Carole Wilshaw – Calligraphy, Handwriting & Illustration Tutor & Practitioner

Illustration Fact File

The Beginnings of Book Illustration

The earliest storytelling in pictures dates back to the cave paintings of early man. Later wall paintings, portraying stories, decorated the houses of the Romans. When more portable writing surfaces were produced pictures developed from simple drawings on wax, clay, wood and slate tablets to more complex paintings and pictures on parchment, vellum and paper. Brushes and pens were used with natural dyes made from minerals or vegetables. Single pages developed into hand bound books where some pages were pictorial. Manuscript books were illustrated from ancient times up to medieval times. These would be meticulously drawn and painted by hand until the invention of printing.

Block books, of the mid to late 15th century, were short books of no more than 50 pages. These books were mostly devoted to religious themes and stories and the printed woodcut pictures were meaningful – even to those who could not read.

15th Century Block Book

Modern book illustration comes from 15th century wood cut illustrations.

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15th Century Wood Cut Illustrations

The true picture book dates back to only 130 years ago when artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) used illustrations to tell a story rather than just to decorate the text. The picture book flourished in the late 19th century due to developments in printing techniques and a wealth of exceptional artists.