Truth, Story, and Open Space

My husband pulled up to the window at Joe Beans and placed our usual order. While waiting for the barista to finish making our drinks, I set down my knitting and picked up my phone.

“Look at this.” I showed him a Facebook post in a children’s book self-publishing group that compared two very different types of artwork. A well-meaning individual had offered both as evidence that you can find bright, colorful illustrations for a bargain, instead of paying top dollar for a seemingly simple drawing with minimal color.

The first was of a child in an upper story apartment. She was musing over a bee that had found her window box of flowers. Even without text, the story was implied. The second illustration depicted a large group of animals that needed a narrative to explain why they were there.

“You see what I see?” I asked. “The second picture has no open space.” I scrolled down to show him other similar, intensely-colored examples. Some picture book writers were pretty enthusiastic about them.

“They remind me of video games,” he said.

“Exactly. Video game art is fine for games, but not for Stories. There’s no place to rest your eyes. No balance and arrangement of ideas.” I tried to sip my frozen latte slowly. It’s hard to make it last long enough. “Are we going to stop by Wal-Mart?”

“Let’s skip it,” he said. “I don’t feel like getting peanut butter today.”

I agreed. I didn’t need the overstimulation of a store that felt full, but not of purpose.

We took a detour going home, driving past houses and trees and an unusual cactus. Even in a rural area, there is plenty to see on the ground, but when your eyes are tired, look up. The blue open space is ruffled with clouds just above the treeline, uplifting after five dreary days of rain. God knows our eyes need frequent opportunities to rest.

I thought about our picture books and easy readers at home. The boys love Richard Scarry and I Spy books which are full of purposeful content, but they are also partial to the highly expressive and humorous Elephant and Piggie easy readers. Mo Willems never uses backgrounds, and rarely props or costumes, leaving plenty of white space for the reader to mentally fill in the Story.

I don’t object to full-page, colorful illustrations, but there is definitely an art to choosing both what to include and what to omit. Strunk’s admonition to “Omit needless words” applies to details in text and in art.

How the scene is arranged on the page makes a difference, too. This is why Literaritea Press looks for quality illustrators who know that balance, perspective, and color should harmonize with the text and improve upon it.

Above my desk is an open space, still waiting for artwork. We’ve lived in this house for two-and-a-half years, and the wall is plain blue, like the sky. I haven’t decided what painting to hang there for inspiration, but I will know when I see it.

To either side are windows full of skies, grass, and trees, provided by my wise and loving Creator. He knows I need open space.

Published by Megan E. Saben

Megan lives in Virginia with her beloved husband and five sons. She holds M.A. degrees in children's literature and library science, writes for Redeemedreader.com, and is the founder of Literariteapress.com. She enjoys recommending really good books to anyone who will listen, and knitting while she listens to anyone else read aloud.

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