Great Gifts For Young Artists

I have a nine-year-old daughter who loves stationery. As a kid I loved stationery too, and now I am an illustrator. These days, if I’m buying for a young artist I give great gifts. (A #lessersuperpower?) I love buying art supplies almost as much as I love using them.

Reason for this post: Stationery is never-ending in variation and as a consumable nothing lasts forever, yet I have been asked for suggestions on what to buy my stationery loving kid as a gift. It’s a fair question: Young artists living in rich countries with robust gift-giving cultures probably have an oversupply of pencils and markers.

Here are some gift ideas for young artists which are slightly off the beaten track. You won’t find these in big box stores, but you can find them easily online. I won’t add vendor links though. (Most readers of this blog don’t live where I live.)

1. Skin Tone Pencils

Most young artists have a proliferation of pencils already, because pencils don’t wear down as fast as pencils are gifted. But! They may not have a curated selection of dedicated skin tone pencils.

I like a box set because they encourage White kids to consider a wider spectrum of skin colour and incorporate diversity into their drawings. This is a long way from earlier childhoods, where the ‘flesh colour’ was peach. (Crayola have since changed the name.)

Derwent skin tone pencils

From a colour theory point of view, this set of pencils from Derwent is also good for encouraging young artists to think about all the different tones underlying skin. Who would naturally think that blue is a skin colour? Yet professional artists make use of blue to build up colour. Most coloured pencil manufacturers release a skin tone set — it doesn’t have to be Derwent.

2. Graphite Pencils

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Synoptic Narrative In Picture Books

A synoptic narrative depicts a single scene in which a character or characters are portrayed multiple times within a frame to convey that multiple actions are taking place.

The sequence of events is unclear.

Synoptic narratives typically provide visual cues that convey the sequence, but still might be difficult to decipher for those unfamiliar with 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 makes use of 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. Sequential narrative without the frames.
  4. Synoptic — offers the synopsis of a bigger story. You must already know a story before you can make sense of synoptic narrative.
  5. Simultaneous — has very little visually discernible organisation unless the viewer is acquainted with its purpose. There’s an emphasis on repeatable patterns.
  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 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 but rather a sequence that is dependent on its location. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compact present and future action into a single image.

Synoptic is the adjectival form of ‘synopsis’, which should give us a clue about what’s going on. Synoptic art = the synopsis of a bigger story.

You can find examples of synoptic art in ancient murals. The viewers of these murals knew the plots of these stories. The art simply triggered their memories of a familiar story. Everyone of the era understood the basic plot of the myths, fables, stories and wars depicted.

This is Mughal painting -- a style from South Asia.
This is Mughal painting — a style from South Asia.

Continue reading “Synoptic Narrative In Picture Books”

Continuous Narrative Art In Picture Books

A continuous narrative is a type of visual story that illustrates multiple scenes of a narrative within a single frame.

Multiple actions and scenes are portrayed in a single visual field without any dividers. The sequence of events within the narrative is defined through the reuse of the main character or characters.

Continuous narrative emphasises the change in movement and state of the repeating characters as indicators of scene or phase changes in the narrative.

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 makes use of 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. 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 unless the viewer is acquainted with the story it tells. There’s an emphasis on repeatable patterns.
  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 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 but rather a sequence that is dependent on its position on the page. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compact present and future action into a single image.


Continuous narrative art is pretty much exactly the same as sequential narrative art except minus the frames that help the viewer to know where one phase ends and the next begins.

Trajan's Column, depicting one event: The Dacian Wars
Trajan’s Column, depicting one event: The Dacian Wars
Continuous narrative in The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Marla Frazee makes a lot of use of continuous narrative. For example Mrs. Biddlebox (There’s an image of the thumbnail sketches for this book on Frazee’s webpage.)

from Boot and Shoe
from Boot and Shoe

Jan Ormerod is also a fan of continuous 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

Ian Falconer uses continuous narrative in his Olivia the pig stories. Here, Olivia the pig waits impatiently for her mother to sew her a different colored soccer shirt in Olivia and the Missing Toy. Not seen here is the bit where she walks off, bored.

