Modern book illustration originated in the 15th-century block books, in which the text and the illustration were cut on the same block. Book illustration has followed closely the development of the printing processes. Copperplate engraving and etching tended to replace the woodcut during the 16th and 17th cent., but it was not until the close of the 18th cent. that the art was revolutionized by Thomas Bewick's ingenious use of wood engraving and Senefelder's invention of lithography. These two processes greatly stimulated the production of illustrated books and magazines and were exploited by such masters as Daumier, Doré, and Gavarni.
In the late 19th cent. wood engraving and lithography were superseded by the photomechanical processes that made possible the reproduction of a wide variety of painting and drawing techniques. The exploitation of these processes for cheap and rapid but sloppy mass production obscured their artistic potential. Thus early hand processes were revived in book illustration by such artists as William Morris, Matisse, Rouault, Picasso, Chagall, Rockwell Kent, and many others. However, such major illustrators as Aubrey Beardsley, Howard Pyle, and Elihu Vedder understood and exploited the photomechanical processes to great effect in the reproduction of their art works. Other great artists famous for illustration are Dürer, Holbein, William Hogarth, William Blake, Manet, and Winslow Homer.
Illustration of fiction was more popular in the 19th cent. than in the 20th. Dickens's works were illustrated by John Leech, H. K. Browne ("Phiz"), and George Cruikshank. Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are almost as well known as the text itself. Today much of the finest illustration is done in the field of children's literature. From Beatrix Potter to Ludwig Bemelmans and Maurice Sendak, a number of gifted writers of children's stories have illustrated their own books. Among the great illustrators of children's books are Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Edward Lear, Ernest Shepherd, Palmer Cox, A. B. Frost, and Wanda Gág (see children's book illustration).
In the Middle East fine printing of illustrated books is a very recent development. The lavish King Fuad Qur'an (1923, Egypt) is exceptional among Middle Eastern printed works. In East Asia the art of book illustration is very old. Printing was highly developed in China by the 9th cent., and exquisite block-printed illustrations enhanced many volumes. Japan borrowed Chinese techniques as early as the 9th cent. and used the ancient processes for wood-block printing of ukiyo-e (see Japanese art) in books into the 18th cent. Twentieth-century printing of illustrated books in Japan involves the best and most recently developed processes.
See D. Bland, A History of Book Illustration (2d ed. 1969); D. Klemin, The Illustrated Book (1970); R. M. Slythe, The Art of Illustration (1972); J. G. Heck, The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration (1979); M. Melot, The Art of Illustration (1984).
An illustration is a visualization such as a drawing, painting, photograph or other work of art that stresses subject more than form. The aim of an illustration is to elucidate or decorate textual information (such as a story, poem or newspaper article) by providing a visual representation.
The British humorous magazine Punch, which was founded in 1841 riding on the earlier success of Cruikshank's Comic Almanac (1827-1840), employed an uninterrupted run of high-quality comic illustrators, including Sir John Tenniel, the Dalziel Brothers and Georges du Maurier, into the 20th century. It chronicles the gradual shift in popular illustration from reliance on caricature to sophisticated topical observations. These artists all trained as conventional fine-artists, but achieved their reputations primarily as illustrators. Punch and similar magazines such as the Parisian Le Voleur realised that good illustrations sold as many copies as written content.
A prolific artist who linked the earlier and later 19th century in Europe was Gustave Doré. His sombre illustrations of London poverty in the 1860s were influential examples of social commentary in art. He remained with the medium of monochrome engraving in his later more fantastical work, but other artists were discovering the possibilities of color, particularly under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and emulations of hand-printing techniques by the design-oriented Arts and Crafts Movement. Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane and Kay Nielsen were notable representatives of this style, which often carried an ethos of neo-mediævalism and took mythological and fairy-tale subjects. By contrast the English illustrator Beatrix Potter based her colored children's illustrations on accurate naturalistic observation of animal-life.
The opulence and harmony of the work of the "golden age" illustrators was counterpointed in the 1890s by artists like Aubrey Beardsley who reverted to a sparser black-and-white style influenced by woodcut and silhouette, anticipating Art Nouveau, and Les Nabis. American illustration of this period was anchored by the Brandywine Valley tradition, begun by Howard Pyle and carried on by his students, who included N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Jesse Willcox Smith and Frank Schoonover.
A movement was started in Latin America by Santiago Martinez Delgado who worked in the 1930s for Esquire Magazine while an art student in Chicago, and later in his native Colombia with the Vida Magazine, Martinez a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright worked in the Art Deco style. Also in the 1930s the influence of propaganda art and expressionism was felt in the work of the British freelance illustrator Arthur Wragg. His stylised monotone shapes suggested the block-printing techniques used for political posters, but by this time the technology of transferring artwork to printing plates by photographic means had advanced to the extent that Wragg could produce all his work in pen and ink.
The 1950s and 1960s were another Golden Age of Illustration, with hundreds of Illustrators working. Illustrations appeared in magazines, on billboards, on magazine covers and on television. The use of Illustrators began to wane in the mid 1950s, but the genre continued to be seen regularly through the early 1960s. The artwork of Norman Rockwell, Harry Anderson, and Charles Kerins, epitomize the era.
Today, many illustration students are made aware of the technology available, with equal emphasis placed upon more traditional illustration techniques. As a result, traditional and digital techniques are often used in conjunction with each other. One form of this is fusion illustration which crosses the boundaries of fine art and commercial art in a world where illustration, graphic design, typography, and photography work together.
While illustrations have been previously been considered just a small part of the creative and entertainment industries, they are becoming a new and significant factor in industries such as video games, movies, animation, advertising and publishing, the former three known for their use of concept art in pre-production.
In the visual art world, illustrators have sometimes been considered less important in comparison with fine artists and graphic designers. But as the result of computer game and comic industry growth, illustrations are becoming valued as popular and profitable art works that can acquire a wider market than the other two, especially in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and USA.