Your head swirls with images when captivating storytelling pulls you in. An author can spin a world around you, directing their reader’s attention with a careful choice of words. Much like the writer, visual artists illustrating these stories also need to be able to direct your attention. The visual domain both limits and empowers an illustration. It can be a daunting task to represent a story in a single image; details inevitably get left out in the summary. Often, different points can be gleamed from multiple subplots or subtlety written dialog. Artists have to try and focus on one theme, or create a broad enough concept to encapsulate them all.
It’s always a struggle deciding what to leave out when I’m trying to put an image to words. When to be literal, when to be symbolic, and when to simplify? They are all valid approaches but different artists have different preferences. With this image for the North American Review’s fall issue (298.4) I went symbolic. “The Carport” by Laura Gabel-Hartman was the prose I was tackling. More specifically, I chose to focus on the part of the story that dealt with a teenage boy trying to cope with the loss of his father. The bright, star-filled sky inside a lamp contrasts with the blank night sky outside. Similarly, in the story, the carport served as a sanctuary that contrasted the sadness at home. Taking up his father’s hobby of fixing broken antique lamps was the son’s way of carrying on the memory of his father’s life. Meanwhile, at home, his mother could only carry on the memory of the father’s passing. The exclusion of any characters from the image makes it fit better with the mood of the writing, which was quiet and reflective.
The piece titled “Shelter” is a modestly sized painting that began as a digital drawing. Oils were added over top a pencil and acrylic under-painting on an illustration board. The final was printed in black and white, but you can see it here as it was painted, in full color.
Ethan Bifano is a professional artist who specializes in science fiction, fantasy, and conceptual oil paintings. He can often be found hiking the trails of Pennsylvania.