Exercise: Reading an image

Look carefully at this image. 



There are lots of tales about brave knights and fiery dragons defending their gold exist in the world. My first thought when I looked on hte picture was about Smaug dragon from Tolkien hobbit tale. But when I took a closer look, I realized that a couple of fellows who came to visit a dragon don’t really look like hobbits or gnomes. They clearly look like children. And the gold pile is not big enough too. While trying to explore the details of the image, I thought that it’s quality could be much better and tried to search the Internet a better version. An authors name was given, so it should have been a piece of cake. But it actually didn’t. I found few websites containing Mark Oliver’s portfolio, but none of them contained this particular illustration. And the rest of these portfolios made me wonder – maybe there is another illustrator with the same name? The style was completely different. For example:


At this moment I became really involved. I’ve started to search throught Google Images results for Mark Oliver Illustrator request, trying to check if there will be a given illustraton somewhere on the list. Wow, finally, i got this.


I detected our dragon on this illustration, followed the link and found out that it’s an illustration to the book Tom’s Clockwork Dragon. Our sample illustration is obviously from the same book and made by the same Mark Oliver. Well, long story shot, in the beginning I’ve just searched for better quality picture, and I did not find it. I found out a lot about one many-sided illustrator though.


Then in your learning log list the content of the picture – breaking the image into its constituent parts and answer the following questions:

• What the image is about. What is it saying?

So, what do we see? A couple of fellas came to the cave of a dragon, protecting his gold. They were lucky and the dragon was asleep. I think it’s a boy and a girl, by the way, and they seem to be ginger. Maybe brother and sister? As one can tell looking at the amount of empty armor, they are not at the list of first 10 visitors of the cave. Lots of brave knights probably died trying to overpower the dragon. But our heroes don’t carry any kind of weapon, so I think they were just curious. And the girl was probably the initiator, since she is the one staring at the gold, while the boy full of common sense is points at the exit, as he realizes that they should escape as fast as possible while the dragon is still asleep.


• Work out the narrative and identify the story.

It was a real surprise when i realized that I need to come up with a story. Well, I will try to go with dialogues, with a short prehistory. And the part from the picture will be marked with italics 

-What do we do here? You said we are going on the lake. You know that we are not allowed to go into this cave. Mom told us thousand times. The dragon lives there!
-Pew, when will you stop to believe everything they tell you? You can stay here if you want, I’ll go alone!
-Whatever. You can’t go far by yourself, it should be really dark inside.
-Oh, brother. I’ve kept thinking about this cave for a while, so few weeks go I hid a torch right here, waiting for a right time to scout the place. And today our parents went to the town till the late evening. It’s a great opportunity, and I am not going to fail it. Moreover, if you believe that dragon is there, you should believe that the gold is there too! I actually prefer to believe in second part. If there were a dragon, he would get out from the cave for food sometimes, and we should have seen him long time ago.
-Why does he need to go out for food? As long as there are madmen like you, ready to go inside, he will never be hungry!
-You were going to say “madmen like WE”. Come on.
-You are helpless… Okay, light up that torch of yours and lets go.


-Hmm, I am disappointed. This cave looks just like every cave does. No dragon, no treasures. We were wrong.
-Can’t even tell how glad I am.
-Look, there is another pass. Let’s check. Since we are already here, we should explore the cave till it’s end. We could make our secret lair here or… Unbelievable! The treasures… the treasures are real! We found them!
-Quiet! Don’t you see who else is here? It’s a bloody dragon! Please, we should leave right now. He can wake up in every moment!
-What you think, will he wake up if we will quietly take few coins with us?


• Describe the palette and tonal range which has been used. Note if the colours are hot or cold, whether the elements are detailed or textural, and where these approaches are used.

On this illustration colours are clearly separated with warm and cold palette. I decided to show it.


The flood and the arches of the cave also should be pointed at. These elements are the most textured elements of the picture.

• Is there any connection between hot colour and the importance of the element in telling the story?

If we look at the picture from above, we could tell that faces, light from the torch and the dragon on the gold pile are been filled with warm colours. These are three main elements of the story. Actually, these elements are the story – two fellas with a torch in the cave found a dragon sleeping on the gold pile.
Empty armor lying in the cave tell us that dragon have killed their owners. But they are not filled with warm colour since they just an addition to the main story. We see the armor on the second sight only, when the story already making its way in our heads, and then we realize: the dragon is dangerous. Doesn’t worth to wake him up.
So, first we should be like:
– Wow! A dragon with a gold pile!
and then
– Hey, it’s dangerous. Cmon guys, get out of there.


Begin to identify the hierarchy within the image. Which are the most important elements in terms of carrying the narrative or conveying the ideas and how have these been treated?

At first i was sure that the dragon is the main element on this illustration. The dragon and his gold. But looking on the smaller version i realized that the torch’s light is almost of the same size with dragon, and even surpass him with brightness. It’s not that obvious when you look at the bigger version of the image. Maybe it should be interpreted as the dragon is a huge danger by himself, but since the light has the big role too – maybe the meaning is that a dragon is a danger, but not when he sleeps. And a light from the torch can probably wake him up, so the light itself is an equal danger.

By the way, you would hardly miss the throne made by bright green colour. What should that mean? Maybe something like “the dragon is a king to himself”? Since he is that big, he cant even sit on the throne, he just puts a tale on it.
Usually i don’t try to search for some hidden meaning of an illustration. But it seems to be appropriate in this task.

Categories: exercises, Illustration