Illustration Week: Creative collaborations for illustrators in alternative art spaces

Illustration Week: Thinking Visually for Illustrators

Today on Illustration Week: Mark Wigan, author of Thinking Visually for Illustrators and more, writes about his experience working on creative collaborations in alternative art spaces. You can purchase his books and more titles on illustration in our on-going Illustration Week sale.

Department stores have commissioned illustrators and artists to create window displays in since the late nineteenth century. Many, including surrealist Salvador Dali, illustrator Maurice Sendak and Pop Artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol (who worked as an illustrator for a number of years), launched their careers by creating displays for department stores such as Bonwit Tellers on Fifth Avenue in New York.

In my work as a freelance graphic artist, I have produced artwork for a broad range of clients—city expos, television companies, magazines, nightclubs and for department stores and shopping complexes around the world, starting with murals for the walls of alternative fashion emporium Kensington Market and windows of Hyper Hyper in London in 1986.

By 1988, many of my projects were commissioned in Japan where I discovered that a number of Japanese department stores also had fine art galleries within them. In the early 1990s, I produced a number of illustration projects for Parco department Store in Shibuya, Tokyo including in-store activations, which involved live painting directly onto the windows of the store, customising t shirts and creating a display of paintings and neon sculptures. This multi-faceted project also included an animated television commercial and illustrated posters for the Tokyo subway and billboard advertisements.

Last year I returned to this collaborative area of illustration as I was commissioned by iconic British brand Dr. Martens to collaborate with them on a Mark Wigan fashion collection which included illustrations that were printed onto boots, shoes, backpacks, socks, wallets and t-shirts. The illustrations titled Kaboom, Party People and In Full Global Effect were also printed onto flooring, wall murals and display plinths in Dr. Martens stores worldwide.

Social media marketing played a huge part in promoting the collection to digitised consumers and hundreds of thousands of views were generated through promotional videos shared on YouTube, blog posts and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In order to promote the collection I created in-store activations, painting live and customising a few hundred Dr. Martens boots for customers. This whirlwind live painting and drawing tour took me to stores in Seattle, Vancouver, (Nordstrom Department stores) Harajuku Tokyo, Seoul, Busan in South Korea (at the world’s largest department store Shinsegae Centum) , Singapore, Hong Kong, Citadium in Paris and back to London’s Dr Martens store in Oxford Street.

This year I have again collaborated with Dr. Martens creating artwork for their latest store in Hull, Yorkshire, England. Dr Martens have been adopted by a variety of style tribes and youth sub cultures over the years. The artwork produced for the store chronicles and celebrates the subcultures and the history of the city of Hull’s music and nightclubbing scenes since the 1960s.

The Dr. Martens store has installed a cabinet which features a constantly changing exhibition of artefacts from my personal visual archive, including sketchbooks, Polaroid photography and customised clothing.

Many contemporary illustrators are now working cross-platform promoting their work on social media and creating D.I.Y publications, live painting performances, installations, exhibitions and clothing ranges of their own. Progressive department stores and fashion companies around the world are continuing to commission distinctive and original illustration and this area can provide a kick start for careers as it did for Dali, Warhol and Jasper Johns!

Mark Wigan was subject leader for illustration at Camberwell College, UK, and later for Graphic Design at the University of Salford, UK. He is author of Thinking Visually for Illustrators, The Visual Dictionary of Illustration, Basics Illustration: Global Contexts, Basics Illustration: Text and Image, and Basics Illustration: Sequential Images.