Natalie awoke the next morning to bright sun and clear air, to the gentle movement of her bedroom curtains, to the patterned dancing of the light on the floor; she lay quietly, appreciating the morning in the clear uncomplicated movement vouchsafed occasionally before consciousness returned. Then, with the darkening of the sunlight, the sudden coldness of the day, she was awake and, before perceiving clearly why, she buried her head in the pillow and said, half-aloud, ‘No, please no’.
from Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
In this passage, all as brightness and cleanliness, the “gentle” movements as the curtains sway in the breeze, light from the sun creating pattern on the floor, reflects the room’s atmosphere as one misaligned with Natalie’s emotions. The space may feel welcoming and still, and the terms Jackson selects to describe this morning after are alarmingly pleasant. Yet, as the passage continues, a sudden jolt from the established comfort moves the room to darkness and coldness. Like storm clouds obstructing sunlight, the room changes its atmosphere. Natalie’s waking up is the moment when which the room changes: Not only does the girl wake up from her dreams, crossing the divide from the unconscious to conscious, but she also begins to encounter the precipitating moment of trauma. There are no doors for Natalie after this trauma, an inability to exit or enter into a space that is not somehow associated with control or defined roles. Her desire for a cleansed and hollow home, ready to be filled in and cared for manifests in the dorm room setting, a space where Natalie attempts to control her surroundings.
Aurora are works of art in their own right. Of course artists have been reproducing aurora in paintings and illustration since it was possible. Below are some examples of aurora in art, including various media. It’s interesting to see how the aurora can even be reproduced using woodcut.
A Woggle of Witches is a picture book written and illustrated by American storyteller Adrienne (“Dean”) Adams in 1971. In total, Adams wrote six of her own books; mostly they illustrated for other writers.
Adrienne Adams was a prolific illustrator through the 1960s and beyond, and a two-time winner of a Caldecott Medal (1960 and 1962). Adams was born in Arkansas in 1906 and grew up in Oklahoma. They studied in Missouri.
Owl At Home is a 1975 picture book written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. The book comprises five very short early reader stories about a kind, anxious and lonely owl. These owl stories, along with the frog and toad stories come from the second phase of Lobel’s creative career, in which he tapped into his own emotions and acknowledged he was writing “adult stories, slightly disguised as children’s stories”.
In the classroom, Lobel’s picture book would make a good companion to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “To The Moon“. Owl At Home would also make a good introduction to discussions about the theme of loneliness, present in a great many works.
Owl lives by himself in a regular Western-style dream house (with the upstairs, the hearth, and everything you’d expect to see in a picture book dream house). Although published in the 1970s, there’s nothing 70s about this dream house — there are 1800s/early 1900s details, such as the candle beside the bed. (There doesn’t seem to be electricity.) Picture books set in this era feel atemporal to a modern audience. I’m not sure if this house is in fact inside a tree, because we don’t get an establishing shot.
On one page of Midnight Feast I decided early on that I had to have a tear drop falling onto a plate. I didn’t really consider how I was going to do this without owning animation software — so far I’ve not been convinced that highly animated story apps tell a better story than ‘semi-animated’ ones like ours. But this really had to be animated.
When I looked up slo-mo videos of droplets falling — thanks, Interwebs! — I found that the way a droplet falls and splashes is completely different to what I’d imagined. When I showed Dan my animation, based closely on the video, he said it didn’t look realistic. I assured him it was ‘realistic’, but the real problem was, it wasn’t believable, so we modified reality a little and ended up with a stop-motion kind of effect which isn’t perfect but quite cool nonetheless. (I’m always amazed when my animation works at all.)
This raised an important point for me, which is as true of drawing as of animation: There is a difference between accurate and convincing. It applies to stories equally.
The convention by which the motion of drops of water is represented by elongating them into a shape they never actually have in the real world appears in the picture of Peter jumping into the watering can. Yet interestingly, while this teardrop shape is like a backward arrow, we know the movement is away from the point only because we know the convention; Peter is himself a teardrop shape in this picture, but we assume he is entering the watering can, not leaving it—that he heads in the direction his body is pointed toward.
Wait Till the Moon Is Full is a 1948 picture book written by Margaret Wise Brown with pictures by Garth Williams. The story has carnivalesque elements, a gentle utopian storyline and a well-drawn mother figure, who is safe and warm but who also joins her son in his imaginative play.
