One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
How It All Goes Down
Flip open to any given page in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Tell us, what are you going to see? (We'll give you a hint: it's not necessarily a fish). What you're looking at is a kooky, crazy, magical world. Seuss isn't going for realistic here. He's trying to create images that tap into your imagination—images that let your mind do the work.
What do we mean by that? Well, when you go through the pages of One Fish Two Fish, you'll find yourself encountering creatures and images so odd and whimsical that you'll wonder if you've dreamed them up yourself.
It's as though someone sat down the inner five-year-old in all of us and asked, "If you could make up any fun animal, what would it be?" And then that person (all right, all right, it was Seuss) went ahead and illustrated and compiled all of these childhood dreams into one place.
Plus, if we know one thing, it's that Theodor Seuss Geisel knew how to tailor an illustration to an overall message. His years as a commercial and advertisement cartoonist are proof enough of that fact (source). So what's his message in this book? The illustrations of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish are all about whimsy. He uses rudimentary colors and fantastical visuals in order to create for the reader the experience of childhood and all the awesome imagination that goes with it.
Though the illustrations and text may portray the kookiest of the animal kingdom, the use of color in this book is decidedly unkooky. In fact, it's quite basic. Most colors are primary—red, yellow and blue. There are some variations on these three colors—a lighter shade of pink for the Yink's drink of ink—but color is always used as a solid without shading or mixing.
Seuss kept it simple. In the same way that the text uses short and sweet words to tell a story, the color usage remains as rudimentary and almost childlike as possible. That's to say, if you only had one of those sad 4-pack crayons that they give out your friendly neighborhood Sizzler, you could still do a decent job of coloring in this book.
The simplicity of the colors in the book allows for the reader's imagination to really let loose. Not only do the ink drawings to stand out all the more against the solid color backgrounds, those solid color backgrounds also give a whimsical depth to the images. With the simple use of color, there's more room to get lost in the fun cartoony drawings and to fill in the blanks with the reader's own imagination.
Don't Make a Face… Or Do
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Okay, so there aren't any lions, tigers, or bears in this book. But there are a whole lot of other creatures, and they've all got distinct characteristics. So we should probably be singing, Goxes and Wumps and Gacks, oh my!
Yep, these aren't just nameless, faceless creatures. True to Seussian form, the illustrations of all the creatures in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish are rich with faces and expressions.
For example, the bad fish that we're introduced to at the beginning looks quite mean, and pleased with himself as he slaps another fish. His eyebrows are furrowed and he has a malicious grin on his face. And as for our friend Ned, his expressions grow increasingly grumpy and frustrated as the story progresses.
The illustrations zero in on facial expressions in order to lend personality to all of those silly critters, so that they can stand out from the crowd even more than they already do. Every creature has a story, and more often than not, you can read it in their face.
As for the facial expressions of the non-creatures in the book—the children—we could sum them up in two words: content and delighted. We know—we wish we always looked that pleasant, too. With the children, their facial expressions further the idea of them as little explorers who are open to and excited about all the new things that they're seeing.
Drawing Within the Lines
Close your eyes and think of a classic Seuss illustration. Do you see lots of shading, collages, or anything 3D at all? Probably not. The Seuss illustrations we know best are line drawings that sketch out the forms and expressions of the characters, but not much else. The drawings are done with dark, thick lines that emphasize shapes and silhouettes—not details.
Art in Action
In the book's illustrations, the characters are typically in the midst of doing something. If these were photos, we would call them candid shots and they would be a far, far cry from a cheesy and posed school photo.
There are fantastical images, such as the children (and some friends) riding on the back of a seven-humped Wump that spans two whole pages. There are also two images of the Nook walking about with a cookbook hanging from a hook attached to his hat—one of him pattering along happily, and one of him in front of a fire attempting to cook, with a concerned expression on his face.
The illustrations tell a story. And before you say duh, hear us out. You might read this book as a litany of creatures and not much else, but each creature, as shown through the images, has his own story. From driving fish to ink drinking and winking Yinks, almost all the creatures are in the middle of getting somewhere or doing something exciting when we see them. They're busy bees, and we're tired just watching 'em.