Decoding picture books: Colour

Into the Forest by Anthony Browne, 2004
Into the Forest by Anthony Browne, 2004
  • —Stuart Hall argued that all texts/images are initially encoded with meaning and then subsequently decoded or read.
  •  —“… we are all inclined to judge pictures by what we know rather than by what we see.” (Ernst Gombrich)
  • We are used to certain graphic codes that allow us to comprehend event and emotions in pictures.

RED – Danger or anger.  Red can also indicate passion.
BLUE – Serenity or sadness.  Blue can also signify coldness.
YELLOW – Happiness, cheerfulness.
GREEN – Peacefulness, or nature.
BLACK – Could mean evil or danger when darkness fills the page.  When worn, black clothes could mean villainous, or a witch. In western societies it could also mean mourning.
PINK – Girlishness.
ORANGE – Warmth.  An orange hue could also show that something is old, like a sepia photograph.
WHITE – Purity. White areas on a page are uncluttered, illuminated.
B&W – Reminiscent of the past, or ‘draining’ of colour.

The Tunnel by Anthony Browne,  1989
The Tunnel by Anthony Browne, 1989

Shades of colour.  Light and bright represents happiness.  Darker shades portray tension or misery.

In the picture above, the forest is dark, grey and made to feel scary by its bleak and uninviting colours.  When Jack returned to his natural state, the sky turns blue, daisies grow and the forest is a greener place. By brightening the colours in the second picture, sense of danger Browne previously created has been removed.

Different hues are associated with different moods or feelings.  Muted colours in Granpa are used to make you feel that he is becoming fragile and the sepia, that he is thinking of the past.

Granpa by John Burningham, 1984
Granpa by John Burningham, 1984

Saturation:  Vibrant colours represent happiness.  Muted colours give a more gentle feeling.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, 1963
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, 1963

The book below is about the transatlantic slave trade.  Using black and white seems appropriate.   The black and white illustrations capture the despair of these people.  The colour drained from the picture as joy and hope is drained from their lives.

The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings,  1995
The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings, 1995
Hansel and Gretel by Anthony Browne, 1981
Hansel and Gretel by Anthony Browne, 1981
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, 1902
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, 1902

Do you have any books in this library?

Working in a library sometimes has its advantages.

For instance, yesterday I spotted an interesting looking book on the shelves.  It wasn’t the type of book I would think to look for.  Nor was it the type of book I would stumble upon accidentally if I was browsing the shelves for something to read – after all  what would I be doing in the comparative psychology section? (not being a student or graduate of psychology, I mean).  Working in the library means that I do have to go to the comparative psychology section from time to time (Dewey Decimal number 156 if you were wondering!) and also the public administration section (351.1), the Celtic languages section (491.6), the geology of Great Britain section (554.1) and the history of Belarus section (947.8).  What this means is that I continuously stumble upon fascinating books I would not otherwise be anywhere near.

Going back to the book I found yesterday – I flicked through the pages, became intrigued so I issued it out to myself.  I took it home and began to read.

Today I rushed out of the house for work forgetting to take this book with me (I usually read a book during my breaks).   Here is the second reason working in the library is great: WE HAVE MORE COPIES!  Being an academic library for a university, we have multiple copies of any title on reading lists, or titles that are recommended for students in general (such as Writing your Dissertation: How to Plan, Prepare and Present Successful Work – 808.066).  So come break time I simply wandered up to the comparative psychology section and continued to read. Marvelous!

(We couldn’t have done it without the use of mechanical reproduction  – so thank you modernity!)

Not the actual book title!! No, this is not part of the library stock 😉