In Francis Marshall’s book “Magazine Illustration” he talks about the illustration business from the perspective of an artist living in the United Kingdom in 1959. However, he worked for many clients in the United States and his viewpoint is similar to what was going on there at that time.
But before I dig into his book I thought I’d share this tweet from last year by an illustrator named Scott Bakal:
The unfortunate thing is that illustration fees, overall, have leveled off or gone down since 1959. A spread in a magazine today might pay the same $1,500 that Andy Virgil got from McCall’s, but without the cost of inflation. I don’t see that changing and I’m not sharing this because I pine for the past. The world is a different place today and magazines in 1959 had less competition for audience attention than they do now with television, movies, video games and the internet. The reason why I am sharing this, and delving into this book, is because I think it’s important to look at the past and learn from what came before us.
I know many illustrators did quite well financially during the mid-twentieth century and were able to do things like design their own homes or buy fancy cars. In his book Francis Marshall said: “Successful illustrators are highly skilled and highly paid craftsmen – in the United States they make nearly as much as film stars! – the rewards are therefore very great both financially and artistically.”
That’s not to say that every illustrator did well during this time and that magazines didn’t have their own competition to deal with. In the 1950’s television came to prominence and cut into their readership. Francis Marshall briefly mentions the audience for an illustrator and art director in this image below.
The biggest market for illustration in the mid-twentieth century were women’s magazines. Marshall has this to say about them: “Sales of these are far and away higher than of any other type of illustrated magazine. In fact, there are not many other types of magazines that use illustrations at present. There are exceptions: Fortune, The New Yorker, John Bull, the Saturday Evening Post, Punch, Reader’s Digest and others; but they are few compared with the enormous number of women’s magazines now on sale – look at a bookstall next time you are at a railway station if you don’t believe me.”.
He also adds: “That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are very restricted in your approach or technique, for there is a tremendous variety in the different types of women’s magazines…”.
The reason why he talks about women’s magazines is because it’s important to know the market so you can do a better job of targeting clients who you’d like to work with. In today’s market women’s magazines are still big, but no longer dominate like they did during Marshall’s time.
Here’s are two illustrations that Francis Marshall did for Home and Garden Magazine.
Marshall asked Ian Garrard, the art director of Good Housekeeping, “What ought young artists to do then if they wish for success as a magazine illustrator?’
‘That’s quite a question’ he answered. ‘I don’t want to sound pompus and dictatorial, and there isn’t an easy answer, but firstly they ought to study the problem a bit more. There are many ways of illustrating and by no means all of them have been used. In a magazine like Good Housekeeping you can reproduce almost any technique and we use everything from full colour to line drawings. But – they ought to appreciate what it is we are trying to do in a magazine. The illustrators in it are not only illustrating fiction but cookery, interior decoration, fashions, beauty treatment, articles on all kinds of topical events, and nearly all these are treated in a different way to give the pages variety. Even when the drawings are purely descriptive they should look interesting and make the reader interested in the article they are illustrating. If the article is about food, there is no sense in showing dropping cabbages and some very mouldy looking carrots, never mind how well they happen to be drawn.’
Again it’s all about knowing your market and where you want to be. I think that’s true in today’s market too.
How does an artist get work in the illustration business? Francis Marshall gives three options: 1. Meet with art directors directly, 2. Get a job in a studio and 3. Work with an agent.
For the first option he says: “The direct approach to the art director is one of the most sensible. It’s true that he’s a busy man – it’s a complete mystery to me how they get out every press date extraordinarily complicated magazines with all the varieties of reproduction without any noticeable disasters and keep such a high standard of art and also their own sanity!
Somehow they do manage to look at prospective illustrators though and even give them advice.”
I can remember in the early 2000’s that you could set up an appointment with a client and drop off your work with them. Steven Heller, who used to be the art director of the New York Times Book Review, was known for meeting with young artists and giving them advice (and in some cases their first job). Today, with their busy schedule, I’m not sure if art directors look at portfolios anymore. It also changed because it’s easy to look at an artists work online via their own website or some other place on the web.
Number 2 on his list: Studios. I’m not sure if there is studio work anymore where you can do illustrations for magazines, but I know there are places where artists can do production work. The artists are required to do storyboards or presentation pieces for advertising agencies or one might work in an animation studio doing work on a cartoon or movie.
Number 3: Agents. This is one area that I have experience in because I was an agent at Gerald & Cullen Rapp, Inc. for 10 years. Francis Marshall said this about agents:
“Art agents are born not made. It takes a near genius to keep the peace between the artist on the one hand and the client on the other. Frequently the buffer between the two clashes of temperament, he has to have an indefinable sense of sympathy with both, that causes both side to trust him freely. He has to be a good business man (after all it is his business to get the best prices he can), yet he must not be a soulless money-maker- not that it isn’t nice to make money! His feeling for the artistic side of the job must be important. It is obvious he has to be something of a diplomat, an art editor, a stockbroker and an artist. There are many artists who have had the same agent all their professional lives, which says a lot for their relationship. Each will truth the other and they work as a team”.
A “near genius”? I’ll take that! Haha. Obviously I’m biased because I used to be an art rep, but I think many things he says above are true. One thing that I always felt benefited me as a rep is that I’m also an artist. I could relate to the issues that came up on a daily basis and always enjoyed talking to each artist (plus getting to know them on a personal level).
