I'm Ready For My Close-Up…
Every illustrator I know has an unquenchable need to acquire and surround themselves with those things that serve as a source of inspiration. For most of us this means never having enough bookshelf space to house the seemingly endless influx of books we simply "need" to have. For others it is the amassing of objects that would serve beautifully as props in the right painting, (provided we could just get around to painting it). However all of us tend to build reference files on artists whose ability/style they admire, or aspire to.
While each of these collections provide for weighty topics on their own, let’s take a brief look at some of the resources out there where we can find high quality reproductions of some pretty amazing art.
Original artwork is expensive. The more renowned the artist, the more prominent the art work in question, the more expensive it becomes. Given that most of us will likely never be in a position to actually purchase original pages of Leonardo DaVinci's sketchbooks (Bill Gates you are excused), or acquire enough Norman Rockwells or J.C. Leyendeckers to make for our own exhibition at the Smithsonian (Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas are also welcome to leave at this point), we are left with what pictures we are allowed to take in museums (not always a given), or what an author is given leave to include in their publication about a specific artist (often resulting in the same images appearing book after book).
The Internet has become a "go-to" resource for those wishing to build their reference files of other artist's work. This method ultimately makes ones reference collections digital, thereby saving the space otherwise devoted to physical storage making this a big plus in the end. The biggest bonus however, comes from the fact that often times the images themselves can be rather large often times at a 1:1 scale. These high res images are a gold mine for artists as it is in these that we are provided a rare opportunity to study a piece in detail, learning as much as is possible without actually standing in front of the original.
One way these pieces of art find a home on the web is by the sharing of an image by someone who simply found them to be interesting enough to warrant capturing for their own enjoyment. As the quality of digital cameras improve, so to do the images produced by them. The end results being that often times these digital photos taken in passing can rival or even surpass the print quality of our favorite publishers. I am often amazed to find a previously unknown work of a favorite artist brought to light by the post of an amateur photographer on a museum visit, who then posts said images to their travel blog. These images quickly find their way into my own reference library to be studied at a later date. The downside of these is that you will likely only discover them accidentally as they are not likely to be tagged by any name or title that would otherwise show up as a keyword in a search.
Another form this kind of posting takes is that of the third party posting images as a catalogue or documentation of the piece itself. One such resource can be found in Heritage Auctions website. Heritage Auctions tend to have a broad range of auctions running at any given time. This often includes coins, stamps, silver pieces etc. It is however the Illustration collections that draw my attention. Not only will you will often find works from such luminaries as Leyendecker, Wyeth, Rockwell, Pyle and Cornwell, but also niche/contemporary artists such as Elvgren, Lovell and Berkey in addition to a number of "unknown" artists. All of this would be enough to make any lover of illustration art a regular visitor of the site, but add to this the fact that every lot up for auction comes with ridiculously high-res images accompanying it and we are presented with a rabbit hole of much greater depth than originally imagined.
Below are a couple of examples of the images that can be found in the recent Illustration Art Signature Auction. You will forgive me if I don’t link to the high-res versions here, but instead invite you to click the link for the show at the bottom of this post, and check them out for yourself. These serve as only a fraction of the 872 pieces in the collection, wherein you will find cartoon pieces, golden age illustrators, pulp fiction and pin-up art aplenty! This particular auction ends March 2nd, so definitely take the time to peruse their visual offerings before then.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rijksmuseum have also begun updating much of their collections with high res images, providing many of us the chance to see these masterpieces in such detail that often times it surpasses that of the "in-person" viewing experience, as many of these pieces are hung higher than eye level in the museum itself. (I'm looking at you Washington Crossing the Delaware!) While not every piece the museum owns is included in its online catalogue, more are added regularly and it is exciting to think that more museums will adopt this practice in the future.
Whatever the resource, the building of a comprehensive library of art that inspires you or otherwise provides you with a resource for your own work will span your entire career. If you are anything like me, this library will likely grow to take up a decent chunk of your hard drive and tax your organizational skills to their fullest. The result however far outweighs the work involved, and ultimately guarantees you will never be at a loss for inspiration or a much needed motivational kick in the pants.
The Internet is awash with resources such as these and I welcome hearing about any treasure troves that you have run across that you would be willing to share!
Heritage Auctions: Illustration Art Signature Auction
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
header image: Gil Elvgren