Movement Through Picture Books

Western picture books are read from left to right. This affects the layout of a page, and the direction of character movement. Generally, characters also move through a picture book from left to right. When embarking upon a journey they will look to the right.

Susan Jeffers (1942-2020 USA)

When looking out a window, the window will often encourage readers to look to the right as well.

From ‘The wise robin’ by Noel Barr, illustrated by PB Hickling. Ladybird, fifth edition, 1952

When characters come up against a hurdle, in an unmarked scene, that hurdle will be positioned to the right.

Below, Wombat from Diary of a Wombat isn’t getting what she wants (carrots). But she is determined to keep trying for them until she gets what she wants. Therefore, the door is positioned to her right.

Diary of a Wombat desire for carrots

Illustrators can deliberately subvert this expectation. In Outside Over There, the mother and the dog are paying no attention to Ida. Ida is off on her own adventure. At first, Ida is also looking left, not watching out for what crops up from the right. (ie. the goblins who switch her little sister.) But as she gets involved in the fantasy adventure she faces right.

The inverse rules of directionality apply to books read from right to left, as in Japan.

Header illustration: From ‘The walls came tumbling down’ by Dave Hill, illustrated by Jim Roberts and Art Kirchoff. Concordia, Arch Books 1967, I’ll help you hide.

Home » composition

Slap Happy Larry Stories

I put this analysis into practice when writing my own short stories.

Lemon Girl: A movie-length novella by Slap Happy Larry. Everyone is someone else's little psycho.

Simultaneous Narrative In Picture Books

Let’s say there are 7 main categories of Narrative art. Narrative art is art which tells a story. This post is about the subcategory which has been called ‘Simultaneous Narrative’ art.

  1. Monoscenic — represents a single scene with no repetition of characters and only one action taking place
  2. Continuous Continuous narrative art gives clues, provided by the layout itself, about a sequence. Sequential narrative without frames.
  3. 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. Think comic strips.
  4. Synoptic offers the synopsis of a bigger story. You must know a story before you can understand synoptic narrative. In a picture book, the text will help with this.
  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 positioning on the page. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compact present and future action into a single image.

The concept of simultaneous narrative art is interesting when it comes to picture books because if you take, say, an illustration of a country fair, where one person is eating candy floss, another is riding the merry-go-round, another is shooting balls into clown mouths and so on and so forth, until all of the various ‘country fair-ish’ acts have been covered, is the viewer really meant to believe these things are occurring a the same time? If you visited a real life country fair, you’d never get a photo of that. You’d have to stage manage it. Yet it’s possible that within the fantasy world of the picture book, these events truly are going on at the same time. The reader is not meant to perceive them as sequential.

Alternatively, it doesn’t matter if the reader does read the events as sequential. The takeaway point from a busy circus scene: These things all went on at the country fair that day.

This circus scene could be an example of simultaneous art, because we don’t know which event happened when.

At first glance,the image below might also an example of progressive art. Characters don’t repeat, but multiple actions are taking place to convey the passing of time at the fair. However, positioning on the page is not relevant in this picture. Characters didn’t visit the theater first, next the ferris wheel, working their way down the page. We do require the text to tell us what the characters did and in what order.

progressive narrative art
Artwork by Bodil Jane. Is this an example of progressive narrative art, or panoptic? That depends on whether you believe all these things to be going on at once.

More likely, temporality is not important, because the picture book adventure is a carnivalesque, dream space.

progressive narrative art
Do you believe the trapeze artists are performing at the same time as the bear tamer? Or do they instead perform in the same place at different times? Your experience of a live circus performance will inform your interpretation of the static image.
progressive narrative sticker sheet
Circus friends stickers by Helen Dardik. The ultimate simultaneous narrative is perhaps the sticker sheet? (I call this the ‘collage sheet’ style of illustration.)
Home » composition

The Axial Cut In Narrative Art

The axial cut is a film editing technique. It is a type of jump cut useful to the horror genres. In any ‘jump cut’, the viewer sees a ‘jump in the visual’.