As for clients I enjoyed talking to them too (still do!) and often miss the regular conversations that I’d have over the phone. Today almost everything is done through email.
Something that Marshall doesn’t talk about is promotional materials. Most artists I know send postcards and emails to potential clients and also promote their work on the internet (via their own website and places like Instagram).
He then goes on to discuss the technical side of creating an illustration. Marshall suggests trying different art tools to figure out what works best for your own work. In this drawing of a woman sitting at a table he drew it using a 303 Gillott nib on Whatman H.P Paper.
For this drawing of a man and two horse he used a No. 3 sable hair brush on Whatman H.P. Paper.
From there he highlights the importance of drawing from life and says this about working with a model for an illustration.
“Depending on the type of work you are doing and your approach to it, so your dependence on models may vary. Obviously you can’t do a highly finished painting out of your head, especially in colour. For less detailed types of drawing you may only need quick sketches of a model made in chalk or pencil from which you make your drawing. One hour may be enough and that will cost you about two guineas for a good model”.
He adds: “The increasing use of photographic reference is another factor which influences illustrators. There are now studios which specialize in setting up and shooting ‘incidents’ for the artist. Reference libraries, for example Radio Times Hulton Picture Library, are available for photographs of every kind of subject and event. Model agencies, too, are extremely well organized. The illustrator has, therefore, much more information at his disposal and in quicker time than ever before. This, too, has an influence. Provided the artist uses this facility with artistic knowledge, it vastly increases his scope and freedom.”
The image below is a photo session done in the studio at Hulton House and the next piece is an illustration created based on those photos by Michael Johnson for Housewife Magazine.
I can remember in my early days at Gerald & Cullen Rapp, Inc. where an artist would get an additional fee for the use of a model, but that only lasted about a year or two until it was gone altogether. Artists today generally use friends, or themselves, if they need someone to pose for an illustration. Otherwise they’ll draw from a photo or out of their head.
Below are samples of life drawings by Francis Marshall for various illustrations. He says: “The same two models posed for some of these. Most of the sketches on these two pages are drawn with Conte pencil on Ingres paper. Sometimes on loose sheets and otherwise made up into sketchbooks”
There are times when Francis Marshall suggests drawing an illustration directly from life. For this image he said: “The cross-legged girl is a study of a model in chalk and pastel. I drew it straight from the model: The Editor of Woman and Beauty saw it, and bought it there and then to use as a colour illustration for a story called ‘Araminta’.”
Additionally, he talks about the importance of drawing everything around you.
“In the course of your career as an illustrator you will be asked to draw all kinds of scenes: some are familiar to you and others are not. But the basic principles of composition and light and shade always remain, though the light may be stronger in the Far East than in London. If it, therefore, a good thing to sketch as you go about, and get familiar with the relation of humans to their backgrounds; get used to the way they leave their things about; learn to draw buildings with confidence and knowledge. You cannot easily acquire this from using a photograph of a street scene or a hotel every time you need this type of background. You can deal with it much more confidently if you already know how people move in their surroundings and, in fact, you lose the feeling that the backgrounds are backgrounds, but realize they are an important part of the life we lead whether in Camden Town or Yokohama. The fact that you have sketched street scenes in London will make you more confident if you have to tackle a street scene in Singapore from a photograph”.
Here’s a selection of life drawings that Marshall did during his daily travels.
When Marshall gets an assignment he says: “Reading a story or article that you have to illustrate is not so easy as it might at first appear. At least, I don’t find it so. It is very important to get a clear picture of the action and scenes in your mind. It is the pictorial part of the story you are concerned with, not its literary merit; you mustn’t let yourself be carried away by the excitement created by the author and forget the story. When reading the story for the first time go carefully from scene to scene imagining the characters and their positions in relation to the background. Let the story appear in your mind’s eye almost like a film unrolling. As you do this the possibilities of illustrating this or that scene will occur to you, and others will be rejected as impracticable. Have a layout pad by you and make little scribbled compositions as you go on”.
To show what he’s talking about here are a few of his “scribbled compositions” that he did as he read a story.
For these compositions he says: “There are often many ways in which a simple action can be shown – in this case a boy and a girl kissing. You can choose long shots, enormous close-ups, a decorative effect with the use of backgrounds; those shown are only a few. You could also have a shot from above, for instance, and many others that your ingenuity will suggest.
Drawn to show that you should explore all the possibilities of a scene; don’t jump on the first group that comes into your mind.”
With this illustration he did numerous sketches before he created the final composition.
“The drawing had to show a baron of beef being roasted whole in the kitchens at Windsor Castle in Victoria’s reign”.
“Magazine illustrations depend, of course, on that of magazines themselves. At present there are many, and some have circulations in the millions. As far as artists are concerned, photography, while it assists them on the one hand, takes away with the other. So many topical magazine articles that at one time were illustrated with drawings now use photography. Good drawing will always hold their own, for they have a decorative value that can’t be dispensed with. It is vital then that your drawings should be good.”
“You never know what you will be drawing next and much of it is excitingly inked up with modern life so that the artist becomes part of the world he lives in – always a potent influence for good work.”
There are times when I wish magazines would call where I could hire a model to work from, but I know those days are long gone. Illustration has changed significantly since 1959; it’s a different world. However, I agree with him that there’s a need for good drawing. It might not always be in a magazine, but today it could be in a different outlet such as a website or in a comic book. The important thing, I think, is to keep an open mind, always create and look for the best avenues for your own work.