ILLUSTRATION KNOWHOW Decoration and Perspective

In her next article about decoration in picture books, Imogen Foxell takes a look at how distorted perspective and viewpoint can enrich your story.

At some point in their education, most formally trained artists and illustrators are taught the principles of perspective. But there are plenty of times when an illustrator might choose to throw out these rules for deliberate, stylistic effect.

This is one of my favourite pictures: an ancient Egyptian wall-painting of a garden, found in the British Museum. If you think about it, you realise that it's an impossible picture with a strange mixture of perspectives - some things seen from the side, some from above, trees pointing in all directions. But this mixture allows you to see everything of interest all at once: the plan of the garden, the shapes and layout of the trees, the fish and the ducks in the pond, the goddess of the sycamore tree. This stylized view can do things that a realistic projection could not.

© Trustees of the British Museum.

I'm a big fan of stylized perspectives in illustration, and find that they can often create effects that a realistic "first person"viewpoint cannot. Like in the Egyptian painting, a flattened view can be used to show much more than the human eye can see. This is often a good way of drawing maps, for example, mixing the bird's eye approach with the view from ground level:

As well as allowing you to see above things, flattening the world can also allow you to see inside them, so that the reader can look inside the rooms of a house or see the fish swimming under a ship. This is a style used a lot by Jane Ray, for example. As part of an illustration course, I illustrated an entire book set inside a beard. For a number of reasons, it was necessary to abandon strict realism, and so most of the book is a cross-section of the beard, allowing you to see the fantastical landscapes contained within.

A flat view can also imply narrative sequence very clearly. In the Western tradition, the story is understood to progress from the left side of the page to the right, and this is especially clear when the image is happening on a flat plain. For example, this picture of a procession, where I've also used cross-sections once again, to show what's happening under the earth:

Realistic perspective certainly has its good points, but it's interesting to think about what can happen when other perspectives are used, or when multiple perspectives are mixed together.


Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is, Follow her on Twitter, and Instagram.

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