Book illustration

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Ophelia. An illustration for The Works of Shakespeare, with notes by Charles Knight, ca. 1873

The book illustration is specific type of illustration, which appears in books. Some of modern illustrations are performed by American Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Modern book illustration comes from the 15th-century block books.[1] and closely followed the development of printing. The xylography and lithography triggered the production of illustrated issues and were exploited by such masters as Daumier, Doré or Gavarni.[1]


Book illustration as we now know it evolved from early European woodblock printing. In the early 1400s, playing cards were created using block printing, which was the first use of prints in a sequenced and logical order. "The first known European block printings with a communications function were devotional prints of saints." These later turned into block books in the mid-1400s, used to spread religious messages to illiterate masses. Each page was carved from one single block of wood and printed as an image.[2]

Illumination with doodles and drawings, including an open-mouthed human profile, with multiple tongues sticking out. Copulata, "De Anima", f. 2a. HMD Collection, WZ 230 M772c 1485.

As the demand for books grew, and paper became more available, printers across Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Italy began devising ways to "mechanize" book production using movable type.[3] This is when Johann Gutenberg invented typography and the printing press in the 1450s.

Image of two facing pages from "Phisicorum", fols. 57b and 58a, with doodles and drawings. HMD Collection, WZ 230 M772c 1485.

As printing took off and books became common, printers began to use woodblocks to illustrate them. Hence, "centers for woodblock playing-card and religious-print production became centers for illustrated books.[4]

Illustration Techniques[edit]

Although woodblock printing is the oldest technique for illustrating, there are two others that became popular. Steel-engraving gave sharper definition and finer detail to the illustrations, while lithography (invented by Alois Senefelder in 1819) allowed for more textual variety and accuracy. This is because the artist could now draw directly on the printing plate itself.[5]

New techniques developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries revolutionized book illustrations and put new resources at the disposal of artists and designers. In the early nineteenth century, the photogravure process allowed for photographs to be reproduced in books. In this process, light-sensitive gelatin was used to transfer the image to a metal plate, which would then be etched. Another process, chromolithography, which was developed in France in the mid-nineteenth century, permitted color printing. The process was extremely labor-intensive and expensive though as the artist would have to prepare a separate plate for each color used. In the late twentieth century, the process known as offset lithography made color printing cheaper and less-time consuming for the artist. The process used a chemical process to transfer a photographic negative to a rubber surface before printing.[6]

There were various artistic movements and their proponents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that took an interest in the enrichment of book design and illustration. For example, Aubrey Beardsley, an proponent of both Art Nouveau and Aestheticism, had a great influence over book illustrations. Beardsley specialized in erotica and some of the best examples of his drawings were for the first English edition of Oscar Wilde's Salomé (1894).[7]

Further reading[edit]

  • Douglas Martin, The Telling Line Essays On Fifteen Contemporary Book Illustrators (1989)
  • Edward Hodnett, Five Centuries of English Book Illustration (1988)
  • Maurice Sendak, Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures (1988)
  • Joyce Irene Whalley and Tessa Rose Chester, A History of Children's Book Illustration (1988)
  • Elaine Moss, Part of the Pattern (1986) [incl. interviews with illustrators]
  • John Lewis, The Twentieth Century Book: Its Illustration and Design (new ed. 1984)
  • H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (1984)
  • Brigid Peppin and Lucy Micklethwaite, Dictionary of British Book Illustrators: The Twentieth Century (1983)
  • Alan Ross, Colours of War: War Art 1939-45 (1983)
  • Hugh Williamson, Methods of Book Design (3rd. ed., 1983)
  • Edward Hodnett, Image and Text: Studies in the Illustration of English Literature (1982)
  • Hans Adolf Halbey, Im weiten Feld der Buchkunst (1982) [on 20th century]
  • John Harthan, The History of the Illustrated Book: The Western Tradition (1981)
  • Pat Gilmore, Artists at Curwen (1977. Tate Gallery)
  • William Feaver, When We Were Young: Two Centuries of Children's Book Illustration (1977)
  • Illustrators [periodical] (1975 onwards)
  • Images [annual] (1975 onwards)
  • Donnerae MacCann and Olga Richard, The Children's First Books: A Critical Study of Pictures and Text (1973)
  • The Francis Williams Bequest: An Exhibition of Illustrated Books, 1967-71 [National Book League] (1972)
  • Frank Eyre, British Children's Books in the Twentieth Century (1971)
  • Walter Herdeg, An International Survey of Children's Book Illustration = special issue of Graphis; 155 (1971) [& subsequent surveys]
  • Diana Klemin, The Illustrated Book: Its Art and Craft (1970)
  • David Bland, A History of Book Illustration (2nd ed. 1969)
  • W. J. Strachan, The Artist and the Book in France (1969)
  • Bettina Hurlimann, Picture-Book World (1968)
  • Bettina Hurlimann, Three Centuries of Children's Books in Europe (1967)
  • Adrian Wilson, The Design of Books (1967)
  • Rigby Graham, Romantic Book Illustration in England, 1943-55 (1965. Private Libraries Association)
  • Bob Gill and John Lewis, Illustration: Aspects and Directions (1964)
  • Robin Jacques, Illustrators at Work (1963. Studio Books)
  • David Bland, The Illustration of Books (3rd. ed. 1962)
  • Lynton Lamb, Drawing for Illustration (1962)
  • Anders Hedvall and Bror Zachrisson, 'Children and their books', in Penrose Annual; 56 (1962), p. 59-66 & plates [incl. children's reactions]
  • John Ryder, Artists of a Certain Line: A Selection of Illustrators for Children's Books (1960)
  • Lynton Lamb, 'The True Illustrator', in Motif; 2 (1959 February), p. 70-76
  • John Lewis, A Handbook of Type and Illustration (1956)
  • John Lewis and John Brinkley, Graphic Design (1954)
  • James Boswell, 'English book illustration today', in Graphis; 7/34 (1951), p. 42-57
  • British Book Illustration 1935-45 [exhibition catalogue, National Book League] (1949)
  • John Piper, 'Book illustration and the painter-artist', in Penrose Annual; 43 (1949), p. 52-54
  • Lynton Lamb, 'Predicaments of illustration', in Signature; new series, 4 (1947), p. 16-27
  • Bertha E. Mahoney, Illustrators of Children's Books 1744-1945 (1947) [and periodic supplements]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "History of Book Illustration". Questia. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  2. ^ Meggs, Philip B. (2006). Meggs' History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 65. 
  3. ^ Meggs, Philip B. (2006). Meggs' History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 69. 
  4. ^ Meggs, Philip B. (2006). Meggs' History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 79. 
  5. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 135. ISBN 9781606060834. 
  6. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 190. ISBN 9781606060834. 
  7. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. p. 191. ISBN 9781606060834. 

External links[edit]