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Picture This: How Pictures Work
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Picture This: How Pictures Work

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,475 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
Everyone knows that a picture tells a thousand words. But what about the elements that make up a picture? Using the tale of Little Red Riding Hood as an example, Molly Bang uses boldly graphic artwork to explain how images—and their individual components—work to tell a story that engages the emotions: Why are diagonals dramatic? Why are curves calming? Why does red feel ho ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published July 1st 2000 by Chronicle Books
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Jun 27, 2013 Stefanie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read a much better article about picture books for undergrad. The text was personable but not professional. So while I agree with most principles in the text, it still gave the impression of the author saying, "I felt this way when I made the picture look like this, so this is what the rules are."

People giving this a high star rating should look up some peer-reviewed articles on the topic for more in-depth research.
Stephanie Jobe
May 01, 2012 Stephanie Jobe rated it it was amazing
Thrown in the midst here I have a book about how picture books work. Though the theatre voice in my head says that this should be required reading for every design and directing student to teach them about how stage pictures work because the concepts are the same and Bang communicates it so well. She uses Little Red Riding Hood to demonstrate many of the key points. She keeps on track with very little tangents and the points she gives cut straight to the core. No you’re not going to run off and ...more
Joshua Rigsby
Mar 06, 2015 Joshua Rigsby rated it it was ok
Shelves: professional
This is a decent little book for someone just getting started in graphic design or visual art. It presents some general psychological principles regarding how the things we see translate into emotions we feel. Some of the topics discussed came across as interesting and illuminating, some of them as a little too theoretical/culture-based/subjective, and a few I believe are completely wrong.

However, there is enough here for the beginner to get her feet wet, and start thinking about visual present
Jan 08, 2015 Spindrift rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arty-stuff
This is an interesting book, and it does a good job at explaining the effect of (some!) shapes and colors on our emotions - but I found that the book offered me nothing new. There's something to be said for having all the underlying principles in an overview, but these only fill a small section of the book. Most of it is a case study of one image in a number of stages/variations (though admittedly the principles are used in that).

For illustrators who never considered the way shapes and colors ef
Jane Dugger
I discovered this book on Penelope Trunk's website. I don't usually go for books like this and almost didn't read it before returning it to the library. But I am sure glad I did. And be sure to read the whole thing (i.e. the introduction) it explains it all.

This was such a fascinating book and you will never look at art, pictures, etc. the same. I inhaled this book. I wish I could renew it to be able to read it again and again and refer back to it. It's that amazing.

It's not difficult reading b
Aug 18, 2014 Sylvia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In this deceptively simple book, Molly Bang uses basic geometric shapes to show how pictures work: how simple principles of design can shape emotions and tell a story. Using cutout shapes to explain abstract statements such as "smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm" or "diagonal shapes are dynamic because they imply motion or tension," Ms. Bang walks the reader through the psychology of a picture. She shows how Little Red Riding Hood can be illustrated using these ...more
It might seem strange to put this on my "businessy" shelf, but I've got my reason: while I'm focused on back-end work in web development--setting up databases and handling data and so forth--I'm curious about the front-end, particularly design and user experience. Which I'm not great at. Somewhere along the line, I heard of Molly Bang's book as a meditation on, well, how pictures work. This may be the first time the subtitle of a book is so scrupulously true.

In 96 pages--most of them given over
Amy Rae
Picture This is ultimately an incredibly basic introduction to art theory--and that's the charm of it. Bang breaks down art-school talk into the simplest possible shapes and uses a well-known fairy tale to help readers understand what goes into an illustration. We see the pictures evolve throughout the book, making it possible to compare the different artistic choices possible. (It's also a great reminder of the importance of drafts and revising, and the fact that great art can evolve into itsel ...more
Barb Middleton
I wished I had read this book back in journalism school. It explains basic composition in pictures that is easy to understand. I've heard much of it before but I like how Molly Bang puts it all together tying colors, shapes, space, and placement with emotions and word associations in a simplistic way. She uses the story, "Little Red Riding Hood," changing colors, shapes and placement to create the emotion of fear. The examples show the effects of size and color, as well as, what people associate ...more
I had I read this book for my graduate children,s literature class about picture books at Penn State U. Thankfully, this was an easy book to read (unlike some of the other required reading). I love how Molly Bang systematically goes through how various shapes, colors, and patterns affect the emotion that a composition causes. A triangle flat on its bottom down low on the page feels stable and secure. A triangle on its point feels like it is in motion,, like its about to fall. Objects higher on a ...more
Benjamin Robinson
May 30, 2015 Benjamin Robinson rated it it was ok
While I understand why this book would be helpful to many people, the author simply took an approach to art that completely clashes with my learning style. I suppose what frustrated me the most about this book is that it felt like a how-to guide to art for someone who wanted to represent certain feelings, but had no way of understanding those feelings. I suppose I just rely more on instinct than the person this book was intended for. While I do hope this is helpful for others, I honestly feel li ...more
Introduces readers to the structural elements that make the pictures we view so emotional for us.

Topics covered include: horizontal vs. vertical vs. diagonal shapes, object placement in the top half vs. the bottom half vs. the center of a picture, edges and corners in artwork, background colors, pointed shapes vs. rounded curves, size, association between objects based on color and shape, contrast, and space.

