Exercise 3.2: Reading an Image

This has been another analytical exercise, but one for another artists work and not my own. I was asked examine the hierarchy within this Illustration by Mark Oliver as seen below.

Illustration by Mark Oliver from the book "Toms Clockwork Dragon" by Jonathan Emmett

Similar to the end of the previous exercise, I was asked to answer a series of questions about the illustration to break it down and describe what makes it effective. Although I'm aware that this is an illustration taken from an existing children's story, I avoided researching anything about the plot so that I wasn't influenced when trying to understand what the image was communicating.

What the image is about. What is it saying?

The general pathway that my eyes followed when I first saw the illustration.

As I look at this image for the first time, my central focus was drawn to the sleeping dragon that dominates the majority of the frame with its large size and bright red skin colour (1). I followed the scene to the left to see the illuminated rock ceiling of the cave (2), then back down to the child like figures walking through the entrance (3). In (4,5) I caught sight of the armour and weapons on the floor, then returned to the dragon to examine in more detail in (6).


From this quick first glance I was able to quickly pick up the main visual elements to gain an understanding some of the story and mood of the scene being played out. The scene appears naturally lit and there are no signs of modern comforts or technology as the setting appears to be in a medieval fantasy period as shown by period fashions of the objects and clothing. The mood I gather is one of curious adventure and discovery, and although there is a threat, it doesn't appear sinister as the overall palette is still vibrant and inviting, most likely as to appeal to children.


Work out the narrative and identify the story.


To me the image tells the story of a pair of young adventurers exploring a cave and depicts the moment they discover it is the home of a sleeping dragon. The dragon lies peacefully on a bed of gold and human treasure that it has presumably gathered over time as signs of previous conflict can be seen around the cave as armour and weapons lies scattered near the entrance. This could also indicate that the dragon is very powerful and has defeated many knights to defend its home.


At the cave entrance, the figures of a boy and a girl are carefully creeping in. The girl carrying the torch on the right seems excited and points into the cave and towards the treasure, perhaps at the chair in particular as it sits prominently on the gold pile. The boy is more reserved however, looking afraid as he cowers behind his companion and points away in the opposite direction, suggesting that he wants to retreat back towards the entrance.


Describe the palette and tonal range which has been used. Note if the colours are hot or cold, whether the elements are detailed or textural, and where these approaches are used.

To help me to interpret and compare what choices were made and how the overall palette is balanced, I heavily pixelated the image in photoshop to simplify the shapes into blocks of colour.

I can see is a strong diagonal transition between the warm fiery oranges from the top left of the frame then back down into the less intense reds in the bottom right. The opposite corners of the frame in the shadows are occupied by cool blues, but with brighter variants nearer to the cave entrance as the natural light increases. In places of where the hot and cold colours meet, some areas of vivid purple begin to emerge.


Throughout the picture the use of green on specific details such as the clothes on the figures, weapons and armour help them to stand out from the blue backgrounds. Punctuating the top of the bright yellow treasure pile, the green chair is the most vibrant colour in that area, helping to draw the viewer's gaze towards it and the surrounding dragon, highlighting their importance.


In terms of texturing, the surface of the cave is mostly rendered loosely, though with some specific highlights in the more well-lit areas that indicate sharp rows of stalagmites as they curve along the ceiling. The other elements throughout the scene contain more detail in variations of individual colours per object, for example the majority of the armor is rendered in cool shades of green. This helps them to remain distinct and easy to identify their forms and purpose within the scene.


Is there any connection between hot colour and the importance of the element in telling the story?


I think that warm colours and the suggestion of temperature play an integral role in this image and the hierarchy of what is most important to the story. The primary action takes place where the lights source is hottest around the torch, illuminating the characters faces as they move into the scene. The red skin of the sleeping dragon is close behind on the temperature scale, acting as a symbol for the potential danger. Secondary elements such as the armour are shown as cooler greens and the least important elements are sent into the background as the coolest blue tones.

I always enjoy the process of looking at the decision making behind an image like this and it's evident to me that a lot of consideration has gone into how Mark Oliver has constructed a narrative with his arrangements of elements and colour. When I'm doing my own specific illustrations from now on, I'll be aiming to hopefully be as considerate in making my own choices to best tell a narrative without words.

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