How does the axial cut work?

In an axial jump cut, the camera suddenly moves either closer to or further away from its subject. (The filmmakers will either make use of a zoom lens, or physically move the camera.)

How is the axial cut different from a jump cut?

‘Axial’ describes something that rotates around an axis. Imagine the ‘axis’ as an invisible line between camera and subject. In contrast to the jump cut, which indicates a jump in time, the axial (jump) cut indicates continuity. (No time jump has taken place.)

An axial cut is a type of jump cut, where the camera suddenly moves closer to or further away from its subject, along an invisible line drawn straight between the camera and the subject. While a plain jump cut typically involves a temporal discontinuity (an apparent jump in time), an axial cut is a way of maintaining the illusion of continuity. Axial cuts are used rarely in contemporary cinema, but were fairly common in the cinema of the 1910s and 1920s.

Wikipedia

AXIAL CUTS AND JAPAN

Axial cuts have been especially popular with big name Japanese film makers across the 20th century.

Rather than describe this editing technique, let’s show it. Cole Smithey has done the hard yards of finding examples from Hitchcock and Kurosawa:

In the age of gif memes, the axial cut has found a new home among the ‘film-makers’ of social media. Here’s a homemade version of an axial cut, starring a cat.

Since this particular film editing technique works particularly well with static shots, it stands to reason that comic book illustrators make heavy use of it. Comic books, after all, are a static medium.

THE AXIAL CUT IN CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATION

Ditto for picture books. Here it is in a picture book by Australian author/illustrator Shaun Tan. The Red Tree is an allegory for depression. In this case, the axial cut emphasises (the horror of) loneliness.

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
Home » composition

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.

SEQUENTIAL NARRATIVE IN PICTURE BOOKS

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.

nightkitchen121

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
Binette Schroeder - The Frog Prince
Binette Schroeder – The Frog Prince

SEQUENTIAL NARRATIVE IN MOVIE POSTERS

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.

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.

Continue reading “An Entire World In A Single Illustration”

Archways In Composition

Russian artist Boris Zvorykin (1872-1942)

As a framing device, arches, archways and arcs are useful to illustrators. Below are various examples of archways in art and illustration.

If you look up symbolism of the arch, you’ll be taken to the underworld of tarot readings and superstition. These days, the archway is considered a practical and aesthetically pleasing architectural structure, but in fiction and art still functions as what academics might call a boundary into liminal spaces. Fantasy enthusiasts might think of it as a kind of portal.

These ideas around archways (and similar structures) transcend time and culture.

Kawase Hasui, The Great Gate, Shiba, in Snow, 1936
Kawase Hasui, The Great Gate, Shiba, in Snow, 1936
Sarah Louise Kilpack - Coastal Scene
Sarah Louise Kilpack – Coastal Scene
Kay Nielsen East of the Sun and West of the Moon (1914)
Kay Nielsen East of the Sun and West of the Moon (1914)

In some cities and towns, street architecture offers many beautiful views.

The examples below are two-point perspective, using the archway as a simple frame, or a diptych (almost a triptych) in the example by Franklin Booth.

Franklin Booth

When illustrating The Sleeping Beauty, Trina Schart Hymen made much use of archways in framing. Aside from the compositional reasons, we can pinpoint the practical: a storybook (Medieval) tower features archways for windows. But the arches of Sleeping Beauty are equally symbolic, functioning as a ‘keyhole’ view of the world. This is another young woman cossetted in an attempt to keep her safe. See also Rapunzel and many other fairytale princesses.

The arch is a strong structure — a ‘pure compression form’ in engineering terms, and often the last thing standing after a castle ruin.

See: How Bridges Work from How Stuff Works.

East Gate, Winchelsea, Sussex circa 1807-8 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D08167
Trina-Schart-Hyman-1939-2004-1977-illustration-for-The-Sleeping-Beauty
Another illustration for The Sleeping Beauty by Trina Schart Hymen.

