Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis (book review).

You might have noticed in previous reviews, that I’m not only a fan of Andrew Loomis but and in good company with many of the comicbook artists who proclaim a similar interest and rather than have library editions or buy extremely expensive second-hand copies, can now buy a first-hand mint all the way from 1947. I suspect a lot of oher artists read and learnt from them as they were growing up as well, mostly because from the 1950s-70s, there wasn’t that many quality books of this nature and in the UK, mostly only available from the library.

‘Creative Illustration’ is the fifth and the final book in the series, although you will have to wait until 2013 to get the first book, ‘Fun With A Pencil’, which cumulates all that has gone so far into application for the professional artist. I only ever managed to get this book briefly from the library when I was very young and although some of it sunk in, I certainly didn’t have the experience to use it as I do now.

With this book, Andy Loomis teaches the ins and outs of composition and design and how the eye studies a picture. Using that knowledge you can create the best illustration. He drives the point home by drawing and showing bad composition and shows why those are least effective. Looking at it now, I remember I went through a phase of drawing from unusual angles rather than straight on in life-study classes. Reading it again now and being reminded of vanishing points and perspective brings it all back and a reminder that I really must either draw or paint more than I have been doing.

From there, he moves into tonal levels and how to use them to enhance the composition in getting the best balance for any picture composition. Something useful that I hadn’t considered before is if you want to get a more singular view of a scene you’re drawing or painting, then to look at it with one eye closed as you then get the same image as a camera lens and sorts out focal length and detail. His criticism of cameras drawing out too much detail is as true today with digital as it was with film. The demonstration on page 193 to keep everything in focus is a strong lesson in how not to totally trust the camera for all your needs. When you see how Loomis builds up a picture from the tonal levels up, it all makes sense how to a picture work that way first and add the detail later. Hands up all those of you who can never duplicate a small sketch for a larger painting without the luxury of a lightbox. If you can master the tonal approach, it will make life a lot easier to do a variety of thumbnail sketches and then use it to scale up for canvas work.

Later in the book, Loomis explains how to get the best from models to get them to give the emotion you need for a pose and which I suppose will still do as well today. I’m not entirely sure how the amateur artist will get around this, but useful if you can talk your family or friends into helping out for a pose. Getting insight into the 1940s mindset that is also true today that working from other people’s photographs is copyright infringement is a good reminder although these days, if you just use it as the framework and not make an exact copy that can be avoided.

Another interesting comparison is back then, artists were used far more for painting magazine covers than they are today. A rather more telling point Loomis makes is that the reason advertisers pay more for an illustration is because they are selling a product whereas a magazine illustration is seen as a production cost which is still true today. If you’re developing your art portfolio, Loomis guidelines on book cover composition is still very valid.

Things I learnt this time. I thought Primacolor pencils were something from the last fifty years and yet they were around far earlier than that. If you want to stop your oil paint from drying too fast, add some poppyseed oil to your turpentine. With that in mind, I did check on some of the other art equipment Loomis was using and they are still available. If you’re into art, you’re always going to want to try out different things so I found this very important.

What makes Loomis’ book stands out from all the rest, even today, is that he really does explain everything in a confident manner and by his demonstrations clearly worked in any medium. I was surprised to see some fantasy illustrations this time, showing he really could do everything. No wonder he was in such demand as a commercial illustrator and even more remarkable that he could find time to write and draw his craft to teach others, although he confides at the end, he turned down work to complete these books. If you want to step up from how you draw to doing something so much better, than this book is a sure thing for the willing artist. It’s also understandable why comicbook artists will be adding fresh copies to their own collection because it is invaluable in composition which is the mainstay for panel design.

This book is more like an advance course for the professional artist, although I suspect it will also assist the amateur artists as well. Where it really helps is in composition. If you think this is a weak point in your illustrations and paintings, then this will be an aid. Even if they’re not, then Andy Loomis will show you an effective way to make them even better. A marvellous book. Have I praised it enough yet?

GF Willmetts

November 2012


(pub: Titan Books. 300 page large hard back. Price: £29.99 (UK), $39.95 (US), $46.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-84576-928-4)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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