Wednesday, 19 September 2012


In keeping with our current theme of posting working sketches by the great illustrators, today let's look at some unpublished drawings by Austin Briggs.  It is a shame that Briggs does not get much attention today; for decades he was one of the most highly regarded illustrators in the country.  An excellent painter, Briggs was especially known for the great subtlety and sensitivity of his drawing with a lithography crayon or other tools.

Despite the free and spontaneous look to his drawings, Briggs' sketches and preliminary drawings show that he was a disciplined and skilled draftsman.  He drew numerous preparatory sketches...

...sometimes with great precision (especially earlier in his career, when his style was tighter):

To plan his more complex illustrations, Briggs would do numerous preliminary sketches:

Briggs wrote a note to an art director in the margin of one of these sketches, saying "If you don't like this one, I've got a dozen others on the floor of my studio."

The following drawing is not a sketch, but a finished, published illustration.

Drawing with corrective patch

However, the original version was never published:

Drawing without corrective patch

We forget today that Briggs was at the forefront of artists introducing a more realistic informality into illustration. Previous illustrators focused on the one key moment or reaction shot, where the subject's eyes were widest or their expression was the broadest or their leap was at its height.

Norman Rockwell
Briggs took a different approach and began focusing on moments that looked less staged.  His sketches reveal a deliberate search for offbeat moments, where a subject might be looking away or checking their watch or other things more integrated into daily life.   It may seem crazy to us today, but in the 1950s art directors sometimes choked on this radical approach.  In the two drawings compared above, the art director instructed Briggs to change his drawing to make the man sit up straight.  Briggs glued the correction on with rubber cement, causing the stain.

Today's illustrators should be grateful to Briggs as a bold and principled pioneer who left the field with more artistic freedom than it had when he began.