Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What is an illustration?

Recently, I was asked to judge a college magazine competition, the non-photo illustration category. I was excited, reminded me of my days at DMACC. But, looking at the submitted pieces, I was disappointed. Made me second guess my understanding of the word "Illustration."

I looked the word up at M-W. Illustration: something that serves to illustrate : as a : an example or instance that helps make something clear b : a picture or diagram that helps make something clear or attractive.

The definition is kinda broad, but I wasn't far off. An illustration, in my opinion, particularly one for publication in a magazine, is a drawing of some kind. The end result can be rendered in paint, on the computer or any other media. It can be used to stand alone, or support a written story or article. Whatever the media is used, some ability to draw is fundamental to being an illustrator. You don't have to know how to draw well, though it helps. And those who can't draw well — myself included — develop a marketable style. But of the 15 "illustrations" submitted to me for this contest, only three submissions were illustrated.

Most of these kids, look like, downloaded low-res photos from the internet, altered them in Photoshop and applied various filters as special effects. And remember, the category was non-photo illustration. Others illustrated their stories with what I'd consider computer generated graphics — shapes, logos, distorted typography with drop shadows or embossed effects. Nothing wrong with illustrating a story with graphics, but, still, good graphics are born from successful drawings. And a trained eye knows the difference.

I was greatly disappointed by what I found in this group, and I'm hoping it isn't representative of what's happening to the field of illustration, industry wide. Most of the submissions I judged represented laziness. I could tell, looking at these "illustrations", that the artist in fact, was trying to avoid having to draw anything at all — especially people. They were looking for a quick out, a computerized special effect that might dazzle a magazine reader.

For the sake of encouraging these artist, I'm going to set aside the passion I've displayed here. I'll offer positive feedback on each illustration as well as honest constructive criticism. And I'm gonna emphasize the importance that they learn how to draw, if they want to become illustrators, since their college instructors obviously haven't.

Hopefully, my thoughts about illustration aren't as old fashioned as my thoughts about other things I've posted.


Courtney said...

Interesting point, I agree that illustration should be something that is drawn (by computer, pencil, brush whatever) and not altered from an existing work. Penelope of Illustration Friday fame had a similar epiphany a few weeks back, so I don't think we're alone in our feelings. At UT, as a art major you're forced to try and draw.
I remembered hating those classes at first but eventually learned to draw a person and enjoy it, (not that you can tell from my current work) now something like perspective is a whole different thorny bear I have yet to master.

Miss P said...

Hopefully, my thoughts about illustration aren't as old fashioned as my thoughts about other things I've posted.

Old fashioned has its place. And I'd say here is one of them. Illustrating has probably come a very long way thanks to computers. But that doesn't have to mean the basic gist of the art changes.

I'm not an illustrator but certainly can't imagine a world where illustrations suddenly become 100% generated by electronic means.

Hopefully, you'll find the right words in your constructive criticism.

It makes me think of a few of the comments I heard when the whole Opal Mehta plagirism scandal went down. There were some young people who didn't see the "big deal" in the young author plagirizing. That's scary!

Like I said, old-fashioned ain't such a bad thing sometimes.

rindambyers said...

When I think of illustrations, I always think of black-and-white line drawings, really good Durer,

Did the famous black and white "praying hands."

Now THAT'S art!