The archway isn’t always a simple arc. Here is a decorative example, with a mise en abyme arch-within-an-arch effect. The rich people in the gallery are as removed from the plebs below as the plebs are removed from the fiction playing out on that stage.

The Rossini Opera House in Pesaro (Rossini's hometown) - Illustration by Achille Wildi, 1969
The Rossini Opera House in Pesaro (Rossini’s hometown) – Illustration by Achille Wildi, 1969

Trees can form a natural, beautiful arch, turning a natural scene into a type of dwelling, almost a cathedral in this case. The forest is nature’s cathedral.

And an arch isn’t always an archway at all. Garth Williams uses the arch in a compositionally similar way to how the artist above drew the audience in the theatre. Two girls, emotionally separate from the parents, but with parents guarding their safety. Though this family occupies the same space, the girls are having a different experience from the adults.

Garth Williams (1912 - 1996) for Little House On The Prairie 1953
Garth Williams (1912 – 1996) for Little House On The Prairie 1953

Archways are a common feature in landscape design. Below is an example illustrated by Beatrix Potter.

Beatrix Potter, Fawe Park Garden, 1903 arch
Beatrix Potter, Fawe Park Garden, 1903

The garden arches below are functioning more as an umbrella might function, to draw attention to the character, who might otherwise get lost in this busy birds-eye composition.

Punch cover, May 1961, by Norman Thelwell

But the viewer isn’t always meant to notice the arch. Sometimes the arch frames a character. In the illustration below, Thumbelina and the rat each want something different. There’s a border between them. It’s subtle, but it works.

Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Vittorio Accornero de Testa
Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Vittorio Accornero de Testa

Certain types of bridges make perfect framing arcs.

Fantasy illustrators can find any number of ways to incorporate an arch into composition.

(A virtual trip) From Milan to the Moon and back ... Cover by Walter Molino, 1958 archway
(A virtual trip) From Milan to the Moon and back … Cover by Walter Molino, 1958

Archways are used in home architecture and interior decoration. The canopy bed also offers a natural arch and framing device. There are many, many examples of canopy beds in art and children’s illustration.

An Art Deco bathroom from the 1930s
An Art Deco bathroom from the 1930s

In the comical illustration below, the eye is drawn to the man trying desperately to get out of his parked car. Artist Dick Sargent makes use of the rule of thirds, and intersects the man’s head with the beam of an archway. The archways also insert distance between the man and his car, and the people catching the train. He struggles; they get onto their public transport without fuss.

Dick Sargent, 1960
Dick Sargent, 1960

Naturally, cinematographers make much use of arches.

Header illustration by Russian artist Boris Zvorykin (1872-1942)

Depicting Motion In Illustration

How do illustrators convey motion when creating static images?

As a case study, we can’t go past Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Others have analysed her illustrations in depth. Although soft watercolours aren’t the usual medium for high action, life-or-death picture books these days, Potter successfully used soft watercolours to create excitement. It’s deceptive. Impressively, she created high action illustrations even without the comic book flourishes, without the slashes of primary colour, without the art noir techniques.

THE FIELD OF UNIFIED MOTION

Building a field of unified motion has been an artist’s tool for attracting the viewer’s attention. A unified field of motion keeps the image coherent, sustains the attention of the viewer and, invests the image with an enlivening spirit, “its Alive!” We pay more attention to active than inert subjects.

J.M.W. Turner took pride in his ability to suggest motion. He invested so much motion in his later works that viewers complained he sacrificed legibility. But, motion is more evocative of vitality than objects delineated in stasis. Turner’s fascination with motion inspired him to create his famous early 1844 locomotive painting, “Rain Steam and Speed”. The entire surface roils with clouds of movement.

David Dunlop

In his post, David Dunlop also talks about Degas and Van Gogh, and points out how natural weather events contribute to motion. Wind is one such event.

