Illustrators and their techniques

(I’ve just found this essay I wrote in my final year of college. Random but I feel it fits well with the blog theme. Apologies… It’s a little long)

I would like to start this essay by asking you all to look around, think about what you can see. Everything in front of you has a detail, a design, a form and a shape. Now if I asked you to show me one of these objects, how would you do it? Grab any material you can and replicate what you see/think/imagine. Everyone’s will vary, but neither will be wrong. It’s all part of visual communication, externalizing ideas and visualizing them, how you want them to look, which will narrate the subject matter. A writer writes about what they can see and visualize and explains to the reader what they can see in words. An illustrator does the opposite, they show the onlooker what they can see, explaining their visualization and ideas through images instead. This is where it all begins.

Illustration is found everywhere. From fashion, tattoos, magazines, graffiti, music, even that can of pop you opened when you began to read this, will incorporate a certain type of illustration. But what defines these illustrations? Why are they so different? Where do these styles come from? For example, why does illustrator Anthony Clarkson draw in a sinister cartoon style, while Brian Horris uses immaculately detailed line work to bring his work forward?

To answer this I could turn round and say ‘well that’s just how they want to do it’, but then I would only be half right. To answer these questions correctly I need to look deeper into illustration and its origins. What is illustration and where did it begin?

“Illustration is from the Latin ‘lustrare’ meaning ‘to make bright”. (Jacqueline Gikow, 1991). Others describe illustration as a way of solving problems and a “bridge between the mind’s eye and the camera lens” (Michael Flieshman, 1989). To me, illustration is a way to provide new ideas and attitudes to the world around us, and sometimes can explain personal feelings and situations.

So where did it all begin?

Back in 15,000BC are the earliest recorded illustrations, the cave paintings.


(Galloping Horse, Lascaux Cave Paintings)

The images vary in size and are a combination of painting and “crudely sketched or etched outlines” (Lucinda Hawksley, 2001). The pigments used, were dyes from the natural earth. The cavemen have shown us an insight into their culture by providing captured memories in the form of their images, adding humour and visual communication, similar to our graffiti (street art) known today.

Is it a coincidence that the same aspect of images on walls attracts us today? No, the reason being is that it is used in the same context as it has always been and is now. It is used to visually communicate to others about beliefs, memories, and life. It’s still a way to show culture and ideas, and former techniques.

Graffiti is plural for the Latin word ‘graffito’ which once originated from the Greek word ‘graphen’, meaning ‘to write’. Graffiti is found mainly in suburban areas, on moving canvases, such as trains, and places where it will be difficult to remove. Most graffiti nowadays are spread using aerosol as it is quicker, convenient and easily spread. Used by people who didn’t have a voice in society to build reputations and identities.

Graffiti has recently taken the upper stage in art culture, as people have “battled to buy works by this new group of avant-garde artists” (Bonhams, May 2008). The first urban art sale took place at Bonhams in New Bond Street in February 2008 as five hundred people packed themselves into the salesroom to watch.


(Banksy’s renaissance for a railway tunnel)

A great example of modern graffiti (street art) in the modern day, would be the work of Robin Banks, also known as Banksy. He’s well known for keeping a secret identity, drawing rats and creating humour in his protest against Anti-capitalism. His work is mainly seen around London and surrounding suburbs, using his re-occurring ‘rat’ images to represent unpleasant people. Banksy is described as being around thirty years of age and has taken the British art establishment on a new rollercoaster journey as they describe Banksy as a Guerilla and Art Terrorist. His work still shows the same aspects as the cavemen, but with new ideas and experiences, his work and others have developed.

After The Caveman etchings, the next big milestone in illustration and art was the High Renaissance, in the 15th Century. It was in this era, where realism, pictorial truth and natural science, was recognized to its full potential. The “Renaissance period introduced the first considered representations of perspective and architectural accuracy.” (Alan Male, 2007) This gave birth to new upcoming painters such as Leonardo Di Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, who were able to use these scientific discoveries to their advantage. These two men are well known for their interests and research into human anatomy, which is clearly identified in their artwork. The research these artists have collated has allowed them to recognize aspects of the human body which weren’t shown before in painter’s earlier attempts. Attending to these in paint and in sculpture, has expressed the realism needed and an insight into other possibilities/ ideas.

“One such technique” that Leonardo used “was sfumato” (Lucinda Hawksley, 2001). This gives an appearance of subtle change in light, and allows harsh outlines to appear soft, as shown in Mona Lisa.


(Mona Lisa- Leonardo Di Vinci)

There are many illustrators who still use this technique today. David Choong Lee who is based in San Francisco is one of the following. Once living in Korea and after a few years of mandatory service in the military and his family living in poverty, Lee became interested in street art and the homeless, when he moved to America to study at the Academy of Art. It was a “big culture shock”, when he saw drug-taking and he “couldn’t believe that this country’s government wasn’t nice and taking care of everybody” (David C. Lee, March 2008). The folk artist draws and paints what he sees. Using classical rendering skills, which up close provide essential detail in brush strokes, while from a distance sends an unprovoked political message which is upsetting to see.


(David Choong Lee)

The research into human anatomy carries on to this day, helping with medical experimentations and also in schools to teach science. Leonardo Di Vinci’s images of technological research has been “firmly established as an important genre of study related to art and science history” (Alan Male, 2007) It has appeared that these have always been a “driving force, regarding development and professional success of the artist” (Alan Male, 2007) The style of the drawing has changed in a way, using materials such as pen and ink. These provide precise fine lines, giving easy accessibility to detail, presenting the image in a format that is aesthetically appealing. The culture of scientific illustration is to be precise, emphasize any major details, show overlapping layers and depth in the subject matter. The illustrator wanting to be apart of this process needs to focus on disciplining their creativity, and becoming visually and culturally aware.


By the 1800’s another style of illustration had came into existence, the work of the caricaturist. After his father Isaac Cruickshank “died of a result of his alcoholism in 1811”, George Cruickshank took to the lead of caricaturist in Britain after a “brief education at an elementary school in Edgeware” (John Simkin, April 2008). With his father being a “satirical artist” (Greg and Connie Peters), Cruickshank learnt etching techniques, which are showed throughout his work.


(George Cruikshank)

His earlier works “included attacks on the royal family and leading politicians.” By the 1820’s Cruickshank lost interest in politics, taking upon himself to concentrate on book illustrations and theatrical caricatures.

In 1836, Cruickshank and Charles Dickens crossed paths, as the two men joined together to discover such works as “Oliver Twist,” “sketches by Boz” and “Bentley’s Miscellany”.

Cruickshank had strong beliefs and liked to show this in his work, he became involved in the movement to protect children. With this he published work such as “A slice of Bread and Butter” and “Our Gutter Children”. Cruickshank used pure humour in his work and worked “at his best when the target was aimed at culture, fashion, and society” (Greg and Connie Peters).

This style of caricature has captivated Commentary and Editorial styles of illustration, using it to look at political issues and the latest news. Alan Male (2007) mentions that “the required element would be for a ‘softer’, more reposeful and composed delivery of opinion and comment.” Adding humour to serious issues, “varied approaches to visual language”, distortion and “subtle changes to the subject’s physique or expression will push a portrait into a new realm of exposition.” Such positions have been taken by Giles, Brooks, Chris Burke and several illustrators in the well known private-eye cartoons.


(Chris Burke)

The 1800’s brought on many changes to illustration, line drawings became very popular, and fantasy and nature were brought closer together to synchronize with each other.

Arthur Rackham, illustrator of the Wind of the Willows drew distinctive forests, fairy maidens, ogres and trolls. His work was quaint, using line drawing with pen and watercolour. Based and born in England, his work has traveled the country, picking up on any novel with a twist from William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream to Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination. His work provides that sense of mystery and surrealism.


