Illustration

Illustration Resources for the Beginner

Like sports or music, one of the best ways to get better at illustration is practice, practice, practice. Besides doing things on your own or participating in challenges that provide prompts to get the ideas and ink flowing, like Jake Parker’s Inktober, where can young illustrators go to learn more about the craft?

Social Media

You probably have some favorite illustrators and artists you follow on social media. If you don’t, see if your favorite artist has any social media accounts — they often post things that take you behind-the-scenes or put you at the drawing board with them. This is also a good way to see how professionals market their work and develop an online persona. Erica Henderson (“Squirrel Girl”) posts her sketches and musings on her Tumblr and Twitter pages. Tyler Crook (“Harrow County”) has several social media accounts, but his website, mrcrook, has a wonderful blog about his process and a gallery to inspire you.  Dave McKean (“Hellblazer,” projects with Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, the Rolling Stones, etc.) chronicles his work and travels on Twitter as well as his own website. For more inspiration, check out NYFA instructor Tim Fielder’s amazing work via his website, dieselfunk.

Dave_McKean_Black_Dog_cover

 

Dave McKean’s “Black Dog” is based on the life of surrealist painter Paul Nash and was released in 2016.

Chuck Green’s Idea Book and Lynda.com

Long-time professional illustrator and designer Chuck Green offers career advice and points out great examples in illustration, print, and web design on his site. His bi-weekly emails provide a curated overview of what’s happening across several design and marketing industries. Along with reading up on and looking at design trends, it’s crucial to keep working on your own portfolio. Many people build their skills with the tutorials on Lynda.com. This is a good place to start learning a new technique or to refresh your skills in an area you haven’t worked in for a while.

Only Pencil Drawing

If you want to be an illustrator, you should know how to do work with nothing but pencil and paper. Polish your basic drawing skills with the step-by-step tutorials on Lisandro Peña’s Only Pencil Drawing. The Toronto-based artist specializes in wildlife drawings, but his tutorials include in-depth demonstrations of drawing human eyes, hair, etc. Peña helps artists focus on one skill at a time to help them learn how to pay attention to detail.

Pencil_Tip_Macro

No matter what your preferred medium is, you should know how to use one of these.

Layers Magazine

If you use Adobe’s products, Layers Magazine is the place to go for tutorials and quick tips, whether you’re trying to learn how to add gritty texture to a photo, design an ebook in InDesign, or organize layers in illustrator. The tutorials range from the very basics of each program to advanced work that combines different effects. The site also offers free digital books and has profiles and interviews with different artists and design professionals.

Keeping Up with Trends

Sites like Illustration Age and How  will help you keep up with what is going on in the world of illustration and design. They have interviews, profiles, reviews, and, yep, tutorials, to help you keep up your skills and stay current with what is going on in the book, gaming, design, and film industries. Another way to keep up with what’s going on right now is through a trip to your local newsstand and bookstore. Look through the magazines to see what fonts and design trends are popular. Check out the children’s books and graphic novels to see what innovators are doing.

An Endless Free Resource

Don’t forget your local library. Even small libraries have collections of children’s books, graphic novels, and art books to give you inspiration. Most have video collections where you can find documentaries and films on art history. Getting to know the history of illustration trends helps you understand the craft and will help you find your unique style as an illustrator. Your library may have a fine arts gallery or a special collections area where you can look at old and rare books and manuscripts. Make friends with the reference librarians and they can help you find the right materials for you.

1024px-Cowardly_lion2

Studying illustrators of the past is a great way to get inspired and learn your craft. W.W. Denslow’s illustration from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900).

Any great beginner resources you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Tips to Make Your Illustration Portfolio Outrageously Attractive

When it comes to getting your name out there and landing paid gigs in illustration, your portfolio is everything; your calling card, a representation of all your talent and experience, and quite often the only opportunity you’ll get to make an impression.

The question is, how do you make that first impression count?

