Illustration in Visual Arts

Illustration – The Concept

An illustration is a visualization stressing more on form than on the subject. It can be a drawing, sketch, photograph, or painting. It aims to elucidate & highlight the subject, while aiding a better understanding of the textual information for a viewer or reader. The principle advantages of illustration are:
o Gives a face and a unique identity to the characters in a script
o Shows the examples of the subject in more than one form
o Clarifies and enhances the meaning of the text
o Helps understand difficult concepts by relating to pictures and images
o Can be used to depict step-wise instructions in a pictorial manner
o Helps understand the themes of the text at a glance

The History

The first instances of illustrations date back to the age of prehistoric cave paintings, depicting the then lifestyle. These pictorial representations are very informative, particularly because no script existed in those days. The early 8th century wooden handcrafted illustrations have been found in Japan and China. From the 15th century onwards, books on engraving, etching, and wood designing were available. The 18th century saw further development in the field due to the birth of lithography. The ‘golden age’ of illustration lasted from the late 18th century until shortly after World War I (1914-18).

The Types

o Technical Illustration – As the name suggests, it is used to convey technical information visually. It enables even a non-technical audience to understand the basic technicality of a concept. Usually in the form of technical drawings and diagrams, these illustrations are accurate in their dimensions and proportions.
o Illustration Art – There is a surge in the illustration arena, due to the increased consumption in the media vehicles, such as magazines, music covers, and billboards to mention some. A meteoric rise in the popularity of video games and comics is especially a great booster to the field, in the countries like USA, China, Korea, and Hong Kong. Various art galleries and museums too display the interesting illustrative pieces.

The Artists

While, the English poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake (1757-1827) emerged as a pioneer of this epoch with his relief etching, Honore Daumier (1808-79) was an immense contributor from France. England particularly had potential illustrators, who helped evolve the field, such as George Cruikshank (1792-1878), Hablot Knight Browne (1815-82), and John Leech (1817-64). Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), the Dalziel Brothers [George Dalziel (1815-1902) & Edward Dalziel (1817-1905)], and Georges du Maurier (1834-96) gracefully ushered illustrations in the nineteenth century. Santiago Martinez Delgado (1906-54) and Arthur Wragg (1903-76) gave the field its identity in the twentieth century.