Monday, April 21, 2008

Vignetting: Part 1

When you want to compose a picture on a white page, you can always place the whole scene inside a rectangular composition.

But it’s often more exciting to let the picture flow informally into the white of the page. Illustrators have invented a lot of different design strategies for “vignettes” or “spot illustrations.”

This week we’ll take a look at the ten different vignette strategies, starting with the first three: “soft blur,” “torn paper,” and “fadeaway.”

Soft Blur Vignette

The most basic kind of vignette is the soft blur, where the full subject appears against a background that gets lighter and lighter until it melts into the white of the page. The shape of the vignette can be mostly oval, or in the case of this picture from Dinotopia, an uneven elongated shape.

In the world of antique photography, vignetting typically refers to a soft blur gradation that either lightens gradually to the white of the paper or that darkens at the edges. Yes, that's my great-grandpa, Frederick W. Gurney, an engineer and manufacturer.

The Torn Paper Vignette

Dean Cornwell often gives the impression of a ragged fragment torn out of a larger composition. He makes no attempt here to draw the bottom half of figures, but instead lets the edge of the vignette cut across a variety of forms.

Here, too, he paints the figures only down to their hands and then tears away everything below that line. You can design a torn paper vignette by sketching up the whole scene in a preliminary drawing, then actually ripping out the essential elements in a random shape, and following that design for the final picture.

On both of these Cornwells, the tan background would have been brought up to white by the printer.

The Fadeaway Vignette

Coles Phillips invented the “Fadeaway Girl,” who was often vignetted in such a way that the colors of her dress—or in this case her car—matched the background color. Phillips left off the outline so that your eye has the fun of filling in the missing boundary.

The fadeaway idea also works against black, as Leyendecker demonstrates in this fashion ad.

Later illustrators like Coby Whitmore played with the same idea, in this case letting the white dress blend into the white page so that our minds complete the unstated forms.
Read the whole series:
Vignetting, Part 1
Vignetting, Part 2
Vignetting, Part 3
More on vignetting in my book: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
Thanks to the following this week:
Roger Reed of Illustration House, link.
Leif Peng’s Flickr sets, link.
Jim Vadeboncoeur’s illustrated books, link.
100 Years of Illustration, link.
Armando Cabrera, link.
Illustration Art, link.


Shane White said...

Wow...I haven't seen a lot of these pieces and I'm a pretty rabid Dean Cornwell fan.

Can't wait to see if you add Al Parker and Bob Peak to this mix.

Vignetting I always find is quite tough for me. All too often my natural urge is to complete the image in my mind's eye without regard of involving the audience.

It's just one more thing of doing more without.


Unknown said...

It's amazing. In your blog you reference things I find incredibly interesting and important but haven't read about anywhere else. Really interesting to see the use of vignettes in photography.

Erik Bongers said...

When I see a very characteristic face on the internet I save the picture to one of my documentation folders to which I feel the face and it's apparent personality applies: "children", "women", "heros" and "bad guys".
Same with the photo on this topic.

Now that I've read who the person is, I no longer dare to say to which of those folders I saved this picture.

(but I never use a face literally, I typically combine features)

Sarah Stevenson said...

I didn't know there was a formal name for it--I look forward to seeing the other types of vignetting.

I guess it's because, in the fine arts, anything that implies you're working in a narrative or illustrative fashion tends to be frowned least, that was the case where I went to school.

Raluca said...

..made me think about the illo I made last week(no intention to compare!!:)),useing a bit of this tehnique without knowing it!I go back to the draw and improove it!Sketches are my big ''weakness'':I love them as my eye complete mentally the image- but vignetting in this ways you presented with masterpieces examples is indeed ''creme de la creme''!The visible skeleton of construction beside detailed finished parts create a very ''alive'' sensation!So beautifully made!