Some artists openly comment on their reference materials–such as Shepard Fairy who has used vintage Russian posters as resources for his art-making.
Many other artists wish to keep their reference sources hidden. Perhaps with some digging, you can uncover some of the obscure images for your personal use within the United States Library of Congress in Washington DC– a massive collection that comprises tens of millions of books and manuscripts as well as 15 million prints and photographs. The good news is that the images are free to download.
Through the website you have access to the online catalog Prints and Photographs that consists of 69 very diverse collections, including 18th century British cartoons, 19th century American baseball cards, old Japanese prints, theater posters, black and white photographs of the Middle East, promotional posters from the First World War and of course beautiful pictures of recent American history.
Unfortunately, not all collections are accessible online. But the images of the collections that are available are often very large TIFF files for download, making them perfect for large format printing.
How do you go about a search within such a massive collection? If you only want large images, here is a research tip. Once you click on one of the 69 collections, you are taken to a page “About this collection” in the left column. Above is ‘View All’. If you click on *view All*, you will be shown all the images. If you select the check box ‘Larger image available’, only the large files come up.