This picture book is a perfect going-to-bed story because of its poetic elements. For this reason it has been produced as an audio play. It works even without illustrations.
“The Half-Skinned Steer” by Annie Proulx is, as said by Mary Lee Settle “as real as a pickup truck, as ominous as a fairy tale.”
Animals make an appearance in a lot of the story submissions we receive. Bunnies are maimed and killed. Dogs behave mischievously. Alligators threaten to attack. The truth is, many short story writers include animals in their tales, for different reasons. Many times, in our contests for emerging writers, an author will use a mangled or dead animal as a (seemingly) direct symbol for the loss of innocence, a dysfunctional family dynamic, or the end of a relationship. In other cases, the animal is not a direct symbol but merely a story element that interacts in a pleasing way with the rest of the narrative structure. Animals can add a level of tension or mystery to a story, they can drive the plot, or they can simply add texture. Though they can (often) be cute, animals are powerful presences in a story, and it’s interesting to consider the many different ways that they add to tales by contemporary writers.
Different cultures view the sun differently. Ask a Western child to draw the sun and they will draw it yellow. Ask a Japanese child to draw the sun and they will draw it red.
Our closest star is ‘actually’ white. I grew up in New Zealand and I drew it yellow. But when I lived as an exchange student in Japan, I noticed the sky really ‘is’ red. It’s fully red. American children also colour the sun yellow.
(The sunflower must have been named by someone who thinks the sun is yellow.)
However, it doesn’t always look bright red in Japan, and it doesn’t always look bright yellow in my Western home countries, either. In photos it appears most often as white. Part of our understanding of ‘an object’s actual colour’ is acculturation. We grow up learning that the sun is a certain colour.
Part of learning to illustrate is learning to really see. Wherever you come from in the world, suns, skies, road surfaces, and of course human skins, come in all different colours.
The sun in A Sound of Taiyoo Organ is very similar to the sun as depicted in this Russian picture book.
Below is another example of the sun as seen from Russia. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Japan and Russia are so geographically proximal. They’re so near to each other, in fact, that Russia and Japan are still in disagreements about which country gets to claim the territory of the Kuril Islands.
When taken to its extreme, a white sun surrounded by a corona of yellow with rays creates a powerful optical illusion for the viewer.
The sun looks quite different from Australia. When I lived in Japan I regularly left the house without sunglasses. Part of the reason is that sunglasses are considered a bit suspect by Japanese people, and a bit scary. But living here in Australia, I can’t leave the house at any time of year without sunglasses. I have a dark, wraparound pair for summer, and a lighter pair of lenses for winter. Australia and New Zealand share this in common; the sun is more glary down here. The archetypal storybook sun is yellow. But down under, the sun itself is white, and the sky around it is yellow. (Not that anyone should be looking directly at the sun.)
Maori language: Ata hāpara and atatū (dawn and just after sunrise). Ata mārie (good morning)
However, even in Australian art, sometimes you do see the archetypal storybook sun. The picture book below is Aboriginal. The sun is often covered in a yellow haze, especially in fire season.
The picture book below is also a picture book mythology, this time from New Zealand. In this case, the sun itself is turned into a character. (The New Zealand sky turns orange when Australian bush fires are at their peak.)
Over the next twenty minutes the eastern cloud lifted a little, rolling up like a slow curtain. A strange, red glow crept out from under it, filling the sky with a clear, furious light against which the hilss with their spiky crowns were plastered flat and balck, having no more dimension than a shadow. The rolled edges of the clouds were touched with gold and rose colour, deepening second by second to an intense brightness.
A description of sunrise in The Tricksters, a 1980s YAL novel by New Zealand author Margaret Mahy
Yellow and orange suns are the default and we see them often in illustration. The children’s book below is about an Indian immigrant girl in New York City.
MADELINE IN LONDON BY LUDWIG BEMELMANS
Bemelmans is an interesting case, having grown up in Europe then emigrating to America as a young man. It’s safe to assume Bemelmans saw the sun through a number of different hazes. Generally, Bemelmans depicts the sun as yellow. For him, yellow is the ‘unmarked’ version. But he does something interesting with the sun in his picture book Madeline In London — after the horse tragically eats all the gardener’s flowers, the flower-loving gardener gets out of bed, opens the door and sees a yellow sun in the shape of a flower greeting him. But once he realises his flowerbed has been destroyed, Bemelmans paints the sun as red. In other words, Bemelmans uses red to signify a downward emotional turn.