Today, we’ll be sharing…

5 Tips to Make Your Illustration Portfolio Outrageously Attractive

illustration portfolio tips

1. DO Make Your Portfolio Easy to Revise

As you progress in your career, what you’ll consider to be your “best” work, or even just work that you feel most represents your style as a whole, will change. Frequently.

As such, don’t make it difficult for yourself by formatting the portfolio in an extremely precise way that doesn’t lend itself to easy modification; or worse, saving it in some kind of rigid, un-editable file format.

You may even want to go one step further and tailor it to each individual job you apply for (which is always a good practice), so make your life easier from the start.

2. DON’T Include Your Early Work

This may sound like very basic and intuitive advice, but it’s surprising how many illustrators – both amateur and professional – seem to think that their portfolio should demonstrate how they’ve grown as an artist over the years.

illustration portfolio format

Don’t. A prospective employer doesn’t particularly care how far you’ve come; they just want to see your best stuff. Of course, you can tell your story by listing your illustration school experience and notable milestones in the text introduction, but it’s best to keep that brief and to the point too.

And that brings us neatly on to:

3. DO Observe the “Less is More” Rule

As you can imagine, a prospective employer may end up with a whole stack of portfolios to sort through and will only spend a minute reviewing each. With this in mind, try and pare yours down to around ten examples (with anything under 5 being too little, and over 15 probably being too overwhelming).

Not only that, but your portfolio can probably benefit from a little minimalism. Keep the design clean and uncluttered, putting the focus squarely on your illustration examples. In addition, try to stick with one piece of illustration per page (as long as this doesn’t create too much negative space), with a couple of lines detailing what the commission was for.

It can be a tough process to select only ten images to represent your entire body of illustration work, so consider asking a friend or fellow illustrator to lend a second pair of eyes.

4. DON’T Just Throw It All Together

Even if you’ve managed the above and figured out a killer set of only your finest illustration, don’t simply collect them together, whack an intro and contact details on the front, then call it a day.

illustration tips

Instead, take the other person on a journey. Start off with a really strong image to grab their attention, and order subsequent images in a way that maximizes the “flow” of the whole portfolio. Make it a real page turner, and you’ll increase the chances of getting that gig.

5. DO Drive it Home With a Website

As we covered earlier in our guide to creating a professional photography website (and much of the advice there applies to illustration), you’ll want your portfolio to lead people back to your house; a one-stop shop featuring all of the good stuff, and a place which makes it very easy to get in contact with you. In fact, if your physical portfolio is the starter, the website should be considered to be the main course.

All in all, make sure you put your best foot forward and try to see your portfolio as would an observer who has never met you. By putting into practice some, or all, of the above illustration portfolio tips, you’ll hopefully be attracting paying gigs from all over…

… best of luck!

10 Must-Watch Illustration And Graphic Design Documentaries

Documentaries about design, typography, and illustration don’t usually rise to the forefront of public conscience, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some superb viewing out there for those who are interested in – or practicing – in those fields.

best illustration and graphic design documentaries

In fact, we’ve found ten such titles that serve to inspire, educate, and entertain… and sometimes all three simultaneously.

Essential Documentaries for Graphic Designers

Let’s start off with our top five picks in the field of graphic design. From individual portraits of highly celebrated luminaries in the industry, to documentaries that provoke deep thought on the conventions behind graphic design, all of the titles here will be of great worth to those who love great design.

Helvetica

An indie-produced graphic design documentary which stands at an impressive 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, a film examining typography – and one font in particular – has no right to be this engaging, but Helvetica is just that.

Examining the ubiquitous font itself, as well as wider themes underpinning the principles of typography, it’s an essential watch for anyone working with text or simply curious about the craft. As director Gary Hustwit, himself, puts it: “Fonts don’t just appear out of Microsoft Word – there are human beings and huge stories behind them.”

Also see Objectified and Urbanized, the two followup documentaries which make up Hustwit’s design ‘trilogy’.

Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century

Operating between 1919 and 1993, in only a short spate of time the Bauhaus art school (spread between three different cities) deeply influenced the world of design in a profoundly fundamental way, and those changes still echo on through the teaching of top modern graphic design schools today.

Design is One: Lella and Massimo Vignelli

“If you can design one thing, you can design everything.”

Charming and eccentric, Design is One charts the giddying successes of Lella and Massimo Vignelli, possibly most famous for designing the New York City subway map. The married couple worked together and brought their unique Modernist style to a number of high-profile projects over the decades, before Massimo’s passing last year. This documentary stands as a poignant tribute to two great design characters.

The Artist Series

Curated by seasoned designer Hillman Curtis, the Artist Series is a highly engaging set of 5 to 10 minute videos covering the lives and works of some of the brightest stars in the design world (as well as what makes them tick.) All parts of the Artist Series are available to watch on Curtis’ website.

Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight

Milton Glaser is a name that most graphic designers will recognize and revere, and was also covered recently in our post on the most famous designers in the world.

To Inform on Delight – available on Netflix – is a terrific portrait of the man who created the world famous I Heart New York logo, and a documentary that every graphic designer should treat themselves to.

Essential Documentaries for Illustrators

Moving on to those who work in more traditional media, the following five documentaries make for must-watch viewing for not just illustrators, but for anyone who appreciates great art (and the minds from which it springs forth). We’ll start off with a title that has generated a huge amount of discussion since its release:

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy has long been a divisive artist, and Exit Through the Gift Shop is his magnum opus.

The documentary in itself is a very meta work of art, and could quite possibly be one of the most elaborately crafted hoaxes ever conceived… but that’s a debate that continues to rage on, five years later.

While not strictly related to illustration, it’s one which every artist of any discipline (and even non-artists) should put high up on their to-watch list. And if you saw it when it first came out in 2010, it’s definitely time to dust it off and give it another watch.

Making It

Made by three highly talented illustrators, Making It covers the all-too-real topic of how to balance a love of illustration and the ongoing necessity to pay the rent at the end of the month… ideally, from the proceeds of one’s art.

While never pulling its punches as to the reality of life as an illustrator, Making It will also reaffirm, like never before, why you went to illustration school in the first place.

A128

From Toronto comes this indie documentary which examines the lives and work of those who are trying to find their feet as the next generation of talented young illustrators.

A128 is a great watch, because it successfully conveys the dreams of these bright individuals, as well as the challenges that stand in the way. In addition, it’s inspirational to see how the art of illustration shapes and fulfils the lives of both the creator and the audience who gets to enjoy the work.

Sign Painters

A long-standing American tradition turned underground and niche trade, Sign Painters is essential viewing for those who find themselves awkwardly sandwiched between art and business.

Directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon – both artists in their own right – the documentary is as much an examination of the craft of sign painting as it is a celebration of the community which strives to keep the art form alive.

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

Drew Struzan is the name to know when it comes to movie poster history, and this documentary is his amazing story.

Having illustrated the iconic posters used to promote Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and the original Star Wars trilogy as well as numerous books and album covers, The Man Behind the Poster features interviews from both Struzan’s family and those he worked with (including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro, with whom he had a particularly fond working relationship).

A truly impressive career and a documentary worth watching in its own right, but particularly if you’re a filmmaker who’s ever been interested in creating your own movie posters.


So there we have it, 10 excellent documentaries covering the fields of graphic design and illustration, all of which come highly recommended to anyone working in related fields or even those who simply have an interest in what goes on in the minds of some of the world’s most gifted artists.

Seen any other documentaries which should be listed here, or learned anything great from the titles above? We want to hear from you – leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!

Six Free Alternatives to Adobe Illustrator

There’s no question about it: the Adobe suite of graphic design and illustration software isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as the industry champion. Despite its quirks and teething problems that come with nearly every version update, it’s also arguably the best suite that money can buy.

The problem is, it takes a lot of money to buy it. Purchasing any of the CS titles outright can cost anywhere between $300 to $2,000 depending on which version you plump for, and Adobe’s attempts to convince people to pay on its new subscription model can cost anything between $50 to $200 every single month.

