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Setting is a powerful tool. When authors describe setting, they often use sensory descriptions and figurative language to bring out the story world. But when illustrators need to translate those descriptions, what do we do? We can’t draw how something smells or feels. Or can we?

Just like authors, illustrators have the tools of silhouette, line and contour at their disposal. Every illustrator uses these tools in a different way to express their vision of the world around them. So if we think about how a fresh loaf of bread might smell, we will want to translate how a fresh loaf of bread might look, how a character reacts or interacts with it, or somehow use shape and color to invoke the feeling of warmth that fresh bread gives them. And just like the author’s text, line weight and contour will translate in the viewer’s mind: a lightly drawn, curved line invokes the feeling of softness, while a heavy, straight line invokes the feeling of solidity and possibly harshness.

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Color and texture are also powerful tools in translating setting. Swatches of color on their own can invoke feelings, but when they are used in contrast or harmony within a piece they can take on their own meaning. It can draw the eye—as the color red is known to do—or it can offer the viewer a place of rest. A field of green or a swath of blue sky, for example. Texture performs the same way, though if you use too many disparate textures at once it could invoke chaos.

As a fun exercise, I call on my fellow illustrators to create a piece that invokes a feeling using setting. No characters, just props like furniture or buildings. Is there a way to use color, texture or line that could describe the feeling of home? The feeling of solitude? Of happiness or loneliness? You could also take a scene from your favorite book and re-illustrate the background to invoke the feelings of the character without them present.

If you feel like sharing your work in progress or finished piece, please share it with us on Instagram or Twitter using #KTIllustrates. You can also tag me @jesschrysler, I’d love to see what you come up with!

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Illustrations by Jessica Chrysler.