Header illustration: by Polish illustrator Zdzisław Witwicki, (1921-2019).
There is a rule that moons in picture books must be bigger than the look in real life, from anywhere on Earth. I didn’t fully realise this was a rule until a beta reader for Midnight Feast asked me why my moon was so small. In fact, the moon was the ‘correct’ size, but then I realised why he had asked the question: Every single picture book I looked at had an oversize moon.
Why is this? I believe it’s because picturebooks don’t happen in the real world. They happen inside this other reality, in which size is all out of whack. Children can behave autonomously as adults; adults can behave as children.
For the record, the moon at the end of Midnight Feast is now oversized. I did change it. And yeah, it does look better.
There is also an oversized moon in The Artifacts, but because it’s in a picture book, it doesn’t look big, does it?
Why is the moon so important in literature?
A (large) moon can infuse your story with magical powers, even when the story is not of the fantasy genre per se.
The moon is a physical manifestation of fate.
A moon can be seen from everybody, anywhere on Earth and therefore makes a story feel universal, much like a myth.
The moon can lend a feminine feel to a story, since it is connected to the menstrual cycle.
The moon is comforting, since it waxes and wanes predictably.
In picturebooks, for practical purposes, the moon provides a great source of light, making night scenes glow.
The Moon ‘Incorporated’
Sometimes illustrators emphasise the importance of the moon by incorporating the celestial object into the design in a way that makes the moon seem part of the earthly landscape.
On the cover of Slinky Malinki it’s done subtly, with the glow from the moon providing an illuminating frame for the title.
Which Witch’s Wand Works? by Poly Bernatene
Kay Nielson’s illustrations incorporate the moon more fully into the story, as the story requires:
This is a crystal ball, but we’re lead to associate the crystal ball with the moon.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MOON DEPICTED IN ART
One of the oldest portrayals of the moon was made at the height of the Bronze Age. The two-dimensional sculpture, forged from metal and gold, is called the Nebra Sky Disk because of where it was discovered in Germany. It dates to 1600 B.C. and is one of the oldest known depictions of the cosmos. Art historians believe it was probably an astronomical tool, hinting at how some Bronze Age cultures kept watch on the sky.
To the East and many centuries later, the crescent moon appeared in a sculpture called the Stele of Nabonidus. In ancient Babylon, King Nabonidus worshiped the moon god, called Sin, represented as the crescent moon. The king even gestures upward as a mark of his devotion. This piece dates to the sixth century B.C., during the last neo-Babylonian era, when religious worship of the moon was common.
In her illustrations of Beauty and the Beast, Schroder creates a fantastical moon which is actually smaller than a real moon.
Massive Moons On Book Covers
There’s a graphic design advantage to huge moons as covers — the moon provides a light-coloured circle upon which to showcase the title.
Oversized Moons In Books For Adults
This design feature isn’t limited to kidlit. Adults and teens are also drawn to oversized moons.
Since Earth is about three times the size of the moon, the Earth from the moon would look about the size of a picture book moon from Earth. I imagine this is about right?
MOON EQUALS NIGHT; SUN EQUALS DAY
Here’s something you won’t easily find in fictional picture books: The moon out during the daytime. In picture books — as well as in comics, film and movies — you’ll find that the moon signifies the night.
Even our hand held technology reinforces this binary. Various apps on my phone use a crescent moon as the symbol for ‘night mode’, even though the moon is not visible every night and even though it is sometimes visible during the day.
Why is the moon visible during the day? It’s one of those questions you think you know the answer to until a child asks you. Then you might find you need to go look it up. Here’s a YouTube video for just such an occasion.
Changing the colour of the sky is a great way to significantly alter the mood of an illustration. A blue sky is cheerful, a stormy sky foreboding, an orange sky indicates evening, or early morning, and a purple sky might convey a fantastical or magic world.
What if you change the colour of the sky after the rest of the artwork has been done? I read a hint lately in a digital art manual which suggested filling a top layer with the colour of your sky, then setting it to multiply blend mode. This will tint the landscape/cityscape or whatever to the appropriate hue, since the colour of the landscape is influenced by the colour of the sky above. I haven’t had a chance to put this to use, but I did try it out anyway on an illustration I’d already done, and I do believe it would be a good way to get the sky matching the landscape, if you end up with a hue which draws attention to itself, or in which the sky looks somehow separate from the land.
Header painting: John Muirhead – The Calm before a Storm 1881