Monday, November 14, 2016

Austin Briggs, an Illustrator Who Could Really Draw

Austin Briggs (1908-1973) never settled into a distinctive style, shifting over time according to his personal artistic development and the influence of changing illustration fashions and client expectations. What was consistent was his great skill in drawing people.

A short Wikipedia biography is here and a fairly brief biography on the Norman Rockwell Museum site is here. A more detailed biography can be found here. Commentary on his methods is here. Some statements by Briggs himself are here and here. David Apatoff writes about Briggs' sketchbooks here.

Briggs was a top-notch illustrator. I hope a book about him and his art is in the works somewhere.


Flash Gordon - Sunday spread - 21 December 1947
Briggs drew the daily Flash Gordon comic strip and later took over the traditional Sunday version from its creator, Alex Raymond. Raymond was the best at drawing it, but Briggs was not far behind.

American Airlines ad - Saturday Evening Post - 15 January 1949

American Airlines ad art

Plymouth ad art - late 1940s
This was an odd advertising campaign for a low-priced car because a Plymouth does not appear. Some luxury can brands had used this strategy, however, apparently somewhat successfully.

Illustration - c. 1957

Ad art - 1951
I'm not sure if this is for Buick or American Airlines. And it might not be for an advertisement. I am clueless regarding this.

Briggs illustrated for American Airlines and General Motors. The DC-6 in the background is positioned similarly to such planes in a series of American Airlines ads, but it lacks the complete AA paint scheme. The Buick is clearly a Buick, not the sort of anonymous car design illustrators placed in settings unrelated to a specific automobile brand. The Buick also seems to have a New York license plate, something unusual in car ad illustrations.

Nero Wolfe story illustration

Archie Goodwin depicted in a Nero Wolfe story illustration - Saturday Evening Post - 21 June 1958

Service with a Smile - Douglas Aircraft ad art
From the days when smoking was allowed on flights.


1 comment:

Paul Sullivan said...


I can't tell you how much I enjoy your blogs. Once again you have posted the work of an excellent artist who should be given more attention.

You wrote, "Austin Briggs (1908-1973) never settled into a distinctive style, shifting over time according to his personal artistic development and the influence of changing illustration fashions and client expectations."

Most things like this are a matter of opinion but I don't totally agree with this statement. I think Briggs had very distinctive style—one that he was well settled into by the time he hit the big publications. You are right that he is probably best known for his ability to draw and paint people. But there is something much more than that. All the top illustrators could draw and paint people well.

Briggs' figures were not just drawn well they were natural looking. They didn't look posed. In short, they were believable. I think what made his illustrations great was they were extremely unpretentious—void of any flamboyant technique. This coincided with his natural looking figures producing a believable picture. The viewer could identify with the figures in a Briggs illustration. This was so important at a time when photography was elbowing illustration out the door.

There were very few illustrators who could pull this off. One of the few was Berie Fuchs in his early work. Fuchs' early style was an emulation of Briggs. However, most of Fuchs' early work had slicker look than that of Briggs. And some of the poses of Fuchs' figures were posed to look like they were casual—natural looking.

Keep up the wonderful work,