Experimentation: Scale and depth skewing

Through my ongoing research, a reoccurring theme is that of depth and scale. I am becoming more and more interested by the amount one can push these realistic boundaries and whether this has an effect on the enjoyment and overall understanding of the illustration and book by the reader. Vinas Valle and Rogero (2012, p. 68) when discussing the work of illustrator Javier Zabala, note that his illustrations often imitate the child’s use of perspective. Horizon lines are often omitted and readers are required to place their own imaginary horizon lines to avoid the impression of objects floating in the air.

It was whilst playing with my son that proportion, scale, and the importance it holds with children became apparent.

Scale to children

Despite the apparent inadequacies of the jet aircraft and digger in relation to the enormous action figure, he has still enjoyed numerous flights and operated heavy plant machinery during his time in our house. It is this understanding and realisation by children that despite this scale, it is still understandable and feasible that the 3 can live together in the same world and interact accordingly, that intrigued me to experiment on a flat canvas.

Taking this scale concept I played around with numerous characters of a scene to determine if the same could be true of illustration. Could the scale be altered yet still produce a pleasing and effective illustration? Kress and van Leeuwen boldy claim “In general there seems to be little interest on the part of illustrators in varying the means by which setting is created”. I wanted to create a setting with the elements required to ‘set’ the scene holding equal weighting and attempted to achieve this through a disparity of scale. I also wanted to see if I could flatten the image and award equal importance to the backdrop elements and the primary characters. In a similar way to hieroglyphics and cave paintings producing an array of symbols on a flat surface, I wanted to try this approach in a post-modern context.

I made a determined effort not to use any of the other suggestions of setting suggested by Kress and van Leeuwen that are the main methods of depicting setting (mentioned in a previous blog post ‘Setting Suggested in 4 Ways’). I ensured there were no overlaps, no lack of detail in the trees or rocks, they were all from a similar palette without purposeful desaturation or adjustment of light and were arranged very much along a singular plane.
Dinosaur pic random scale pink no shadow

I feel the resulting image is interesting and still holds some charm. I added ground shadows as an afterthought but it then meant there were overlaps and therefore forcing an element of depth I didn’t want to use. The shadows ‘ground’ the elements somewhat because of the lack of a horizon line and stop the floating of the elements. The character tones defy reality as many of the characters are simply repeated and flipped on Photoshop, yet again I don’t think this would cause confusion in a child or indeed the majority of adult readers. In fact, it is quite an interesting accidental experiment that again shows that logic and realism doesn’t need to be applied to make for an interesting image.

Dinosaur pic random scale pink

The use of marks in the background adds further depth and a green hue creates a feeling of grass. The setting take on more life now. Is it possible to eliminate the foreground, midground and background completely? Can we get the elements of the illustration to hold equal weighting? Whilst Bette Goldstone (2008, p.118) states that the action for most picturebooks occurs in the midground, I wonder if it is practical and advantageous to skew this spacial paradox and concentrate on elements more than perspective. I certainly like trying!

Dinosaur pic random scale small


Kress, G and van Leeuwen, T (2005; 2006) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design,London: Routledge

Vinas Valle, L and Rogero, M. N (2012) ‘Javier Zabala: A Nonconformist in Spanish Children’s Literature Illustratration’. Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature. 50 (4) October, 66-72

Goldstone, B. (2008) ‘The Paradox of Space in Postmodern Picturebooks’. In Sipe, L. R., & Pantaleo, S. (eds.) Postmodern Picturebooks: Play, Parody and Self-Referentiality. New York: Taylor & Francis


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