Prior to the emergence and popularity of image libraries and stock photo agencies, The Fairburn System of Visual References was considered the holy grail of visual reference material for artists of the day. Produced in 3 volume sets of human figures, faces and heads, figures and hands, they were an indispensible resource for the art director and commercial artist who relied on the photo references to hand render people—usually with Magic Markers—for conceptual storyboards and ad campaigns. Just like rubber cement and presstype, the Fairburn System was considered an essential tool for “pitching” clients throughout the 1970s and 80s, and most every ad agency had one or more sets weighing down their bookshelves.
The first volume, Fairburn Figures, Male-Full Figure was published in 1970 when Ted Fairburn, a London graphic artist, developed the system to help him with his work. He was an excellent illustrator, according to his son Nick Fairburn who first reported on the necessity and innovation of The Fairburn System for Factor. Ted Fairburn had models photographed in sync by eight cameras to capture every imaginable pose, perspective and proportion. Nick claims he was even recruited as a model on pages 168 and 169 of this first Fairburn book.
Though out of print, some of The Fairburn System books are still available new and used, more than 40 years later. Book 2, volume 2, Faces & Heads seen above was found on eBay, but the entire 3 volume set can also be directly ordered from Fairburn while supply lasts. It is indexed by age, ethnic group and character type. Often comical and considerably dated in style, the Fairburn books are still valuable resources to the artist and illustrator and have become quite collectible.
The 3 volume set of Fairburn Children contains 10,571 photographs of children of all ages and race, and includes heads, hands, feet, family groups, expressions, full figure and action poses. The Fairburn Figures & Hands 3 volume set is entirely sold out.
Perhaps because it is really hot and I’m thirsty, and moreover, it is Friday— the refreshing poses below, from the Figures and Hands set, especially caught my eye today. Along with the random hands with generic book images above, they were sourced from the wonderful KindraIsHere. Umm…Books and beer…