Back in the day, illustrators used to hire photographers and models to stage scenes from their assignments that the artists would then use as reference for their illustrations. This is how it was done for editorial illustration, advertisements and book covers. This practice is still in place today when realistic illustration is needed, but less so, as illustration has gravitated away from life-like rendering. 

The illustrator was able to pull a lot of information from these photo sessions: poses, proportion, expression, light source, drape of material, etc.. The stand-in props—paper bags, cardboard tubes—would later be replaced by whatever they were there to represent—cereal boxes, rifles—culled from other source material. 

Found these looking through an old box of stuff and can't for the life of me remember where I got them. I like how they exist in their own right, melodramatic poses in humble surroundings. Kind of Lynch-ian and, in a weird way, probably more realistic than the final illustrations. Or maybe that's just me.

front and back


  1. These are great. Second to last (kid with Coke) is creepy as hell; Lynch all over it.

    Thanks for these!

  2. Wonderful. I wish you could remember where you got these. They look like they're from H. Armstrong Roberts.

  3. Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera documents this really well. It's fun to see the process involved, as well as what was exaggerated, emphasized and tweaked. These illustrators were doing 'photoshop' well before it was invented.

  4. Hi John,

    My name is Shiman Shan, I am a student studying Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. I judge books by their covers, and I'm a big fan of your work. I also really enjoy following your blog. I have stood in Strand for hours trying to decide whether or not to buy a copy of Dave Egger's How We Are Hungry, mainly because of the cover. (And also the title, I think titles are great too.) My love of cover design all started when I discovered the book covers you designed for Haruki Murakami, of whom I am also a big fan. Your combination of imagery and typography in book covers continually catch my eye.

    I have learned at RISD that graphic design is about believing in something and trying to show it to the world. I can't think of a better way of doing this than designing book covers. That is why even though there are many areas of graphic design to explore, I want to design book covers most of all. If by chance you are looking for interns I would love to be considered. And if not, if you could let me know of any opportunities in the publishing companies you are involved with, that would be great, too.

    Thank you for your time.

    This is a link to some of my work so far. http://issuu.com/shimanshan/docs/portfolio
    I would love to hear from you. My email is sshan@g.risd.edu.

  5. Thanks Ken.
    Knowlie: Flea market or early ebay purchase or a combination of the two.
    Michael V: Great book!
    Shiman: sent you an email