ILLUSTRATION KNOWHOW Creating a strong image: focal point

Picture books need to create balance between words and pictures so they flow together in a fun and dynamic way. Illustrator Rekha Salin shows in this four-part series, how you can communicate, emote and guide the eyes of the reader using contrast, grouping and sizing.

In kid lit, especially Picture Books, there are only a limited number of pages (32 pages mostly) and each page moves the story forward. In storytelling we guide the viewer to what/where we want them to see first. Focal points help with this. Some of the ways in which focal points can be created are:

  • Contrast - Creating a strong contrast around the character/thing/area where you want the reader/child to look first. Rest of the image supports/guides this focal point and does not take away the interest. This can be achieved by grouping the values. The reader sees first the high contrast and the rest of the illustration is grouped in similar value (Refer to part 1 for more on Values

  • Grouping - grouping the elements together and placing the element of focus differently instantly draws attention. This is best used in crowd scenes and is often used to show vulnerability, royalty, resistance or just to draw attention.  Below is a spread from the book Giraffes Can’t Dance written by Giles Andreae and Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees.

  • Size- by playing with the size of the character or element the focus immediately shifts. Like a giant child on tiny buildings or a small girl amongst giant birds.

Exceptions to the above

It's not always required that you need to have a strong focal point.

Like in the following cases:

  • where we do not want to have a focal point – like an introduction scene,
  • where we want to create a confused scenario- like kids in a park or hide and seek where the child is searching.
  • where we want the audience to spend time and look around.
  • Instances where we are setting up the scenario or cases where the character is lost or blended in and the reader needs to find the object of interest.

Below is an illustration where there is no clear focal point, making the reader spend time to look around and enjoy the picture.

*Header image: collaboration by Rekha Salin & Tita Berredo
all other images: Rekha Salin


Rekha Salin
 has three books published as an illustrator. Two picture books, one in 2020 and the other in 2022, and also a recipe book (for adults) in 2022 published by ABV publisher. She is currently working with Gnome Road Publishing, and this will be available in 2024.

See more of Rekha's work here. Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter.


Ell Rose
 is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures
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Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL and a background in marketing and publicity.   

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