Sylvain Naessens

Graphic Design Enthusiast

Sylvain Naessens

Graphic Design Enthusiast

5 min read

The Influence of illustration in advertising

by | Jun 24, 2019

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Illustration by Rlon Wang

An illustration is a visual explanation of a text, concept or idea that helps to clarify a specific topic. It is designed to be published in different medias such as posters, newspapers, magazines, books, websites, mobile apps among others.

In advertising in particular, illustrations are designed to communicate a concept and convey a message to the target audience.

Their purpose is to attract and catch the viewer’s eye – what we call the visual appeal.

Nowadays advertising is everywhere around us and takes various forms including print ads, posters, flyers, tv ads, web ads, banners.

And from the beginning, illustrations have always been part of advertising in order to convey a political, religious or commercial message.

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Illustration by Toulouse Lautrec

A Major Art

The concept of illustration is very old and goes far as back as the Egyptians era with the use of papyrus.

In the Far East, and more particularly in China, Korea and Japan, etchings had a similar function.

The invention of paper, printing, then moving characters, have facilitated the diffusion of illustrated works as early as the 11th century.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

It is in France in the 19th century with the progress in photo-engraving and printing technology that the illustration flourished to the point of becoming a major art.

Art directors entrust the best-known artists to create beautiful, spectacular advertising work.

In fact, a lot of genius artists have worked as illustrators. From Toulouse Lautrec from the impressionist era to Andy Warhol and his pop art revolution.

In the middle of 19th century, the rise of the publishing industry with the manufacture and distribution of books, magazines, and newspapers increase the distribution of illustrations.

As for the early 20th century, the business of advertising skyrocketed and illustration help sell more products.

Illustration appeared on every page of every magazine.

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Vogue cover illustration by Helen Dryden

American Illustrations

After the end of WWI, America began to set the trends for worldwide popular culture.

Marketers started to target a new audience: the Twenties. This new generation was listening to new music, was dancing and was looking for entertainment.

At that time, illustration had become a highly paid job for the well-known artists.  But the Wall Street crash of 1929 and violent depression hurt the publishing industry.

Besides more media came to compete. Radio and movie industry rose. Actors and actresses became celebrities. Walt Disney Studio produced cartoons for children.

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Portrait of actress “Constance Bennett” by Rolf Armstrong

Then WWII occurred. And illustrators were asked to produce propaganda posters that were intended to raise support for the war effort. They portrayed American values and patriotism.

Returning G.I’s were welcomed back as heroes. And American Dream was born. Everyone could own a house, have a good job, a wife at home with the kids and a loan.


Illustration by WWII Allied

At that time, despite the development of colored photography in popular media, skilled illustrators could provide visual personality and emphasize on the emotions.

No one demonstrates this better than Norman Rockwell, the best known illustrator in America in the 1950’s.

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Illustration by Norman Rockwell

Other illustrator Haddon H. Sundblom came to fame for his work for Coca Cola. His depiction of the rosy cheeks Santa Claus in particular have proven to be an enduring iconic image on a global scale.
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Illustration by Haddon H. Sundblom

It is also at this period that cute undressed women as the only subject of illustration formed the pin up art.
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Illustration by Pete Hawley

Comic books featuring superheroes like Superman and Batman, first appeared in the decade earlier, saw an explosion in popularity.
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Illustration by Al Plastino

In the 1960’s, The “Baby-Boomers” generation, children born after WWII, was so important in number that they socially and culturally changed the modern occidental societies.

Teenagers of that generation rejected the popular music of their parents and prefer rock & roll and pop music personified by the Beatles.

In the 1970’s, new fashions, new art design affected print industry, magazine, advertising and illustration.

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Illustration for Janis Joplin concert in 1968

The Personal Computer

Then in the mid-1980’s, the desktop computer was invented. It is for sure the biggest revolution since the invention of printing. Softwares and hardwares have completely changed the ways that designers worked.

In the 1990’s, many artists made the transition to digital painting software.

The digital process replaced the old printing one.With this new technology, illustrators bet on “stock” illustrations.

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Illustration by Don Arday

Finally, the rapid growth of the internet set new opportunities for illustrators.

Companies developed websites and then mobile apps. There were an high demand for graphics, opening a new market for freelance illustrators and even providing full-time employment opportunities for graphic designers.

But while so much has changed, the purpose of illustration has remained the same: to provide a visual experience that supports texts in a unique and creative way.

And you? Who is your favorite illustrator?

Further Reading

Illustration History

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