Excerpts from Paul O. Zelinsky’s Illustration Critique

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For the Zelinsky critique, I chose to submit a sample illustration from a picture book work in progress. As the piece is part of a narrative, I was also able to include some rough images from the dummy.

Like Dayne, I was impressed by the detail of Mr. Zelinsky’s notes. His feedback was thoughtful, thorough, and kind. He commented on what I did well but focused more on the areas where I should improve. Most important, he provided very specific recommendations on how to create a better book. Below you can find some excerpts from his notes. (Note: The headings are my additions.)

1. Make sure your characters have expressive faces and personality.

“What I think it is missing is a sense of who the individuals are who perform the action; the absence of faces is a problem for me. In a whole book, it’s really a problem only if it is a recurrent absence. A page here and there without seeing the eyes in a face can even make for a good change of pace, but some artists do nothing but that. The effect for adults can be very positive—a greater sense of mystery, something not spelled out, it can feel richer at times when we’re given less to work with. But not for kids. Some children may respond to abstract art, but I don’t think there’s a good reason to leave off an entire level of communication, that identification with a character in a picture, when you recognize and put yourself into a face, a body, etc.

“From your dummy it looks to me like you’re not really avoiding faces in the way I’m describing, but you may be trending in that direction, and my advice would be to steer away from it. To the maximum degree possible, you want your characters to have personalities, and not to show blankness in eyes and face. This is harder in collage than in painting, but it certainly can be done.”

2. Balance your micro and macro scenes.

“I would point out that after the first page, all of the scenes you’ve sketched are kind of zoomed in on the subjects and show the scene only partially. Viewers will want to see more at least some of the time.”

3. Incorporate your text into the composition.

“It’s good design to keep the text in some fairly unchanging location in relation to the edges of the page; I see you’re putting it the same distance from the top or bottom each time. But it’s also good design to incorporate the line of text, as a shape, into the composition of the page, and I don’t think you’re doing that so much. Text looks sort of marginalized, considering that you’re working with such large shapes that have plenty of room to hold it. [ . . . ] No matter where you put the text, you should make sure that it doesn’t sit on top of any imagery that has value contrast in it.”

As you can see, his critique gave me a lot to consider.

Thanks for reading. And thanks to Mr. Zelinsky, Katie Wools, and Missouri SCBWI for the opportunity!

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9 responses »

  1. Thanks for sharing, Priscilla. Keeping text in an unchanging location was something I had not thought of, so it’s good to know. Good luck with your submission!

  2. Priscilla,
    Thanks for sharing you critique. I think it helps us all to hear what Mr Zelinski had to say about other illustrations. Interesting about mixing the close-up and zoomed-out images. He also mentioned text placement in my critique. If I did the text as artwork I could incorporate it, but I’m not sure how to specify this when I am not also designing and laying out the book.

    Thanks to everyone involved in this wonderful opportunity to learn.

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