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A recent history of wimmelbilder

In the last post we talked a bit about the origins of seek and find/wimmelbild illustrations way back in the 1600s, but there’s a long way to go from Bosch’s paintings to the illustrations we are familiarized with nowadays.

Ali Mitgutsch is usually considered the father of modern search and find illustration, with his first book in this style released in 1968, Rundherum in meiner Stadt.

Cover of the Book Rundherum in meiner Stadt by Ali Mitgutsch

Depicting everyday scenes in vibrant environments, the images are full of tiny events that are either happening at the moment (like the lady dropping her bags when hit by a bike) or about to happen (like the car almost hitting the dogs). I am particularly fond of “about to happen” moments, as they make the scene feel alive and help immerse the viewer in that world.

Another interesting thing to point out is the use of a top-down view, which later on became popular in games like Pokémon, that makes it possible to have a very large scene without losing details in the front of each element, such as the buildings’ façades. This is actually a topic I want to discuss in more detail in another post!

Another artist from around that same period that worked with the concept of showing a large scene of lots of things happening at once was Richard Scarry. Though many of the artwork featured in his books are simpler, with much smaller scenes, he did explore image that resemble a lot current wimmelbilder, such as in the sketch below.

A sketch of Busy Town by Richard Scarry

After these books in the 1960s, the use of “wimmelbild" style became very popular to create images for children's books and activities. I want to mention here Dutch comic artist Jan van Haasteren, who back in 1979 started making illustrations for jigsaw puzzles that featured very busy crowd scenes.


Cover of a jigsaw puzzle by jan van Haasteren


About 20 years after Rundherum in meiner Stadt, what became the most popular hidden object book series was first released – Where’s Wally, by Martin Handford.

The main collection consists of seven books, released from 1987 to 2009, and was a worldwide phenomenon – so much so that “Where’s Wally style” became almost a synonym to “search and find”, hidden object or wimmelbild illustrations. Each book consists of a series of double spreads with crowd scenes in different locations – each one taking eight weeks to be drawn.

A double spread from Where's Wally Now

Nowadays, we have quite a few illustrators (myself included :) ) who love to create fantastical worlds full of details to explore. You can find them not only in books, but also digital games, puzzles, marketing campaigns, editorial illustrations etc. We’ll talk more about the current scene in search and find illustration in another post!


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