Yellow Backgrounds In Illustration

Bright yellow is an unnatural colour to find in nature. So when yellow dominates an artwork it is often to signal that this is a fictional, fantasy or foreign world.

Of course giraffes don’t wear suits and play cellos, so the yellow background of this image indicates a fantasy world.

Hungarian-American illustrator Tibor Gergely. (1900 - 1978) giraffes cellos
Hungarian-American illustrator Tibor Gergely. (1900 – 1978)
CAROLIEN (1940s) Bertram
1942 Saturday Evening Post Cover, Woman Rider at Dude Ranch by Fred Ludekens
1942 Saturday Evening Post Cover, Woman Rider at Dude Ranch by Fred Ludekens
The Carnaval A Book Of Poems by Sef Roman Semenovich 1994
The Carnaval A Book Of Poems by Sef Roman Semenovich 1994
The Carnaval A Book Of Poems by Sef Roman Semenovich 1994
The Carnaval A Book Of Poems by Sef Roman Semenovich 1994
Hairy Maclary Shoo by Lynley Dodd cover
Hairy Maclary Shoo by Lynley Dodd cover
Noddy Book 3 illustrated by by Harmsen van der Beek
Noddy Book 3 illustrated by by Harmsen van der Beek
Handley Page Heracles 1938

Offset printing often makes use of yellow along with red, white, blue and black in a limited palette.

1924 illustration by Maud and Miska Petersham, The Poppy Seed Cakes
1924 illustration by Maud and Miska Petersham, The Poppy Seed Cakes

The off-kilter perspective of the illustration below achieves a folk art feel. The background is flat yellow, to complement the other colours as much as to suggest fantasy or foreignness. Below is another example of a typical palette utilised in offset printing.

Spanish illustrator Ana Albero girl with scarf
Spanish illustrator Ana Albero girl with scarf
from The Thanksgiving Story written by Alice Dalgliesh illustrated by Helen Sewell 1954
from The Thanksgiving Story written by Alice Dalgliesh illustrated by Helen Sewell 1954

Illustrations set in America on the Western frontier, and also in Outback Australia often utilise a bright yellow. The landscape of each of these places is ochre. The heightened brightness of the yellow we find in many Western and children’s illustrations set here exaggerates the emotions we might feel in such dangerous and isolated spaces, and also conveys something of the uncomfortable heat and glare.

Death Warrant cowboy
Death Warrant by Richard Lillis

The soft orange below is well-suited to this non-Earth, science fiction world.

Andrey Sokolov (1931 - 2007) 1967 illustration for Zhdite Nas, Zvezdy (The Stars, They Await Us) by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov
Andrey Sokolov (1931 – 2007) 1967 illustration for Zhdite Nas, Zvezdy (The Stars, They Await Us) by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov
Mirko Hanák
Mirko Hanák
WICKFORD OF BEACON HILL (1962) WT Cummings
What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford yellow background

From the author of the unforgettable bestseller TIME TRAVELLING WITH A HAMSTER comes another surprising, beautiful and funny novel about a child who, by disappearing, will write herself into your heart forever…

Turning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel Leatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed.

It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy, she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she…?

When one day the invisibility fails to wear off, Ethel is thrown into a nightmare of lies and deception as she struggles to keep herself safe, to find the remedy that will make her seen again – and solve the mystery of her own birth…

A. S. Forrest 1869-1963 Winter In The West Indies 1904
A. S. Forrest 1869-1963 Winter In The West Indies 1904
Cover design and illustration by Albert Wilfred Barbelle, 1931

Marshmallow Marmaduke Vanilla-Bean Sugar-Pie Fluffington-Fitz-Noodle is a big, fluffy (and grumpy) cat. He LOVES the easy life: lazing in the sunshine, eating Shrimp Crunchies and annoying Buster, the dog downstairs.

His new owner, Amelia Lime, has grand plans to turn Pie into a STAR… But Pie thinks he’s a star already, to be honest!

