Saturday, February 28, 2009


William Aylward's name doesn't stand out in the annals of illustration. Yet, if you skim through old pictures in books or magazines, his work stands out from hundreds of other anonymous illustrators because he was such a master of value-- the darkness or lightness of color.

Try it yourself -- if you scroll through a hundred thumbnail images, you are likely to find that the pictures with confident use of value-- more than other artistic qualities, such as accuracy, color, detail, or technique-- are the ones that seem to pop right off the page.

Passing the line to the "Potomac" from the Dock, published in Scribners, May 1907

It is not easy to control the "value structure" of a painting, balancing blacks and whites and grays. This next picture could easily have sunken into a black hole if Aylward had not been such a virtuoso.

Night watch from the Deck, published in Scribners 1907

Very little is remembered about Aylward today. He was a student of the legendary Howard Pyle-- here he is, sitting at the great man's feet:

Aylward loved the sea and specialized in nautical themes. He illustrated very few books, primarily The Sea Wolf and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Most of his work appeared in magazines of the day and will never be republished, which is too bad. You won't see any coffee table books about him soon. But his work still speaks for itself with honor and dignity.