Rain is another, creating a natural sense of vertical motion, except of course when it’s accompanied by wind.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite 1888 - 1960 The Storm
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite 1888 – 1960 The Storm

Back to children’s books, Blinky Bill is another interesting case study into motion, partly because koalas are famous for doing nothing all day (or appearing to). Yet Dorothy Wall created a story full of action. For young readers who knew koalas, this in itself would have functioned as a comic paradox.

By 1933, the comic book conventions are established. Notice the motion lines of the kangaroo, of the items flying off the desk, and of Blinky Bill’s slingshot. The image of Madam Hare reprimanding Brer Rabbit is more interesting, because Wall has used a motion flourish behind the onlookers, who are still, to suggest drama. The black flourish itself looks like a massive motion line. Wall reuses this technique in the final blow, where Madam Hare delivers a parting kick. This time, Wall makes use of ‘pow!’ lines as well as that black, background flourish.

More modern children’s book illustrators also use comic book flourishes to suggest motion. In full colour illustration, the white brush stroke is aesthetically pleasing.

The troll from the Three Billy Goats Gruff flies through the air. Illustration by Robert Lumley.

Chris Van Dusen also uses the interesting technique of bordering his characters in a thin corona of white aand/or yellow, to help them stand out against his beautifully detailed backgrounds. (Basically this is his way of dealing with aerial perspective.)

Mercy Watson Goes For A Ride, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Mercy Watson Goes For A Ride, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Mo speed, mo lines. The entire road in this poster comprises motion lines.

Le Mans 1954 poster by Charles Avalon motion
Le Mans 1954 poster by Charles Avalon motion
Illustrator unknown, circa 1920
Alfred Crocker Leighton (1901-1965) Canadian travel poster 1933
Alfred Crocker Leighton (1901-1965) Canadian travel poster 1933
Alfred Crocker Leighton (1901-1965) Canadian Pacific Railway poster for use in the travel market in Belgium, ca 1930
Alfred Crocker Leighton (1901-1965) Canadian Pacific Railway poster for use in the travel market in Belgium, ca 1930
1928 car advertisement with eagle by Lagache motion
1928 car advertisement with eagle by Lagache
Grant Haffner
Grant Haffner
Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman for the Pontiac Bonneville Vista, 1960.  Less lean and sway on turns, corners, curves. motion
Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman for the Pontiac Bonneville Vista, 1960. Less lean and sway on turns, corners, curves.

Back to Billy Goats Gruff and Robert Lumley. No motion lines here, but we do have a visual depiction of sound, which coincides with the goat trip-trapping across that bridge. This technique is especially widespread throughout manga, which originate in Japan — a language rich in onomatopoeia and mimesis.

Robert Lumley illustrates the billy goat trotting across the bridge.

The Art Deco poster below uses decoration to double-duty as the motion of ringing bells and a visual representation of the ringing coming out of them.

Certain objects lend themselves to motion, and in this case the motion of the lasso provides a ‘grid’ for the entire composition. This is an excellent case of typography helping out with the sense of motion.

Cover by N. Zimelli, 1931 motion
Cover by N. Zimelli, 1931
magazine cover from 1927
magazine cover from 1927

As Beatrix Potter knew, watercolour, in the hands of a master painter, is excellent for depicting motion. Even in the hands of a master painter, it always does its own thing, and this unpredictability is felt by the viewer.

Janusz Grabianski (1929-1976), Polish children’s book illustrator. This fox in motion is from The Big Book of Animal Stories, 1961
A cover of Japanese publication Shukan Shincho shows a magical hovering insect human chimera inside concentric circles. I can almost hear the hum.
A cover of Japanese publication Shukan Shincho shows a magical hovering insect human chimera inside concentric circles. I can almost hear the hum.
Dugald Stewart Walker illustrator, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) writer, ‘Rainbow gold; poems old and new selected for boys and girls’ 1922-6
Harry Beckhoff (1901–1979) Reader's Digest illustration from the 1950s, train, motion
Harry Beckhoff (1901–1979) Reader’s Digest illustration from the 1950s
Robert L. Dickey 1930
Robert L. Dickey 1930
In The Snowman, Raymond Briggs demonstrates that colour pencil/pastel is also pretty good for motion lines, too.
In The Snowman, Raymond Briggs demonstrates that colour pencil/pastel is also pretty good for motion lines, too.
Dan May moth
Dan May

