Illustration is storytelling. Whether the illustration is a portrait (telling a person’s story through posture, expression, and the lines written in wrinkles upon the face) or fantasy (creating worlds that exist merely in imagination) or historical narrative (giving modern viewers a glimpse into times they’ve never seen or nearly forgotten), the artist influences how that story will be told. The above illustration was created for an assignment in my master’s program back in 2009. The task was to design a magazine cover in the style of a specific artist, and done in the time period during which that artist worked. I chose Jessie Wilcox Smith – a female illustrator whose work often graced the covers of Good Housekeeping magazine from 1918 through 1932. Smith passed away in 1935 at the age of 72. Prints of her work hung in my parents’ house growing up…several now hang in my home.
This project was a fun challenge because it required so much research and preparation. The Dionne Quintuplets were born in May of 1934 – the first set of quints on record to survive infancy. They would have been 7 months old for their first Christmas…old enough to be sitting up and scooting around, but not walking or standing yet. I found photos of the quints to work from for the faces and personalities. Then I took photos of my friend’s baby in multiple poses to get the body positions needed. As usual, I compiled the photos in Photoshop and used that as my reference image for the final painting. Donald Duck made his appearance on the Disney scene in 1934. So, it seemed apropos to include him as a toy for the quints to play with. Searching on eBay, I found images of the original Donald Duck doll. Finally, Good Housekeeping covers often included part of a new book or short story that was being published. My favorite British author, D.E. Stevenson (2nd cousin to Robert Louis Stevenson), published Miss Buncle’s Book that year! Of course, I had to use that. So, the illustration tells part of my story and interests, as well as tying together historical elements in the visual narrative.
Artistically speaking, I stuck to a limited color palette – reds on a neutral grey and white background, typical of some of Smith’s work. I included brown outlining of figures, as Smith was known for. Otherwise the painting style is my own, loose watercolor washes with layering colors.