Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Secrets of Nonfiction Illustration

Today we have a special treat. We'll hear from a guest blogger who has made skilled use of white space in her recent nonfiction picture book Born to Be Giants.
Welcome, Lita Judge!

When I first set out to create Born to be Giants, I didn’t plan to illustrate the dinosaurs against white space. My previous nonfiction books were historical and I thought the settings and background of each illustration was as important to telling the story as the main characters. But I quickly realized when creating this book that I needed to re-think the design for this topic.

My first challenge was that I wanted to show the scale of baby dinosaurs to their parents. The world of dinosaurs is filled with extremes, where parents are often thousand of times heavier than their babies. How could I show this if I painted them within a scene? The tiny babies would be lost next to their parents.

I realized, with the use of white space, I could tackle this problem in exciting ways. I could show just how extraordinarily large a parent Argentinosaurus was by drawing one alongside 17 elephants.
Then in another illustration, show how tiny the baby was in comparison to its parent’s foot. With the use of white space, I have a visually unified page spread and can create multiple illustrations that communicate more information than if I had just set the dinosaurs into a single background scene.

I continued to fall in the love with a design based on white space because it gave me the opportunity to illustrate every clue in the book. I wanted young readers to have visual information for each clue as well as text. Some of the concepts in the book can be challenging for young children, but knowing how enthusiastic my readers are for this topic, I wanted illustrations to guide and enhance their understanding.
The use of white space around each of the spot illustrations helps focus the reader’s attention and keeps the book from feeling cluttered or confusing.

And yet another reason I felt strongly about the use of white space came directly from my journals. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was a little girl, observing and sketching animals, and writing brief passages of text around each drawing. Recording animals in a journal taught me to capture how they moved, their gestures and expressions.

When I created this book, I wanted readers to imagine young dinosaurs as they were—hiding, stalking, running, and playing. I wanted readers to realize baby dinosaurs must have had large eyes, and wobbly necks, just like baby animals today. I felt the white space around each of the dinosaurs emphasized their gestures, making them more lifelike.
I think white space can be a beautiful and practical way to portray a lot of information in a clear and simple way, and at the same time, create an elegant beauty.


Paul said...

Great work, congratulations from a fellow dinosaur illustrator! Cheers,

Gretchen Woelfle said...

As a writer and non-illustrator, I love hearing about the creative process of artists. Thanks Lita and Melissa.

Unknown said...

Excellent post! I found that white space was also the answer for My Teacher is a Dinosaur, love the contrast it provides.

Susan E. Goodman said...

Lita--Love the explanation, love the pictures. I, like Gretchen, am always fascinated by the thinking that takes artists where they want to go.