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Inspiration: Ward’s Morgue File

Today for our illustration inspiration, we’re featuring an Instagram feed that’s quickly growing into a bounty of visual goodness. Our internet buddy/art pen pal Ward Jenkins started Ward’s Morgue File in November of last year (2018) and has already curated over 150 beautiful examples of mid-century commercial art, concept art for animated films, record covers, and illustrated books. To date he’s covered so many of the greats: Mary Blair, Tom Oreb, Gene Deitch, Jim Flora, Walt Peregoy, Alice & Martin Provensen, Ralph Hulett, and more.

Pop over and check it out:


Below: Mary Blair concept art for “it’s a small world” pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in NYC.

Inspiration: Leonard Visits Space Picture Book

Today’s illustration inspiration comes from this awesome whimsical picture book originally published in 1965 and illustrated by Ric Hugo (1927–2003).

Unlike the previous inspiration examples we’ve posted to date (check out our post on a mid-century illustrated cookbook), a quick search of Mr. Hugo actually comes up with a bio—shocker! According to the Lambiek Comiclopedia, Ric Hugo also enjoyed a career as a comic strip creator and a courtroom sketch artist.

Leonard Visits Space is a beautiful example of the depth of storytelling you can get with reducing images to simple shapes and lines, with two simple ink colors, orange and a range of grayscale.

(Also, how much does the government official on p. 36 creepily look like Donald Trump? Now you can’t unsee it, either. You’re welcome.)


Inspiration: Mid-Century Illustrated Cookbook

Last week we shared one of the albums in our record collection that we keep for its cover illustration rather than for listening. Today we’re sharing one of the cookbooks in our library that we turn to for visual inspiration rather than its recipes! (Seriously, we’ve never cooked out of this. Though now that we’re looking through it, some of the recipes are intriguing!) This thing is chockfull of whimsical two-color spot illustrations, and we’d like to share some of our top favorites.
The publishing date in this one is 1961, though you’ll see some of the signatures have ’57 written next to the illustrator Frank Marcello’s name. See if you can find the self-portrait!

What to Do When Illustration Doesn’t Pay the Bills Yet

collection of drawing pencils

Congratulations, you’ve decided you want to turn your love of drawing into a career in illustration!

You dove down into the rabbit hole to see how deep it goes, and in your pursuit of excellence, you’ve gone pro—harnessing those hours spent doing something else to make a living, transferring them into your skills. The only problem: quitting your day job suddenly means the weight of your income rests squarely on illustration’s shoulders, and it’s rare to make a decent wage as a beginner.

The good news is that no time spent in your craft is wasted, so even while you’re hustling and just barely making it, you can build some really valuable resources that will provide immense payoffs later.

Read on for a modest proposal of what to do when the wider world doesn’t yet recognize the value of your work!

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The best advice for illustrators

It’s hard to believe it’s already been over 10 years since we set up our first office in the 2nd bedroom of our apartment in the big house at the top of the hill on German Street in Shepherdstown, WV. There have been a lot of highs (our Target gift card, recently published books), a lot of lows, and a lot of cups of coffee and tea in between!

One thing has been consistent so far: ya gotta just keep pursuing good quality work, no matter what job you’re on or how much you’re getting paid.

That’s a big part of this now-famous art school graduation speech by Neil Gaiman, which we want to share with you in case you’ve never heard it! We discovered it in 2013 and still look to it for inspiration. This 20 minutes of advice for artists is just as relevant today as it was 7 years ago, and it’ll stay relevant for the next 77 years!

(We’ve included a full transcript after the jump in case you’ve watched it 50+ times like us and want a fresh way of taking it in…)

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Inspiration: Vintage Piano Exercise Book Illustrations

whimsical illustrated piano book

Hey guys! Today we’re featuring a handful of whimsical illustrations from a beginner piano exercise book in our inspiration collection. This is one of those pieces that would have completely flown under the art radar during its time, but now is a fantastic resource in nearly 50 pages of spot illustrations and 1/4–1/2 page scenes. 

There’s no publication date in the book, but the student’s certificate is dated March 1970, so the credited illustrator Ernest Kurt Barth would have completed the work towards the end of the 60’s. There’s plenty of detail to admire in the ornamented cartoony execution, but look beyond the linework and you’ll notice some really pleasing, well-balanced shapes.

(By the way, she did finish the course and get her certificate. Go Kathy!)

More inspiration:

Vintage Disney Vinyl Album Cover

Inspiration: Vintage Disney USA Record Cover Illustration

Old vinyl records are an absolutely fantastic resource for illustration and lettering inspiration! We recently culled our collection down to the essentials, and though we’ve never actually listened to this particular album, it made the cut because of the illustration on the cover. (Come on, surely we’re not the only ones who do this!)

A couple of notes on why it’s awesome:

• The regional symbols are beautifully stylized: 2–3 colors, simple shapes. The choices are interesting, too! Some agriculture, some natural landmarks, and one building for the NY area.

• The map shapes are so much fun! They’re drawn with just enough accuracy to be recognizable, but the outlines have been smoothed over and skewed. Especially check out the curves and points of the southern border of Texas, combined with that drop shadow—YUM.

• The cut-and-paste map is a really nice way of breaking up the standard layout and creating dynamic shapes. It makes you look twice, whereas a normal map is so familiar that it would only get a quick once-over.

How to Get New Freelance Illustration Clients

Do a quick internet search of “client chase” and you’ll come up with scores of articles exhorting, instructing, and sometimes downright pleading with you to stop trying to go to potential clients and to start getting them to come to you.

In theory, that’s great advice. It saves you a lot of time, it insures that you’re only working with people that truly want to work with you, and it gives artists the ability to negotiate the terms of the deal.

But it’s much easier said than done. What if your website is completely new, so it has terrible traffic? What if you live far away from the biggest creative hubs of NYC, LA, SF, London… or any larger city, for that matter? What if you didn’t graduate from an art program that not only granted you a degree, but also access to the larger network of working professionals in your field? (All hypothetical situations, of course.)

In short, how do you stand out in a massive crowd?

Apart from finding your niche and hoping people notice, which can take years, here’s the stupidly obvious answer:

Go look for the work.

It takes a lot of effort and discipline, but it’s stupidly simple. Here’s how we do it:

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