Illustrations Of Ominous Faces In Shadow

Photographers understand that faces can change significantly depending on how they are lit. Illustrators also know this. Faces obscured are ominous. Below are examples of ominous faces making use of shadow.

NACHTMERRIE OVER NEDERLAND (1945) L.J. Jordaan
NACHTMERRIE OVER NEDERLAND (1945) L.J. Jordaan
THE PSALMS FOR MODERN LIFE (1933) Arthur Wragg, man in front of sexual health clinic, 'Absolute Secrecy'
THE PSALMS FOR MODERN LIFE (1933) Arthur Wragg, man in front of sexual health clinic, ‘Absolute Secrecy’
Poster Art 1932 Fantomas, illustrator not found, ominous faces in shadow
Poster Art 1932 Fantomas, illustrator not found
Poster by Achille Luciano Mauzan, 1913
Poster by Achille Luciano Mauzan, 1913

Obscuring the eyes is an effective way of creating horror. In the illustration below, the deep-set eyes are entirely in shadow, or perhaps the eyes are not even there.

Fear (1945, L. Ron. Hubbard) illustration by Edd Cartier psychological horror
Fear (1945, L. Ron. Hubbard) illustration by Edd Cartier psychological horror
When the top half of a face is in shadow, it can mimic the look of wearing a bandit mask. The villain in this image also has a green tinge to his skin, another marker of ‘evil’. (See: Why are witches green?)
Here’s another example of a scary face in shadow, though in this case the villain really is wearing a mask.
The face lit up as if through open blinds has a specifically detective story feel about it.
Robert Maguire (1921 - 2005) 1959 book cover illustration for 'Negative Of A Nude' by Charles E. Fritch, although this art was used for several other titles too
Robert Maguire (1921 – 2005) 1959 book cover illustration for ‘Negative Of A Nude’ by Charles E. Fritch, although this art was used for several other titles too
Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson an unforgettable novel of suspense
Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson an unforgettable novel of suspense

In children’s books, shadows aren’t utilised as often, apart from grounding shadows an unobtrusive indications of light-source. That’s because most picture books aren’t meant to be scary. However, the picture books of Chris Van Allsburg are a notable exception. Starting out as a sculptor, Van Allsburg makes heavy use of shadows, to the point where his shadows carry meaning.

Chris Van Allsburg, ‘The Hooded Congregation’, ”Ghosts” by Time-Life Books, 1984.
from The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, meeting the magician face to face
from The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, meeting the magician face to face
Cover by Marcello Dudovich, 1930
Cover by Marcello Dudovich, (1878 – 1962) 1930. This looks like death warmed up.
Photo Magazin July 1953
Photo Magazin July 1953. The shadow across this guy’s face almost looks like a Rorschach test.
Mead Schaeffer (1898 - 1980) ominous face
Mead Schaeffer (1898 – 1980)
Mead Schaeffer (1898 – 1980)
Lemon girl young adult novella

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