Exercise: Reading an image


“Look carefully at this image.

Mark Oliver

Then in your learning log list the content of the picture – breaking the image into its constituent parts and answer the following questions:”

  • What the image is about. What is it saying?

In this image, we see three characters, a protagonist, what appears to be a companion and a dragon. The image seems to be about something of value that is being protected by the Dragon. To redeem the item, the image portrays the danger in doing so.

  • Work out the narrative and identify the story.

The narrative shows two characters face to face with a sleeping dragon. The main character is identified by being the person holding the torch. The companion is seen to be less brave and wanting to retreat because of the imminent danger. You can see that they are surrounded by the remains of others who have tried to possess what the Dragon is guarding. The Dragon is sleeping and unaware of the main character’s presence. The image shows the nervous introduction of two very different worlds and the first steps of a dangerous feat or a conclusion to a long journey.

  • Describe the palette and tonal range which has been used. Note if the colours are hot or cold, whether the elements are detailed or textural, and where these approaches are used.

The palette is a mix of warm and cold colours. The fire from the torch is emitting a warm glow to the icy cave walls. The flame is also highlighting the metal armour on the floor, giving off a neutral cold green. The texture of the walls is highlighted by the glow. Damp and wet-looking, the warm light fades to colds of purple and blue through the picture. The floor and gold which the Dragon seems to be guarding are well textured, showing a cobbled stone texture. The shadows created by the light source are also created well and give a real sense of a flickering flame.

  • Is there any connection between hot colour and the importance of the element in telling the story?

The warm colour is used very well in this image and combines multiple elements. The torch emitting the warm glow could be seen as a pathfinder, leading the way on a journey, but also highlighting the danger of the journey in that of a dragon. The illustrator has made great use of colour in this image; all of the characters leap off the page. Their surroundings show real darkness and the amour on the floor explains what has come before this moment.


Begin to identify the hierarchy within the image. Which are the most important elements in terms of carrying the narrative or conveying the ideas and how have these been treated?

When I first look at the image, my eyes are immediately drawn to the lightest part of the picture, this being the yellow on the wall, which is closest to the flame. I then notice the main characters holding the torch and follow the colour through the cave past the mid greens in the amour to the Dragon. The colour really made me read this image left to right like a book. The colour flows through the image starting with the bright safety of the outside world, through the warmth of the torch and the walls, past the fallen armour, highlighting the danger and treasure then off into the cold darkness.


This was another great learning process. Seeing how you can lead the viewer through your work using colour is a fantastic process. You can manipulate the viewer to see things in a particular order or convey what is important within the image.