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Illustration’ Evolution in 20th Century Essay

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Updated: Nov 28th, 2019


Illustration can be described as an art work that seeks to clarify, represent or decorate text. Illustration covers many areas including drawings, paintings and printings. In this regard, it is a field of art that is subjected to environmental fluctuations, such as technology. Illustrations have been dynamic, despite the fact that most of them have been originally done in charcoal, metal points or pen-and-ink.

The original versions are represented in different ways based on fashion and time. The 20th century was characterized by evolution of illustration from the use of charcoal to engravings, lithography, as well as photography. Different types of illustrations that are commonly practiced today are created by computer graphics software. The essay will focus on outlining evolution of illustration in course of the 20th century. Works of James Avati will be discussed in order to comprehend evolution of this fine art.

20th Century

As it has already been mentioned, the 20th century was characterized by dominance of commercial illustration in America. Publishing and printing industries were introduced, a factor that set pace for illustration evolution. There was an upgrade in painting to that which would use full color.

Illustration evolved to style that made it possible for drawings to be reproduced in their original forms. Full color painting transitioned illustration eminently and there were increased numbers of illustrative artists. Cameras and other devises were used to complement technology evolution. There was an increased demand for illustration during the World War I. illustrations were used to highlight situation of war and provide moral support.

Illustrations assumed commercial trend in America during the postwar economic boom. Illustrations were used in adverts, pictures and other commercial images. Commercialization trend of illustrations was impeded by great recession of 1930s. Devastating effects on illustration art included many lay-offs and closures of illustration firms. Illustration started to shift from drawings to photography.

There was, however, an increase in publications of novels that needed illustrations in form of drawings and paintings. Illustration further evolved during the Second World War. Adverts of military weaponry and situation of women left behind, promoted growth of this form of art. There was a rapid growth in demand for illustration after the end of the Second World War. Baby boom era further increased growth of illustrations, since there was a need to publish more illustrations in children’s books.

Illustration assumed a balanced trend in America during 1950s. Print adverts and marketing boosted illustration in America. Emergence of television reduced print advertising eminently, thereby affecting illustration negatively. Realism aspect of advertising preferred photography to print illustrations.

Illustrators adopted the use of bright colors, which failed to match with the emergence of electronics. In spite of a negative trend assumed by illustrations, music covers, posters and comic art seemed to still favor it. As a matter of fact, music was the only industry that seemed to favor illustration art at this time.

There was a notable growth in paperback literature like Penguin Books, Bantam Books and Pocket Books in America. The industry attracted growth of literary illustrations that were done by illustrators like James Avati. Illustration art disintegrated into smaller fields in 1970s and 1980s.

The period was unique as it survived extinction after invention of the computer. In 1990s, illustration evolved from manual to digital. It was computerized and illustrators adopted computer systems to meet new demand.. Computerization combined traditional aspects of illustrations with technologies that were present.

Giant of Illustration

James Avati was one of greatest illustrators in America. He was a soldier during World War II and, at the same time, an illustrator. Some magazines that he designed include, Collier’s and The Ladies’ Home Journal. Notable works by Avati are in the field of paperback illustration.

During his career, he had designed and produced many covers that are popularly known as “Signet and Bantam” lines. Avati’s works revealed great realism and he was able to emotionally connect with his audience. He was a skilled photographer and he often used photographs in his illustrations. He used hardboard that was coated with oil. Avati acknowledged that most of his works were influenced by firms he saw when he was young.

Most of works by Avati demonstrate literal illustration style. His career was at the time of a remarkable growth in publication of novels. Notably, many writers were very conservative, hence illustrations were inevitable. Avati embarked on the paperback field in 1948. Notably, 1950s is described as an era of paperback revolution in America. During this period, novels were targeting new markets, some of which were not connected with reading.

Avati’s realism style was very effective in attracting a new audience to purchase novels. Avati was the first and regarded by many as the best illustrator of paperbacks. Many firms wanted to use his style and most illustrators tried to ape him. Avati was a skilled illustrator who dominated paperback field in the 1950s.

His style was more efficient than those used by other illustrators since he captured attention of audience and, at the same time, highlighted essence of a story in cover illustrations. In this regard, Avati influenced illustration culture significantly.


Illustrations of Avati tend to summarize text in a simple and efficient way. I learn that illustrations are not only supposed to reflect the text, but rather provide a summary of it. It should be represented in a way that the viewer gets the message by simple act of sight. All aspects of illustrations used highlight essential message of the story.

Further, works of Avati reflected on emerging issues and were unique. For instance, he was the first illustrator to attract the audience’s attention to situation of Black Americans in the USA. He represented marginal population in the society.

Avati caught on existing gaps in the society, especially in gender and racism. Most of his works incorporated emotion and desires. The illustrator used his immediate environment in his works. His focus was on uniqueness and not sophistication. I learn that uniqueness is the most crucial aspect in the field of illustration. Illustration designs should not seclude marginal population from society. Success of my career is dependent on my creativity and emotional connection with potential customers.


Illustration is an effective fine art that should not be disregarded whatsoever. It has undergone many challenges through in the process of its evolution. Revolution of computer should not be perceived as an obstacle for the industry but rather a foundation for its growth.

Computer systems have upgraded illustration. Fashion design should unite the society rather than disintegrate it. In this regard, marginalized population should be represented in the society by fashion designers. Pace of fashion designers should be aligned with that of technology, to be able to meet demand. Artists should not perceive upgrade of style as hindrance to success, but rather a facilitator of the long term prosperity.

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"Illustration' Evolution in 20th Century." IvyPanda, 28 Nov. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/illustration/.

1. IvyPanda. "Illustration' Evolution in 20th Century." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/illustration/.


IvyPanda. "Illustration' Evolution in 20th Century." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/illustration/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Illustration' Evolution in 20th Century." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/illustration/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Illustration' Evolution in 20th Century'. 28 November.

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