A fine relationship between words and images is vital for picture books. To establish it, picture needs to add to the story what the words leave out. Both the author and the illustrator should have this fact in mind when working on the book.
Now if you are IN THE POSITION OF THE ILLUSTRATOR, your work starts when the manuscript is finished. Of course part of the job – and I would say huge part of it – is a research. Not just for your drawings, but also for the story. If you want to do the manuscript justice, you really need to understand the story and know it well. The best way how to start is to fall in love with it, but I understand that sometimes especially for the starting illustrators, there is no chance to get picky on projects.
Your utmost responsibility as the illustrator is to maintain consistency of both verbal and visual communication of the book while enriching the story without contradicting the author’s manuscript. I found that to do so, many illustrators make a list of features and action that is encoded into the story already. Firstly, there is a certain level of action bond that should appear in the book. If the text portrays a busy character in a heap of action, the illustration should be complimentary in its mood.
Of course as all rules this can also be successfully broken. You will find out that some picture books are even built on the contradicting words and images and use the humour it brings out to entertain the reader. Great examples are books such as A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee. You might however find that it is easier to establish such a story when the author is at the same time also the illustrator as it was in this case.
Personally I love books that use this technique. Now look at Figure 1. It illustrate the approach and show rather well how the contradiction is applied to the story.
As you can see Marla Frazee‘s illustrations use humour to contradict the text which in the end adds a very special feeling to the book as a whole and make it rather enjoyable. She challenges the reader’s conception of the written truths by visual inversions. For example, when James [the boy in blue shorts] comes to visit Eamon’s family, the text implies that he comes with just a couple of his belongings, while the image clearly shows an abundance of boxes and bags bursting with James’s stuff. Later, the text indicates the boys decision to stay home, while the illustration shows them running away so fast they each lost one of their shoes and little clouds of dust formed behind them.
As I mentioned earlier, it is also benefitial to INCORPORATE A COMPLEMENTARY or PARALLEL STORY LINE into the story that will enhance the original manuscript. To give you a wonderful example of such practice, I included a picture from a book Bears on the Stairs (Figure 2), where Lynne Chapman added a cat character to the story.
Bears on the Stairs
Even though it is not in the manuscript, the cat engages the reader in a whole new level by enhancing the story in a very clever way. It brings the opportunity of somewhat humorous interaction between the bears and the cat, reflecting the true feelings of the main character by proxy. It also enables the illustrator to subtly indicate places of higher interest on the page ( for more please visit Lynne Chapman website).