Exploring Illustration: Essays in Visual Studies

Fashion Illustration: The Evolution of Style


Fashion Illustration: The Evolution of Style

By Jackie Zhu

Fashion illustration has always engaged audiences, originally serving a promotional role for fashion magazines, clothing designers, and department stores which sold their wares. This style of illustration is usually exaggerated to express and elevate the elegance and glamour of luxury life, but not too far from real-life situations. However, with the introduction of fashion photography […]

Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day


Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day

 By Melissa Crowton

 The modern picture book has come a long way. Not only has the medium and the format been explored, but the content has evolved to reflect the changing social consciousness. Ezra Jack Keats’s picture book, A Snowy Day came onto the scene at a time when  picture books needed a push forward to reflect the culture and social climate […]

Plastic Harmony



By Meltem Sahin

The exposure to the explosions of colors shapes and words yet filled with immense negative space, ones’ mind overwhelm with “À Toute Épreuve”. Roughly meaning foolproof, “À Toute Épreuve” is an illustrated poem book, created through the exchange and collaboration of two life-long friends French poet Paul Eluard and Catalan painter Joan Miro geniuses and sensations, guiding viewer from word to […]

A Rosie is a Rosie is a Rosie by Shreyas Krishnan

Rosie the Riveter (detail) Norman Rockwell 1943


Rosie the Riveter was Norman Rockwell’s cover for the May 29, 1943 issue of Saturday Evening Post. We see an androgynous figure seated with the kind of practiced confidence that not many are capable of, even as her skin shines with grease and she sits in sensible, over-sized (yet cinched at the waist) overalls. She balances a heavy riveting machine with nonchalance, while eating a sandwich. Her lunchbox tells us […]

Jessie Willcox Smith and the First Children’s Book Week Poster


By Ashley Yazdani
In 1919, just after the First World War, a small group of Americans gathered to establish the first official Children’s Book Week, and to help communicate their cause they commissioned a poster from renowned illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith. This first poster, featuring a pair of children helping themselves to a bounty of books, encouraged Americans to have “More Books in the Home!” and paved the way for a […]

Witches Night Out


Owen Smith (b. 1964)
Halloween New Yorker, 2000
Cover illustration for The New Yorker (November 6, 2000)


Halloween, or All Hallows Eve,  is one of the times that harmful spirits are said to be active. In the U.S., we take that concept to mean that witches, among other spirits, are out that night seeing what mischief they can get into. Since we link witches and Halloween together, it is not uncommon […]

The End


The illustrator Howard Pyle understood the essential elements of imagining the termination of a life or illustrating the passage of a lifetime. In the vignette seen below, he pictured an artist (himself really) seated under his umbrella painting the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga en plein air—in the open air. Standing behind the artist is the spirit of Ethan Allan, bearing witness to the past of the fort while watching over the artist […]

Visual Thrills






Robert Crumb (b. 1943)
Cheap Thrills   1967
Album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company


The cover art of the Cheap Thrills album is one of the icons of the 1960s counter culture, and easily gave cartoonist R. Crumb a place in the pantheon of illustration art. I love that the font Crumb utilized for the album title and the group’s name, looks like the visual equivalent of Janis Joplin’s sound—a voice […]

A Case of the Vapors

ivory soap

Shifting Visions of Vaporous Artistry

There is something distinctive and magical about the way J. C. Leyendecker conveyed the fleeting properties of steam, smoke, and fog in his illustrations. His stylized (sometimes art nouveau-inspired) renditions of air-borne particulate matter first appeared while he was in Paris (1896-98) with his brother Frank X. studying at the Académie Julian following their training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.   J. C.’s […]

Illustrating Active, Sporting Women

Saturday Evening Post 1902-08-16

As early as 1893, Vogue magazine began commissioning illustrators to include images of active young woman participating in sporting activities. For example, the American illustrator  Charles M. Relyea (1863-1932) produced cover illustrations for the magazine featuring a woman driving a boat and another walking through a woods, with a shot gun in hand, flushing a rabbit. It took most other American magazines a bit longer to shift their cover images […]

At the Front, WWI


July 28, 2014 is the one hundredth anniversary * of the beginning of what the British called, The Great War. While America had already experienced the vast destruction (of humans and land) during our mid-19th century Civil War, World War I was the first time Europe experienced the broad devastation of land and people in the grinder of modern warfare.  Not surprising, contemporary illustration reflected the conditions of the battlefields […]

Making Us Laugh

Macy Parade puzzle

While you might not be aware of the illustrator Tony Sarg (1882-1942) by name, some of his work still influences our lives. Sarg was born in Guatemala to a German father and an English mother. Despite his training for a career in the military, Sarg rebelled and instead focused on illustration art moving to London in 1905. In the early teens, Sarg designed over thirty posters for the London Transport, […]

Illustrating Jazzzz


In the early part of the 20th century, American artists looked to contemporary music as a viable exemplar of time and motion to apply to their visual expression giving the more static traditional forms of painting and sculpture a new energy and a sense of movement. Ragtime, the Blues, and Jazz provided new snappier or soulful tunes that compelled artists in Europe and America to seek their own versions […]