DISTORTED BODIES

Distortion of bodies and even of objects is a…conventional means by which pictures convey motion. As Peter runs from Mr. McGregor in another picture in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, his head seems almost bullet-shaped, his ears apparently held down by air resistance, his body at an impossible slant that conveys great speed.

Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures
stop thief peter rabbit

Below are more exaggerated examples of the same technique.

The Greedy Little Cobbler by Tony Ross, Arrow Books Ltd, London 1988 motion
The Greedy Little Cobbler by Tony Ross, Arrow Books Ltd, London 1988 motion

FABRIC IN THE BREEZE

Where characters wear loose clothing with billowing potential, illustrators can easily convey motion by simply billowing the fabric. (Actually drawing fabric in motion is an art in itself, however!)

Where the fabric is not particularly billowy (ie. most clothing worn by masculo-coded characters), leaping and jumping is conveyed by inserting some space between the feet and the ground. It’s not entirely clear how high this guy is jumping as there’s no grounding shadow. (I conclude he’s flying more than jumping.)

RENE BULL (1845 - 1942) Leaping Warrior based on Ballets Russes, Polovtsian Dances by Michel Fokine
RENE BULL (1845 – 1942) Leaping Warrior based on Ballets Russes, Polovtsian Dances by Michel Fokine

Long hair is as useful as fabric in the motion department. Birds are clearly necessary to the story in The Great Sea Horse illustration below, but birds in flight come in handy more generally for conveying a sense that the static world illustrated before us is alive. A bird with its wings in ‘m’ position cannot exist without constant motion. Ditto for humans in mid stride, and so on.

The Great Sea Horse 1909 by Isabel Anderson 4
The Great Sea Horse 1909 by Isabel Anderson

Skies, especially stormy skies, can be utilised to convey a sense of motion on the ground. This pretty much always results in a dramatic scene. Notice too how Alexander Zick makes use of birds in flight to indicate the motion and direction of the ship.

Alexander Zick (1845-1907) 1892 illustration called ′The Viking’s Funeral’

A fight scene, on a ship, during a storm. Peak motion. Notice that Amos Sewell also makes use of static onlookers (proxy for us). These static viewers serve to emphasise the motion they perceive (as well as lead our eyes to the fighting characters).

Amos Sewell fight on deck during a storm

MOVING BUILDINGS

I’m not talking in this case about houses on legs, Baba Yaga style, though that’s one way of moving a building!

Is the building moving in each image below, or does motion solely derive from the movement of the viewer? It doesn’t matter, and in fact I think it’s both, in which case art does something everyday vision cannot achieve: a melding between object and perceiver.

First we have an example of a music theatre from Gaston and Josephine, a French children’s book from the mid 20th century, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky.

In this double spread illustration, we can clearly tell the music has begun, because the interior itself appears to be in motion, with the people in the gallery dangerously tapering away, their seats sliding far to the right (at least they would be if this illustration conformed to the laws of perspective and physics).

Otar Imerlishvili is ‘known for his whimsical scenes that depict daily life through the colored lens of innocence and wonder.’ This fantasy piano house is another good example of an illustration of music. You wouldn’t think it possible to illustrate music, which is an auditory experience rather than a visual one, but the magic of music seems to morph the visual world in synesthesic fashion.

Otar Imerlishvili piano motion
Otar Imerlishvili

Below are more examples of the ‘liquify filter’, applied long before Photoshop existed. In all cases, the buildings and background seem to be in motion.