Told in the hilarious voice of Marshmallow Pie himself, his mischievous antics are illustrated throughout in black and white.

128 pages, Paperback

Published 2020

Trina Schart Hyman - The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women
Trina Schart Hyman – The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women

A long time ago in the savannah, rumor spread that Karamoko the Sorcerer was able to make a magical necklace making animals invincible. In turn, the hyena, the hare, the lion, the hippopotamus presented themselves at the gate of Karamoko. If the hare is no match, the hyena can do nothing against the claws of the lion, who himself is greatly impressed by the huge mountain of smoldering excrement left by the hippopotamus. The red-billed hornbill arrives …

Who will end up obtaining the coveted gris-gris?

This tale has everything to seduce young readers: humor, conceited characters who end up ridiculed, the triumphant cunning of the underdog and, of course, the essential ingredient of any self-respecting picture book: poo.

Sheilah Beckett - Sleeping Beauty
Sheilah Beckett – Sleeping Beauty
Tall City, Famous Sally (1966) Chas. B. Slackman tall man sitting on roof
Tall City, Famous Sally (1966) Chas. B. Slackman tall man sitting on roof

Yellow skies can also, of course, indicate sunsets, sunrises and snow. In this case I believe the yellow background contributes to the fantasy world of a giant snail crushing houses.

PLATOS VOLADORES AL ATAQUE! (1971) Alberto Breccia giant snail
PLATOS VOLADORES AL ATAQUE! (1971) Alberto Breccia giant snail
TJIRP DE KREKEL (1961) Babs van Wely
TJIRP DE KREKEL (1961) Babs van Wely
THE MAGIC TREE (1973) Gerald McDermott
THE MAGIC TREE (1973) Gerald McDermott

Yellow often dominates in illustrations depicting East Asia.

Kureha Rokuro The Gods Of Japan 1943 frog
Kureha Rokuro The Gods Of Japan 1943

Yellow is fairly often found in work by East Asian artists themselves. I haven’t done a count up on this, but I wonder if illustrations of East Asia by Westerners make more use of yellow than East Asian artists and illustrators.

Central Sanitary Bureau Spanish Flu pandemic
Central Sanitary Bureau Spanish Flu pandemic
Mad Magazine Hear no evil
DYDO VAINQUEUR DU TOUR DE FRANCE (1952) Durane (André Durst)
DYDO VAINQUEUR DU TOUR DE FRANCE (1952) Durane (André Durst)
Travel Illustration by David Pintor
Travel Illustration by David Pintor
HERZAUGE (1937) Hap Grieshaber trees
HERZAUGE (1937) Hap Grieshaber trees
Bob Peak TWA plane
Bob Peak TWA plane
Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone illustratin from the 1977 book Dean’s A Book of Fairy Tales

Rey, H A, Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne, 1944 kangaroo
Rey, H A, Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne, 1944
“And the Gander didn’t understand her” L. Leslie Brooke (1862–1940)- illustration from “Johnny Crow’s Party, ” Frederick Warne & Company, Ltd., 1907
“And the Gander didn’t understand her” L. Leslie Brooke (1862–1940)- illustration from “Johnny Crow’s Party, ” Frederick Warne & Company, Ltd., 1907
Tom Lichtenheld. It's Not Fair! Text by Amy Krause Rosenthal
Tom Lichtenheld. It’s Not Fair! Text by Amy Krause Rosenthal
1924 Ernst Kreidolf illustration from Dream Garden, Tales of Flowers & Butterflies flower
1924 Ernst Kreidolf illustration from Dream Garden, Tales of Flowers & Butterflies
Garrett Price (1896-1979) for The New Yorker 1958
Garrett Price (1896-1979) for The New Yorker 1958
Edgar Franklin Wittmack 1934
Edgar Franklin Wittmack 1934
A Big Golden Book, 1950. By Rachel Learnard. Pictures by Alice and Martin Provensen
A Big Golden Book, 1950. By Rachel Learnard. Pictures by Alice and Martin Provensen
Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG