The graphic artist essentially creates the drawn image. (Graphos – meaning to draw). Graphic illustration often incorporates strong line work as one of its main elements. As in illustration design, which is also used to great effect in print and web based media; there is great power in a well-executed graphic illustration. Look what happens when you blow up a frame from one of Hergé's Tintin comic strips. The strength of the graphic pen line work combined with flat colour washes creates a dynamic and very satisfying image. Roy Lichtenstein used this very idea of blowing up comic strip graphic illustration and putting it onto a large canvas, thus turning graphic art into fine art. With the advent of vector software the image can go as big as we want it to.
Botticelli's The Birth of Venus
The graphic line work of the artist is in great evidence here. He is not just painting planes of colour and moulding tone work, he is drawing lines and making them strong features of the painting. He is creating definition – the true purpose of the graphic artist.
Looking back to some of the earliest art of all time, the cave paintings of Lascaux, c 14.000 B.C what do we find? Strong graphic images of animals, drawn with great skill and accuracy. Even with the passage of thousands of years the drawings still have great power and eloquence, drawn by the graphic artists of the day. The solitary man depicted is very cartoony and has something of the Lowry about him.
Moving forward to the art of ancient Egypt, what do we find? Graphic design artists are at work again. Stunning graphic illustrations of gods, kings, animals, battles, agriculture, hunting, dancing and entertainment.
Graphic artists in Ancient Greece
So much of their mythology was used to decorate their pottery in their characteristic black and terracotta, a very limited palette but immediately recognisable. Look at that black line work! Sometimes the lines are reversed out of solid black areas giving it extra strength. The hairstyles, folds in the clothing, the movement of the dancers and wrestlers, it's all there, stripped down to the essential line drawings that give it such timeless energy.
Moving into the modern era what do we note about the irresistible portraits by Modigliani? Why are they so compelling and powerful? There is vivid colour, certainly, but look at the rugged strength of the black holding line work. Here is a powerful graphic artist at work.
Finally we come to one of the most highly valued artist of all time, Vincent Van Gogh. Most will say he is a painter. Yes, of course, but look at one of his greatest works, "The Harvest, Arles" 1888, which he expressed great satisfaction with several times in his letters. What do we see? Look at the farm buildings, the mountain range, the cart in the middle ground. They are all defined by strong dark brush line work. The graphic artist is still at work, even in such painterly work. Van Gogh developed a love of this graphic art style through his early fascination with the work of the Japanese cartoonists. For a while, he even tried to emulate the style of these masters of graphic illustration. We wonder if his later portraits could have been influenced by Bokusai's Portrait of a Zen Master (late 14th century). Maybe Vincent would have seen the now ubiquitous print of The Great Wave. If he had, it would most likely have had the most profound effect on him. What an image! The ultimate graphic artist at work. It's creator, Katsushika Hokusai, has produced the most exquisite balancing of graphic line work, flat colour and graduated tones. Why is this cartoon (manga) so powerful? Consider Hokusai's own words,
"From the age of six I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of 50 I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior the age of 70, there is truly nothing of any great note. At the age of 73 I finally came to understand somewhat the nature of birds, animals, insects, fishes – the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore at 80 I shall have made great progress, at 90 I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, and at 100 I shall have become truly marvellous, and at 110, each dot, each line, shall surely possess a life of its own."