Many graphic designers have explored the graphic possibilities of lithography by combining it with photography. Among those was E. McKnight Kauffer, an American designer who moved to London just before the First World War and stayed until the advent of the second. Kauffer often combined illustration with halftone reproductions of photographic elements, and he remained committed to lithography as his means of reproduction, as he indicates in his essay included in this book.
Cooper Hewitt’s collection of Kauffer’s remarkable advertising art offers us a unique window into his process for mixing photography and illustration. For his poster Spring in the Country, Kauffer began with a sketch of a butterfly embedded with a loosely rendered stand-in for a photographic scene. Kauffer then translated the design with gouache and collage, transforming the single butterfly into two, relocating the photographic element, and adding text. Each of these elements changes in Kauffer’s next rendering, which features a leaf instead of butterflies and includes a different photograph. The composition continues to evolve, as does the color palette, in yet another preparatory sketch, before Kauffer settled conclusively on a design. Kauffer would have presented his final sketch in gouache and collage to his lithographer, who would then translate the design into a print.
Caitlin Condell is the Assistant Curator in the Department of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
The exhibition How Posters Work is currently on view at Cooper Hewitt through November 15, 2015. You can learn more at the exhibition homepage and find the book How Posters Work at SHOP Cooper Hewitt. #HowPostersWork