Friday, May 04, 2012

VISUAL JOURNALISM: The Artist as Reporter - Part 5

By guest author, Daniel Zalkus

In the middle to late 60’s Frank Zachary, the art director of Holiday Magazine often sent artists out to report. The topics ranged from the growth of postwar industrial Europe to the current happenings on Wall Street and to an article about a specific city.

Artist Don Kingman went to San Francisco for an article titled “Even the air is different in San Francisco” and produced a beautiful two page spread showing the landscape of the city through ink drawing.


Another artist, this time the famed English illustrator Ronald Searle, was a regular contributor to Holiday.


Searle said: “In the ‘fifties, Punch was very keen on artists getting out and about. All my early New York features were made for it. In the ‘sixties and ‘seventies the initiative came from America. I worked for Holiday Magazine for about fifteen years, regularly covering America and Canada, occasionally, Europe. In some cases I was allotted fifteen to twenty pages a feature, in full colour – and often had to provide the text. Punch died and so did Holiday and Life Magazine and the reportage field became virtually non-existent!”**


Holiday Magazine sent Searle west to record the sights and sounds of Las Vegas for a feature.


Is reportage “non-existent” today as Searle points out? It may not be a regular feature in magazines but occasionally work will crop up harkening back to this Golden Era.


The practice seems to have evolved and continues with websites such as and the Masters Program at the School of Visual Arts (“Illustration as Visual Essay”). In the Masters Program many of the drawing philosophies of Robert Weaver are kept alive and continue to this day. Artists are encouraged to draw “what they know” and create a series, often intermixed with on-the-spot drawing.

Visual journalism has a great deal of merit. As words can communicate an author’s thoughts and feelings, an artist’s line can do the same, often in a more visceral and concise manner. Reportage is another tool, another option that is underutilized today.


Legendary art directors such Lionni, Gangel and Zahary viewed illustration in broad terms. Artists not only provided imagery for a story; they told the story with their images, with their viewpoint, filtered through first hand experience. By all accounts, attention spans today are shorter than ever; illustrative reportage has a unique ability to communicate the facts through a viewpoint that is both concise and universal (language is no barrier!).

Utilized correctly, reportage could be more than a novelty harkening back to an earlier day. It could be a driver of dialogue in the future.

* My thanks to Daniel Zalkus for all his hard work putting together this fascinating, inspiring series for Today's Inspiration. Daniel is an illustrator with a passion for on-the-spot drawing. You can see some of Daniel's own excellent work at his website. Many thanks again, Daniel! ~ Leif

**Quote taken from “Line No.1” a journal published by the Department of Art and Design Pathway. APU, Cambridge.


  1. Chuck Pyle, head of Illustration at the Academy of Art in SF, posted this link to a great archive video on Dong Kingman and how he works.

  2. Have very much enjoyed this focus on illustrative journalism or reporting. Thanks very much for your efforts here Daniel! Like fashion illustration a few weeks ago, they're two sub-genres that one sadly starting seeing even less of before the internet age...


    PS & BTW: I'd be amiss as a San Franciscan if i didn't mention that it's 'Dong' Kingman & that as a celebrated local artist he didn't have to travel far :-)

  3. What an inspiring post. Thanks, Daniel and Leif. There is definitely a revival of reportage art going on. You mentioned Urban Sketchers, which is an international phenomenon with a great book recently published. Reportage dovetails with the traditions of courtroom art, sketchbook journaling, and war art, which have always been going on. Danny Gregory has done a couple of great books on the topic, including "The Illustrated Life."

  4. Thank you for this great series of blog posts, and really nice to finish it up with Ronald Searle. Visual journalism and reportage is definitely coming to the forefront.

    For those interested in visual journalism: Dalvero Academy is having an exhibit at Mystic Seaport right now based on reportage of the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan whaleship. You can check it out here:

  5. For new readers, I was just reminded via a comment on Facebook... one of perhaps the most notable reportage assignments of all time was undertaken by English illustrator Brian Sanders, who was commissioned by Stanley Kubric to draw and paint on the set while 2001: A Space Oddysey was in production:

  6. Bruce-

    Thank you for the link to the Don Kingman video. I've never seen it before. Very cool.

  7. James-

    I agree, reportage is still around, you just have to look for it. I'm glad to see the enthusiasm for it with sites like Urban Sketches.

    I do wish though that publications would hire artists to go out and report (much like the samples this week). You hear about those jobs, but they're few and far between. Of course I'm also biased being an on-the-spot artist myself.

  8. Leif-

    I remember that post on TI. Great stuff! Kudos to Kubrick for assigning an artist to do it. I guess he may have had a soft spot for reportage drawing because he did that in his own photo work...?

  9. Hello-I'm a reportage artist based in New York (, and I've been following your Reportage series. Thank you-it's absolutely delightful to see my "teachers" featured in your articles. Been advertising your blog on FB/Twitter all week long! I'm part of the Dalvero Academy-we are exhibiting at the Museum of America and the Sea our reportage art. Thank you again-regards, Julia

  10. Thanks for writing and for spreading the word about Today's Inspiration, Julia ~ Leif :^)

  11. Thank you for the great series, Daniel and Leif!

    Hopefully, the more we draw attention to the storytelling powers of illustration and drawing, the sooner some smart art directors and editors will realize that readers love this stuff!

    And the more readers a publication attracts, the more ads they can sell to stay in business and keep hiring illustrators.

  12. And thank you all for the mentions of Urban Sketchers! If someone is reading this and doesn't know about us, check us out at

  13. Daniel and Leif,
    Now the rest of the world knows what makes us tick.
    For some, the art and thrill of reportage as such, is not considered a revival, but simply what we do- not only for the pleasure, but as a rich recognition of the necessity to draw from observation to keep our minds and hands sharp. This has been an exciting, informative and eye-popping week! Thank you!

  14. Excellent series of posts and fantastically illustrated. Searle maintained that a reportage artist should not just passively record an environment but comment on the observations, the drawing should reflect an opinion. With Searle of course he generally used satire to record the events he witnessed. I think there's a distinction to made between visual journalism and what the Urban Sketchers represent with sketchbook 'recording'

    1. Gosh, what a small world, and these are the gems I am looking for from artists, specifically Searle of course. Ido think that most reportage artists have an inkling for the the real, the truth and of course the representational, the realistic. And this, reportage art is of course the best medium for it, outside of photography of course

  15. dalvero11:07 PM

    Urban sketchers sucks. Too amateur. It´s impossible to find pro illustrators there.

    1. I don't know who dalvero is, but no relation to our dalvero academy.

  16. Great series! Thank you for writing this. As Veronica and Julia said, please take a look at fir some great reportage drawings!
    Margaret Hurst

  17. Thank you Leif indeed, this has been very wonderful, more wonderfully insightful and v helpful too