On Book Illustration

The word illustrate is a combination of two Latin words: illustrat- ‘lit up’, from the verb illustrare, and ‘upon’ + lustrare ‘illuminate’. Thus illustrations are used to illuminate – shedding light to bring clarity,and to enhance the meaning of the written word, in both fiction and nonfiction. In more modern fiction they are used to add appeal and interest.  They help the reader to play out the story in their mind’s eye. Here are some more advantages of illustrations:

Illustrations enhance the aesthetic appeal of a book beyond the cover. Illustrations attract browsers to the story when they scan books. They help to turn browsers into customers. Younger browsers will focus on the cover first and then the pictures inside. Adults are also attracted by cover art and pictures and sketches. Pictures probably sell more cook books than the recipes. Illustrations make books more competitive.

Less Daunting
For younger readers, illustrations make the prospect of reading less daunting, especially if the illustrations appeal to their imaginations and if there are pictures of characters for them to recognize and then identify with, as they read the story. That is perhaps why young readers love comics.  They can also be used to break the text into reader friendly passages and distinguishable chapters which is also good for children as they can see the start and finish lines, which aids their limited concentration spans. Having clearly defined chapters or passages in a children’s book is also appealing to adults assigned the joy of children’s bedtime story reading. Bedtime reading should leave children wanting more.

Touching heart and mind.
A good novel subconsciously, and even consciously, has the reader living the story and championing a character. A good novel touches the heart and mind of the reader. A well placed illustration can prompt an emotional response in the reader and motivate the reader to continue reading, whether the emotional response is a tear or a laugh. As we know, a picture paints a thousand words.

Teaching aids
In a classroom, a picture from a story can be used to test understanding and recall in children when doing verbal or written comprehension exercises. The pictures can also be used to trigger imaginative discussions and answer “what if?” questions. Pictures don’t all have to be conventional. They can be shadowy and nondescript, and even abstract. As such they can act as a catalyst for though provoking questions about what pictures mean and the artist’s intentions, all of which can stimulate classroom conversation and inspire the readers when in art class. For older children, an illustration can be used to encourage them to write a short story of their own or change the storyline of the book being read in class. A picture could be responsible for inspiring and unearthing the next Shakespeare, Monet or Picasso in time to come.

Whether the nonfiction is an autobiography, a textbook or a cook book, illustrations and pictures are essential. Illustrations make abstract subjects more tangible and can certainly help the reader to understand a written explanation. Diagrams are also useful as they aid information and understanding recall.  Without illustrations and pictures, nonfiction may just as well be fiction to some readers. Need proof? Try to assemble self-assembly items like furniture without the diagrams.

The road to success.

Think of book illustrations as landmarks on a map that the reader can identify and acknowledge as they journey through your story. If illustrations are used to accentuate and emphasize the parts of the story you want the reader to really “get,” guaranteed the reader will be back for more.