Japanese Lanterns


In 1916 the illustrator Everett Shinn was commissioned to create the first of June cover illustration for Vanity Fair magazine (see below). To express the frothy entertainments of summer, Shinn portrayed an upscale dandy with his boater in his proper right hand and his elegantly dressed companion seated among or straddling the bough’s of a tree, poised against a rising moon. The faces of the couple dressed in their pale-toned summer […]

Are We All Illustrators Now?*


In John Sloan: Drawing on Illustration, my new book from Yale University Press, I use the work of Sloan—an early twentieth-century American artist and member of The Eight and the Ashcan School–as a lens through which to consider the subject of illustration more broadly. As such, while the book focuses primarily on the several decades around the turn of the twentieth century, I repeatedly link this historical content to matters closer […]

Illustration Spurs Fashion–Fashion Spurs Illustration

Parker Ladies Home Journal

As we have seen in a previous Exploring Illustration entry, during the late 1930s and 1940s, Al Parker created a series of cover illustrations for the Ladies Home Journal that featured mother and daughter characters dressed in same type and style of clothing.*


Parker’s mother daughter illustrations encompassed a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities: ice skating, roller skating, swimming, baking, trying on hats, changing a tire, skiing, building […]

All Women are Beautiful: Seeing and Believing


Lynn Buckham (1918-1982)
[Embracing Couple]
Story illustration for “The Heady Career of Samuel Watkins” by Edward Lanham in Good Housekeeping (October 1967)

If you believe the images created for magazines and advertising illustrations in the third quarter of the 20th century you would think that all women from that time were beautiful; they always dressed impeccably; their waists were universally cinched; their hair was always perfect and their lipstick never needed to be […]

Anthropomorphic Tails

Walter Harrison Cady

Proctor and Gamble Company of Cincinnati first sold Ivory Soap in 1879. As you can see in the ad here on the right, early advertising illustration was produced in a minimalist way and from a purely practical aspect—so what you see is a pair of hands use a thread to divide the double-sized bar soap at the processed demarcation. 







Walter Harrison Cady (1877-1970)                         Unknown artistIvory Soap, early 1900’s                                            Ivory Soap, 1882 Advertising illustration […]

Bluebirds and Happiness


The Gerlach Barklow Company produced art calendars and advertising materials in Joliet, Illinois from 1907 through the late 1950s.* Their popular calendars were typically personalized for the businesses who purchased them to distribute to their customers as gifts. Many of the company’s illustration artists were women, some even residents of the local area. One of these, Zula Kenyon, studied art in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago along […]

Return of the Silhouette


During the 18th and well into the 19th century silhouette portraiture was a popular means for Americans to preserve likenesses of themselves. Often created by itinerate artists and with the aid of various devices, silhouettes were produced as unique works or at most in limited numbers of copies.*  By mid-19th century photographic techniques rapidly displaced silhouette portraits and the art forum disappeared. In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne placed a daguerreotypist in […]

Hats Off

Nast Indian Question

Hats keep you warm, provide cooling shade, are revealing, concealing, and sometimes purely decorative. A hat usually provides the finishing touch to a person’s dress, complementing an ensemble and unifying the appearance. Whatever their purpose, a hat reveals something about its wearer: their sense of style, purpose, activity, or class.

Illustrations that include hats allow us to use them as hieroglyphs—as a readable symbol demonstrating a person’s relationship to the larger […]

Promoting Books






Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952)The Bookman, Feb. No., 1895Advertising posterDelaware Art Museum, gift of Helen Farr Sloan, 1993-132

The literary magazine The Bookman began publication in February 1895. Produced by the New York publishers Dodd, Mead and Company, The Bookman* was a compilation of articles, book and author news, book reviews, and book advertisements focused on the American publishing industry. While a large number of the ads were for Dodd, Mead publications, […]

Illustration Grounded in Story



William Glackens (1870-1938) She wheeled about and stamped her foot. “Silence pigs!” she screamed. Story illustration for “The Play’s the Thing” by Albert W. Vorse in Scribner’s Magazine, v. 26 (Aug. 1899): 171. Wash, Gouache, and Chinese White Collection of the Society of Illustrators, 039.002




In the Society of Illustrators permanent collection records, the description that accompanies this illustration is,

Women’s Rights “She wheeled around and stamped her foot, ‘Silence […]

Lautrec Posters

1891 Moulin Rouge - La Goulue

Henri Toulouse-­‐Lautrec (1864-­‐1901) Moulin Rogue: La Goulue, 1891 Advertising illustration for the Bal du Moulin Rogue, Paris Color Lithographic Poster


In 1891 Henri Toulouse-­‐Lautrec created a series of promotional posters commissioned by the Bal du Moulin Rouge as advertisements for the dance hall. In the poster seen here, Lautrec limited himself to line and a few areas of flat color. He designed the lettering in the style and color of the […]

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