Illustrations in picture books are very important to the understanding and enjoyment of the story. Picture books are the most characteristic form of children’s literature and hold a prominent place in childhood development.
Illustrations expand, explain, interpret or decorate written text to make it more interesting. Art in the illustrations plays a different role to those in gallery paintings. Art in picture books is more associated with storytelling. In many instances, picture books rely on illustrations to bring life to a setting; something that text cannot always accomplish.
One example is Boundless Grace (1995) where Caroline Binch provides readers with lifelike pictures of the different aspects of the lives of people in Gambia. Readers who have viewed the pictures of houses, marketplace, cloth stall, foods, and animals will easily identify the setting of the story. The illustrator has managed to use pictures to guide readers through a travel to Africa.
Illustrations are very effective in conveying the mood of a picture book. In the Polar Express (1985), Van Allsburg, author and illustrator used a bright and cheery palette that is commonly associated to Christmas. Dull reds, blues, pallid yellows, brown and black were used to portray a mysterious, gloomy and scary mood. The use of dark colours was able to create and maintain an eerie feeling while a young boy watches a magical train make its way to his front yard during Christmas Eve to the wolves-filled forests and the North Pole.
When characters in a picture book are artistically illustrated, it makes them more appealing to child readers. Short stories do not typically allow fully developed characters but illustrations can easily depict situations and emotions that are familiar to children. In a wordless picture book, illustrations can show the character’s actions and reactions to others. Children can understand the true love between a girl and her horse through illustrations.
A wide variety of custom illustrations and unique artwork is created by Maria Rabinky for books, greeting cards, illustrated maps and architectural renderings. Artful illustrations tell more than the eyes can see; they have the ability to tell a complete story that can be easily understood even by children.