Five Artists Who Inspire Me Part 3: Franklin Booth

"I have always admired the beauty of Franklin Booth's work and regard him as an exponent of the very best in American Illustration". ~ Norman Rockwell

Not long into my inking journey, I discovered the amazing works of Franklin Booth, an American draughtsman, born in Indiana in 1874 just prior to the start of the Golden Age of Illustration.
Franklin Booth portrait

Left: Booth Portrait, 1913 (originally from a 1913 exhibition, taken by Alman & Company, New York)

And if you're already a fan of Booth, I'll reveal some exciting news in this post.

Booth's unique style owes itself to growing up on an isolated farm where he pursued his dream of becoming an artist by first drawing animals and rural scenes around the home, and then copying illustrations from magazines in pen and ink.

He was completely oblivious to the developments in printing technology so what Booth didn't know was that these illustrations were actually wood engravings. This is reflected in his illustrations by his incredible control and textured linework, achieving an astonishing range of greys. His technique has never been rivalled.

Some colour work of Booth's does exist but he's best known for his monochrome pieces.

Franklin Booth Liberty Bonds War Poster

Left: Liberty Bonds poster, World War I, 1914-1918

Entirely self-taught, Booth's first illustrations were featured in  Indianapolis News where he worked for five years before travelling around Europe. Over the years, Booth succeeded in having his work featured in almost every major magazine between around 1905 and 1935, including Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.

He also created numerous posters during WW1, like the colour plate featured above for Liberty Bonds, and illustrated for companies such as Rolls-Royce and General Electric, as well as for books including Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper".

Franklin Booth always will be so much better than practically anyone who ever picked up a pen.” ~ Bernie Wrightston

Booth really was a true master of the pen, and his work has influenced many great illustrators of the Golden Age, including other masters of the pen an brush, Frank Frazetta and Bernie Wrightson. I've found myself being fascinated at his rendering of trees in particular. 

Franklin Booth, Walk in the Woods

Above: Franklin Booth, Walk in the Woods (source: Outside Logic)

Franklin Booth: Three Trees

Above: Franklin Booth, Three Trees (source: Outside Logic)

Though I don't like the subject matter itself (poaching), this is still one of my favourite pieces by Booth thanks to the composition, but also the tangle of grasses in the foreground in contrast to the smoothness of the elephant. The small areas of white space also allow the eyes to rest a little, and the darkness of the trees overhead framing the top part of the image adds to that feeling of being enclosed, cornered.

Above: Franklin Booth, Tiger Hunt for McClure's Magazine 1914

Booth on discussing his technique:

“My drawings are usually somewhat involved and a completed pencil drawing to begin with would become smudged in places in the process of inking other parts. I finish a section at a time and often this will appear in the midst of white paper with penciled suggestions. This area also establishes values for the whole drawing. The starting point is usually a section showing the darkest darks, highest whites and grays…”

And this is great advice that I've taken on board in my later pen and ink drawings - establishing the value scale as early as possible (though I can't imagine completing a tiny area of a larger piece in its entirety before moving on).

Booth went on to co-found The Phoenix Art Institute where he taught for 21 years. He married one of his first models, Beatrice Wittmack, at the age of 49, though there are no records of him having children. 

Franklin Booth, Estey

Above: Franklin Booth, Illustration for Estey, 1922 (source: Outside Logic)

When I first saw Booth's work, I remember speaking to an artist friend on Instagram who owned one of his books which he dearly treasured. I scoured the internet, eager to get my hands on some of these amazing plates in the form of my own copy...

And then I saw the price.

Books with Booth's work are sadly rare with the only real collection of substantial work being "Franklin Booth: Sixty Reproductions" and its 1970s version, both of which are out of print, the latter I've seen available online in the region of $350 to $750.

More recent books have been printed, such a "Franklin Booth: Painter with a Pen" and "Franklin Booth: American Illustrator", but expect to still shell out a substantial amount (over $150).

But for the rest of us, there are fortunately a few high resolution images online for us to admire and learn from, and all of Booth's work is in the public domain.

And here's the best part...

The publisher of the 2002 "Painter with a Pen", Flesk Publications, has announced that a revised edition will be released this year, "Franklin Booth: Silent Symphony", containing over 400 pieces by Booth and in limited copies.

Franklin Booth: Silent Symphony

Above: the new Franklin Booth book by John Fleskes and Alice Carter

You can contribute to the project by pledging on Kickstarter.

But be quick!

There's less than 48 hours left to do so. Despite funds being tight, I've gone for the hardback version and four prints, as this is a one-off opportunity that I'd like to be a part of to celebrate Booth's work. 

So there we have it. Franklin Booth, "the Poet with the Pen".

Are you a fan of Booth's work? Or do you prefer looser, more loose, expressive inking? If you end up pledging for the Kickstarter, I'd love to hear from you!

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