Olivia waited and waited and waited

The double spread below is from Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. Continuous narrative is especially effective in stories about a hyperactive little person (or animal-person stand-in) because the multiple images convey a sense of movement.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

The cat drinking milk in Wanda Gag’s  Millions of Cats is an example of continuous narrative because the fall of the hill forms a clear temporal guide.

cats drinking milk
the double spread
cats drinking milk close up 2
a better quality image
cats drinking millk close up
a closer look

The road in Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow provides a temporal guide. So this is an example of continuous narrative art.


If this is were the same postman it would be an example of continuous art. But since it’s meant to be seven (identical looking) postmen, it’s not. It’s panoptic.
At first glance this looks like an example of continuous art but the title tells us there really are five separate firemen.

The following scene is from Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley.

Diary of a Wombat battle with bush

Continuous narrative is not just used in ‘art’. Here’s an image from the Stihl home page, presumably to convey the idea that if you buy the Stihl tools you can do all of these tasks in a fraction of the usual time.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had that many clones of yourself working in the yard whenever big jobs needed to be done?


Panoptic Narrative Art In Picture Books

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.

The art itself isn’t necessarily three dimensional: Illustrators can create panoptic artwork in 2D if they’re after a more folk artsy style.

suburban happenings panoramic art

You will also hear the term ‘panoramic narrative. This describes a narrative image  that depicts multiple scenes and actions without the repetition of characters. Actions may be in a sequence or represent simultaneous actions during an event. Whereas the word ‘panoptic’ is generally used to describe aerial views, ‘panoramic’ is used to describe a ‘camera’ closer to the ground.

Panoptic and panoramic art was popular in the medieval era, where it most often depicts a myth.

The Conquerors by David McKee
The Conquerors by David McKee

Child Life May 1979

(The term has nothing to do with Foucault’s panopticism — I believe it is made up of ‘pan’ + ‘optics’ as in ‘all-seeing’.)

In modern picture books, there is a gradation of activity in a scene. Often, there is way more going on in a single picture book illustration than would ever be happening in a real life photograph. For example, in the scene of the school fair from Shirley Hughes’s Dogger, below, we can see sorts of things going on — all of which would have happened at the fair — but all of the individual actions are meaningful and it’s unlikely they were all going on at the same time. The work is therefore on the panoptic continuum.

Dogger the fair Shirley Hughes panoptic art

Film makers, too, often need to arrange characters within scenes in a way that wouldn’t naturally occur. But we accept these film conventions to a large degree, even when realism is the aim.

What if it’s clear from the context of the story that multiple actions in a single scene are definitely not going on at the same time? This is called Progressive narrative art, in which actions displayed by characters compact present and future action into a single image.

I believe Progressive narrative art is a subcategory of Panoptic art, and in picture books and film the two terms merge, for the simple fact that we in stories, characters live in ‘storybook worlds’, in which it’s perfectly possible all of these things are going on at once. We can’t possibly distinguish between the two states unless we were to know the ‘real events’. But these aren’t wars we’re describing — they are made up from the get-go; there is no basic ‘reality’.

Roland Harvey

Australian artist Roland Harvey is an expert at busy, detailed landscapes and has created a whole series of books with massive panoptic scenes: In The Bush, At The Beach, In The City and panoptic scenes occurring throughout his others.

Eureka Stockade cover

The First Fleet


Where’s Wally/Waldo

Where’s Wally was created by Martin Handford, English illustrator. These books make the most of that wish to hunt and search, linger and examine.

Where's Wally

Migrant by Jose Manuel Mateo


This book uses a single vertical illustration and brief text.  It folds up accordion-style and recounts the story of a young family who immigrate illegally to Los Angeles, one huge image that is slowly unveiled over the course of the story.


The Great War : July 1, 1916 : the first day of the Battle of the Somme

an illustrated panorama by Joe Sacco would be worth a look. Not exactly for your younger crowd but an amazingly detailed depiction of what this battle site was like over the period of one day


Composing The Thumbnails Of A Picture Book

composing thumbnail sketches

How do you go about the task of mocking up a picture book? Most picture book illustrators make a dummy of thumbnails, to check the story flows well. Many writers (who are not also illustrators) find this a helpful practice, too.

The following notes are from Framed Ink: Drawing and composition for visual storytellers by Marcos Mateu-Mestre (2010) and various other sources such as Reading Contemporary Picturebooks by David Lewis (2001).

  • When composing a piece, decide first which part of the picture you would like the audience to see first.
    • To draw attention to something, make it bigger, and if it’s not actually bigger, position it closer to the camera.
    • We tend to look towards a vanishing point. So you can position important things there.
    • The audience tends to look in the same direction as the main character, assuming something relevant is going on in that direction.
    • For English-background readers, we are used to reading from left to right. If the action is going in that direction we’ll feel more at ease. If the action is going from right to left we’ll feel something’s not quite right: hard times and difficulty.
  • Decide on the emotion you want to evoke, and its intensity. (Sadness, happiness, action, suspense?)
  • The execution of the artwork — the stylemust suit the type of story being told.
  • In visual storytelling, looking great is not enough. Each work of art (frame) must help to propel the story along. Something which is simply beautiful may pull the viewer out of the story. [I think now of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, in which some scenes are not vital to the plot but exist only for world-building and atmosphere. This is important too.]
  • Is there anything that can be left out without changing what you want to say?
  • The first shots will establish the milieu and emotional landscape. This must remain consistent until the final frame.
  • To build atmosphere manipulate lighting, pacing and colour.
  • Give the audience the opportunity to create their own reality as much as possible, by creating a gap between the visuals and the text. When answering a question, raise another at the same time.
  • Simplicity, shadows and silences are sometimes more important than detail. Leave the reader wondering about something.
  • Where to position the ‘camera’? Looking up/straight on/from above/from some other weird angle?
  • Naturalistic perspective, flattened or exaggerated?
  • We look at things depending on what we’re focused on at the moment. [So if there was a hint of a gun in one frame, we’ll be expecting to see it, and therefore focused on it, in the following frame.]
  • Curved shapes = subtle/peaceful.
  • Diagonal lines = dynamic/aggressive.
  • Straight lines = assertiveness.
  • Avoid weird coincidences, like a tree growing out of a head just because someone happens to be standing in front of a tree.
  • When cutting in closer to a scene, there is a rule to be followed, to do with proportions. Keep the subject at the same position in both frames so the reader knows it’s the same subject and not a different one.
  • To make an image seem deeper, create an uneven balance of shapes — big to small.
  • To better convey the direction of action in action scenes, make the action follow the lines of perspective.
  • To establish intimacy between two characters, clear the space between them. To create antagonism, put obstacles between them. (Or make use of light and darkness/background shapes.)
  • High and low, right and left are all locations that can have significance. Figures positioned up high may be interpreted as in ecstatic or dream-like states, or may have high social status or a positive self-image.
  • On pages where pictures are mere vignettes or are only partially framed so that the words push in from the side, or where pictures are irregularly sequenced down or across the page in asymmetrical arrangements, then high and low, left and right have no significant value.
  • When studying picturebooks closely, positional codes are used relatively sparingly [when compared to comics and graphic novels].
  • More common in picturebooks: the convention that places figures in motion facing left to right. Any character attempting to move from right to left will be perceived as interfering with the natural course of events: they’ve returned from an adventure/blocking someone’s path/have sinister intentions etc.
  • Children are remarkably quick to take in a scene, even in cases where the illustration is not particularly ept, and interpreting that scene as intended, but there are certain features of visual images that are harder for children to understand: anything which has a meaning over and above what is represented. Children may or may not understand, for instance, that a red cross indicates medical assistance, depending on their age and cultural background.


Character Relations In Picturebooks

Shadow and Light Source In Picture Books

In picture books as in all illustration, the artist can use light source and shadow to create atmosphere, or even to add to the story.

Complement this with my post on creating aerial perspective.


Overlapping shadows tend to suggest the power of the objects that cast them over the objects they overlap.

– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

Nodelman offers as example Errol Le Cain’s clever use of  shadow in Beauty And The Beast. In that book, the Beast has an unusually shaped shadow which overlaps the father’s foot. This tells the reader that the father is afraid of the Beast.


That shadows can cause overlap effects suggests the importance of light sources for creating relative weight and focus. Not all pictures imply a source either inside or outside the picture for the light that illuminates the scene–books like Rosie’s Walk deliberately avoid any hint of darkness, and everything is bathed in the same even, cheerful light. But pictures that do imply a light source focus our attention on the objects in the light–and, if it is depicted in the picture, the light source itself.

– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures


Rosie's Walk Barn Behind Rosie no light source

Other illustrators include highly idiosyncratic shadow in their illustrations. Below is an example from Wolves In The Walls.


The verso image

The light above the door highlights the text without even seeming to. The light coming from the TV should really be casting a different sort of shadow from the boy lying on the floor (the shadow should be cast behind him rather than in front) and the girl, who is emotionally distant from this otherwise cosy scene, casts no shadow whatsoever. The colours are warm and this could easily be a cosy living room scene, but the shadows at the edge of this room combine with the off-kilter perspective to create an uneasy atmosphere.

The light implied by pictures may come from sources both inside and outside the pictures. Like the bright lamps often seen in Nijinsky, an actual light source depicted in a picture draws attention both to itself and to what it casts light on. For example, each of the lamps in the scene of a theoretically happy family evening nevertheless lights only one of the Nijinsky children, and so implies their isolation from one another. The light that shines onto Brian’s face from an unseen but implied sun as he peers through a window in The Salamander Room emphasizes the way in which the window itself, its borders jutting out from the rest of the picture like a jet taking off, offers an opening into the bright and free world outside. An implied light from the rear of a picture places characters in front of it in shadow, and Human takes advantage of this to place the evil brothers in shadow throughout The Water of Life; but when the good brother first meets the dwarf, the light comes from the front and illuminates his face.
Viewers expect light to fall from above, and therefore variations from this convention, such as those Van Allsburg uses in The Polar Express and M.P. Robertson uses in The Egg, create an atmosphere of strange mystery.

The Pleasures of Children’s Literature by Nodelman and Reimer


The recto image

Again, heavy use is made of shadow, though we can’t see — or even guess — at any light source. The light seems to be coming out of the opaque wall. The reader senses that there’s something inside the wall (aided, of course, by the huge clue in the title.) The light sources throughout this book are unknown and illogical, but also foreshadow the story. The reader doesn’t know what’s about to happen but we feel appropriately uneasy.

Gyorgy Kepes [Hungarian artist and art theorist] suggests that we expect light to fall from above, so “every shift from this standard light condition is registered and interpreted by us as an exaggeration of spatial dimensions”.

– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

InIn The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, Van Allsburg switches the light source on each page.

shadow falls in front
shadow falls in front
light from behind
shadow falls towards viewer

shadows fall behind


Occlusion always creates visual tension.

Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception

What is occlusion anyway, when we’re talking about art, and not dentistry or meteorology?

Occlusion is rarely discussed as a major issue in art, yet it could be regarded as the major issue in depicting a three-dimensional scene on a picture plane. By occlusion is meant that in any view of a scene some surfaces are hidden in part by nearer surfaces.

Occlusion Issues In Early Renaissance Art



First, what is a metonym? A metonym is a part that stands in for the whole.

  • Suit for business executive
  • The turf for horse racing
  • Canberra for Australian politics
  • The breast for motherhood

In picture book illustrations, sometimes we see an image of a part and this, too, is meant to stand in for the whole.

A choice is set up between a depiction of a character that is complete (realised by inclusion of the head, which is so important for recognition) and a depiction that is metonymic (realised by only a body part, silhouette or shadow.)

Reading Visual Narratives by Painter, Martin & Unsworth

When does an illustrator show the whole thing and when to show only a part? The inclusion of a head with facial expression imparts more meaning, of course, than if you’re only showing a shadow. This choice is all to do with focalisation: What does the illustrator tell the reader to look at? But what else must we notice about the picture? Inclusion of someone’s shadow shows that although that character was there before, now they have gone. This cuts out the need for an interstitial image showing the character actually leaving.

Similarly, a verbal description of a character as an attractive young Australian girl with a healthy tan commits more meaning than one describing her simply as a girl.

