Spot Illustrations: Thinking Small

Boy reading book, spot illustration

You can use concepts from spot illustrations created during the Golden Age of Illustration (1880-1920) to help you solve contemporary design problems.

Small design elements have been used for over a hundred years to fill blank spaces in magazines and books. Today, they serve the same useful purpose, often adding color and graphic flair to pages of text.

If you need to fill a small hole in a layout, a newsletter, a Web page, or a design element for a logo, you might find inspiration or a solution from the past.

During the Golden Age of Illustration, some artists specialized in creating exquisite little sketches as fillers. Despite their small size, often no more than two or three square inches (19 square cm.), they had to be carefully conceived and composed, enhance text, set a mood, and create direction for the reader's eye.

Well-known cover artists often produced simple spots and page decorations for publications. Many women illustrators, often blocked from more lucrative assignments, supplemented their incomes by producing spots.

Spot art ranged over any subject and could be any style; cartoon, whimsical, wash and line, halftone, or silhouette.

Bicycle silhouette Gnome with flute Girl with book

Most were done in black line and printed in black and white publications. You can add color to black line art by using image-manipulation software such as Photoshop. To find out how, see this tutorial.

What is the difference between a spot illustration, a vignette, and a silhouette? Any small, free-floating illustration can be called a spot. A vignette spot is without a straight-line border. A silhouette spot is an outline shape, usually black, with or without a border.

spot illustration vignette illustration silhouette spot

Here are more examples of black and white spots
from the Golden Age of Illustration.

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Let art from the past inspire you. Creative design is timeless.

See the Image Galleries for more examples of spot illustrations.

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