Clip Art Including Royalty Free Backgrounds, Borders And Graphics – A Recent History

Clip Art has been used in various forms since the middle of the last century. “Spot Illustrators” were hired by print publications, ad agencies, and so forth in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s and into the 1980’s to create quick, black and white visuals to accompany advertisements, articles, forums, short stories and other literary works that needed a graphic element to help draw the reader in.

The earliest and most popular medium used to create clip art was pen and ink. Pen and ink or “Line Art” drawings, were created just as the name implies, with a dip or “nib” pen and an inkwell filled with black ink. The Artist, let’s call him “Art Guy”, would dip his pen into the inkwell, tap the surplus of ink on the rim of the bottle and using a steady hand, begin to draw his or her illustration. A high quality stock paper with a smooth finish, which included sometimes vellum, was and still is the choice of most artists. Some artists preferred to draw their subject matter with a pencil first to create a “template” in which to apply the ink on top of.

Once the illustration was complete, it was left to dry on its own. To dry the ink more quickly, some artists used “Pounce” which is a fine powder sprinkled sparingly over the wet illustration. Pounce powder can be created using a variety of materials including sand, soapstone, talc and even finely ground salt. Pounce is also used by calligraphers.

Once the illustration was dry, it was given to the Stat Camera operator and photographed in a darkroom to create film from the camera-ready artwork. Shaded or “half tone” black and white images could be created from the all-black art using various dot pattern filters and then transferred to paper. Using this process, endless copies of the original artwork could be created, much like the electronic copy machines invented many decades later. The paper copies were then trimmed and “cut to size” in preparation for the publication process and then “Art Guy” headed to the production room to do his cool “layout” thing!

“Layouts” were created by combining text and images in a pleasing manner and adhering the various objects to ruled paper. The rules helped the production artist align the images both horizontally and vertically. Printed using blue ink, the rules could not be marketplaces, thereby rendering the rules invisible in the final printed publication. Adhering the text and images to the ruled paper was accomplished by using a variety of methods. Household glues were a common choice, but in the 1940’s bees wax became popular. Electronic wax machines were plugged in to an outlet and allowed to warm up. Blocks of bees wax were inserted into a warming tank inside the machine and the heat of the tank melted the wax into liquid. A mechanism on top of the machine allowed the user to feed the paper clip art into one end “dry” and then retrieve the art from the other end “waxed”. The machine only waxed one side of the paper, allowing the user to fix the image onto the layout paper using a burnishing tool and rubber roller. Text was applied using the same process. The completed layout was then taken to the darkroom where it was shot with a camera and a film negative created. A short process later and the film negative became a plate “positive” ready for offset printing.

As the publication industry progressed, Graphic Artists and Graphic Designers were finding that it was easier to reuse the preexisting images they had already shot and prepped for the previous week’s publication. So, rather than drawing the same illustrations over and over again, they recycled the old Line Art… and voila! Production Clip Art was born and sadly “Art Guy” was out of a job!

Quickly, Publication House libraries became overflowing with thousands and thousands of clipped images. Over the next few decades, stockpiles of images began to overrun art departments everywhere. Then, thankfully in the early 1980’s, personal computers and the “digital age” saved the industry. Now, using a futuristic invention called a “scanner”, a printed clip image could be placed on a scanning tray and converted to digital X’s and O’s and stored on a computer’s hard drive for easy reference! To someone who isn’t familiar with the industry, this doesn’t sound like an exciting historical advancement, but speaking personally from both the dark room Camera Operator side and as a seasoned illustrator or “Art Guy” who cut his teeth in the advertising industry in the early 80’s, scanners were a gift from God! Scanning images actually became a full time job at some companies, and pow! Just like that, “Art Guy” became “Scanner Man!”

Soon everyone was using clip art and unfortunately Spot Illustrators and Freelance Artists (like myself), who previously enjoyed a huge niche market, became obsolete. Hundreds of publication houses and digital service companies jumped on the digital (and printed) clip art bandwagons. With luck, many of those unemployed spot illustrators that I just referred to, found a new niche, provided they took the new computer medium under their wing. If you were willing to give up your pen and inkwell and trade them in for a personal computer, you had a good chance of saving your livelihood. Otherwise, you went the way of the dinosaurs.

As years progressed, the entire process became less “hands on” and more production-oriented. Let me explain. The first stage of creating digital art would go something like this. An Artist would draw an image using black ink only. He (or she) would then take the image and lay it face down on a scanner. Using scanning software, the artist would choose specific settings including Resolution, Scale and so forth and then “scan” the image, thereby creating a digitally formatted file. The Artist could choose which file format best met their needs to produce the end product. The most common file formats for Line Art at the time were.bmp (bitmap), or.pic (short for PICtor format). As scanned photos became more popular as clip art, file formats such as.tiff (Tagged Image File Format) and.jpg (or.jpeg) became more popular. Soon the world wide web came into being thereby creating a huge need for smaller resolution files that downloaded more quickly and hence the.gif (Graphics Interface Format) and.jpg files became the norm for that medium. Both file formats were considered raster files, or rather files based on a dot matrix data structure, and the resolution could be reduced to 72 dpi (Dots Per Inch) and still appear clean and crisp by the web user. And yes, now “Scanner Man” is given a new job title and now becomes “Production Guy!”

As the years progressed, Vector files (or files based on mathematical expressions) of which the popular file format.eps (short for Encapsulated PostScript) became the most widely used format by Printers and Publication Houses due to the fact that.eps files could be enlarged or decreased in scale without losing resolution or the “crispness” of the image. The entire industry took a left turn. To this day,.eps files are still the industry-standard clip art format.

 

 

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