Obviously, that’s not an issue for those at NYFA’s illustration school who have got full access to the CS suite as part of their tuition program, but these are prohibitive price tags for everyone else. As such, today we’ll be exploring:

6 Free Alternatives to Adobe Illustrator

SVG-Edit

Illustration Software

Platform: Any modern web browser

What It Is: An editing suite that deals solely in SVG (scalable vector graphics), which may sound like a restriction but is actually quite useful given the versatility of the format. If you’re scared of getting into SVG editing, you’re missing out, and this will break you in gently. Being a web browser platform also sounds limiting, but again, the speed at which it operates as a result is often superior to desktop counterparts.

Inkscape

Free Illustrator Alternative

Platform: Windows/Linux

What It Is: As with SVG-Edit, Inkscape is also geared towards those who want to work primarily in the SVG file format. Featuring both a clean and intuitive user interface, but packed with advanced features (such as alpha blending, object cloning and very accurate bitmap tracing), Inkscape comes as a highly recommended free alternative to Adobe Illustrator.

Affinity Designer

affinity designer alternative to illustrator

Platform: Mac

What It Is: Full rasterizing controls, layer management, multiple file format support, infinite zooming and every vector drawing tool you could ever hope for… Affinity Designer could quite possible become a true Illustrator killer. At the moment it’s only available to Mac users and the full version comes with a small price tag of $49.99 with free upgrades for two years, but the trial version is still remarkably functional and worth a shot if you’re looking for a free editor. It’s even worth it just to play with the infinite zoom function (yes, infinite.)

GIMP

adobe alternatives

Platform: All of them

What It Is: The one you’ve probably heard of. GIMP, an acronym for (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is more of an alternative to Photoshop rather than Illustrator since it its vector functions are limited, but what it can do in terms of image manipulation is second to none. Entirely free, open source, and loved by thousands (which have formed a very active online community since its release.)

OpenOffice Draw

free illustration software for apache

Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac

What It Is: While Apache’s flagship vector illustrator looks a little outdated these days, that’s purely a cosmetic concern. It’s still packed with features and is especially geared towards diagram and object manipulation. It also comes with the very handy feature of being able to create Flash (.swf) files from your document.

Serif DrawPlus (starter edition)

DrawPlus: A Free Alternative to Adobe's Illustrator Software

Platform: Windows

What It Is: The starter edition of Serif’s DrawPlus is aimed towards the amateur illustrator given that A) it’s free software, and B) it’s very much a scaled-down version of the fuller release, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not limited in any way, there’s no pressure to shell out for the professional edition DrawPlus X6, and it does a good job of emulating its heavy weight cousins.

You might find you need to use a combination of the above free alternatives to Adobe Illustrator to get the job done, but for many people it’ll be worth the cash it saves and you may even find a new favorite. Got any others we need to check out? Drop a suggestion in the comments below!

Are you interested in the visual arts industry? Check out NYFA’s graphic design and 3D animation programs!

Seven Common Illustration Jobs And Their Average Salaries

Want to explore the numerous and varied roles that exist within the wider illustration industry? Look no further than our breakdown of illustration jobs below, in which we unpack what the work entails, why you might love (or hate) it, how to get into the role, and ultimately, what you can expect as an average salary.

It should be noted that salary figures provided below, as with any creative industry, are ballpark figures only. The difficulty rating listed doesn’t denote how hard the illustration job is, but rather how tricky it is to break into paying work for that field.

Jobs in Illustration: Career Paths and Salaries Breakdown

Comic Book Illustrator

comic illustration jobs

One of the most highly coveted jobs on this list, and as a result, one of the most competitive fields to break into. This is particularly true when it comes to finding salaried positions for print work, though many have found success attracting commission work and raising other revenue through their own webcomics (as well as self-publishing.)

