A few examples of images lacking in story:
So you see I'm guilty of it too.
I was using these images in my kidlit portfolio up until very recently. They seem to make sense at first glance. There are children and animals, motion and bright colors, all done in a certain style. You get a sense of setting and even some character.
But these images don't do much to prompt a viewer to ask more.
They're not so much narrative illustrations as they are greeting cards (which, incidentally, is their current purpose.)
This is what I heard during my portfolio critique last year at the SCBWI Midsouth conference. "Cute style. More story, please."
So at the suggestion of Lucy Ruth Cummins (art director/author/illustrator for Simon and Schuster) - I took my little witch illustration (example #3 on far right) and built a story for her in order to create some finished pieces. I also changed her wardrobe and hair, but that was the easy part. Even a simple story takes careful planning. But I'm happy to say my little witch gave me some good material.
And I tried to remember these points to amp up the amount of story in each image.
Lucy asked me to take the portrait of my witch with her room full of props and have her actually interacting with her stuff - to show a story of her trials and errors. Props around a character tell a story.
Emotion always tells a story. Giving a character a range of expressions and reactions to obstacles is just as important as giving them happy scenes.
The majority of my old portfolio pieces have one smiley human who is deep in thoughts no one can hear.
But a second character creates immediate story. It's actually hard to put two characters on a page and not invite some sort of dialogue between them.
Adding a succession of moments involving the same characters shows you can illustrate a story consistently.
This is something I'm still struggling with, since I tend to see stories unfold in a stage-like format, but I'm working on it and so should any artist who wants to amp up their storytelling bag of tricks. Interesting angles can give viewers a closer perspective, a sense of impending doom, or just a better look at a scene where many things are happening at once.
I have to take a moment here, because even as I write about all the manners in which I've changed my ways this last year, I worry I have a long way to go before my work is where it needs to be to tell a good story in three or two ... or one ... image.
But I know I've made progress, because I haven't stopped working at it, even when I feel like I'm not getting better.
When I look from old pieces to new pieces and realize that, slowly but surely, I am.
(check out my new portfolio here)