The Four Directions of Illustration

When I assign a project to my beginning students, it’s not uncommon for them to take a narrative approach. That’s not surprising, because narrative images are as old as cave paintings. When we think of illustration actually, we most often think of pictures by artists like Norman Rockwell, Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter -all narrative illustrators. They drew scenes and stories.

But there are four ways to approaching an illustration:  Narrative, Decorative, Informative and Conceptual and the sooner students realize that, the sooner they broaden their horizons, extend the possibilities, and increase their opportunites for success.

Using Moby Dick book covers as examples, the Four Directions of Illustration are shown. 


Narrative: emphasis on storytelling, like a still from a movie




Decorative: emphasis on surface design, adornment

  Tumblr_m83eywwbae1rcz60vo1_400Cover_mobydickMoby Dick



Informative: emphasis on facts (maps, diagrams, settings, examples)




Conceptual: emphasis on idea (over reality) using content, form or both, constructed images

Images  1964mobydick_cover3_web


What distinguishes the directions is emphasis. All of these cover illustrations use effective and appropriate concepts, but each illustrator has pushed his or her illustration in a certain direction: Narrative, Decorative, Informative or Conceptual. (Many illustrations not seen here, are a mix of these directions with one direction dominating.)


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