Cover art for House Beautiful by Marjory C. Woodbury [1891-1964]
Cover art for House Beautiful by Marjory C. Woodbury [1891-1964]
Tumble Timbers (study drawing), around 1925–26, by Wanda Gág
Tumble Timbers (study drawing), around 1925–26, by Wanda Gág
Sidney Walter Stanley for The Willows and Other Queer Tales by Algernon Blackwood 1932
Sidney Walter Stanley for The Willows and Other Queer Tales by Algernon Blackwood 1932

The ‘liquify filter’ on the house below is more subtle. The scrubby brush strokes on the trees work harder to convey a sense of motion. But the wavy lines and slightly off-kilter perspective on the house is still there, aided by the unlikely height of the building.

The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories 1908 illustrated by Sidney Herbert Sime
The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories 1908 illustrated by Sidney Herbert Sime
Cyril Power, 1934 train movement
Cyril Power, 1934 train movement
Poster by Aldo Mazza, 1921
Poster by Aldo Mazza, 1921

REPEATED OBJECTS

The poster below works a little like the continuous narrative art technique utilised by picture book artists to suggest a sequence of activities, only in this case it depicts speed.

Motorcycle Rally Poster – Italian – art by Lucio Venna – 1927 motion
Mikhail Bychkov - Peter Pan
Mikhail Bychkov – Peter Pan
Zbigniew Rychlicki train
Zbigniew Rychlicki

INCLUDE ADJACENT MOVEMENT

Sometimes there’s little you can do to make the moving object itself look like it’s moving. In the illustration of a moving vehicle below, Anton Pieck includes exhaust fumes coming from the rear of the vehicle, which is a cue that the car is moving rather than parked. However, it’s not quite enough. He includes the boy running alongside the car to show us that the car is in motion.

Anton Pieck (1895-1987), Dutch painter and illustrator
Anton Pieck (1895-1987), Dutch painter and illustrator

TILT THE HORIZON

This illustration technique works especially well for ships. In the work below, the ‘horizon’ of the ship is tilted, but the actual horizon remains horizontal. It’s the mismatch which conveys the motion. I almost feel sick.

Jean Emile LABORER (1877-1943) Transatlantic, 1907 transatlantic steamboat

In Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein illustration below, the horizon itself has shifted. We view the ship from a distance, not as a passenger.

Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ illustration by Bernie Wrightson (1976)

Below we have a non-seascape example of a tilted horizon. Storms and titled horizons go hand in hand. This comes in handy even if your ‘storm’ is pathetic (inducing pathos) rather than literal.

The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories 1908 illustrated by Sidney Herbert Sime
The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories 1908 illustrated by Sidney Herbert Sime

Contrast with the painting below, in which the artist aims for absolute stillness (and achieves it admirably) with a horizontal horizon, water almost like a mirror and a collection of three artfully arranged ships, differing in distance but nonetheless evenly spaced from the viewer’s perspective.

Carl Brandt (1871 - 1930) After the Storm, 1914
Carl Brandt (1871 – 1930) After the Storm, 1914

In Ronald Searle’s illustration below, ‘motion lines’ suggest the big stack of books has been plonked onto the table, In fact that stack of books is probably the only thing not moving. However, those scribbly lines give the illustration an overall sense of motion. ‘Motion lines’ aren’t always attached to the item that’s meant to be moving.

from 'Slightly Foxed - but still desirable - Ronald Searle's wicked world of Book Collecting' Souvenir Press 1989
from ‘Slightly Foxed – but still desirable – Ronald Searle’s wicked world of Book Collecting’ Souvenir Press 1989

LEAVE THE SKETCHY OUTLINE INTACT TO SUGGEST MOTION BLUR

Victor Ambrus
Victor Ambrus

DOUBLE UP

Does this horse have two heads, or is it quickly looking backwards then forwards?

