When I attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago, my life-drawing instructor, the legendary Bill Parks, often spoke of Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis. In fact, one time he even said, “All I try to teach is what’s in that book.” Of course, I wanted to buy a copy but it had been out of print for years and was trading for around $550 on E-bay. Fortunately, one of my fellow students had access to a copy, so a number of us chipped in to have Xeroxes made of the entire book! Even though the section on color was reduced to black and white, I still found the information invaluable!
Not withstanding the title, the book is more about creating good representational art rather than just “illustration”. I read the book cover-to-cover, and then went through it again several times underlining and highlighting key concepts. Finally I made an outline of the important principles, just to try to cement them in my mind. A couple of years ago I was thrilled to learn that the book had been reprinted. Right now it’s available on Amazon for $22.95!
Why is it so good?
It is pragmatic. It was written in 1947 when “fine art” was firmly in the grasp of “Modernism,” (with all its pretensions and affectations). So this book was designed to quickly and efficiently teach the principles of 400 years of the representational art tradition not to effete artistes, but rather to humble illustrators – who had to be good or they wouldn’t get work.
Loomis states that everything in the book is based on the Form Principle – “The convincing illusion of form must do so first by the rendering of light on that form.”
He then explains how light behaves when it strikes an object and its environment.
Every chapter is filled with nuggets of information such as:
- “No area in the shadow [including reflected light] can be as light as the areas in the light.”
- “The big form makes the subject carry, not the incidental surface forms.”
- “The best pictures run to a few simple values.”
- “The design makes the picture, not the subject or material.”
- “Contour becomes lost and found and interlaced or woven into other areas in nature.”
- “The darkest part of the shadow appears nearest the light, between the halftone of the light and the reflected light within the shadow.”
All these quotes appear within the first three pages of the first chapter!
Loomis provides practical thoughts on materials, drawing, various methods to begin a painting, design principles, avoiding common flaws, dramatization, and narrative…among other concepts. He also ties various approaches to historical masters like Sargent and Zorn.
Well worth the price!