one picture is worth a thousand words


How many times have you heard that? It sounds like one of those old adages attributed to Confucius. A writer named Fred Barnard did just that. In the advertising trade magazine Printer’s Ink issue of December 1921, he promoted the use of images in ads on the sides of streetcars. Then in 1927 he called the statement a Chinese proverb so that people would take it seriously. Soon thereafter it was attributed to Confucius.

Did an ad man’s lie become the truth? Well, maybe it’s always been true despite Barnard’s twist. The Russian writer Ivan Turgenev wrote, “A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.” (Fathers and Sons, 1862)

Altamira Bison

The fabulous cave paintings of El Castillo and Altamira in Spain, as well as Lascaux and Chauvet in France, are some of oldest illustrations beginning some 40,800 years ago. Down through the ages humans have needed to visualize what’s important to them, hunting magic in those examples, theoretically; a practical matter, not just interior decoration.

Images have served as narrative aids in manuscripts and books since the earliest known illustrated scrolls, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Ramesseum Papyrus dating from about 1900 BC. Illustrated below is the casting of a mystical spell from Book of the Dead.

Egyptian Book of the Dead

Greek column

The ancient Greeks and Romans knew the importance of technical drawings in the fields of science, topography, medicine and architecture. The drawing below is from a description by the Roman architect Vitruvius of a water screw designed by the Greek polymath Archimedes, a device for field irrigation.Vitruvius: Archimedes' water screw

Mediaeval manuscript illumination by talented monks, likely with a lot of time on their hands, is the forerunner of illustrations later printed in books. Examples are psalters and books of hours (prayers) such as Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, featuring miniatures in vivid tempera colours and gold leaf on vellum. The example below is an illuminated drop cap (P) from a Bible made at Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England, AD 1407.

Illuminated Bible

Leiden library

Major advancements in painting, architectural rendering and “descriptive” or technical drawing techniques in the Rennaissance by Leonardo da Vinci, Leon Batista Alberti, Albrecht Dürer and others provided the means for blending science and invention with the arts. Three-dimensional perspective became an obsession by providing the illusion of spatial depth.

The demand for technical illustration really took off during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, but even today with all our digital high technology, one thing has never changed. Illustrators still need the same skills as their ancient counterparts ~ the ability to observe carefully and to transform observation into accurate two-dimensional representations of objects and ideas while at the same time attracting attention, persuading the viewer to understand, and often to buy.

1942 Nash Ambassador

1942 Nash Ambassador

See the work > illustration page for samples of our and others’ illustrations used in magazines, brochures and folders, ads and the internet.