Reading Visual Narratives by Painter, Martin & Unsworth


A trick sometimes utilised in picture books is seen in the two images below, in which the shadow cast differs from the person/object casting the shadow. It’s generally used for ominous effect, but could also be comical. I use it in our picture book app Midnight Feast to show how the main character is angry at being sent back to bed.

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds movie poster

illustration by Ji-Hyuk Kim

The Shadow magazine cover

In Powder and Crinoline, 1912, Kay Nielson
In Powder and Crinoline, 1912, Kay Nielson

Picturebooks: Where to place words on the page?

Evelyn Goldsmith suggests there is evidence to support the idea that “the placing of a picture to left or right, above or below the text, can affect the amount of time spent reading the text itself.

  • When text appears under an illustration, we tend to read the words after we have seen the illustration, because we usually look at a page from the top down.
  • Also, we tend to look at pictures first, because of their inherently attractive nature.
  • ‘The words’ or ‘the text’ when talking about picturebooks can also be described as ‘verbiage’.
  • It is most common for words to be placed to the left of a picture, when the verbiage is separate from the illustration.
  • It is equally common for a complementary layout to be organised with the visual and verbal components adjacent to one anotehr veritcally in descending ‘layers’, either with image above verbiage or verbiage above image.
  • Verbiage placed above the pictures place the reader in an ambivalent state: Should we read the words first, or look at the picture? This ambivalence can add tension for the reader at certain parts of the book.
  • Arnheim argues that the upper part of a composition always has greater weight than the lower part, an argument supported by Kress and van Leeuwen. The material in the upper portion of a vertically organised layout has the function of ‘ideal’ as opposed to the lower portion realising the ‘real’: “For something to be ideal means that it is presented as the idealized or generalized essence of the information,  hence also as its ostensibly, most salient part. The real is then opposed to this in that it presents more specific information (e.g. details), more ‘down to earth’ information (e.g. photographs as documentary evidence, or maps or charts), or more practical information (e.g. practical consequences, directions for action).”
  • “If the upper part of the page is occupied by the text and the lower part by one or more pictures…the text plays, ideologically, the lead role, and the pictures a subservient role (which, however, is important in its own way, as specification, evidence, practical consequence, and so on.) If the roles are reversed, so that one or more pictures occupy the top section, then the Ideal, the ideologically foregrounded part of the message, is communicated visually, and the text serves to elaborate on it.”
from This Is Not My Hat
from This Is Not My Hat
I Am A Bunny by Ole Rissom, illustrated by Richard Scarry. The text in the middle draws reader's eyes to the seeds in the air.
I Am A Bunny by Ole Rissom, illustrated by Richard Scarry. The text in the middle draws reader’s eyes to the seeds in the air.
  • The two most common arrangements of picture/text in picturebooks: the text on the left side of a two-page spread with the picture on the right, or the picture on the top and the text on the bottom.
Singing Away the Dark illustrated by Julie Morstad shows conventional (non-marked) word placement -- text on the left and underneath.
Singing Away the Dark illustrated by Julie Morstad shows conventional (non-marked) word placement — text on the left and underneath.
Illustration by Jimmy Liao -- interesting because there was room beside the tree, but decision was made to place text below.
Illustration by Jimmy Liao — interesting because there was room beside the tree, but decision was made to place text below.
  • “The more frequent choice for a complementary vertical layout in a picture book is for the verbiage to come below the picture, and it is undoubtedly the image that most strongly claims our attention in that case. By contrast, where the verbiage appears above the picture it seems less easy to ignore the words.” (from Reading Visual Narratives.) There aren’t enough of such texts to draw a strong enough conclusion though, so let’s just say the dominance of the text is most closely related to how much there is of it. If the pages are covered in text, obviously the text is not going to be ignored.
Mandor et Papillote, 1954
Mandor et Papillote, 1954
  • But more unusual arrangements are possible to create strong narrative effects.
I Want My Hat Back -- picture on left, text on right.
I Want My Hat Back — picture on left, text on right. This book has a non-linear narrative – soon the main character will run backwards through the book.
From 'Two Can Toucan'. Written and illustrated by David McKee, 1964. Words can become part of the picture.
From ‘Two Can Toucan’. Written and illustrated by David McKee, 1964. Words can become part of the picture.
Or you can put aside some white space.
Or you can put aside some white space.
  • So far I’ve been writing about ‘complementary’ layouts. What about when the verbiage is a part of the picture itself? ‘Intratext’ is the word used to describe words on signs, food package etc. But when the narrative is placed somewhere inside the picture rather than on a separate page, or somehow demarcated from it, we might say the text and picture are ‘integrated’.
  • Sometimes the text appears inside a speech bubble e.g. Don’t Forget The Bacon by Pat Hutchins. This technique seems to borrow from superhero comics.Don't Forget the Bacon integrated text
  • Sometimes non-speech items are projected e.g. onomatopoeia, bang, crash etc. Japanese manga feature a lot of onomatopoeia and mimesis, which is often retained (and not transliterated) when adapted for the English speaking market.
  • One way of giving text more integration with the picture is by ‘decontextualising’ the picture. Most often this is when the characters appear on a white background. While white is the most common choice, the scenes from Wolves in the Walls below are part of a dark story for older children and the white background, too, has been replaced with darker textures which look like pages from an ancient text.


