Week 2: Where is Illustration?

As we began our lecture, Chris, our tutor for this week’s CTS session, asked us this “simple” question, which was followed by an awkward silence from us. It wasn’t like we didn’t know where illustration was; we simply weren’t sure if we had fully understood the question.

Where is illustration located/set/encountered?

One of the first and most important encounters we have with illustration is through children’s books. Illustration relates to our imagination, the make believe, fairytales, the ways in which we, as children, LEARN.
As children who don’t yet know how to read, we will take the message from a book through its illustrations and not the story itself. That’s how we start learning about the world: the places so far away from us we couldn’t even imagine them without images; the cultures so different from our own that, even with images, we can’t seem to fully understand them. As M. Miller said, “… we encounter culture, people and places through illustration”.
This statement is valid not only in childhood but in adulthood as well, even though in a slightly different way.

We’ve seen how important illustration is for children but how significant is it for us adults? Illustration is an expression, a representation of our perception of the world. We all see things differently. When I look at the moon, for example, I see the face of a woman smiling. My grandmother sees a rabbit. It is the same moon, the same reality, and we even see it from the same place. However, we see different things. The only way I can see the same rabbit as my grandmother is if she tries to illustrate it and the same happens with my human face (although my grandmother is not very good with drawing so I would probably still see a different rabbit). My grandmother and I, we’ll never know if the moon is really a rabbit, a smiling face or even a cheese. We never experience the real-world directly. All we do is building a representation of the world in our minds. Illustrating is simply tranfering these images from our minds to paper.

Dialectogram by Mitch Miller.
Dialectogram by Mitch Miller.

But illustration is not only about “copying” the world around us. Even for adults, it is a huge stimulation of our imagination:

“All the pictures in a picture book add up to one picture that isn’t even there”; “As any good storyteller, also illustrators must leave space/gaps for the reader to imagine” M. Goffstein’s How to write and illustrate a picture book

Personally, I love those kind of books and films which REALLY make me think about things. With illustration it is just the same. I love illustrations that are just realistic enough to make sense but surreal in a way that make me think of something else that is not there. A great example of this is the book “The Rabbits” by John Marsden and Shaun Tan.

DSC_0026 DSC_0031


This is a great children’s book for adults. It regards the subject of the British colonization of Australia using rabbits as “the British” (for those who don’t know, Australia once had a massive rabbit plague which caused many problems). It is a quite strong and sad book with beautifully made illustrations that subtly hide a deeper meaning. I suggest everyone to read it.


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