The Cosy Little World In Illustration

Artists have various ways of deliberately distorting naturalistic perspective to achieve a certain mood, for example, a cosy little world.

A common feature in children’s book illustration is the curved horizon. An exaggerated and curved horizon gives the impression that the child lives on a very small planet, and mirrors the experience of early childhood. The young child’s arena is small compared to that of an adult, both physically and imaginatively.

Humans have the tendency to populate every sparse area with fairies. We historically consider small protrusions in land (knolls and hills) magical in some way. Here’s an illustration of a fairy hill, with tiny people coming out of a trap door. (Similar imagery can be seen in “The Legend Of The Pied Piper“.

The Fairy Hill by Lady Beatrice Glenavy

And here’s an Arthur Rackham illustration of a magic hill:

Arthur Rackham Magic Hill
Arthur Rackham Magic Hill

I believe the concept of the fairy hill has something to do with the tendency to depict horizons as curves in illustrations for children.

Oxford Book of Poetry for Children compiled by Edward Blishen, illustrated by Brian Wildsmith (1963) fairy hill
Oxford Book of Poetry for Children compiled by Edward Blishen, illustrated by Brian Wildsmith (1963) fairy hill
The World Is Round by Gertrude Stein
A Postmodern picture book “The World Is Round” by Gertrude Stein, the only children’s book she managed to get published. (All the others were deemed too dark.) The cosy little world on top of a knoll or hill intersects with the symbolism of altitude, in which a character goes to a high place to achieve Anagnorisis. The grassy hill or knoll is the miniature, childlike version of ascension of the Mount.
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Collage Sheet Illustration In Picture Books

Crafters sometimes talk about ‘collage sheets’ and we can use this term to describe a certain type of picture book illustration. Basically, I’m talking about a piece of art which looks a lot like a sticker sheet, or, if you’re a generation older than modern adhesive, like a sheet of paper dolls, yet to be cut out. Think also of a page in a stamp collector’s album.

Technically, a ‘collage’ is a piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric on to a backing. But when talking about illustration, a ‘collage’ work can give the appearance of having been made in this way, even when there’s no ‘sticking’ involved.

I first saw the following image described as a ‘collage sheet’. Clearly, someone has used a two different coloured pens to create this artwork. No glue. No sticking. There’s an expanded use of the word ‘collage’ to mean ‘a collection or combination of various things’. Let’s go with that.

Raoul Chareun (Cagliari, 1889 – Milan, 1949) chicken collage sheet
Raoul Chareun (Cagliari, 1889 – Milan, 1949)

Images like this go back as far as cave paintings, which we might also describe as ‘collage sheets’. It seems we’ve always like to create images with animals that are important to us. These sheets have very little visually discernible organisation unless the viewer is acquainted with the story it tells. There’s an emphasis on repeatable patterns. They are examples of simultaneous narrative art.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Cat Lover's Animal Puns of the Tōkaidō, 1847-52 collage sheet
Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Cat Lover’s Animal Puns of the Tōkaidō, 1847-52
Utagawa Yoshifuji, Horse zukushi, late 19th century collage sheet horse
Utagawa Yoshifuji, Horse zukushi, late 19th century

Kenneth Mahood’s New Yorker cover below is a more contemporary example, with drawn dogs (instead of chickens). This could almost be a sticker sheet.

Artist Kenneth Mahood (1930-) The New Yorker cover dogs
Artist Kenneth Mahood (1930-) The New Yorker

ERIC CARLE

You’re likely familiar with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Note that Carle’s collage style is very well suited to the close ups required by that story. But take a look at the range of illustrations below. Carle’s style was suited to everything from close ups to long shots.

THE PROVENSENS

Alice and Martin Provensen created picture books with this sheet collage look on a white background. Notice how ‘stage perspective’ rather than ‘cinematic perspective’ is possible with this style. The limited poses of folkart characters are a feature. (Front, back and sides.)

Collage gives a flatness to the image that draws attention to its constructedness.