Comic Book Illustrator Career Path: As above. Attracting an audience via a web comic is a good place to start, though even that is a highly saturated market to break into these days. There is no prior experience needed for that, but if you’re looking to get hired full-time by the big boys, illustration school is mandatory.

Pros: Believe everything you’ve heard: there’s an extreme amount of enjoyment to be had with comic book illustration.

Cons: Did we mention it’s a competitive market?

Difficulty: 9/10

Web Designer Salary: For print comic books, commission rates vary on a per-page basis from $100 to $1000 depending on experience.

Courtroom Illustrator

Courtroom illustrator jobs

From one of the most sought-after jobs on the list to one of the quirkiest, being a courtroom sketch artist requires an extreme amount of skill. Not only do media outlets demand as much accuracy and realism as possible, but a lot of that has to come from memory alone.

Courtroom Illustrator Career Path: Due to the nature of bureaucracy in the field of law, qualifications from an illustration school are usually required (and will teach you the necessary skills of speed drawing and figure composition/shading.)

Pros: It’ll push your skills to the limit, and if you catch a bit of luck, you’ll get ringside seats to some very high-profile cases.

Cons: Chances are you’ll be too intensely focused on your work to derive any excitement of the case itself, and more often than not the proceedings will be as dull as dishwater.

Difficulty: 7/10

Courtroom Illustrator Salary: Very few salaried positions exist, as work is sporadic. No figures on earnings exist either. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists average yearly earnings of $42,000, but that includes all fine art illustrators.

Forensic Artists

Forensic artist salary

From the courtroom to the scene of the crime itself, criminal sketch artists also require an extreme amount of skill and discipline but of a different kind; working one-on-one with an (often emotionally frayed) victim to produce an accurate facial sketch with nothing more than a hazy description from which to go off.

Forensic Artist Career Path: The majority of criminal sketch artists already hold positions in law enforcement, and you’ll at least need an endorsement by a law enforcement agency. There are specific workshops that provide training in this area, and you’ll probably want to join and/or seek tuition from the International Association for Identification. Psychological qualifications are also a bonus.

Pros: There’s a sense of job satisfaction in actively playing a part in solving crimes.

Cons: It can be harrowing at times.

Difficulty: 8/10

Forensic Artist Salary: As of 2013, the average salary for forensic artists was reported to be $44,000 by Indeed.com.

Film Storyboarding

Storyboard artist jobs

Very few movies and commercials these days – even those of a tiny budget – are created without the use of a storyboard to plan out all the shots before production begins. For that, the team needs a storyboard illustrator.

Storyboard Illustrator Career Path: Paying work is generally garnered through a strong portfolio, so it can take some time to work up from volunteered work. Certain jobs also require not just good illustration skills, but also proficiency in 3D modeling software.

Pros: No two projects are ever the same.

Cons: Can be a highly pressurized environment to work in, with demands from numerous team members coming in from all angles.

Difficulty: 7/10

Storyboard Illustrator Salary: Those working in film can expect an average salary of $84,610, while those in advertising and marketing can expect $65,760 (though both are hugely dependent on location.)

Medical Illustrator

Medical illustrator salary

A career that dates back to the 16th century (and earlier), medical illustrators have a huge responsibility: to accurately depict body parts and aspects of their operation in order to aid medical professionals as well as marketing agencies, researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, and personal injury lawyers.

Medical Illustrator Career Path: There are numerous paths to becoming a medical illustrator, most of which requiring an extensive amount of scientific and/or medical training and a B.Sc degree in a related field (as well as illustration proficiency, of course.) The field is governed by the Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators.

Pros: In a word: money.

Cons: Not a good illustration job if you’re looking to exercise creativity, or are squeamish.

Difficulty: 10/10

Medical Illustrator Salary: It depends hugely on whether you’re working on a freelance or salaried basis, the field of medicine you’re in, what level of seniority you hold, and by whom you are employed. This wide range is impressive, however; between $61,000 at the low end, and up to $250,000 at the top of the scale.

