Last month, I wrote about the illustrations I’ve been commissioned to create for a pulp fiction anthology of short stories by a group of authors, and edited by award-winning novelist/screenwriter/journalist/producer, Joel Mark Harris. For those who wonder if there’s a difference between an illustration and a painting, the answer is simple: Yes.
An illustration is a piece of art work that describes or makes someone else’s message — usually the message of an author or writer — clear to the audience.
A painting is a piece of art work that is a creative expression of the artist’s interpretation of the world around him or her.
A good illustration is a visual representation of the story synopsis. It gives enough detail to whet the appetite and doesn’t include any spoilers. It draws the reader into the story rather than keep them in the art. If I was to explain it in musical terms, illustrations are to painting what pop songs are to orchestral compositions. Each has value, each requires specific skill sets and talents, and each appeals to audiences for different reasons even though they fall under the same domain.
In the case of the “Amazing Adventures” anthology — a pulp fiction murder mystery collection of short stories — I also took the time to tie the illustrations to each other to create visual cohesiveness in the book. For example, in Glenn Muller’s story, a Beretta F Compact style gun is seen lying on a table.
For the pistol to work in this illustration, the muzzle had to become sharper and more in focus the closer the viewer got to the nub. I wanted to leave the impression that the viewer could reach into the illustration, take hold of the pistol, and take a closer look at it before putting it back on the table.
In Stanley S. Thornton’s story, a Borchardt C 93 style gun can be seen. Such a pistol actually existed, and was the forerunner to the more recognizable Luger.
Unlike the first pistol, this one was painted to jump out at the viewer, and is very detailed. While one may not feel compelled to reach into the illustration and pick this one up, it comes with its own sense of danger. If you look at it long enough, you might even wonder if illustrations could breathe, would the person holding this gun level it at the viewer to see what the viewer’s reaction might be?
And what of the German Cross medal in this person’s possession? It may not seem menacing at first, but once the viewer understands that it’s a war medal, it takes on a sort of feel the viewer can’t quite put his or her finger on, don’t you think?
And is it any less menacing than the headlights of the Chevy Malibu style car in Jorge Avalos’ story? If the viewer saw this vehicle barreling down the road at him or her, would he be inclined to worry about the mental state of the driver?
And how much more terrifying would it be if there was a Peterbilt style 18-wheeler coming up on that car’s bumper, threatening to either overtake it or drive right over it? With so much drama packed into the illustration, one would want to know why the truck is chasing down the car.
Earlier, I wrote of tying the stories together, and truth be told, there’s an art to the art of subtle nuances. In the story by Joel Mark Harris, there’s a hemp woven carpet laid over a hardwood floor in an apartment.
Wood is an interesting material to re-create visually. It’s not as easy to draw or paint as you might think. But if you can understand how wood grows, there’s no end of possibilities for including it successfully in any number of situations whether it’s a hardwood floor or a wood dock as in the story by Thomas D. Taylor.
The wood may not be the sort used in fine furniture, but it’s of a far better quality than either the dock or the hardwood floor, and harkens to another time where such staircases were the norm and not the exception. And how does the viewer know that it harkens to another time? Because the carpet says so.
It’s the kind of place where you might find the sort of person or people who would travel to exotic locations and partake of tropical drinks with fancy little umbrellas such as the drink found in the illustration for Glenn Muller’s story.
And this is why style is everything. When it comes down to brass tacks, the success or failure of an illustration is in the details. The wrong style can impart the wrong message. But the right style … one that fits both the genre and the story … will entice readers to step through the artwork and into the story, so they can experience the full impact of the story.