Hierarchy in the Image

Exercise: Reading an image

The focus for this exercise was to ‘read’ the image by Mark Oliver below.

The majority of the image is taken up by a huge red sleeping dragon who appears to be guarding treasure. He has his whole body wrapped around jewels and other golden objects. There also appears to be a throne perched on the top of the treasure, possibly for his master or mistress to sit in. Perhaps he is a dragon owned by a king or queen, there to protect them and their possessions. On the left side are two children, one of them carrying a torch of fire which provides the other ‘hot’ part of the image. The whole scene appears to be set in a cave with the torch providing light. On either side of the children are piles of armour and weapons, including shields, swords and daggers. These could belong to the children, or they could be a collection, trophies from all the other warriors who have come to try to defeat the dragon.

My initial thought for the story was that the children were trying to steal the treasure, however the poses of the children suggest a few other possibilities. They appear to be attempting to wake and lure the dragon away. The girl looks like she is addressing the dragon, while the boy is pointing at the way out. This may be the reason for the children putting down their weapons and armour because they want to appear friendly. Another possibility is that they have stumbled across the dragon by accident, the boy is scared and pointing behind them to suggest they go back the way they came. The positioning of the girl’s hand doesn’t fit this idea though.

This image is from the book ‘Tom’s Clockwork Dragon’ written by Johnathon Emmett and illustrated by Mark Oliver. I am aware of the book but haven’t read it.

The colours used in the image are bold and bright. the eye is immediately drawn to the bright red of the dragon, then round to the torchlight. Hot colours such as red, orange and gold are used in both these areas. The dragon is main subject of the narrative and the use of hot bold colour ensures this is conveyed in the image.

The cooler areas in blues, purples and dusky greens appear secondary to the heat of the dragon and the torch. Only after the eye has seen these hot areas does it search and explore the rest of the image. The torch creates shadows in the cave which are darker in hue. I was particularly drawn to the purple used on for the shadow on the right side of the dragon. Although it is shadow and darker, it is still a warmish colour. The use of purple around the dragon and cooler blues around the children further develops the hierarchy establishing as the visually dominant subject.

The cooler areas of the image background are more textural and detailed, for example, the floor around the children is more detailed than the shadowy floor behind the dragon. This is because detail is more evident where there is more light.