Do you have a dream house that exists only inside your head? Perhaps it’s somewhere you hope to build one day, or a mixture of great spaces you’ve been to in your lifetime. If you were asked questions about this dream house, I wonder how specific you could get?
- How many bedrooms does it have?
- How does one get from one bedroom to another?
- Where do the inhabitants keep their clothes?
- Their shoes?
- What would I find in the larder?
- Which direction does it face?
- If I flew into the air above your dream house, what does the surrounding area look like?
As Gaston Bachelard says, quoting Rilke in The Poetics of Space, those of us who keep dreamt-up houses in our heads haven’t worked out the details. Details such as: How does one get from one room to another without a connected corridor?
[The imagined dream house] is not a building, but is quite dissolved and distributed inside me: here one room, there another, and here a bit of corridor which, however, does not connect the two rooms, but is conserved in me in fragmentary form. Thus the whole thing is scattered about inside me, the rooms, the stairs that descended with such ceremonious slowness, others, narrow cages that mounted in a spiral movement, in the darkness of which we advanced like the blood in our veins.Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted in The Poetics Of Space
I realised that the house I had imagined inside my head wouldn’t necessarily work. And the architecture of the house is essential to the plot, which is certainly not true of many other picture books.
I wonder if it’s common for picturebook illustrators to draw a floor plan when illustrations are set largely inside a house. It really helped me out a lot, to spend half an hour visualising the entirety of Roya’s world within the story, down to the wallpaper.
Once I’d sketched a layout of the apartment, illustrations progressed at a faster pace*. I didn’t have to consider the interior decor, of her non-imaginary world, at least. I’ve heard art advice to the effect that you need to understand the entirety of a subject even if you’re only going to be depicting a single facet. I was imagining a banana when I heard that advice, but it certainly applies to houses and floorplans. Otherwise you’re liable to draw a house without any doors.
(By the way, I decided the toilet and bathroom are communal, downstairs.)
*This particular piece of paper also has the honour of helping a super poisonous Australian spider into a glass for deposition at CSIRO, so it’s come in handy indeed.
Header illustration is the classic picture book house, from The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion, 1959; illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham.