Leslie Cabarga has called Cooper’s approach to illustration “self-consciously unself-conscious . . . Throughout his life he did not limit himself to a solitary artistic identity,” Cabarga writes in The Lettering and Design of F. G. Cooper. “Yet no matter the style or technique employed his work was always easily identifiable.”
F. G. Cooper arrived in New York City in 1904, and began a lengthy career as a freelance designer and illustrator that would include a fifty-year association with New York Edison (later ConEd), creating posters, ads, calendars—basically a visual identity—for the company. He did ads for Westinghouse, posters for the War Department, illustrated books and magazine articles and designed alphabets (though not, as is often assumed, Cooper Black.) He was a founding member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). And he contributed to Life, from 1904 on into the early 1930’s, when he served briefly as the art editor during the final years of Charles Dana Gibson’s ownership of the magazine.
Throughout most of the Teens, Cooper’s main contribution to Life consisted of spot drawings, “cartoonettes” as he called them, for the editorial page. The use of spots on this page was nothing new but none of the artists that had taken on the assignment before seemed as comfortable as Cooper working in such a small space (one 12.5 pica wide column, 5 lines deep.)
The tiny drawings were, for the most part, only tangentially related to the article they were supposed to be illustrating. They could be— and were—used over and over again well into the Twenties, for a wide range of topics, and yet they don’t seem at all generic or like clip art.