I realise I often throw the term 'visual storytelling' around without ever offering much explanation of what those words might mean. Over the past year of teaching and blogging, I've used the phrase any number of times and it's high time I unpacked that particular bit of jargon. As it's the end of a year, and as such times tend to make me come over all introspective and reflective, I'll expound on what I mean by 'visual storytelling' with reference to my own past history.
I can remember being in Italy when I was around three or four. Actually, that's not quite true. I don't really remember where I was, but I remember being given a Spiderman comic printed in a language that I didn't understand. As I was so young, and couldn't read much English, let alone any other languages, my parents' thought I'd be perfectly happy with an Italian edition of Spiderman. And they were right! The image on the cover is still fresh in my mind three decades later.
This Italian language Spiderman comic is still my first reference point when I think about the power of the picture. My inability to read the words didn't matter because the four colour image on the front of the comic told me everything I needed to know. The striking black lines, dynamic composition and powerful colour scheme conveyed a world of information.
When I was a few years older, Quentin Blake's ilustrations for Roald Dahl had a similarly powerful impact. These drawings were different to the Spiderman one - they were messy-looking and imprecise rather than tightly designed and constructed. But they too had a dynamism to them, this time one achieved through quick, spontaneous line work. I can remember looking at Blake's covers to Matilda and The Witches and them seeming to almost move on the page.
For me, this notion of life, of movement, is central to illustration. Story emerges from the passage of one moment to another. An illustrative image can never be fixed - it needs to suggest action and progress. It needs to hold within it the potential for another later image - one that might appear on the next page, in the next comic panel or in the reader's mind.
When I teach illustration for The Public House, this ability to imbue an image with potential is the main skill I try to get across. I encourage my students to view the work they create as being part of a larger narrative or context. I ask that they consider ways in which their drawings might flow into the next moment, how they might have emerged from a previous moment. I think this is vitally important in effective illustration.