Yellow and Black in Illustration

Yellow and black is a fairly common palette in illustration. Hildilid’s Night, Mo’s Moustache, The Happy Day, My Heart and Float are a few picture book examples utilising a greyscale palette with the addition of yellow.

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The Art Of Nightmares

How does an artist offer the viewer a sense of nightmare?


Over all, 12 percent of people dream entirely in black and white. … In the 1940s, studies showed that three-quarters of Americans, including college students, reported “rarely” or “never” seeing any color in their dreams. Now, those numbers are reversed.


Note how quickly those numbers ‘reversed’. More interesting for artists: The perception that we dream in black-and-white. Regardless of what we actually see while we’re dreaming, the low light levels of night-time means the real world becomes desaturated, and we associate nightmares with the night-time. Artists can suggest a nightmarish quality by desaturating hue, or by working entirely in black and white.

Black and white may work even better than greyscale to suggest a nightmare.

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Sequential Narrative Art In Picture Books

Sequential Narrative describes art which tells a story in a series of images making use of frames.

Let’s say 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. Sequentialvery much like a continuous narrative art 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.
  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 to convey a passing of time. A progressive narrative is not to be interpreted as a group of simultaneous events. Progressive narrative art is a sequence dependent on its location. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compress present and future action into a single image.

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


The scene below is from In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. It looks like a blend between Continuous and Sequential narrative art, 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.


Below, Shirley Hughes has used frames in a similar way. This scene might have been one large scene with no frames, but the frames emphasise the steps taken. She manages to get one smallish group of children from the top of the staircase to outside and down below, in time to see the flying hero do tricks in the air. Notice the teacher is visible at the top and at the bottom, showing that the girl is doing somersaults in the time it takes her classmates to go down the stairs.

Sequential narrative in Up and Up by Shirley Hughes
Sequential narrative in Up and Up by Shirley Hughes

Jan Ormerod is also a fan of sequential narrative in her illustrations. See Sunshine, Moonlight, Putting Mummy to Bed. Below Ormerod uses continuous narrative to depict a child getting undressed and dressed. I make use of this same technique to show a child getting ready for bed, but in an interactive picture book app, Midnight Feast.

Sun and Moon continuous narrative
Getting dressed scene in Sunshine
breakfast scene from Sunshine
Falling asleep Sunshine
Sunshine continuous narrative


In the movie posters below, notice how the designer has used page divisions — two overlapping characters and then a straight line — to indicate separate scenes in some sort of sequence.

film noir sequential narrative
sequential narrative

Movie posters these days are rarely as complex, focusing instead on a monoscene. But when movies are marketed with complicated and busy designs, designers can be brutal.

Illustrator Sam Gilbey, who has produced pop culture artwork for properties including Marvel’s Avengers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Karate Kid and Flash Gordon, argues that the introduction of Photoshop may have harmed the industry by making it easier for inexperienced designers to put together collage-style posters without the design skills to back them up.

“Obviously you think of the masters like Richard Amsel, working pre-Photoshop, and you can see how marketing departments have often thought they can now produce something similar internally,” he explains.

Creative Bloq

The keys to achieving a successful busy narrative in a single piece of art:

  • Pay attention to where the characters are looking. If they’re all looking at something different for no reason, this will look ill-thought out (and probably is). Eyelines of characters influence eye lines of the viewer. We naturally follow the gaze of other people.
  • Pay attention to the colour scheme. This applies to any sort of collage work, but if you’ve copied and pasted art from all over the place (even if that art was created by yourself) you’ll need to use a few colour tricks to bring it all together. Atmospheric perspective and tone will be as important as colour palette.

Flat Black in Picture Books and Art

If you’ve ever heard advice to avoid black out of the tube when painting, this article is a good explainer for what that actually means in practice.

Below is a collection of art in which I think the black looks really great.

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Illustrating Rain, Droplets and Rainclouds

Felix Buhot (French, 1847-1898) Rain and Umbrella c.1875, Etching
Felix Buhot (French, 1847-1898) Rain and Umbrella c.1875, Etching. Dark lines, which match the vertical hatching of the objects in the illustration. It’s not clear what is rain and what depicts the walls of the buildings. Weather and buildings unite.

The convention by which the motion of drops of water is represented by elongating them into a shape they never actually have in the real world appears in the picture of Peter jumping into the watering can. Yet interestingly, while this teardrop shape is like a backward arrow, we know the movement is away from the point only because we know the convention; Peter is himself a teardrop shape in this picture, but we assume he is entering the watering can, not leaving it—that he heads in the direction his body is pointed toward.

Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures
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An Entire World In A Single Illustration

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

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.

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The Home Hearth in Art and Storytelling

In his book Home, Witold Rybczynski describes a typical European house:

Heating was primitive. Houses in the sixteenth century had a fireplace or cookstove only in the main room, and no heating in the rest of the house. In winter, this room with its heavy masonry walls and stone floor was extremely cold. Voluminous clothing, such as Jerome wore [in the famous etching [St Jerome In His Study] was not a requisite of fashion but a thermal necessity, and the old scholar’s hunched posture was an indication not only of piety but also of chilliness.

Home, Witold Rybczynski

This is the 1514 etching he’s talking about:

Albrecht Durer, St. Jerome in His Study (1514)
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Umbrellas In Art And Storytelling

Theodore Levigne (1848 - 1912)

The oldest umbrellas, as we know them today, were used not to keep off the rain but to avoid the sun.

The basic umbrella was invented more than 4,000 years ago. There is evidence of umbrellas in the ancient art and artifacts of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and China.

These ancient umbrellas or parasols were first designed to provide shade from the sun.
Parasols by Rea Irvin (1881-1972)
Parasols by Rea Irvin (1881-1972)
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Haystacks In Art and Storytelling

'Every trapdoor must have a lid and a railing' Illustrator unknown, 1930s barn hay

The Thing That Stalks The Fields is an example of a creepypasta.

A creepypasta is an urban legend for the Internet age: a paranormal story that has become a meme. In earlier days of the Internet, memes were ‘copy and pasted’ rather than ‘reblogged’, ‘retweeted’ and ‘shared’. ‘Creepypasta’ is a corruption of ‘copy paste’. (Nothing to do with pasta.) Like a tall tale told around the campfire, the aim is to shock readers by sort of getting them to… believe it.

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