Saturday, August 5, 2023

Composition In Picture Books - Think Like A Filmmaker with Jim Field

Jim Field is an award-winning illustrator, character designer and animation director. His first picture book, Cats Ahoy written by Peter Bently won the Booktrust Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2011. Since then, he has won multiple awards including Oscar’s Book Prize, Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards and the Lollies Book Award. In 2021 Jim illustrated The Christmas Pig written by J.K Rowling. Jim’s debut author-illustrator book Monsieur Roscoe - On Holiday is a bilingual book that introduces French words to children. You can find out more about Jim at and Instagram.

Jim has always loved watching cartoons, so studied animation in university. He worked as an animation director and a freelance illustrator.

Jim approaches storytelling from a filmmaker's point of view. He recommends Uri Shulevitz's Writing With Pictures as a great resource.

Picture book illustrators are like filmmakers, says Jim, taking the roles of casting director (characters), costume designer, set designer, art director, director of photography, and director (making visual decisions).

What makes a good composition? He gave examples of good composition by Frédérick Pillot and Jon Klassen, among others.

Remember proportions, says Jim. Learn the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio. Think about structure, and how to use placement of shapes and space to establish stability and infuse energy.

During his session, Jim showed us examples of how creators have used different shapes (triangles, circles, etc) in different compositions to convey different moods and ways of telling a story. He also gave examples of camera shots from films that use good composition.

Figuring out a story's subject and meaning will help you decide what compositions to use. Ask yourself lots of questions like "where are we?", "what is the action?", "how is the character feeling?", "how can I make this exciting?", "what references can help me?", "what needs to be in the scene"?, "what tone do I want to set?", "what can make an interesting perspective?" etc.

When illustrating THE KOALA WHO COULD, the challenge was that most of the story takes place in a tree, featuring a character who didn't want to move or change. Jim used composition techniques to help add visual variety.

A few more tips:

Find ways to use composition to entice the reader into the story from beginning. First impressions count.

Make the visual story flow left to right to help carry the reader through the book. 

Experiment with cropping the artwork to capture the energy. Vary with a longer shot, which gives breathing space to the image. Play around with changing the perspective.

Use multiple frames to show time passing.

To put more focus on the main character, simplify the background - or get rid of the background altogether, just using a vignette.

Use lighting and shadows to create atmosphere.


Register for the SCBWI Summer Conference at Replays of the conferences will be available until September 10th, 2023.

Also be sure to check out the Faculty Conference Bookshop and the Portfolio Showcase!

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