(Calling Shapes, and Becking Shadows Dire, Arthur Rackman)

Fairy illustrations and fantasy can be found almost anywhere. Amy Brown works very small giving her faeries a “vampire-like skin.” (Alan Lee, 2005) Her work is described as simple rather than complex and mentions that “to me a simple image makes a bigger statement. The viewer can look at the painting and get an instant, raw emotional reaction.” (Amy Brown, 2005).


(Another Eclipse, Amy Brown)

Amy gets inspiration from the “tiniest spark of an idea”. (Alan Lee, 2005) Whether it being a word, a book, song, movie or another artist. Carrying with her, a journal all the time, she will jot down these ideas, and when she is ready, she will begin to paint the background first, when the drawing is to her satisfaction. I feel her work is quite alternative, in which most of her characters will have amazingly detailed wings and fancy stockings.

Jasmine Becket-Griffith uses a gothic cartoon style to her work. It is important to her to be able to share her vision, thoughts and experiences, which may explain why she uses caricatures of her own face to stylize the faeries in which she creates. With big eyes and pale skin, but with a youth figure, these faeries seem almost sinister and slightly scary.


(Starry Night, J.Becket- Griffith)

The palette in which she uses are very bright over the dark background. She is “bold with her use of contrasts” and “never hesitates to use pure white for the final highlights or pure black to achieve that “otherworld look” (Alan Lee, 2005) No wonder this woman has no problem with inspiration, living in Florida with her husband, just a small walk away from a “lush jungle and amazing swamps” (Alan Lee, 2005), full of fairy potential.

Yet again, the 1800’s played a new part in the modern age of art, known as Art Nouveau, meaning “new art”. This was “characterized by sinuous lines and stylized natural forms.” (Lucinda Hawksley, 2001) Famous artists of this movement are Gaudi, Mucha and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. One Man who strongly influenced this change was Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98).


(The Black Cape, Aubrey Beardsley)

He developed a distinctive style using only black and white in his drawings, creating “overt sexuality” (Issabella Steer, 2001) in many of them. Brought up by his artistic mother in the town of Brighton, Beardsley, himself was influenced by Whistler and Japanese prints. Picking up on the composition, Beardsley was more concerned on making a “beautiful design or pattern in the given space” (R. A. Walker, 2008), rather than creating an illusion. His work similar to the style of Greek painted pots, with the flowing designs and contrast, Beardsley’s paintings were perfect for reproduction by cheap line block techniques. Beardsley indeed lived only a short life of twenty-five years, but within that he showed his true potential and pushed his medium to the “farthest degree” (R. A. Walker, 2008). In many of his works, Beardsley provided grotesque, weird and sinister images, in others “eroticism”.

Yuko Shimizu is one of the illustrators who has a close connection to the work of Aubrey Beardsley, in the style she works in.


(Commission for playboy magazine, Yuko shimizu)

Originally from Japan herself, Shimizu demonstrates her origins in her work, using the traditional variation in lines. She uses a dark palette, in which the colours are quite murky. Shimizu draws a lady in many of her pieces, revealing the intricate sections of the ladies body which comes across as erotic. Other images are also replicated, concentrating on stripes, bubbles, hair, and water. The medium used is pen and ink, which is then digitally accompanied to add the digital colour. This has advanced from the technique in which Beardsley used. With the new technology on foot, Shimizu has explored new ways to move this technique further and express it with a modern, new outcome. She explains that she “doesn’t believe in ‘style’, I believe in personal voice.” (Shimizu, 2007) although through this we see a distinctive sense of sexuality and freedom in her work.