Slapping On Filters

The Horn Book has published a balanced and interesting article about digital and traditional artwork found in modern picturebooks, in which case some reviewers and enthusiasts are keen to know exactly how a piece of art has been created. The article wisely advises in its title: Just Enjoy The Pictures.

However, something from the following paragraph pulls me up short:

While many people embrace the notion that the computer is merely another tool in an artist’s toolbox, there also exists a disdain for art that tries to be something it isn’t, such as digitally created artwork that attempts to look like it was rendered in oils. Why go through the trouble to fake it when you can do the real thing? Why slap a filter on it to make it look like oils instead of taking the messy risk of working with actual paint?

I can’t work out from the article whether the writer realises that no (published) digital artist is simply ‘slapping on filters’.

So I’d like to make it clear here: Filters are about as useful as tits on a bull. There’s no ‘slapping one on’ to achieve any artwork with soul. Indeed, I don’t even know why Photoshop ships with filters. I haven’t yet noticed a picturebook artist who has found a use for a single one.

However, some artists may be making judicious use of filters. Judiciously. Maybe. With lots of mods.

Which leads me to my next point, a response to the clip from a new (niche) documentary called Making It, in which illustrators talk about their work. I haven’t seen the film. There’s a clip on video in which an illustrator called Anthony Francis Moorman talks about various things illustration related — how he enjoys drawing boobs and skulls and not buildings — then he goes on to  say that he takes great pride in the fact that his drawings are done by hand. He says that because of all the art software out there now, a lot of young illustrators are doing their work entirely on computer, and ‘it has no soul’.

As usual, I tend to question cause and effect.

1. ‘Soul’ and ‘spirit’ etc. are religious terms, which are trying to describe something else. ‘Soul’ is such a nebulous term that I wonder what it really refers to in relation to art. Does it mean, perhaps, that the slightly shaky lines, imperfectly coloured, are more attractive than the dead-straight lines which have been auto-filled in a program such as Adobe Illustrator? Does the ability to make perfect perspective with the guides in the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop take something away from the slightly skewed, morphed, unnatural perspective achieved by hand-illustrators?

2. Assuming that this is what is meant by ‘no soul’, is there no soul because the drawings have been done on a computer, or are the drawings soulless because they are being done by people who’ve had no real training in the art of perspective, shading and colour theory? In this case, the computer is not the problem; rather, computers may be standing in the way of a broad art education.

3. ‘By hand’ is an interesting term to those of us who paint digitally using a Wacom tablet. Because when I’m drawing on paper I’m using a pen-like tool. Similarly, when I’m drawing via computer, I’m using a pen-like tool. The degree to which I am able to replicate the experience of drawing on paper is determined by the amount of practice I’ve had: It takes several years to become really comfortable working with a Wacom pen, looking at the screen while drawing onto the desk. But I am still using my ‘hand’.

Moorman’s excerpt is interesting because his thoughts are representative of many attitudes towards the inferiority of digital art and the superiority of non-computer based art. It will be interesting to see if and how these attitudes evolve as illustrators move even further into an era in which it’s impossible to make a living without involving computers at some stage of the development process.