Interpretation of imagery

Research & Enquiry

Blog 9


During my keyword module I have used two approaches one using wording as a mechanism within some of my  illustrations. This is a new method of visually engaging with an audience for me. Others are wordless illustrations. My aim for this blog is to research the importance and effect of wording in images. Alternatively, reflecting on how illustrations can convey narratives without wording.

I found a very interesting article Entitled ‘Books without word’ written by Anna Ridley, development editor for Tate Publishing. A brilliant source for comparisons that there are more than one way to tell a story.

She looks at a number of active illustrators one that I found particularly relevant to my keyword project  is Madalena Matso. Anna Ridley writes “Madalena Matoso cut the pages of her book Et Pourquoi Pas Toi? in half to allow the reader more control in determining the meaning of her wordless illustrations. The ambiguity of her simplified, graphic illustrations lets us view the people pictured as types, while highly readable symbols around them such as laptop computers, laboratory equipment and crockery serve as indicators of the activities they are engaged in. Details such earrings, bandanas, and distinctive hairstyles add hints of personality so that if they were so inclined, readers might use the lower half of the book to develop a narrative around that individual. By relinquishing control over how each image is read, Matoso succinctly conveys the idea that we can become whoever we choose.”

Madalena takes an interesting and interactive approach to assembling this book. It is a Book of collated illustrations where the pages are split in two down the middle with different peoples upper torso and heads on the top half and various jobs and activities on the bottom half. It can be mixed and matched by the reader, creating different character and scene combinations by alternating the top and bottom half. I love how she has thought out of the box with this approach. The viewer can create different narratives, to play, the essence of childhood.


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Throughout my keyword project I have made drawings using a method, a framework that has allowed the creation of images that are intended to be looked at and narratives created by the viewer. Madalena Matoso has thought out of the box with her framework, a structure that allows different interpretations and stories to be enjoyed. There are more than one, multiple way to tell a story and this is an effective way for children and even their parents to do so.

Another illustrator Anna Ridley looks at is Suzy Lee and her book Shadow “which uses the gutter between pages to draw the line between reality and imagination. On the upper pages of the book, a little girl is pictured in sober charcoal in the secret confines of her family garage. She delights in affecting the shadows cast on the lower pages of the book by the bare light bulb above her. With the spine of the book acting like a mirror line, we start to see the black silhouettes of cardboard boxes take on suggestions of tropical foliage, while the vacuum cleaner adopts the role of baby elephant. The little girl lets her imagination run wild, and while she gets carried away she fails to notice the silhouette of a terrifying little wolf slip across the gutter, into reality. The diffuse nature of images make for the perfect medium here for expressing the fluid nature of imagination, while the interruption of the words ‘DINNER’s READY!’ on one of the final pages is a fantastic illustration of the way in which words throw things into sharp relief. At the end, when Lee uses a double page spread of black pages, they bear specific meaning where in another book they might have stood for nothing.”

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I think her work is fantastic, it is so simple based on the click of a lightbulb, each page being a reflection, one lit one being shadows and silhouettes. She only uses to tones of colour throughout and it is so imaginative considering. Really clever and effective allowing the readers imagination to go wild with each page turned.  

On the opposite side with illustration books that use combinations of wording and illustrations I have looked at Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky working in tangent with Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations.


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Within Anna Ridleys article she goes on to look at wordless illustrations, but further more artists that use captions to point readers in suggestive directions. She writes “Incorporating text to a greater degree are those picture books whose narrative-bearing illustrations are wordless but nonetheless rely on the equivalent of an artwork’s caption to help readers decode their latent meaning. Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński’s Welcome to Mamoko series, akin to Martin Handford’s Where’s Wally? for the generation before, tell the reader explicitly that there are stories to be found within the sequential images that follow. It is up to the reader to impart their interpretation on what’s happening, but only to a degree: characters such as Otto Trump, the elephant, are introduced at the beginning and readers are asked leading questions to send them on their story-finding way. The introduction also suggests there might be red herrings in the form of a stray pencil, a piece of cheese, and a skateboard. As Nodelman describes it, ‘Finding a story in a sequence of pictures with no help but our eyes is something like doing a puzzle. It cannot be done if we do not know what it is meant to be done, so we must first understand that there is indeed a problem to be solved’.”



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It is interesting to look at the parallels between my keyword project that I have developed and Aleksandra Mizielinski’s and Daniel Mizielinski’s Welcome to Mamoko series. We have both taken different approaches to a similar concept. There approach is more refined and have had a lot more development time to create their works. Letting the reader impart their interpretation on what might be happening in the illustrations is part of my aim, I have used a different approach. Their Mamoko series is aimed at children and mine are aimed at anyone of any age.

Anna Ridley goes on to write “Nodelman suggests that without such accompanying words as the title or the caption, ‘the visual impact of pictures as sources of sensuous pleasure is more significant than any specific narrative information they might contain … if [no narrative] is actually provided, we tend to find one in our memories.’ More than any of the books discussed, the wordless picture books of Emily Rand, In the Garden and her forthcoming Under the Sea, impose the least amount of narrative constraint on its images. Produced in limited risograph-printed runs by Hato Press, In the Garden has no words printed on it except for the copyright line at the bottom of the back page. Behind the first hedge-like page, a single red feather floats enigmatically towards the ground. Behind the second, another. Topiary hedges are suggestive of a large bunny in profile and a smiling snowman. It is the format of the book, whose pages are cut to match the profile of the illustrated trees and plants, that Rand uses to entice readers to explore further and experience the aesthetic pleasure of the book as an object. Without strictly determining the meaning her readers will take from the book, Rand makes it essential for uninitiated readers of pictures to be accompanied in the reading process, acknowledging that the sharing of books is a key ingredient in what makes them sources of learning and pleasure.”

It is really helpful to see other artists approaches to a similar subject and will help me inform my development from the keyword module and how it can progress my work for the rest of the course.


Riley, A. (2018). REVIEW / Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois | Illustrators Illustrated. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].

Anon, (2018). The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].

Simmons, R. (2018). Conversations: Text and Image | Museum of Contemporary Photography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].

Pitts, A. (2018). Why use text in art?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018]. (2018). MoMA | Language and Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].



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