Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ode to Illustration, by Steven Heller

Steven Heller writes on graphic design and illustration and his writings appear in about 80 books. From the AIGA website (and you may have seen this on my wall in the studio), his Ode to Illustration:

Ode to Illustration
by Steven Heller
March 18, 2004

The question whether or not illustration is a valuable communications tool should be evident to everyone. Of course it is; at least when it accomplishes what illustration does best. What might that be, you ask? Let me count the ways:

1.  When it adds an additional dimension to a text. Illustration can conceptually synthesize the essence of a story in such an acute way that the ideas therein are illuminated beyond the facility of words. The best illustrations supplement rather than merely compliment (or mimic) the text.

2.  When it draws the reader into a story through a fusion of form and content. And illustration must be engaging at first glance, or require a double take, which is often a function of style and composition. A work that fails to pique the eye has little hope of triggering the mind. But surface is not an end in itself. An illustration must deliver the conceptual punch through pun, metaphor, allegory, or symbol.

3.  When it invites the reader to decipher a message. Given the traits mentioned above, an illustration is a puzzle or brain teaser waiting to be interpreted. To efficiently stimulate the reader it must include blank spaces; it cannot tell a literal story but rather provide something of a riddle that must be solved, and that takes time.

4.  When it serves as an icon. A single image is a concise amalgam of various notions fused into a visual idea. Rather than an easily forgotten decorative trope, a successful illustration leaves a mental "cookie" or mnemonic that enables recall of a story through conjuring an image that starkly summarizes content. The best illustrations are memorable signposts.

5.  When it stands on its own as well as in close proximity to a text. Keeping an integral distance from the text without tearing the connective tissue is the most difficult task for any illustrator. An illustration must function as artwork as well as visual modifier. This does not mean inherent timelessness, but it does suggest that an illustration is understandable with or without its accompanying headline and story. It is not always possible to achieve the ideal illustration. Often committees intervene and good ideas are compromised as a result. Sometimes truly strong concepts are neutered because they are too demonstrative for the editorial context. Other times the illustrator simply fails to achieve the right conceptual balance between original thinking and universal language, and cliches result. Moreover, there are many times when a good illustrator is paired with the wrong story. But when everything is in alignment--when the illustrator acutely understands the subject--then magic happens with the result being phenomenally profound, incredibly witty, and decidedly memorable illustration.

As an art director I have given many illustrators difficult themes that I personally find impossible to visually interpret. I rely on the illustrator to conceive ideas and am beholden to their sleight of hand, which is an imprecise way of saying the neurological hardwiring that enables these conceptualists to discover ideas that are inaccessible to other mortals. By way of example, below are two such images that I used as cover illustration for The New York Times Book Review.
[i cut two paragraphs because you need to look at the images]

Saturday, December 22, 2007


There is a music website/blog/collective of people doing stuff -called Daytrotter... it is wonderful for several reasons. One, they use a ton of illustration and they have about 10 illustrators. Two, ...everything else.

--"What Daytrotter is attempting to do is to not kid around with you and tell you that we found something that you never knew existed. We are going to contribute to the musical landscape, not just toss it around like a used book or a stolen pick-up line. We’re going to give you something that you truly have never heard. We are not giving you songs from someone you love’s record album, thereby stealing from someone you love. We’re giving you exclusive, re-worked, alternate versions of old songs and unreleased tracks by some of your favorite bands and by a lot of your next favorite bands."


Monday, December 10, 2007

Digital Illustration

Here are some pieces from my digital illustration class:

This was for a six-pack design assignment.