André François, 1972
André François, 1972
Nadezhda Illarionova - Cinderella
Nadezhda Illarionova – Cinderella
'Virtuoso' - The Roger Wagner Chorale
‘Virtuoso’ – The Roger Wagner Chorale

Progressive Narrative Art

Progressive narrative in artwork describes 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 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 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 concentrating on repeatable patterns and dualities
  6. Panoptic — depicts multiple scenes and actions without the repetition of characters. Think of the word ‘panorama’. ‘All-seeing’ (pan + optic)
  7. Progressivea 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. Instead, progressive art is a sequence dependent on its location. Actions displayed by characters in the narratives compress present and future action into a single image.

Below is a children’s book on the history of France. With history itself existing on a linear timeline, it makes sense that the cover illustration is progressive.

Progressive Narrative Art

Sequential narrative art was often used in film noir posters of the 20th century.

Progressive narrative art is so embedded in children’s book illustrations that the technique hardly needs a name. Any difference between progressive and panoptic narrative is a matter of viewer interpretation.

An especially interesting example of something akin to progressive narrative can be seen in some artwork by Richard McGuire.

These images are of single scenes, but frames are cut into the single scene to indicate the passage of time. The labels on the cut outs are clear indications to the reader exactly what the time sequence is. Apparently this style of narrative art was inspired by the artist’s friend talking to him about a Windows operating system. The modern audience is used to seeing multiple frames on a screen before us, and can easily cope with this form of visual narrative. If we read the date labels, we easily decode the meaning.

The Norman Rockwell illustration below might be a depiction of three people simultaneously viewing pictures in an art gallery, but it might also be regarded an amalgamation of two separate times.

Noman Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978) ‘Picasso vs Sargent’, The Way It Is, 1966

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

Since we’re talking about picture books, continuous narrative art often takes the form of simultaneous succession. Widely used in medieval art (in ‘hagiographies’, depicting the life of a saint), this term implies a sequence of events. Think of those cave paintings showing a stick figure with a spear, hunting down an animal. The moments are disjunctive in time but imply a sequence. For example, a series of pictures in a picturebook might show a child getting ready for bed: pulling off her jumper, taking off her shoes, brushing her teeth, retrieving teddy bear, getting under the covers. This technique of showing the passing of time works better for slightly older children, because younger children may interpret a series of pictures of this girl getting ready for bed as five different girls.

Take the two pictures below. The adult reader understands the first picture of catwalk models as monoscenic. Four different cats walking down the pier/runway. A child will also understand this. Next show a very young child the continuous Eloise drawings, in which each girl is the very same kid called Eloise. A child has to learn this.

The books of Sven Nordqvist make much use of simultaneous succession.

Continuous narrative in The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Avocado Baby by John Burningham

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
THE MAGIC TREE (1973) Gerald McDermott
THE MAGIC TREE (1973) Gerald McDermott.
Arthur Heming (Canadian painter and novelist, 1870 – 1940 coloured plate from Postmen of the Wilderness, Drama of the Forests, 1921 sun
Arthur Heming (Canadian painter and novelist, 1870 – 1940 coloured plate from Postmen of the Wilderness, Drama of the Forests, 1921
Tom and Tabby, 1963, André François, growing up
Tom and Tabby, 1963, André François, growing up

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
Trouble the Careless Kitten, Illustrations by Sharon Stearns, 1945
Trouble the Careless Kitten, Illustrations by Sharon Stearns, 1945
Dušan Kállay - Alice in Wonderland cat
Dušan Kállay – Alice in Wonderland

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.

katy-and-the-big-snow-hero
I suspect this book cover was influenced by Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats
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.

Tuesday Diary of a Wombat

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. But does it count as continuous art? Do we get a sense of sequence. If we know the basic order in which garden tasks are completed, then yes. (First mow, then whipper snip, then blow.) Otherwise no.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had that many clones of yourself working in the yard whenever big jobs needed to be done?
Warning Sign, Coober Pedy, Outback, South Australia, Australia
This image is from Coober Pedy in Australia. The three main images have frames around them, but the example of continuous art can be seen in the leftmost frame, in which I assume one man falls down the hole, not three at the same time, like lemmings. How do I know this? Only because I’ve read many picture books!