our society has regulated against most of this kind of touch. If we were chimpanzees a roomful of students would be intertwined with one another, grooming. We tend to discount this part of our legacy. Touch is very important to normal childhood development and physiological well-being. Individuals in nursing homes do much better when they are touched and hugged.

Makeup Counter by Constantin Alajalov (1900-1987) The Saturday Evening Post cover March 10, 1951
  1. Surprising Siblings: Black and White Brothers Are Actually Twins shows that people of Caribbean descent often carry European DNA.
  2. Some Doctors Aren’t Wild About Self Tanner And Prefer You Stay Pale from Jezebel.
  3. And if this article doesn’t stop you from using sun beds nothing will, from Women’s Health.
  4. Based On The Colour Of One’s Skin, in which we are cautioned against confusing skin colour and racial identity, from Zero At The Bone
  5. Crayons that come in lots of different ‘skin colours’.
  6. The Enduring Popularity Of The Tan from The Beheld
  7. A depressingly large number of Nigerian women use harmful skin bleach, from Jezebel
  8. Tanning Is a Young, White, Female Problem. And It’s Deadly, also from Jezebel.
  9. Pigmentation: the simplest of complex traits not so simple? from Discover
  10. Neanderthals Came In All Colours, Discover

Header photo by Paladini Mauro