First, a shout-out to my blogging buddy, Julie Larios, who has an article in the latest issue of Horn Book called "Harbors that Pleased Me Like Sonnets." Congratulations!! I shall badger my postman until my copy arrives.
Now on to today's post.
Who knew that one day my art history training would pay off? Behold:
A focal point gives composition its sense of balance. It draws the viewer's eye to the main element of the work, which often isn't smack-dab in the center. Typically, the artist uses lines and shapes to lead our eyes to the focal point, thusly:
So what if you're designing a cover for a book with two main characters who are equally important? Can a composition with two figures in it work when there is no single focal point?
Welcome to My Neighborhood: A Barrio ABC by Quiara Alegría Hudes, illustrated by Shino Arihara, is due out this summer from Arthur A. Levine books (Scholastic). This is, obviously, an ABC book about the barrio. One child shows the other, a visitor, around her neighborhood. Its two cover figures are separated by a significant amount of space, even though the description says they are friends. Not sure why. Is it to remind us that they come from different places? The horizontal nature of, and the rectangular elements in, this composition lend a safe, tranquil air to the cover -- and maybe that's why the artist left space between the figures(?).
These fellows will soon grace the cover of a picture book called Day and Night by Teddy Newton (Chronicle/Disney Pixar). First, they'll be the stars of an upcoming short film to be shown in theaters before Toy Story 3 this summer, then this picture book (40 pages!) is slated to appear in stores later in the summer. So I don't know their story yet, but unlike the two friends above, these chubby fellows are connected even though they don't touch. There is use here of the negative space between the two figures; it makes one of those pleasing triangles. Neither figure is more important than the other. I hesitate to call the space between them a "focal point" but it's something to think about. They are both looking toward that space between.
Talk about your triangles. The two headless figures on the cover of Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald (Candlewick, April, 2010) are all about angles, tri- and otherwise. Main character, Jenna (a suburban girl from New Jersey), visits Canada, hoping to commune with nature and boys. This novel isn't about two main characters with equal billing, but the dual figures on its cover leave no doubt that romance is on the main character's mind. Arguably, the placement of the oars and boots on the dock may point to the female as being more or less the true focal point of this composition. And the two figures are connected. Their feet are touching -- or almost touching.
This Means War! by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon and Schuster, April 2010) has two figures on it, equal sizes pretty much. Which one is the focal point? Both. Neither. They are so close to each other that they become one figure, in a way. And yet, they're turned away from each other, so we know there's conflict. This Means War! is a middle-grade novel about a nine-day-long girls v. boys challenge, set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis. Although a girl is the main character, it's her male former best friend with whom she is rowing, so he plays an important role.
Apparently, all those tuition checks and all that studying of grainy slides in a dark lecture hall was leading up to this moment. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
Added later, the Cuban flag: