Pixel Shavings: Visual Voice by Fred Koehler
From: Pixel Shavings
October 08, 2012 at 10:06AM
I’m fairly certain that I am the least qualified illustrator on this blog in many of the technical areas of illustration. I could start to list my deficits, but I think you’d get bored and I’d get depressed. Instead, let’s talk about something that seems to have carried over successfully from my career in advertising, and that’s the concept of Voice.
Silly Fred, Voice is a writers’ thing, isn’t it? Yes it is. But it also has major implications for the marriage of words and pictures in the creation of successful storytelling. It’s why the illustrator’s name goes on the cover of the book. Because illustrators lend their Visual Voice to a project just as much as the author brings a Narrative Voice.
Here’s an example from a follow-up book I’m working on to Dad’s Bad Day (Penguin 2014).
“Little Gray helped his dad with the dishes.”
If you gave this line to a hundred different illustrators, you’d get back a hundred completely different illustrations. And here’s where illustrators with practiced Visual Voice can differentiate themselves as storytellers.
Sketch 1 – Little Gray is an elephant, his dad is an elephant, and the little guy is helping the big guy do the dishes. TA DA!!! Here’s a sketch.
The Visual Voice of this image is sweet. It’s cheerful and it’s a great moment between father and son. But is it the right Voice for the illustration? See, I happen to know Little Gray pretty well, and I know he’s quite a cantankerous little elephant. The scene pictured above is much less likely to happen than the following sketch.
Visual Voice. Get it? Same words + different images = completely different stories. Pretty cool, huh? Here’s another example from the same story.
“Little Gray got extra-special dressed up for the occasion.”
Sketch 1 – I go with the words of the story.
Sketch 2 – I get inside the character’s brain and draw what I think he might actually do.
Same words, completely different stories.
There are bunches of illustrators who do this really really well. Here are three for you to check out–all brilliant, all with compelling Visual Voice, and all with books on the shelf of your local bookstore.
In “Oh No,” Dan takes a very short text and invents a gorgeous world to propel a fantastic concept into a really fun and adventurous final storytelling product. The nuance that he adds to his work is phenomenal.
In “Flora and the Flamingo,” we don’t even need words to hear (and see) an amazing Voice. The story is told in simple expression and interaction between unlikely friends who make for great characters. Love it!
If you read “I Want My Hat Back” without the illustrations it might make sense, but it would be a completely different story. Jon uses visual nuance to imply a much funnier tale than the words themselves actually communicate.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading. Fred out!!