Playfulness in Lauren Child’s Picture Books
THE ANIMAL FAIR by ALICE and MARTIN PROVENSEN 1952
THE ANIMAL FAIR by ALICE and MARTIN PROVENSEN 1952
Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen in 'Fireside Book of Folk Songs' Selected and edited by Margaret Bradford Boni. Simon and Schuster, 1947
Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen in ‘Fireside Book of Folk Songs’ Selected and edited by Margaret Bradford Boni. Simon and Schuster, 1947
La Vidalita, Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen in 'Fireside Book of Folk Songs' Selected and edited by Margaret Bradford Boni. Simon and Schuster, 1947
La Vidalita, Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen in ‘Fireside Book of Folk Songs’ Selected and edited by Margaret Bradford Boni. Simon and Schuster, 1947

ROGER DUVOISIN

CALEF BROWN

GOMI TARO

Japanese illustrator Gomi Tarō also appears to create collage sheets. The huge advantage of collage sheets, as in other types of collage:

Collage lends itself to playfulness by its nature, as it constructs a new image out of remnants of others. In doing so it mimics children’s imaginative play.

Playfulness in Lauren Child’s Picture Books

When Gomi Tarō creates collage sheet illustrations, there remains a calm sense of order.

Gomi Tarō
Gomi Tarō
Gomi Tarō illustrations food in jars
Gomi Tarō

Although white helps colours to pop, the background can be any colour. In the case below, a ‘mouse colour’ is used to work well with the palette but not to compete with the vibrant pinks and greens.

The Fireside Cookbook by James Beard. Illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen. Simon and Schuster, 1949 3
The Fireside Cookbook by James Beard. Illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen. Simon and Schuster, 1949

LEO LEONNI

Leo Leonni created work in a similar way to Eric Carle. The example below makes use of black instead of white as a background colour.

A detail from Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse, by Leo Lionni
A detail from Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse, by Leo Lionni

Leo Leonni lived from 1910 to 1999. His books include “The Alphabet Tree” and “A Color Of His Own”.

DAHLOV IPCAR

"World Full of Horses,"  written & illustrated by Ipcar, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1955
“World Full of Horses,” written & illustrated by Ipcar, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1955

Dahlov Ipcar is another sheet collage illustrator who liked a background starting with black. She is best known for her vibrant collage-style paintings of jungle and farm animals. Like many animal artists such as Beatrix Potter, Ipcar’s love of animals is partly due to the summers she spent with her family in Maine. Ipcar’s parents were also famous artists: William and Marguerite Zorach. In 1923 the Zorach family bought a farm at Robinhood Cove in Georgetown, Maine. It was during a Maine summer that Dahlov met her future husband Adolph Ipcar.

BRIAN WILDSMITH

Another artist to mention here is Brian Wildsmith. His white backgrounds make his collage-y illustrations seem more similar to Carle’s than to Ipcar’s.

Brian Wildsmith’s website

A Brian Wildsmith illustration from The Hare and the Tortoise, 1971
Illustration by Brian Wildsmith in ' The North Wind and the Sun', Oxford University Press. First published 1964
Illustration by Brian Wildsmith in ‘ The North Wind and the Sun’, Oxford University Press. First published 1964

JOANNE AND DAVID WILEY

IVAN GANTSCHEV

Ivan Gantschev (1925 – 2014) was a Bulgarian-German illustrator and author of more than 70 children’s books. He created a lot of full bleed paintings but below is an excample reminiscent of the collage sheet/dye technique which, in the West, we tend to associate with Eric Carle.

Gantschev’s work is especially well-suited to the highly metaphorical genre of fairytale, because the positioning of the elements lends itself to the Surreal. The huge advantage to this style: the artist can wreak havoc with the laws of physics. There are no laws of physics.

Interestingly for this style of art, he has included shadows in the image below. Shadows stand out all the more when the viewer has no real insight into how they would come to be.

THE PEAR TREE (1973) Ivan Gantschev trees
THE PEAR TREE (1973) Ivan Gantschev
THE PEAR TREE (1973) Ivan Gantschev
THE PEAR TREE (1973) Ivan Gantschev

SAKURA FUJITA

Takahashi Shu and Fujita Sakura were artists who married each other in Setagaya (Japan) and then moved to Italy for 41 years. The couple achieved international recognition for their art before eventually returning to Japan where they chose to make their home in Okayama Prefecture in the beach town of Sami.

1972  from The moon and the fishes

ZBIGNIEW RYCHLICKI

Polish graphic artist Zbigniew Rychlicki (1922 – 1989) had a number of techniques, including a woodcut style, but here is an example of the ‘painted and textured shapes’ style of collage.

This is a style seen in contemporary illustrators such as Jon Klassen, who himself is said to be much emulated.

Zbigniew Rychlicki
Zbigniew Rychlicki

FIEP WESTENDORP

WOELEWIPPIE ONDERWEG (1960) Fiep Westendorp
WOELEWIPPIE ONDERWEG (1960) Fiep Westendorp

MICHE WYNANTS

NOAH’S ARK (1965) Miche Wynants back cover

JAMES FLORA

James Flora (1914-1998) was a prolific commercial illustrator from the 1940s to the 1970s and the author/illustrator of 17 popular children’s books.

Kangaroo for Christmas (1962), written and illustrated by James Flora (1914-1998)

But Jim Flora was probably best known for his distinctive and idiosyncratic album cover art for RCA Victor and Columbia Records during the 1940s and 1950s. In contrast to a children’s book illustrator such as Gomi Taro, using the collage sheet style he achieves for his album covers a sense of diabolical chaos and disorder. That’s a feature of this collage sheet style: It can be extremely ordered (lined up like a stamp album) or all over the place.

Many illustrators have been influenced by Jim Flora.

ANTONI BORATYNSKI

Antoni Boratyński was a Polish illustrator who trained during the 1950s and created many illustrations in the second half of the 20th century. He is well-known for illustrating The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende.

The background below has aged to yellow, but he was working on white.

Antoni Boratyński, Nie płacz, Koziołku, 1973
Antoni Boratyński, Nie płacz, Koziołku, 1973

This style of art isn’t limited to children’s illustration. Like graphic novels, when pitched at an older audience, there tends to be more on the page. But not always. Dahlov Ipcar’s dual audience popularity and her complicated collages are one example of a collage-style illustrator working with great complexity.

ADOLF HOFFMEISTER

Adolf Hoffmeister, Abkhazian Viticultural Landscape on the Shore (from the cycle Typographic Landscapes from the Caucasus), 1959, Newspaper collage, india ink, paper
Adolf Hoffmeister, Abkhazian Viticultural Landscape on the Shore (from the cycle Typographic Landscapes from the Caucasus), 1959, Newspaper collage, india ink, paper
Rince an dara ceim - Irish Dance Rhythms - May Keogh and Tommy Delaney 1968 collage sheet
Rince an dara ceim – Irish Dance Rhythms – May Keogh and Tommy Delaney 1968

The illustrations below are interesting because they make unusual use of borders. Some of the illustrations expand through borders like diptych, but these are basically separate images colocated on the same page, collage sheet style.

If your house were on fire, what one thing would you save? Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park explores different answers to this provocative question in linked poems that capture the diverse voices of a middle school class. Illustrated with black-and-white art.

When a teacher asks her class what one thing they would save in an emergency, some students know the answer right away. Others come to their decisions more slowly. And some change their minds when they hear their classmates’ responses. A lively dialog ignites as the students discover unexpected facets of one another—and themselves. With her ear for authentic dialog and knowledge of tweens’ priorities and emotions, Linda Sue Park brings the varied voices of an inclusive classroom to life through carefully honed, engaging, and instantly accessible verse.

In the tradition of Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking comes a heart-warming novel about love, family, grief, joy and the power of laughter and imagination.

When Inge Maria arrives on the tiny island of Bornholm in Denmark to live with her grandmother, she’s not sure what to expect. Her grandmother is stern, the people on the island are strange, and children are supposed to be seen and not heard. But no matter how hard Inge tries to be good, mischief has a way of finding her. Could it be that a bit of mischief is exactly what Grandmother and the people of Bornholm need?

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Eye Lines Guiding The Viewer in Illustration

Artists and illustrators use tricks which tell the viewer where to look. Since humans tend to naturally follow the gaze of others, one focusing trick is to create eye lines all pointing to the focus of the work.

In the Norman Rockwell image below, the viewer’s eye is drawn straight to the dog. Notice how Rockwell does this. Almost every single character is looking at the dog, except for one guy who is looking at us and pointing to the dog. The characters looking at the dog also form a circle arond the dog, placing the dog at centre of that circle, though not at the mathematical circle of the artwork. (Compositionally, that wouldn’t look good.)

Rockwell has also utilised various examples of ‘pointing’. A boy’s violin case also seems to point towards the dog. An artist uses his paintbrush. Even the postie is holding something that seems to point to the dog. (I can’t work out exactly what it is, but that doesn’t matter.)

Norman Rockwell Road Block - Issue of The Saturday Evening Post alley way
Norman Rockwell Road Block – Issue of The Saturday Evening Post
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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.

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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.

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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
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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.
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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.

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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
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
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
Omnia magazine March 1932
Omnia magazine March 1932

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

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