5.0 Visual language

The purpose of this exercise was to select and research one Illustrator from a predefined list in order to understand the nature of their work and to describe their visual language.

Key words from the brief:

  • Make a list of keywords in your learning log that you think reflects the visual language of their commissioned work
  • Consider how they use media and mark making
  • Whether their commissioned or professional work is political, dealing with issues, interpretative, reflecting narrative, informative, representational, decorative or stylised
  • Is it 2D or 3D or 4D?
  • Write a short statement, of no more than 200 words, to describe their work and visual language
  • What connections do you think exist between their sketchbooks and their creative identity or illustrative style?

Background and research

The illustrator I selected for this exercise was Peter Kuper.

Visual language – definition

The following definition is from collinsdictionary.com:

Language: A language is a system of communication which consists of a set of sounds and written symbols which are used by the people of a particular country or region for talking or writing.

Visual: Visual means relating to sight, or to things that you can see.

In his book ‘Illustration A Theoretical & Conceptual Perspective, Alan Male describes visual language: ‘It is the distinctive visual language that identifies one’s ‘mark’ or personal iconography‘.

A cross section of commissioned work

The following images represent the key genres, themes and visual styles of Peter Kuper’s work:

Words that describe Peter Kuper’s visual language:


  • Commentary
    • Editorial illustration
    • Politics and current affairs
    • Political illustrations
  • Storytelling
    • Visual narrative fiction
    • Comics
    • Graphic novel adaptations of classic literature
    • Comic autobiographies/sketchbook journal
    • Wordless comic strips
  • Foreign language publications


  • Autobiography
  • New York
  • Mexico
  • People/characters


  • Death
  • World War 3
  • Political and social comment
  • Anti war
  • Anti capitalism
  • Protest


  • Single images
  • Comic strips
  • Graphic novels


  • Pen and ink
  • Collage
  • Digital compositing/colouring
  • Pencil
  • Watercolour
  • Felt-tip markers
  • Spray paint
  • Pastels
  • Scratch board
  • Stencil-cut illustrations

Peter Kupers work and visual language

Wikipedia describes Peter Kuper as ‘an American alternative comics artist and illustrator, best known for his autobiographical, political, and social observations“.

His editorial illustrations have featured in Mad magazine, Time, Newsweek and The New York Times amongst others.

He has created several graphic novel adaptations of classic literature such as his Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which is his best-selling work.

His travels in Latin America and the Middle East resulted in ComicsTrips: A Journal of Travels Through Africa and Southeast Asia, a travel memoir and Diario de Oaxaca which is a sketchbook journal about a town in Mexico.

He’s probably best known for his comic strip Spy vs. Spy which he’s been drawing for Mad magazine since 1997.

Much of his work is making social or political comment, from his biting satirical editorial illustrations to WW3 Illustrated, (co-authored with Seth Tobocman), dealing with issues such as housing rights, feminism, environmental issues, religion, police brutality amongst others.

His visual style is distinctive using materials as diverse as watercolour, marker pens, spray paint and masking, pastels and scratch board and traditional pen and ink techniques. Most of the work is representational and he uses visual metaphor regularly in his editorial illustrations.

The connections that exist between Peter Kuper’s sketchbooks and his creative identity or illustrative style

There is a direct connection between Peter Kuper’s travel journal sketches and his published works.

The sketchbook pages published on http://www.peterkuper.com are used verbatim (with additional text commentary) in his travel memoirs.

I haven’t been able to find examples of how he might use sketchbooks to develop his other genres of work.


Peter Kuper: Drawn to an International Comic Art Career (2013) Michael Dooley In: www.printmag.com At: www.printmag.com/comics-and-animation/peter-kuper/ (accessed on 28/04/19)

Peter Kuper/Peter Kuper Art At: http://www.peterkuper.com (accessed on 28/04/19)

Graphic Artist Peter Kuper Discusses His Work at Library of Congress on March 25 (2003) In: www.loc.gov At: www.loc.gov/item/prn-03-038/kuper-discusses-his-work-on-march-25/2003-03-17/ (accessed on 28/04/19)






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