How do clouds impact emotion in picture-book illustrations? / by Margrete Lamond

wyeth cloud.jpg

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m ever such a consistent blog-poster inside my own head. I spend many hours composing fascinating sentences about fascinating things, but alas they just don’t always migrate from brain cells onto the actual page. But here we are again, and hello!


This is a brief postscript on the subject of clouds, because a gentle and knowledgeable reader was sad to see N C Wyeth not mentioned in the previous article. And what an omission that was! Wyeth (not Andrew Wyeth, please note, about whom I have different things to observe) and dramatic clouds go hand in hand. Even when Wyeth paints no clouds, their absence makes a ringing statement. This painting of being in the middle of a cloud is equally powerful.

 To cloud or not to cloud: this is a question worth asking of every illustration because clouds and their judicious handling tell all kinds of stories.

To cloud or not to cloud: this is a question worth asking of every illustration because clouds and their judicious handling tell all kinds of stories.

In this brief postscript I will observe just one thing about Wyeth’s clouds (not Andrew Wyeth, please note, about whom I have many things to observe) and that is that N C Wyeth clouds are interestingly reflective of his subjects. Look at this picture …

 Clouds of gun-smoke frame and envelop the action and provide the main character with a luminous aura.

Clouds of gun-smoke frame and envelop the action and provide the main character with a luminous aura.

And this one …

 Gun-smoke again, the acrid yellow fumes of war …

Gun-smoke again, the acrid yellow fumes of war …

As you can see, Wyeth’s beautiful and dramatically rendered clouds lend drama to each subject: the heavens resound and respond to earthly concerns. Those concerns might be the tribulations of pirate captives …

WYETH PIRATE CAPTIVE.jpg

the battling of Arthurian knights …

WYETH ARTHURIAN.jpg

or the lurching of galleons upon the high seas.

WYETH GALLEON CLOUDS.jpg

Wyeth’s clouds lend drama and contrast, and they also mirror and frame the action. Cloud contours swell, rise, tower or deflate in concert with the characters and their activities: taller towers of cloud loom behind powerful and important characters, not-so-tall towers of cloud frame lesser or shorter characters.

His clouds are not so much metaphors for the action and characters, but similes. For example, here are clouds that are like Robinson Crusoe and his parrot …

WYETH ROBINSON CRUSOE CLOUD.jpg

And here are two small cumulus lenticularis clouds whose placement is like the situation between a mother and her departing son.

WYETH SAD MOTHER CLOUD.jpg

Of Wyeth’s cloud images, there is perhaps only one that shows a cloud-as-an-actual-metaphor cloud (though I’m open to correction), and that is the cloud in The Giant.

WYETH GIANT CLOUD.jpg

To the awestruck children on the beach, the cumulus castellanus that towers above the ocean isn’t just like a giant, it IS a giant. Consistent with Wyeth’s clever use of clouds, the cloud outline also mimics and frames the imagined giant in a cloudy giant-aura.


Clouds, you see, do not just decorate the sky. Clouds tell stories and inspire awe.

As do horizons …

My next post is about the interesting effects of horizon placement in visual narrative. High and low, steep and flat, bendy and straight, horizons matter. I will examine them by gazing adoringly at Britta Teckentrup’s evocatively illustrated Look at the Weather.

What’s not to look forward to?