First Impressions: How Pictures Work

I noticed this books in the list of recommendations on Amazon. Its title (“Picture This: How Pictures Work”) caught my eye, its cover put me off. Still, I added it to my Christmas wish list. I was delighted to unwrap it at the end of December. Since it’s relatively short book, I started reading it first. Surprisingly, it took me a bit longer than I expected to finish this book. Although, it’s written in a kind of entertaining style, it requires a lot of thinking. Looking at the pictures and finding the answers could take as long as you would like. There are plenty pictures to illustrate the writer’s point.

I’ve read it twice. Although, this book is for artists and is about “the principles of illustration and the role of shape and color in expressing ideas and emotions”, I’ve found it very useful as a still life photographer. Molly Bang’s 96 page book almost immediately became my handbook of composition. Yes, I had a few books on composition, but none of them connected with such a clarity elements of composition and psychology of art.

There are 4 chapters in this book and I found the second chapter “Building a Picture” the most useful.

After explaining in the first chapter “Preface” what events lead to writing this book and how this book came to life, in the next chapter, Molly Bang shared her experience of building a picture. A reader could follow her thinking path in choosing shapes, colours and positioning them within the frame. “I felt suddenly disappointed when I moved her up, and it took me some time to figure out why.” (Molly Bang, p. 20) I felt involved in the process of creating that picture although my feelings could’ve been a bit different. I started to see what reasons could be behind simple “it doesn’t feel right”.

I was really looking into reading the next chapter “The Principles” and at first it lived up my expectation. However, progressing through the chapter, I noticed a gradual decline in the quality of the statements and supportive arguments. When I came to the last group of principles, principles about Space and I felt that the system started falling apart. Still there was a interesting analyse of an illustration made by Sue Jensen when she was an eight grader.

The last chapter “Arranging Shapes on a Rectangle” contained several exercises and some good points on the process of building the first picture. I think that two of those exercises (#1 & #5 )could be useful for me, but I wish I came across this book at least three years ago.


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