Monday, June 27, 2011
Untranslatable (Verbal vs. Visual)
Over the weekend I illustrated another Untranslatable feature for wwword.com. (Edited by my friends Lucy Sisman and Tamara Glenny.) Always fun; always educational, the column discusses words and phrases that don't travel well from one culture to another. Translating words into images is difficult enough in one language. Luckily the job of explaining is left to the writer. My job is to make the adjacent text look interesting, to highlight the culture it's from, write out the word and hint at the meaning. Overexplaining is a sin among illustrators, which is why we use shorthand. Gestures, icons, puns, allusions. These tricks go back to the ecclesiastic art stuck up on church walls to occupy the faithful who couldn't read and didn't comprehend the Latin liturgy anyway. This drawing is a lot like these medieval puzzle pictures, although it's more playful than complex. The smug face (are any people as smug as the Swiss?), the protective hand, the national flag, the iconic Matterhorn, the word in question, layered in colors the way language is layered with meanings.