Extension activities can be found at the end of the book. Each concept is supported by
This is an amazing read for anyone interested in the arts. Extremely short, but packed with great information. Molly Bang challenges us to take three colors of paper and using just those three colors recreate or create emotional scenes using geometric shapes. I can't wait to play with this idea more!
Big Shell
Jul 31, 2012 Big Shell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are an aspiring illustrator and can only afford to buy one book this year, make this the book. It's simple, straight forward, yet makes so much sense. It is the condensed diamond of informative.
Jul 03, 2010 Lizette rated it it was amazing
This is a great book that shows you how pictures in stories create different moods. It is a quick read and and easy to understand. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
Feb 08, 2015 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
interesting enough. i actually wish that the book went through the entire story of little red riding hood. i wanted to see how key points in the story were crafted from the simple shapes.

although, i have to agree with some other goodreaders who say that her arguments lack...well...argument. she does a good bit of "this shape makes you feel like this...see?" without much to back it up sometimes.

when she talked about the color red, she mentioned that psychologically red does something to humans.
Rae Ganci Hammers
Picture This is a smart and tidy book; and a thoughtful review of basic design principles. In the first section, Bang slowly progresses elements in an image of Little Red Riding Hood, trying to create the most dynamic and emotionally changed image she can. I really liked how she changed just one thing at a time - it forcefully demonstrated what a big emotional impact a small choice can make when structuring an image. The second section is devoted to defining the principles she demonstrated in Ri ...more
Julia Reynolds
Some have called this a brilliant book, looking at image composition and art criticism in an accessible intuitive way. For me, it was an exercise in patience. Every time Bang said “this color and this shape feel like this,” I wanted to scream. The hokiest of art interpretation at work – oh, this meaningless blotch on a page means something profound and makes you feel something. I don’t get art – it just makes me feel like I’m looking at art. But others may really like this. It’s shaped like a pi ...more
Jan 04, 2015 Kathryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book! It is so simple and yet the principles in it are so profound. I love how they are presented in such a clear and simple way with lots of visual aids. Several of these principles I have felt or vaguely noticed but it was so nice to have them explained and put into words and concrete principles so I can repeat it instead of fumbling around looking for what "works". It is great for anyone involved in making pictures in some way--illustrators, artists, directors, designers etc.. It ...more
Duc Loc
Jan 09, 2016 Duc Loc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a gem of a book this was!
Tonia Sandersfeld
Really interesting book that explains how pictures work to get us to feel a certain way and enhance text in children's books. I loved that the illustrations in the book were very simplistic. I felt this really helped to emphasize the principles of pictures she was explaining. As a person who has never had any artistic talent at any point ever in my life, I really enjoyed getting these things illustrated and explained for me! I'm excited to put these principles to use evaluating illustrations in ...more
Nov 06, 2014 Gale rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
“New Perspectives on Elementary Art”

This darling book is a must-read for any teacher of art for elementary/preschool children. Focusing on the elements of Shape, Color and Size she demonstrates a simple yet ingenious method of eliciting emotional reactions to simplified pictures-- which instantly convey a Mood and ultimately tell a Story.

Her conscientious approach presents a logical progression of rearranged shapes and colors, analyzed to make us realize what we didn’t consciously know we alrea
Aug 18, 2015 Lily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2014, how-to
This book was an interesting experience. When I first picked it up, I flipped through the pages and felt disappointed at how apparently simplistic the illustrations were. Was I really going to read a book about basic shapes? But once I got into it, I realized that it is this simple (but not simplistic) illustration style that drives home the lessons about the instinctive and emotional impacts of color, shape, and composition. It doesn't take much complexity to achieve these effects, but it does ...more
Jan 27, 2016 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picture This: How Pictures Work is a good place to start if you’re curious about design. While not meant for everyone, it has some eye-opening insights to those new to the subject.

Using the story of Little Red Riding Hood and basic shapes and colors, Molly Bang shows why certain colors and shapes elicit specific emotions. Bang’s use of construction paper examples are surprisingly effective without appearing too juvenile. Her arguments are simple and to the point. Diagonal lines convey tension. H
Kathleen Dixon
Dec 05, 2014 Kathleen Dixon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, 4homeschool
I discovered this book quite by chance and am very pleased. It's a book written simply and is quite simply about its title. Using black, white, red and mauve the author takes simple shapes like triangles and rectangles, pieces them together, and shows us how to create a picture that works on our emotions. I'm no artist myself, and have never studied art theory (though have read a little on appreciating art), so this little book has given me some insights and some ideas for working with the child ...more
This is a very interesting reference book. It explains quite well how composition works by using the simplest possible drawings and the least amount of different colors so that the details won't distract you from what is really important. I have yet to put all those exercises to use, but now at least I have an idea of what should be my focus when I'm attempting to draw something.
Not exactly the most fun reading of the universe, but definitely a book worth checking out.
Asai Andrade
Sep 23, 2015 Asai Andrade rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On my journey to becoming a graphic designer, I encountered a blog that recommended this book as a starting point to grasp a strong foundation into graphic designing.
Although this book is a very quick read, it is packed without a lot of information of the psychological aspect of a picture.
Molly has a really straight forward way of writing (which I love).
This is a highly informative book and a workbook to build a psychological foundation for art.
Nov 10, 2014 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When talking about making connections and building connections we ask our students to look at the pictures. We discuss the actual pictures we see, but rarely do we talk about the why and how of pictures. Molly Bang teaches us to better understand the visual elements such as colour, shape, size, placement etc. I look forward to taking students deeper into the illustrations, helping them to experience the pictures on a whole new level.
Apr 26, 2014 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gem of a book this was. I had to read it for my Art of the Picture Book class I was taking this semester. What wonderful insights and revelations on every page. It helped me gain deeper insight into picture book making, specifically, but into truly "looking" at art and images from a much deeper perspective. I was even able to make my own relatively successful drawing based on the concepts that Bang explains. Wonderful book!
Apr 14, 2014 Julia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned about this when reading the most recent issue of the Horn Book. Great way to understand the power of picture books and how/why they convey the feelings they do. I'm really glad I picked this up - it definitely gives you an appreciation for the talent that goes into creating visual elements in books, whether they're for children or in the form of graphic novels aimed at adults.
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