The Japanese influence in both art an illustration has become outstanding. The thick lines and block bold colours have inspired cartoons, from superheroes to cult fiction. An Artist known as Killoffer, uses the bold black and white in which are shown in Beardsley’s work. He has created an alternative to this, using his graphic style drawings to draw out an autobiography. The comic book consists of grids and panels, which draw the reader across the page. With only the use of black and white, the comic book brings to it an insecurity and sinister style, followed by pages of horror and grotesque images of rape and death.


(Six hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer 2002, Killoffer)

The style is sophisticated and the imagery “self- obsessed” and “self-destructive” (Sherman Sam, 2007). He shares the same aspects as Beardsley had done, but with a darker, sharper approach to pure gore and terror, which will only be used in today’s world.

Beardsley and the Japanese influence also inspired people to use stronger and simpler lines, producing easier shapes and images which were still aesthetically appealing. The images need not be too detailed but still strong and sharp and easily recognizable. With the images like this, the work is easier to produce which is now used for advertising purposes, furniture and again comic books and magazines. Simple designs can be used as logos, while the more intricate can be used to decorate, usually used for wallpapers, background and to expand a small areas.

Throughout the years that followed, it wasn’t until the April Fools Day 1976, when everything began to change yet again. Two men, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs released the Apple I computer. This was the very start of the Apple computers, and it wasn’t long after, when they released the Apple Lisa in 1982/3. The Apple Lisa was the first home computer with a GUI (graphic user interface). This brought the beginning of digital illustration and design. Nothing much had changed between these points, the wars had ended and everyone were still experimenting with old techniques and reproducing the images. But now with the new material and technology, there was so much more to play with and more experimentation in store. Advertising was made easier and Graphic Design became a new part of art, coinciding with illustration. Digital Illustration has taken a strong position in the illustration programme and “the pervasiveness of digital technology has hastened the decline of illustration, which began in the immediate post war period.” (S. J. Eskilson).

Alberto Seveso was originally born in Rome. His style shows beautiful models colour and photography. “Like virtual tattoos, lush shapes weave through raw erotic images of these models, of the kind that so often appear in Southern European Adverts.” (Abdul Nasser, 2007).


(Alberto Seveso)

These shapes and colours flow through the females body, and stretch through and beyond the image, forming sensuality. Alberto mentions that he got bored of seeing the typical Photoshopped models, with only a few vector lines across them to have an “apparent attempt to show movement or style”. Seveso decided to try something new, by “injecting 2D abstraction” (Abdul Nasser, 2007), while still applying depth and shadow. To do this he starts with Adobe Photoshop, by placing photos and then vector shapes. Seveso (2007) then went on to explain that “my only rule is to use Photoshop to mix everything”. When looking at this man’s work it is not only digital but there are aspects of earlier techniques used to create a piece. The sensuality and sexuality of his work is similar to Beardsley. While the lines are soft and curved, similar to the flowers and leaves which have been shown in earlier Art Nouveau. This shows that traditional illustration is still inform, just expanded to new realms.


Throughout this essay I have learnt so much more about the origins of my Specialist Contextual Subject. How the techniques that earlier illustrators did use, are still being used by illustrators in this modern day. Many techniques have been expanded and experimented to achieve new, more professional approaches to the subject matter. No illustration technique has been left alone and forgotten because everyone works in a way they find most comfortable and enjoyable. How a person can perceive an object or emotion is totally different to how another person may visualize it, but everyone researches and learns from others, which inspires them to produce their own pieces of work. Culture and its environment also effect the way an illustrator may perform. When the cavemen sketched and etched their images they followed one another and did the same, and used the materials they had at the time. It would have been impossible for them to whip out a laptop and start drawing with a graphics pen. Illustrators and artists have had to learn these techniques slowly, but one by one have found their own signature style. With new materials and technology, our exploration into new techniques is never ending. Always a new idea/ source to be found. A new experience to inspire us. This is why illustration and illustrators have so many different styles, because everyone is still experimenting, new technology is being created and everyone has a totally different view on the world.


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