This was for AARP magazine and it was about growing up.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

3x3 magazine

"Introducing 3x3, the first magazine devoted entirely to the art of contemporary illustration. Three times a year we take an in-depth look at art and environment of three illustrators. We explore their influences. How they work with clients. How they got their first big break. Each article is written by a fellow illustrator who knows exactly what our audience wants to hear. From the U.S. to Europe, Asia, or wherever, we’ll stay tuned to what’s going on the world of illustration.We’ll feature four or more new talents in every issue, they might be right out of school or are just now beginning to make a name for themselves or illustrators we find that have a truly unique take on the art of illustration. Plus we’ll showcase the recent work of as many as sixteen of the best illustrators in every issue. Selection will be by invitation only. And we’ll even offer signed original artwork or prints for sale. All in all it’ll be eighty pages of the best illustration has to offer, including guest articles by artist reps Vicki Morgan and Gail Gaynin, a feature on a living artist who has made and impact on the industry, an in-depth look at a recent advertising campaign that has successfully used illustration and an ongoing feature where we ask our featured artists the same twenty questions. 3x3 will be published three times each year: Fall/Winter, Spring and Summer.

Our Mission
Our mission is to spotlight the best international artists working today and encourage a new focus on the use of illustration by the advertising and design communities."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A recent Johnsonian cartoon

The Johnsonian is Winthrop University's student newspaper.

How To Work With An Illustrator

How to Work With an Illustrator
by Scott Hull

Veteran illustration rep Scott Hull gives designers the lowdown on forging successful partnerships with illustrators of every kind.

Start by closing your eyes. See that image in your head? Go from there. Perhaps it's a wedding. Or a funeral. Or a zebra flying a hot-air balloon over the Danube. Or perhaps there isn't a picture in your head at all, but there desperately needs to be. An illustrator can help there too.

An idea, or even just a feeling you're trying to evoke, can be enough to go on. Ask yourself: Does it make sense to use a photo instead? Sometimes realism works best (when it's even possible—the zebra shoot could be tricky), but a photo of a tea party is completely different from a line drawing or a painting. Remember that images are never silent. Each one has a voice, and it's up to you as the art director to choose the one that's right. You'll probably have an instinct here. Trust it.

So, let's assume you've decided on illustration. Splendid. Stock illustration is a great resource, but if time and budget allow, you should consider having an image made from scratch. There's a term in the garment industry: "bespoke." It means a piece of clothing made specifically for you by a tailor. The difference when you're wearing the finished piece is subtle but definite.

If you do elect to go this route and hire an illustrator, start by looking through your illustration resources—portfolio books, annuals, postcards. You do have illustration resources, don't you? Keep your eyes peeled for any examples of the style you're after (or interesting alternatives). Once you find a good-sized pool of illustrators, track down more examples of their work. Here, the internet is your friend, as is the artist's representative, who will happily send you samples.

Soon, you'll be dealing with the actual illustrator, who will invariably be charming and delightful. Explain what you have in mind one last time, going over the details with all necessary hand gestures, even if you're talking on the phone. This step is crucial; stick with it until you're sure you understand each other. And listen closely for suggestions you hadn't thought of. A fresh perspective (from an artist—one of your own kind, no less) can really help define the idea.

The next phase is Sketches, where you get to find out just how well you two listened to each other. Many illustrators are wonderful at communicating with words. Others … not so much. Focus on the artwork. Is it on the right track? If so, and you have approval from your client/editor (if you need it), it's on to Final Art, which rhymes with Best Part.

Here, for lack of a better phrase, is Where The Magic Happens. Don't scoff: It warrants capitalization. Really, if you think about it, the whole doggone process is crazy: A jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring image in your head turns into a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring image in your audience's head, via this convoluted, logic-defying process of converting that image into some smears of pigment (or pixels) on a two-dimensional surface. It shouldn't even work, but it's does—it has for thousands of years, since the first prehistoric illustrator scrawled a buffalo on a cave wall. Something out of nothing. Colors and lines representing ideas. 1 + 1 = 3. It's a miracle.

So, congratulations. You've got your perfect image. You look good. The illustrator looks good. Your client looks good. And what's even better? Now you've got a success, and some experience, and a friend in the industry. So the next time a project comes along and something in your head tells you that a certain someone would be perfect for this assignment, you can say, "Hey, what if we used an illustrator? You know, I know a person we could call. …"

Scott Hull, designer-turned-visual ambassador, represents more than 20 artists. His firm, Scott Hull Associates, based in Dayton, OH, has earned a reputation as one of the nationĂ¢€™s foremost illustrative groups with 25 years in the business.