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Picture This | Class #2, 2016

picture thisMolly Bang’s Picture This is her personal exploration as she works to analyze the emotional effects of art. Most illustrators go with their gut as they compose their pictures, but Molly wanted to see if there were some rules involved. An experienced illustrator, she says she began to understand art and composition better through this exploration. This book was originally written for adults, but I know some teachers in later elementary and middle school who use the exercises in the second half of this book.

Do Molly’s explorations resonate for you? Help you understand pictures and illustration?


Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Megan Wilhelm says:

    I have spent much of my time thinking about how to write children’s books and focusing on the story and the character development, so I enjoyed the opportunity to think more deeply about illustrations while reading Molly Bang’s Picture This. Picture This encouraged me to reflect on the way illustrations can convey emotion in meaningful ways. Occasionally, I interact with the text and the illustrations in a book as though they are distinct elements, the “yellow + green” of the “yellow + green = blue” equation, so to speak. After reading and reflecting on Molly Bang’s book, I want to be more diligent about paying attention to the “blue” aspect of children’s books–the powerful synthesis of text and illustration as a means to communicate and connect with readers.

  2. Andrew Bauld says:

    This was an incredible behind the scenes look of how an illustrator’s mind works. I was especially struck by the idea that shape and color can both tap into such primal emotional responses in people, but that it can also be used to differentiate characters and their setting. I loved the analogy between Little Red Riding Hood’s red being connected to the mother’s purplish color, depicting a familial relationship, while the red of the wolf’s eye could conversely create a much more sinister connection between himself and her. As a writer, I definitely want to think more carefully about visual cues that can be used to these same effects through prose.

  3. Sammie Herrick says:

    I found this book really insightful and interesting. It made me think about illustrations in a way I had never thought about them before. Normally, when I think of a character conveying emotion, it is through facial expression. Molly Bang used no facial expressions at all on her characters and yet still conveyed so much emotion and feeling, just based on color, shape and position on the page. I really enjoyed watching the process throughout the book as well. Seeing Little Red Riding Hood’s mother turn from a red triangle of equal size, to a big red triangle, to a big red ‘blob’, to a purple ‘blob’ and seeing the rationale behind each change, really shows the immense amount of thought that goes into each seemingly small decision. Each decision an illustrator makes can change the way I see, feel and perceive the story they are trying to tell and that is really amazing.

  4. Thank you for your comments. I get the impression that some of you are taking the course partly as a way to figure out how to make your own picture books, yes?
    I think when we illustrators make pictures, most of us don’t follow the principles as some set list to apply from the first, but figure out what we want the picture to ‘say’ and put that down, and then analyze why it is/isn’t ‘saying’ what we intended. Sort of a “Get it out” gush of idea-to-paper and then analysis and then changes. One thing I’m finding helps me a lot is to first ask myselft what I want to say emotionally, and to include that in the initial gush.
    When I do workshops, I ask students to make a scary picture – e.g. a shark or sharks or a bird/birds attacking a victim, and at the same time, a comforting picture of parent and child with water, and to make both pictures in 10 minutes. Ten minutes total for both. This gives them no time to try to make things either detailed or realistic, and they concentrate on the emotion. I find that there’s a fairly consistent pattern: at first people are quite tentative applying the principles, then at revision, the pictures usually become quite a bit stronger. Then at the second revisions, they tend to add details that WEAKEN the pictures, which become stronger once some of the details are taken away. It’s something I have to check in my own pictures every time.
    And yes, it’s interesting how a slight change in one detail can change the picture a LOT.

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