Wednesday, 19 December 2012

'What does Illustration mean?'

Over the years of being on this course, the same question has popped up again and again: what even is illustration? It's quite a hard discipline to pin down with a neat definition.

Surprisingly (to me anyway) a lot of people, besides being able to describe it articulately, don't seem to have a clue what it is. I often have to add "it's an art course" when I explain to people what I do. Other people have immediately assumed I'm going to design tattoos...and it seems the most confusing of all when I try to explain that my style of illustration is based around making things that I photograph.

Traditionally, I would have always thought of the drawings or paintings in story books, etchings in old-fashioned newspapers...that sort of thing. Nowadays, the world of illustration has opened up to a variety of different approaches and uses. The boundaries between illustration and craft, illustration and fine art, illustration and graphics, illustration and photography...(etc)...all seem to be blurring. Illustration is no longer confined to drawing, and often good draughtsmanship isn't even necessary; it is the art of creating an image. Modern illustrators are usually expected to be capable with computer programs to process, refine or transfer their work. With the ever increasing pace of technology development, there is pressure to adapt to the newest gadgets with the way we approach our work. However, that is not to say that traditional skills and techniques have gone out of the window. A lot of illustrators create work that can be as simple as pencil drawn scenery. Craft-based art work has become trendy recently too.

A very simplistic way to describe illustration is the enhancement or expansion of a story/idea visually. The illustrator's job is to make something accessible; particularly in the world of editorials where the image can be used to draw a reader in. In children's story books the illustrations are often the most important part; it tells the story visually for children who are still learning to read; (and of course even more so in picture books). More weight is placed in the meaning of the images in this context, as the illustrator's style has a very strong role in defining the tone of the story. In adult books the illustrations are not essential, but serve to enrich the text...and perhaps offer an alternative viewpoint into the story. They can be very subjective depending on the illustrator's style or how abstract they may choose to make an image. They are not mere diagrams of the events being described; they are an offering of the world created by the words. The saying 'a picture is worth a thousand words' is true.

Illustration may not necessarily tell a story either; it can be a purely decorative art form- used for various forms of merchandise and clothing make something look attractive. Many working illustrators rely on this to sell their work independently; to sell their work online or at craft fairs etc. Try and imagine a world without illustration and I don't think anyone could envision quite how dull it would be.

To conclude, I've had a quick look around to see what other people think.
Wikipedia has quite a concise definition that I like:
An illustration is a depiction that is created to elucidate or dictate sensual information.
Also, David Apatoff, an art blogger, has written an interesting post about the distinction between fine art and illustration here, which offers quite a comprehensive argument on what illustration is.

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