Exercise: The history of illustration

Brief #1

In this exercise you will explore how illustration has evolved over the past 50 years. Start by choosing one from this list of illustrators:

  • Edward Bawden
  • Edward Ardizzone
  • Kathleen Hale
  • John Minton
  • Eric Ravilious
  • E H Shephard

Then using books and the internet, find out about these artist’s work and the cultural context in which they created their most significant works”.

Eric Ravilious | My chosen Illustrator

Eric Ravilious was born on 22nd June 1903 in Acton, London. In 1922 aged 25, he was awarded a scholarship to attend a design school at the Royal College of Art and in 1924 under the wing of wartime artist Paul Nash, and was encouraged to progress in the technique of wood engraving. Ravilious would later use this technique to produce over 400 woodcut prints throughout his career, one example of this being the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. The image of two gentlemen Cricketers has been printed on every copy of the reference book since 1938.

Ravilious was well known for his woodcut and lithographic prints and later began his watercolour works of southern England.  The majority of this work showed the surrounding picturesque countryside and coastal views of pre-WWII Britain.  In February 1940 he joined the royal marines, and while stationed in Chatham, he started his work as a war artist.  He began by painting warships, spitfires and military personnel performing operations along with the coastal defences.

The techniques and style used by Ravilious still hold their value in today’s contemporary art scene. His use of woodcut prints resembles that of claybord etching, a similar media that allows the artist to add texture and detail to blocked ink and create the desired effect. His woodcut pieces along with his later work with watercolour carry an old fashioned feel to them. The sometimes inconsistent perspective in his career although stylistic, in contrast to today’s digital media, these prints are instantly recognisable to be of a specific time and era.

Daniel Danger | My chosen Contemporary Illustrator

Daniel Danger is a young established artist/illustrator working out of New England, North America. He is best known for his rural, urban apocalyptic style of drawing. His love of rural forests and abandoned buildings are linked to his childhood and growing up with similar surroundings.

Using primarily claybord, he can block out shapes with ink and then with a scratchboard line tool, he scores the claybord to add texture and detail. This is a very similar technique to Eric Ravilious and his woodcut pieces, as he would remove the non-printing parts from the wood. After Danger has added the linework, the work is scanned and moved over to a digital platform to create the colour separation.

What attracted me to Danger’s work is the sheer detail and textures he can create by using the claybord technique. In my opinion (and for someone who likes sharpness and detail in the artwork), I find this technique to be superior for creating these type’s of work by hand. What also impressed me is the time that this process takes, with Danger’s “Crimson Peak” movie poster commission taking 250+hrs to complete.

Brief #2

Now draw an illustration in the style of each artist, selecting similar subject matter and using similar media”.

Illustration #1 | Inspired by Eric Ravilious

Ravilious was best known for being a wartime artist using watercolours. His early work was almost wholly that of woodcut prints. I thought this would be an exciting method to try as his woodcut prints mirrored that of my contemporary artist Daniel Danger, who creates his art using claybord/scratchboard. Both types of media use very similar techniques but in a different order.

I purchased some plywood, block ink, an ink roller and some wood carving tools. I created my image using Adobe Illustrator as I was able to make some interesting layer effects which I used on the hills. I then carved away parts of the wood that I did not want the ink to cover. These areas would be left clear when pressing the paper onto the woodcut.

For this piece, I tried to combine the different stages of Ravilious’s work throughout his career. I created a WoodCut print with the theme nodding to his later work of military coastal scenes.

Process Images | How I created my Woodcut print

Finished Piece


The Woodcut took me roughly three hours to complete, and I was delighted how it turned out. From never working with wood carvings before, I enjoyed the process and can see how skilled Ravilious was to produce such detailed work.

To improve this piece, I would try to avoid removing large amounts of wood. In specific parts, I feel I could have added more detail, i.e. the sun and clouds. I also got very carried away and forgot to carve the boy with the kite, partly being down to the faint outline left by the carbon paper. I’m sure that these issues would improve if I were to work with this media again.

Illustration #2 | Inspired by Daniel Danger

To create my Daniel Danger inspired illustration, I looked for comparison in the two artists work. I liked the fact that they both use the technique of removing ink/wood to create shape, texture and shading. I kept a similar theme to my WoodCut illustration but created a slightly darker version to compliment Danger’s style of apocalyptic art.

I purchased a Claybord, Scratch tools and inks.

Process Images | How I created my Claybord Illustration

Finished Piece

I also decide to create a digital version as the artist has started to produce some pieces this way.

I prefer working in a digital format as there is more room to see errors and correct them.


Again this piece took me roughly three hours to complete. I did enjoy working with Claybord. Unfortunately, my understanding of crosshatching and where and when to use it didn’t quite work. I found myself wanting to use longer brushstrokes as you see in the clouds and smoke. I was expecting a larger board to arrive, but unfortunately, it was A5 which I found challenging to work with. I do feel that an improved, more detailed starting sketch would enhance the structure of working in this media.