White Outlines in Illustration


When illustrators use white outlines instead of the standard black, or near black, this conveys the look and feel of a traditional woodcut (or linocut) artwork. Since folk artists commonly used woodcuts to create their art, white outlines are therefore associated with folk art.

Below are some examples of woodcuts and linocuts, and also some examples of ‘the woodcut look’.

José Francisco Borges
José Francisco Borges, woodcut example
Paul Landacre, The Sultry Day wood engraving 1935
Paul Landacre, The Sultry Day wood engraving 1935
Windsor's Phantom Huntsman. illustration of Herne by Eric Fraser. From Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, editor Russell Ash, 1973 white outline
Windsor’s Phantom Huntsman. illustration of Herne by Eric Fraser. From Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, editor Russell Ash, 1973
Celia Hart
Virgil Finlay (1914 - 1971) 1953 illustration for 'Moth & Rust' by Philip Jose Farmer
Virgil Finlay (1914 – 1971) 1953 illustration for ‘Moth & Rust’ by Philip Jose Farmer

Frans Haacken’s illustrations for Peter and the Wolf below are notable for the addition of a single vibrant colour on each spread.

ZBIGNIEW RYCHLICKI

Zbigniew Rychlicki (1922 – 1989) was a Polish graphic artist, and illustrator of children’s books who was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Awards Prize. He had a number of different styles, including woodcut for folktales.

Zbigniew Rychlicki
Zbigniew Rychlicki | Hanna Kostyrko (wybór), Klechdy domowe, Nasza Księgarnia, Warszawa 1960

PAUL GOBLE

Paul Goble (1933-2017) was an English-born illustrator well-known for his illustrations of American folk tales.

On The Ridge, Paul Goble
The Gift of the Sacred Dog by Paul Goble
どうしてカはみみのそばでぶんぶんいうの 1997
Paul Goble, Blackfoot camp
Dream Wolf by Paul Goble
Dream Wolf by Paul Goble
Ezio Anichini, 1911
Ezio Anichini, 1911
Taeeun Yoo. Only a Witch Can Fly. Text by Alison McGhee white outline
Taeeun Yoo. Only a Witch Can Fly. Text by Alison McGhee
Dan Bob Thompson
From Moominvalley in November (1970) Tove Jansson
From Moominvalley in November (1970) Tove Jansson
Thanh Portal
DAS KLEINE SCHMUNZELBUCH (1939) Horst von Mollendorff white outline
DAS KLEINE SCHMUNZELBUCH (1939) Horst von Mollendorff

White outlines work especially well for snowy scenes.

I can’t tell for sure how this one was done, but it looks like watercolour and masking fluid.

Odd Brantenberg 1952 white outline
Odd Brantenberg 1952
Vintage Soviet postcard; illustration by B. Parmeev 1969 white outline
Vintage Soviet postcard; illustration by B. Parmeev 1969 white outline

ANNIE SOUDAIN

Annie Soudain is a British retired art teacherwho now lives in Hastings in East Sussex, concentrating on her own work. Annie uses a variety of media, but her main focus currently is on linoprinting.

Annie Soudain
Annie Soudain

SOAP ON GLASS DECORATION

Decorating with soap, Kostice na Podluzi, 1981 source Lidove Umeni white outline
Decorating with soap, Kostice na Podluzi, 1981 source Lidove Umeni

WHITE OUTLINES AND THE GHOSTLY SUPERNATURAL WORLD

Virgil Finlay The Crystal Man by J.G. Ballard 1966 white outline
Virgil Finlay The Crystal Man by J.G. Ballard 1966

For more examples see the collection of how illustrators depict ghosts. Tony DiTerlizzi’s illustration below is particularly masterful because the white outlines convey a slightly folktale look while also serving the purpose of creating an underworld of creatures which may simply be foregrounded creatures. The ‘white’ outline is dark enough to almost go undetected, and doesn’t compete with the title. “Look a little harder and you’ll find another world,” the cover seems to say.

Lemon girl young adult novella

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