Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fun Crosshatching

When I was an aspiring artist, barely in high school, I started making files of images that caught my attention, mostly for their style. My own talents were unformed, so I looked to others for inspiration.

One of my first clippings, in 1963, was this British depiction of a miserly Uncle Sam. (When this Punch cartoon was drawn, the U.S. and Britain were settling claims that had arisen during the Civil War.) As a kid, I was intrigued by crosshatching, and how depth and volume could be achieved with it. When I clipped this, my own attempts at crosshatching were disappointing!

An illustrator whose drawings excited me was Alan E. Cober, who worked through Push Pin Studio. His illustrations ran in magazines like McCall's at a time when the other illustrations were quite staid by comparison.

Cober created rich textures by overlapping images, crosshatching in color, and making shadows with areas of parallel lines that are known simply as "hatching." All these Cober illustrations are details of larger illustrations, now starting to discolor and fray.

The illustrator Einsel created wonderful textures with a jagged line, and in the hair above, the illusion of crosshatching — lines that don't actually cross but look like neat crosshatching.

Another popular artist of the early 1960s was the caricaturist David Levine, shown in this self-portrait. His rich satire follows the tradition of great cartoonists like the American Thomas Nast and the English Sir John Tenniel.

Here's a delightful crosshatched illustration — I wish I knew the artist. Every time I see crosshatching that looks like a series of exclamation points on their side ...

... I know the artist has been studying bank note engravings, like the one below.

The Art of the Market   |   Tamararkin and Krantz   |   1999

Possibly the greatest American bank note engraver, and by default the greatest crosshatcher, was Asher B. Durand, whom I discussed in an earlier posting, here.

In my files I even started keeping textures that approximated crosshatching. Look, there's Mr Einsel's jagged line!

Mark D. Ruffner  © 2011
Here's one of my own illustrations, an Elizabethan unicorn. The original of this illustration was done on a sheet of 8½ x 11 bond paper, not much bigger than how you're probably viewing it right now.


  1. Hello Mark:
    Your posts are always both fascinating and informative and this one is no exception.

    An American friend sent over a subscription to McCall's as far back as the 1950s, so we were interested to read of Alan Cober's illustrations in that magazine. Does it, we wonder, still exist?

    Your own crosshatched Unicorn Queen is delightful and highly imaginative. We like it very much indeed.

  2. Hello, Jane and Lance - I'm glad you enjoyed the Unicorn Queen; I certainly got texture out of my system on that one!

    McCall's Magazine was sold numerous times, went through a steady succession of editors in its last years, and finally died in 2001.

  3. Hello Mark,
    In my budding self-taught years, drawing using the most available medium - a graphite pencil, crosshatching was an excellent way to really understand light and shade in a controlled and precise way. Lately, I've been thinking of going back to drawing with a graphite pencil only.
    Your unicorn queen looks fierce and self confident - a real/mystical monarch. Lovely!

  4. Hi, Anyes - My school sketchbooks were filled with crosshatched drawings. I think what I enjoyed about crosshatching is that it could serve a dual function of showing depth while also providing a patterned texture.

  5. As I've commented on earlier posts, I sometimes prefer these illustrations to fine art and paintings. I greatly admire fine old engraving such as on the bank notes; it is also seen on my favourite copperplate printed toiles-de-Jouy, the 18th century cotton with pastoral or historic scenes, usually monochromatic.

    Funny, looking at the old illustrations of the 1970s and 1980s in magazines and on ads and album covers, I never thought to look at the names of the artist, or even consider that an individual took time and put his own personal style into it. I look at them differently now, and wonder about the mind and personality that were responsible for their creation. I particularly like the Cober illustration. It has a fresh, clean, modern look yet is representational and familiar.

    What a virtuoso piece your unicorn is. I am amazed by all the textures and techniques that give it a tapestry-like richness appropriate for the historical period of the subject. Your subtle tints of colour are perfect as they don't overwhelm the interesting textures.

  6. Hi, Terry -

    I suppose that most consumers aren't aware of advertsing artists, but as a young illustrator, I used to go through magazines in the 70s looking for specific artists as much as for anything else. Sometimes I would buy a magazine just for one illustration that I found inspiring!

    Thanks for enjoying the unicorn. The original is in black and white India ink; the color was added on the computer in layers, giving me the ability to adjust the subtle tints that you admire.

  7. You unicorn queen is charming. I think my favorite artist who utilizes cross hatching is Pierre Le Tan.

  8. Pierre Le Tan. Wonderful. Just saw his name in the previous comment.

    But, Alan E. Cober. Oh, Mark - such memories. The man's work was so damned influential, and yet so intimidating to me. He was an aggressive cross-hatcher. There was something tangible about his work. Tangible and somehow dangerous.

    I first learned to cross-hatch because of Alan E. Cober. He changed the way I looked at pen and ink.

    In my view, he was the king of cross-hatching. (Well, he and Charles Slackman. But Slackman had a totally different, more playful approach.)

    Cober was part of that whole group of artists working at a particular time - a true golden age. At least it was for me. :)

  9. Hi, Yvette - Alan E. Cober was probably the first contemporary illustrator whose work I collected for my files, His look was very different for his time, but he had many imitators, and some of them very good, too. I also kept a file on Charles B. Slackman's work. He was in a lot of magazines, but I used to enjoy seeing him in American Heritage and Horizon magazines as well.

  10. Yes, Cober had many imitators, you're right. But it was hard NOT to be influenced by him. Slackman did a lot of work for Playboy too, at one time. He was one of my teachers at Visual Arts one year - I mentioned that a few comments ago.(Don't know if you remember.) I was blessed to have him and R.O. Blechman as teachers. They both completely changed the way I viewed illustration up to that point in my life. So many years ago...

    Funny. A few years later, I was married then and a new mother, I ran into Slackman on West 57th street with my daughter in her stroller, we were on our way to the art supply store. I reminded him how much I'd valued him as a teacher, how special his work was to me. He seemed happy to hear it, though fairly blase. He was that way. He still had a huge mustache, hadn't changed much.