SWIPE FILES — Any of you artists remember swipe files?

Rockwellboywithstereoscope

Believe or don’t believe it, my art career began in the 1950s. I know it is really hard for the new guard to believe, but there really wasn’t any internet, Google image search, Pinterest, Wikimedia Commons or any of the multitude of image sites that exist today.

Heck, it was really a pure time that you missed! Back then something called “Deviant Art” would have been sold from under the counter!

When we needed a visual reference “back in the day”, we went to the library if we could, but almost always to our “swipe files” … file folders cataloged and filled with images that we ripped directly or surreptitiously from any magazine we couldget our hands on. I mean a trip to the dentist could be very profitable and barbers that liked hunting and fishing always had Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and similar mags filled with great animal illustrations. There were photographs of course, but they were …well … really not great. But anything that would help with layout — the anatomy of a creature, plants, people and objects — was clipped, filed and brought out when references were needed for an illustration or painting.

Our swipe files and library gave us visual references and ideas from some of the finest artists … Ben Stahl, George Hughes, Constantin Alajalov, John Clymer, W. H. D. Koerner, J. C. Leyendecker, Charles Archibald MacLellan, John E. Sheridan, Douglass Crockwell, N. C. Wyeth and, of course, the ever loved Norman Rockwell. Talent was the order of the day, but it was a hard market for new artists to crack. Imagine mailing proposals and illustrations to publishers using a typewriter, ugly copies created with carbon paper (Yuck) and photographs of your work in black and white already! Not an easy time. And if you got involved with the production of the printed copy you used lead type … look that up on Wikipedia if you want to know the true meaning of joy.

But today? Just do a Google search and you have hundreds of thousands … nay … millions of reference photos, illustrations and ideas. And there’s the rub. The technology, tools, and delivery are remarkable and the artists are superb and they exist in huge great swarms!

This begs the question:

Is it possible for the average highly talented artist/illustrator to make a living in a glutted market.

What do you think?

Art MacKay, Marine biologist, artist, writer, webmaster, Mar 29 2007

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