Exploring Illustration: Essays in Visual Studies

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 [...]

Dreaming of Robots


Robots are now a real part of our world: automobiles are constructed at least in part by robotic devices; home-focused robotic devices vacuum our carpets and clean our floors; and other robots are being developed to make our lives easier.  So, where and when did the idea of robots become a part of our culture and one of our cultural goals for the future? And how have their looks changed [...]

Art of Darkness


Jules Guérin (1866-1946) A Bit of Broadway: The cavernous maws beneath those blazing boards nightly suck in throngs of amusement seekers Story illustration for “The Lights and the Stars of Broadway” by John Corbin, in Scribner’s Magazine (February 1905) : p. 133.


Here we are again at the dark of the year: days are short, so nights are long. This is also the season of gray dark days, sometimes heavy with [...]

Massing of Nature to Set the Stage

Charley Harper

Charley Harper (1922-2007) Gregor Mendel Transferring Pollen from One Flower to Another, 1961 Illustration in The Giant Golden Book of Biology (Golden Press, 1961)

In Charley Harper’s Gregor Mendel Transferring Pollen from One Flower to Another created to illustrate the portion of the Book of Biology text that deals with DNA, genetics, and inherited traits, his rather flat technique serves the story well. Mendel’s work pioneered this field of science through [...]

As Easy As Pie


J. C. Leyendecker (1874-1951) Thanksgiving Number Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (November 21, 1908)


Artists may sometimes choose to revisit a particular theme they’ve worked on before. When they do it is interesting to see what they choose to keep the same in a composition and what they decide to change. Illustration art seems particularly prone to this sort of reuse in part because typically illustrators are faced with [...]

Perceptions of the American West




Georges Barbier (1882-1932) L’Amérique, 1920 Illustration from a 1920 calendar

In the late teens and 1920s the French illustrator and designer Georges Barbier produced series of images that were used to decorate annual calendars.* One series focused on the seasons, another on the continents around the world. The image Barbier created to represent the Americas was, as you can see above, a cowboy on a gently rearing horse, waving goodbye to [...]

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 [...]

Who? Cushman Parker!


Maybe you’re like me and when you think of the 20th century illustrator Cushman Parker, you think of the myriad of advertising illustrations he created in the teens and 20s of cherry cheeked children enjoying a variety of Beech-Nut products.*



  Cushman Parker  (1881-1940) Beech Nut Advertisement,  c. 1920 Advertising illustration for Beech Nut Peanut Butter Paint on paper Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Steven R. Hirsch, [...]

Imagining Zorro




  Unknown Artist The Curse of Capistrano, 1919 Cover illustration for “The Curse of Capistrano” by Johnston McCulley in All-Story Weekly (August 9, 1919)

Nearly a hundred years ago the pulp story writer, Johnston McCulley (1883-1958), created the masked character of Zorro, the secret identity of the nobleman, Don Diego de la Vega, who lived during the Spanish colonial period in California. McCulley’s first Zorro story was called “The Curse of [...]

The Web A Woman Weaves




C. Coles Phillips (1880-1927) Holeproof Hosiery, c. 1920s Advertising illustration for Holeproof Hosiery Company

Seeing a woman’s leg from her ankles to above her knees was once a rather daring notion. In the early 1920s, illustrator C. Coles Phillips was producing advertising illustrations for the Holeproof Hosiery Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These ads featured scantily clad woman wearing silk stockings visible from her feet to above her shapely knees. While these advertising [...]

Being a Scholar

JW Smith


Jessie Willcox Smith  (1863-1935) ‘Then the Scholar’ With eyes severe, and hair of formal cut.’ 1908-09 Black and white poem illustration for ”The Seven Ages of Childhood” by Carolyn Wells in Ladies’ Home Journal (April 1909) and color version of illustration in Carolyn Wells, The Seven Ages of Childhood (New York: Moffat, Yard & Co., 1909): facing p. 34.

Here we are again as the calendar turns and so too the [...]

Light and Shadow


Often there is a permeable line between illustration and art. Illustration is created for use in a story, advertisement, or as a cover image and is therefore intended to be seen in reproduction; art is sometimes made without a specific purpose and while it might be reproduced, it is intended to be seen and experienced face to face (so to speak). The permeable barrier between illustration and art is a [...]

Soda Fountain Fare


John LaGatta (1894-1976) Susie Sipley- The Soda Fiend, 1921 Cover illustration for Judge (September 5, 1921) but also a story illustration for “Susie Sipley-The Soda Fiend” by Gelett Burgess


You might remember the Exploring Illustration essay, “S.O.S. Means Save on Sugar” – The Campaign Against Sugar in the United   States written by Daniel S. Palmer and web-published in October 2010, in which he explains the motivation for two WWI posters. The [...]

Women’s Work


Nina Allender (1872-1957) Child-Saving is Womans Work, 1914) Cartoon published in The Suggratist (July 25, 1914)) Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, Washington, D.C.

Trained as a painter at the Corcoran School of Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in 1913 Nina Allender turned her art talent to support women’s suffrage.*  At the request of Alice Paul, the founder of the National Woman’s Party, Allender became the party’s official cartoonist. [...]

Painted Silhouettes # 2




Shirley Smith (dates unknown) Jacket design for Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, first edition (New York: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1960)

Harper Lee’s powerful drama, To Kill A Mockingbird was first published on July 11, 1960. The original dust jacket was designed by Shirley Smith.*  By placing the story’s oak at the cover’s spin edge with leafy branches poised over the author’s name, each reader is invited to place [...]

The Green Hills of Earth

copy fr SEP

Fred Ludekens (1900-1982) The Green Hills of Earth, 1947 Story illustration for Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth,” in The Saturday Evening Post (February 8, 1947) Oil on canvas Heinlein Society, © Virginia Heinlein

Author Robert A. Heinlein was delighted to have sold a science fiction short story to The Saturday Evening Post in 1947. In a January 15, 1947 letter to William J. Holt, who wrote the “Inside [...]

Robert Robinson’s Humor


Robert Robinson (1886-1952)[Joy Ride]Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post (January 11, 1913)

Robert Robinson’s cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post reveals his ability to entertain through humor. Tickling the funny bone is the divergence of emotion expressed by the elderly man and his wife as they speed along on a chilly winter joyride. The man is confident and in control. He is clearly the originator of the cockamamie plan [...]

Decorative Nature


John Alcorn (1935-1992)The Green CurtainIllustration for book jacket for Eudora Welty’s A Curtain of Green & Other Stories (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1980)India ink with flat color overlay


Every time I see this book jacket illustration,* I notice the image and I stop to admire its lusciousness. When I look at it, it’s almost as though I can smell its verdant growth. Despite its two-dimensional composition, it feels very 3-D [...]

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