Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Makes a Good Illustrator--Adult

I gave myself a tall order to make a post on adult illustrators. For one, I wanted to keep to real classics: the illustrators who breathed the story as they illustrated--the ones who made their works come to life. For another, the thought occurred to me that adults just don't seem to get illustrated books. That's a pity. Even adults like picture books, and the more beautiful the work the more their enjoyment of plain text is enhanced. That part of the book industry seems to be in recession right now, but no doubt it will return in time, and we will see a resurgence of books illustrated for big folks as well as wee ones.

However, we are not completely at a loss. When we first discussed this post, right away we came up with four illustrators whose iconic drawings increased the fame of the author's works, and ones which I still enjoy today. Some of these men did both children and adult works. I enjoyed many of the books I featured today in my early teens, but they are not quintessentially for children, and thus I have put them in the adult category.

1. Sidney Paget
Sidney Paget illustrated all the Sherlock Holmes stories during their original release in the Strand magazine. It's certainly a feat to illustrate all four novels and 50-some-odd short stories. Paget accomplished not only that, but also paid exquisite attention to detail, and captured the characters exactly as readers picture them--good-natured Watson with his perennial mustache; Holmes's thin, aquiline features. I own all or almost all of the Paget illustrations in my various editions of Sherlock Holmes, and I wouldn't give up those editions for anything.

(The following illustrations are in the public domain in the United States.)

One of the reasons why Jeremy Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes on the silver screen is because he looks like a Sidney Paget illustration come to life. He is the Holmes, and I doubt there will ever be another one as good. (Speaking of classic adaptations, of course.)

2. Hablot Knight Browne
Who is Hablot Knight Browne? Phiz! Dickens is my favorite author, and by far, I love Phiz illustrations the best. In his beautiful black and white drawings, he caught the whimsical caricatures that Dickens peopled his stories with.

Martin Chuzzlewit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

I just watched the old mini-series of Martin Chuzzlewit, and the whole movie looked like Phiz drawings from the book come to life. I have never seen such excellent casting and makeup to match the original illustrations, except, perhaps, with the aforementioned Holmes adaptations.

As a side note, illustrations for a book can be vital when an author dies before he finishes the novel. Dickens died in the middle of his first mystery novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and afterwards, scholars hounded Luke Fildes, his illustrator, for clues as to Dickens' ultimate solution. Fildes apparently never knew the solution, or never said, but we do have a clue from the illustrations. Dickens told Fildes he must add a double neckerchief to a character in one sketch because it was absolutely essential. Whether the neckerchief was the method of death we know not, but I am going to read that book myself someday and formulate my own theory as to the solution....

3. Alan Lee
When I first met Tolkien I had the pleasure receiving the Alan Lee illustrated editions of the Lord of the Rings through the library system. It was a most magical introduction to Middle Earth. Alan Lee catches the ethereal beauty of the elves, the homely comfort of the hobbits, and all the beauty of the terrain that they travel through. I could not think of a better illustrator for Tolkien's works.

I hope Alan Lee does the Silmarillion someday; and I also hope to get a complete collection of his other works with Tolkien.

4. N.C. Wyeth
Perhaps the best illustrator on today's list, N.C. Wyeth's swashbuckling illustrations have enchanted readers for decades. A student of Howard Pyle, Wyeth went to great lengths to live out aspects of the adventures he illustrated, even working out west for a while so he would have a good knowledge of pioneer life. We have a whole shelf of Wyeth illustrated classics, and we love reading them. You can find a lot of his paintings on Wikipedia, as they are in the public domain in the United States.

The Boy's King Arthur

Treasure Island

I think this is my favorite of his works...

So there you have it, folks! Our top favorite illustrators. Are there any that you would add to this list?

Lady Bibliophile


  1. I'm trying to think of other good illustrators and they're slipping my mind. :D
    N.C. Wyeth's illustrations are perfect-somehow he captures exactly what the characters look like. Those old editions of "Kidnapped" and "David Balfour" I got that aren't illustrated by him have Davie with this hideous long hair. :D
    These posts were a lot of fun! :) :)

    1. Yes, I love his illustrations for Kidnapped and Davie Balfour. :D Your old editions are beautiful simply from their age, but the illustrations are a little lacking. XD Especially the front page which was supposed to be "The Song of the Sword of Alan" and was a gentleman picking up a lady's handkerchief. :)

      Love you! <3


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