Franklin Booth owed his amazing style of pen and ink drawing to ignorance.
Booth was one of the greatest American illustrators and one of the absolute masters of pen and ink drawing. His style was the result of an isolated childhood on an Indiana farm and an innocent ignorance of the printing technology of his time.
When Booth was growing up, determined to be an artist and create illustrations like the ones he saw in popular magazines of the day like Harper’s and Scribner’s, he began to teach himself to draw in pen and ink by copying the illustrations as he saw them, not realizing that the illustrations were the product of wood engravings, made by specialty engravers by copying the original artists’ works.
In the process of unknowingly emulating the engravers’ intricate lines, Booth created a unique style of pen drawing that has since been imitated but never matched.
His drawings are marvels of tone created in line. The textures of the world, faces, clothing, atmospheric effects, sweeping skies, roiling clouds, the vibrance of forests and fields, are created from thousands of precisely placed pen lines, spaced and arranged to blend in the eye into optical tones of grays. Actually, “tones” and “grays” don’t do Booth enough credit, his black and white drawings suggest colors in the the mind, in much the same way as Van Gogh’s wonderfully textured drawings; or like the “colors” of the grays in Chinese ink painting. In fact, one of the books on Booth that I’ll recommend to you is subtitled “Painter with a Pen”.
The extraordinary power and visual force of Booth’s works were a dramatic influence on his contemporary Golden Age illustrators like Howard Pyle, 20th century artists and illustrators like Virgil Finlay, Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta, classic comic strip artists like Hal Foster and Alex Raymond and modern comics artists like Berni Wrightson (whose amazing Frankenstein portfolio was a homage to Booth) and Frank Cho (who will occasionally devote a whole strip to one of his pastiches of Booth’s style) .
I’ve been on the web a long time and I’ve found that if you wait long enough, resources that didn’t exist will eventually be posted. I’m still a little disappointed, though, with the small amount of online resources for brilliant artists like Franklin Booth, particularly considering that his work is in the public domain.
That being said, I have been able to dig up a few web resources for you, and, more importantly, a couple of absolutely terrific print resources. I say more importantly because to really appreciate Booth’s precise lines, magnificent scope and astonishing level of detail, you need to see his drawings in the high-resolution of print rather than the low resolution of screen images.
When I first discovered Booth, I went crazy trying to find his work in print and was sad to discover that the only major book of his work, Franklin Booth: 60 Drawings, and the Nostalgia Press reprint of it from the 70’s as The Art of Franklin Booth, were both out of print and expensive on the rare book market; but you (you luck devils) now have access to two recent, and absolutely great, collections of his drawings.
The first, Franklin Booth: Painter with a Pen from Flesk Publications, is temporarily out of print, but will be reprinted this July. The other is Franklin Booth: American Illustrator, a new release from Auad Publishing, which includes some of Booth’s rarely seen color illustrations.
There are Booth galleries on the Flesk site, and the Auad site, though the images on both are too small to get a real feeling for how amazing his drawings are when seen on the printed page. Both of the books are very reasonably priced and I can’t recommend them highly enough to anyone interested in just how amazing pen and ink illustration can be.
Gallery on Flesk site
Gallery on Auad site
Image 1, 2, 3, 4 from Project Gutenberg eBook of McClure's Magazine, May 1908
Booth's bookplate for Theodore Dresser (1 image)
Booth image on Vincent Dutrait site (1 image)
Booth image from book review on Alan Moore tribute site (1 image)
Color image on AskArt (1 image) Illustrated bio on Cartage.org (small images)
23 Replies to “Franklin Booth”
Wow. So amazing and beautiful. Thank you for posting about this. :-)
I was curious about the actual size of his full-page originals, on average. Thank you.
How amazing!Thank you
yeah, hi, i have discovered some vids with frank cho on youtube from his drawing workshop, it s funny and amazing, you can visit also my web and leave me message, but its in czech language, nevermind, i have a section dedicated to comics and im glad for every visitor, you can write in english, thank you for your work here., you must add in dialogue window on youtube this sequentions: drawing a sexy woman cho ….and thats it :)
Thanks for posting this, I LOVE Booth’s work!
I have a picture I believe could be by F. Booth. I would like to identify it. Do you have a sample of his signature?
I have an original of Franklin BOoth , that i wouldlike to sell. ( tiger hunt) it’s ink on wood . it makes 14 years that i owned the masterpiece. interested into .
please feel free to phone me at , 1 450 803-8749
thank you .
His drawings are amazing. As an artist,I am inspired and awed. The intricate and unimitatable Carvings are both subtle yet bold. His art is most likely one of the most intricate in the world. Not just because of his beutiful penwork, but because he was almost unknown.
Big words, huh?
Franklen Booth is my great great great great grandfather and i just want to say the article is terrific
Franklen Booth is an inspiring artist
i am currently studying his work
Here it is 2012, & people like me are still reading this article because there is so little information on this great master artist. Thanks for writing this informative piece.
Unfortunately the books I mention, both of which are excellent, are now sold out. If you can find copies used or otherwise they are well worthwhile. Franklin Booth: American Illustrator has more in the way of historical text.
Was just wondering what the titles of the two illustrations on your blog are called?? Or where they come from?
His work often gets ignored because his name is hard to find and then read. He did advertising for Estey Organ Company in the 1920s and others but not sure which companies. They were mostly in better magazines like Country Life.
I have an original Franklin Booth book with sixty reproductions from original drawings. The edition I have is printed on vidalon paper with an extra illuminated page by Mr. Booth, is limited to 210 copies, of which this book I have is #27. It is signed by Booth himself and also has his signature again in the front of the book where he signed and dated and addressed it to my grandparents. At this time I am thinking of selling it. Does anyone have any ideas of where I should look to sell this amazing book. Any ideas would be much appreciated. Thank you!
I have a painting/print by franklin booth I cant find any info on this picture. its in a frame from the 1800’s . I would like to find the value of the piece of art.
I discovered Franklin Booth quite by accident years ago, while at university. Since then, I’ve managed to come across a 1913 printing of James Whitcomb Riley’s “Flying Islands of the Night” which is graced with a number of Booth’s beautiful color illustrations. He has become one of my favorites of the golden age of illustration…
Thanks for the comment, Jon.
I have a couple of more recent posts on Booth as well:
Also, check out The Golden Age Site.
this is a great site.
I just purchased a book,”Commercial Art” (1952) that has many plates showing individual illustrators art and their techniques. A page devoted to Franklin Booth shows he worked on white scratch-board, covering the areas to be drawn in with ink and then scratching back the lines to lighten and detail. I work in pen and ink and it always vexed me to try to do a work in his style with a Rapidograph and a ruler, but knowing now how he did it in reality DOESN’T make doing it all that much easier!
It’s interesting to note that Booth started out his technique under the misconception that magazine illustrations he saw — that were actually engravings — were pen and ink, which he tried to emulate. If you search Lines and Colors for “scratchboard” you will find a number of other artists who work in that medium, or combine it with pen and ink.
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