This is my second book about illustration, and like the first, Illustration: A Theoretical and Contextual Perspective, I’ve endeavoured to present an objective and non-discriminatory view of the whole discipline. I say this because there are so many other books that are mainly celebratory, either for a particular practitioner or genre, that don’t actually consider what makes an image work as a successful form of contextualised communication. And I emphasise context − in other words, the job of work an illustration is commissioned to do and the audience it is aimed at.
In my opinion, the content of an image and the message it generates is of paramount importance.
On page 65 I present a chart outlining A Map of Contexts. There are five – often overlooked, misunderstood or not even realised or recognised as bona fide areas for illustration to exist yet alone thrive. I identify them as
Knowledge – reference, education, research, documentation & instruction
Persuasion – advertising, inducement, propaganda
Identity – corporate branding, packaging
Fiction – literature, graphic novels, children’s picture books
Commentary – journalism, review, reportage, opinion
The breadth of this identifies pretty well every conceivable outlet for applied, professional communication and through every creative medium in existence from publishing and the moving image industry to the vast gamut of the internet!
Illustration will deal with every subject, theme, report, comment and product known to humankind and can be spread far and wide throughout the globe.
The implication for this is far reaching regarding the future of illustration. It will mean that many will have to assume a status or role that way transcends the traditional concept of someone just crafting visual imagery. I presented a university lecture recently entitled Illustrators of the Future: Colouring-in Technicians or Intellectual Multi-Taskers? This was followed up by a keynote presentation at a major international conference entitled Communication Arts and the Polymath Principal: Intellectual Multi-Tasking and the Creation of Knowledge Bearing Imagery. I emphasise the terms polymath and intellectual multi-tasking; they form a substantive part of what I talk about in this book.
The three images represent intellectual multi-tasking and polymath principals in practice:
The sub-chapter entitled Opportunities on page 63 reflects this concept in a professional practice context but the last and fourth chapter, A New Practice: Illustration and Research, considers how today, illustration practice is beginning to exude authority and a breadth of intellectual skills and learning – just like it did back in the time of the great Renaissance polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci!
Being a multi-disciplinarian doesn’t mean that you lose your original or intended identity as an illustrator; your status and profile remains embedded within your discipline. But, we have to be multi-taskers now, with all our skills and talents equal in terms of attainment, and that means being at the apex of quality with all of them! Transferrable skills are no more – they are all specific, high-end skills now. On page 74 there is a detailed diagram emphasising every consideration required in order to successfully fulfil the requirements of any given brief.
Finally, I’m going to conclude with this deliberately provocative quote from my keynote lecture, its thrust of argument prevalent throughout the book:
Commissioning art directors and illustration tutors will place significant importance on the superficiality of visual language and the commercial and cultural constraints placed upon it to conform to contemporary trends and fashion. In education, the student illustrator is often under pressure to break new ground and push the boundaries of the subject. This usually means the production of so called ‘innovative mark making’ that in reality does nothing to consider the real business of professional visual communication today. It’s time for the notion of illustrators being considered no more than ‘colouring in technicians’ to be discarded!
Alan Male is an illustrator, educator and writer. Since 1993 Alan has been head of the BA Illustration program at University College Falmouth, UK, and has lectured throughout the United States. He was conferred Professor of Illustration in 2009 and is now Director of Study for research and a member of the School of Art and Design Professoriate at Falmouth.
Alan has won several awards (gold from the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles and a Texas ‘Bluebonnet’ for children’s books) and is a regular contributor to magazines and journals.
Preview Alan’s books: