Fun Example of Documentary Illustration

  • Moderator

    I thought I'd share an interesting example of "documentary illustration": an article in American Theatre magazine where an artist "records" the backstage world of a play in performance.

    I'd never heard of this field before, but now that I know it exists, I'm starting to recognize examples of it. I sense that it was much more common in the past than it is today. It's a fascinating way to do visual storytelling.

    I'm interested in this because I'm fascinated by the capacity to capture these stories through the lens of illustrations instead of photography (which is much much more commonplace). This might a phenomenon that was historically common in for live events? Paintings of rehearsals and actors backstage (Degas?), cowboys getting ready to compete in rodeos, or illustrated watercolors of fairs and major celebrations, etc. I mean, I knew there were courtroom artists, but I didn't realize the field was quite so expansive. Maybe I'm just lifting the veil off my eyes to see something that has been there for ever, I dunno. Now I'm realizing those "party artists" that are hired to paint a picture of an event while the event is happening (sometimes galas or corporate events hire them) might perhaps be an example of documentary illustration.

    Anyway, I thought I'd share. The illustrator is Michael Arthur, and it's a really interesting collection of images. I don't know if they were commissioned by the magazine or the theatre or what, but I don't see a lot of this kind of work for periodical publications anymore--it's almost a novelty niche. But it's a thing. And I had no idea people were doing this to tell stories.


  • @Coreyartus This is perhaps akin to sketchnoting? I've actually gotten a couple of gigs sketchnoting events and allowing the event planners to make the notes available afterwards. Nice post!

  • Moderator

    @Amber-Lynn-Benton I've never heard of sketchnoting before so I had to go look it up. I think I may live under a rock or something... I'm going to check my roof later on. 🙂

    What a fascinating concept!! I'd think the American Theatre article is indeed sorta like sketchnoting but without a lot of textual specifics. (The example picture I posted actually had more text than any of the other illustrations.) Wow, sketchnoting seems to prompt a lot of diligent active listening in a way that isn't about recording verbal dictation in a textual form, but a visual one. Wow. How fun! What a trippy ride!! That must have been like a roller coaster!! LOL!!

  • @Coreyartus For those I had prep time on the speaker an
    topic which helped. I’ve been asked to do it live -
    On an iPad cast to a big screen. I haven’t felt brave enough to try that one yet. 😬 Personally I’ve always been impressed by courtroom artists - that’s a high pressure environment I would think.

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