Objects In The Foreground of Illustrations

One way to add depth to an illustration: Plonk something big and interesting into the foreground. Extend the picture as far back as the situation allows, all the way back to the hills, with detail in the middle distance. Utilise aerial perspective.

This illustration of a sleeping cat is a perfect example:

Quint Buchholz (German artist-Illustrator) cat
Quint Buchholz (born 28 July 1957 in Stolberg, Germany) is a German painter, illustrator and author. He is best known for his colorful, pointillist paintings that draw on techniques and motifs of magical realism, as well as his award-winning children’s book illustrations.

The dragon in the illustration below is doing double-duty as a decorative border, with its neck and tail curling around the left side of the page.

Maxfield Parrish (American painter and illustrator) 1870 - 1966, The Reluctant Dragon 1898
Maxfield Parrish (American painter and illustrator) 1870 – 1966, The Reluctant Dragon 1898
Ivan Bilibin city in distance
Ivan Bilibin city in distance
Let Nothing You Dismay by ELBERT MCGRAN JACKSON (1896-1962)
Let Nothing You Dismay by ELBERT MCGRAN JACKSON (1896-1962). (This is also a good example of blue and red illustration.)

Often, the foregrounded object will be cast in shadow, or partially cast in shadow.

Charles G. Dickson, 1924
Charles G. Dickson, 1924

FOREGROUNDED OBJECTS AND HORROR

Before we start utilising this interesting page layout willy-nilly, it’s worth taking a look at the psychological effect on the viewer. By no coincidence at all, the large and foregrounded object is a particular favourite with illustrators of horror and crime genres.

Tentpole case in point, Tom Addams, who created many iconic paperback covers for Agatha Christie novels. A feature of these covers: An onimous object in the foreground.

Agatha Christie Crooked House cover art by Tom Addams. Addams borrowed the girl in sunglasses from an Arthur- ackham-painting (Marjorie-and-Margaret). (Rackham hadn’t put sunglasses on her.)
By-The-Pricking-Of-My-Thumbs-by-Agatha-Christie-illustration-by-Tom-Adams
The-ABC-Murders-Agatha-Christie-art-by-Tom-Adams-seagull-seaside
Tom Addams

Faber reissued short story collections by horror writer Robert Aickman. They have fantastically creepy covers by Tim McDonagh. I love them for many reasons. I believe he’s utilising similar layout to the famous Agatha Christie paperback covers by Tom Addams, above.

A car speeds down a winding road. Red leaves blow up in its wake. Writing on the shamrock is partially on the page, partially off, an old trick. These covers also utilise the oversized moon. (Turns out big moons are pretty much obligatory in picture books.)
The ominous vibe of this cover mostly comes from the low angle perspective and off-kilter angle of the house. But what is that shape in the bottom right?

I mean, foregrounded obects don’t always lend a horror vibe. The image below is out of a cookery book. What’s the effect? As onlookers we feel privy to something normally hidden from view (mice).

Good Housekeeping's Cookery Book Illustrations By Fred Reeves and Douglas Woodall, Ebury Press London 1948 peephole cow
Good Housekeeping’s Cookery Book Illustrations By Fred Reeves and Douglas Woodall, Ebury Press London 1948

And the illustration below is a pleasant pastoral scene, right? The fact that flowers are in the foreground means nothing special, right? (Then why do I feel like something is hiding in the undergrowth?)

from a book about the life of Mikhail Prishvin in Russia 1973
from a book about the life of Mikhail Prishvin in Russia 1973

Is it just me, or is there something creepy about the dude in the armchair, sitting in darkness, voyeuristically watching the lit-up woman in a cheesecake pose? The man is functioning as audience, of course. We’re not meant to really see him, but his gaze directs ours.

Tom Lovell (American, 1909-1997), At The Window, 1936
Tom Lovell (American, 1909-1997), At The Window, 1936

FOREGROUNDED OBJECTS AT THE TOP

In all the examples above, the object in the foregrounds is at the bottom of the picture. What if a foregrounded image is at the top? (I choose not to ask ‘why’ of the following image of a rabbit crapping in the woods. I’m talking about the bird.)

František Halas, To the Children, illustrated by Ota Janeček Prague 1961
František Halas, To the Children, illustrated by Ota Janeček Prague 1961

Did you even notice the bird? It seems to me that a foregrounded image placed at the bottom of an illustration seems more ominous than a foregrounded image placed near the top. Is this because of an idea from antiquity, that bad things derive from the underworld?

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