LOOK at a picture, what do you see? How do you know where to look on it to understand the information it is conveying?

Woodrow Phoenix is an author, artist and graphic designer who works with these kinds of questions and in an incredibly detailed and absorbing presentation guided his audience through how our minds process information when looking at pictures.

One of the things which I most admire about Settle Stories is the way in which they present an opportunity for experts to demonstrate their passions and explain how they construct their stories and when it is an area with which I am not familiar I regularly find these sessions totally riveting. Understanding the complexity of what goes into making a picture “work” was a key theme to this talk, along with the way in which every individual reads pictures slightly differently. Subconsciously we all invent images as we experience a story, but with an illustrated book the image is there in front of us and this may be very different from what we had created in our own mind - this difference then becomes the basis for examining and questioning our own perceptions of the story and how this varies from what the artist has created and also what they wished to convey about the story.

Throughout the session Woodrow Phoenix illustrated his ideas with examples of his own work, demonstrating how different types of images can be used to create pace, brightly coloured and irregularly shaped panels of information of different sizes creating a sense of drama and tension in cartoons for example with larger “splash panels” to create impact.

Naturally this means that different styles are required to illustrate different types of story. An extended part of the session was focussed on this issue by examining the structure of “Rumblestrip” a cartoon strip in solely black and white which is an extended exploration of our relationship and reliance on motor vehicles.

By simplifying the image to its very basic form and careful positioning of the captions we are guided not only through the basic story but also to exactly where we are meant to look in the picture to pick up the point of greatest importance.

Lack of characters in the narrative means that the viewer then becomes the character when viewing the pictures.

In contrast the quirky and colourful “Raining Cats and Dogs” is a joyous exploration for the way in which we use expressions about animals in our everyday speech; “red herring”, “ gift horse”, “dog tired” etc and for this the images were extremely simplistic but created in strong colours to keep the reader focussed on the central character in the image.

So, look at a picture - what do you notice? Perhaps after this session I will pay more attention to the three strands of composition, colour and detail and I may even stop to wonder at how skilfully they have been brought together to make an effective whole however one thing I am certain about, is that I will never simply gloss over them in the same way again as just an adjunct to a story.