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I love that my job allows me to learn something new every day—and the fact that the majority of those discoveries are art-related make them all the more inspiring. Lately I’ve been in art-historian mode, and I’ve have been trying to better understand the various art movements throughout history, why they occurred, who incited them, what was happening in culture at the time, and why we remember them.
For an upcoming article, I’ve been working with the Society of Illustrators, which has allowed me to research the Golden Age of Illustration and learn more about the economic and cultural climate at the turn of the 20th century. Starting in the 1880s, significant advancements were being made in print technology and a newly empowered media began to arise in America. With circulation numbers soaring, newspapers needed draftsmen to provide visual reportage, and magazines such as Harper’s, Collier’s, Scribner’s, and The Saturday Evening Post sought illustrators to create pencil sketches, pen-and-ink drawings, paintings, and the like for their pages. Some of the most talented artists of the day stepped up to supply the demand, as a near absence of gallery representation and exhibition opportunities for fine artists made sketching commercial work one of the only games in town.
|At the Recital by Charles Dana Gibson, pen and ink drawing|
on Bristol board. Image courtesy Museum of American
Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, New York, New York.
The illustrations that came out of that period are, in my opinion, some of the strongest examples of narrative figurative work in the history of American painting. I think artists such as Howard Pyle, J. C. Leyendecker, Charles Dana Gibson, N. Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, and Norman Rockwell mastered the most important qualities of art making: solid drawing techniques, engaging subject matter, dramatic storytelling, a natural ability to convey a sense of time and place, and exceptional paint handling and brushwork. Those commercial artists influenced a tremendous number of fine artists, and they remain a great source of inspiration for painters, fashion designers, illustrators, and animators.
|Illustration for “Hail and Farewell” for The|
American Magazine by Pruett A. Carter, 1938,
oil painting. Image courtesy Museum of American
Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, NY.
I continue to look into the artists of this era and other illustrators throughout the 20th century, and I always appreciate an opportunity to see their work in person. Thankfully, the Society of Illustrators is just a subway ride away, so I can hop uptown and see everything from sketch drawings to fine art illustrations at the drop of a Gibson Girl bonnet! If you are living in or visiting the New York City area, I would encourage you to stop by their building and see their impressive collection. They also host sketch drawing nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays with live music and models—a throwback to their famous Illustrator Shows of the early 1900s, when artist-and-model theatrics reigned and illustration had its golden moment in history.