the dollhouse effect

I’ve been working on sketches for my new project “Cat’s Pajamas” and I have realized that I very very rarely draw the city or the indoors. Now that I’m thinking of it, my entire portfolio is all illustrations that take place outside.

So I’ve been turning to some much admired illustrators for ideas. My favorite discovery so far is something I’m calling the dollhouse effect, which shows the interior of a building while also showing the structure of the building. Like a dollhouse.

nutcracker dollhouse

This is from Maurice Sendak’s illustrated version of the Nutcracker. It’s a much larger spread, cropped by my small scanner. But I adore the glimpse into Clara’s bedroom, while the buildings and rooftops loom all around her. Not to mention the Rat King…

royal tennenbaums dollhouse

royal tennenbaums dollhouse 2

These are from Wes Anderson’s movie the Royal Tennenbaums, or rather the insert in the dvd. They were drawn by his brother, Eric Anderson, as a way to plan for creating the movie’s meticulously detailed sets. Rather than a dollhouse, he used a hanging picture motif, but I still get the sense of these stacked glimpses into rooms that I get from a cutaway dollhouse.

chester dollhouse

This is from Ayano Imai’s book Chester. It might not be immediately apparent, but it’s an interior view of his dog house. It also has details, like an apple branch growing from the wall and a steaming cup of tea on a tiny shelf, that are strange but homey.

And these are a few of my sketches from this project so far. I’m having fun playing with this effect!

cat's pjs dollhouse



  1. Hi Hillary
    Congratulations!! I was so glad to hear your news at the last SCBWI meeting. I was hoping to catch you to say hello before you slipped out, but you were faster than me.
    Your work is lovely, and I love this whole post. I will look very closely at the Eric Anderson drawings–they look amazing, and I love all Anderson related stuff.
    Hope to catch up one of these days. If you see me walking my dogs as you are cycling past, say hello!!

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