Fashion Illustrator

fashion illustration jobs

Working in one of the most cut-throat industries in the world, fashion illustrators typically work in either a design or advertising setting to bring sartorial ideas to life.

Fashion Illustrator Career Path: As with film storyboarding, a fashion illustrator’s portfolio is everything when it comes to gaining work in the field. It is often necessary to relocate to a large city in order to find a regular stream of paying work.

Pros: If you have a passion for haute couture, there’s no finer job. There’s also a lot of opportunity for travel and attending high profile events.

Cons: Again, it’s a very cut-throat industry.

Difficulty: 7/10

Fashion Illustrator Salary: Around $50,000 on average, give or take.

Fine Art Illustrators

fine art illustrator jobs

This is the top of the creative pile within the field of illustration. Fine artists create work with the intent to sell them for their aesthetic value, making it a job that is highly depending on accolade, talent, and the current state of the market.

Fine Art Illustrator Career Path: Some fine artists go through rigorous training at illustration school in order to hone their skills to the level necessarily to enter the marketplace. Others, albeit a smaller proportion, get there with natural talent and a little luck.

Pros: Unlimited room to unleash your creativity as you see fit.

Cons: It’s a long way to the top.

Difficulty: 9/10

Fine Art Illustrator Salary: It’s one of those jobs in which the vast majority earn very little while, the top few percentiles earn over $100,000 a year. The result is a skewed average that is reported to be $42,000.

Want to continue exploring jobs in visual arts? Head on over to our graphic design jobs & salaries breakdown page to discover more!

4 Proven Ways to Develop Your Own Illustration Style

Due to the nature of the Internet, we’re becoming increasingly exposed to a myriad different illustration styles from all corners of the globe. This is undeniably a good thing, as it means the well of inspiration is virtually limitless and instantly accessible, but it can also serve to muddy the waters. When you’re bombarded with so many great illustration styles on a constant basis, how do you best find and develop your own?

how to develop your illustration style

Today, we’re going to dig into how to do just that. Read on as we discuss:

How to Develop Your Own Illustration Style

1. Go Formal

We’d never deny that it’s entirely possible to learn the art of illustration through self-taught methods. However, they almost always involve emulating other people’s illustration styles in order to improve. This isn’t an ideal path to originality.

On the other hand, attending illustration school will give you the ability to stand on your own two feet as an illustrator. Rather than learning simply how to illustrate, you’ll learn the whys of illustration and the underlying concepts behind it all. Herein lies the key: as well as learning from the greats that came before you, formal tuition teaches all the methods and tools you’ll need to develop and execute your own ideas.

2. Realize It’s Okay to Admit Defeat

Sometimes, we as illustrators simply get stuck in a rut. We grind away with one of a few illustration styles for months and possibly years, never feeling that you’re advancing as an artist but at the same time feeling reluctant to give up on the investment you’ve already put into it.

In poker, they call this being “pot committed”: the act of having put so much in already, that you might as well keep going despite a high risk of it not paying off.

Of course, this is a bad move. You’ll never master every one of the many illustration styles you’ll attempt during your lifetime, and there’s no shame in recognizing that and moving on when you find that something’s not clicking for you.

3. Switch Medium

When it’s time to change things up a little, don’t just switch illustration style… switch the medium you’re using entirely.

Illustration styles

Are you a big inker? Try going pencil-only. Do you typically work in pencil? Commit to only using acrylics for a month. Done all of those already? Try something totally unconventional like working with textiles or stencils, or even try playing with different things such as comic-book format or large scale canvas.

Nothing will help you get out of a rut quicker, and even though the results might be mediocre, the new ways of thinking will bring you back to your own comfort zone. At the end, the experiment will be worth it.

And lastly…

4. Don’t Chase the Dollar

At some point or another, you’ll attract your first commission. Every illustrator remembers his or her first one, and there’s no greater feeling in the world.

Making money off of the back of your art is a great goal to pursue and hopefully achieve, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But at the same time, it’s often ill-advised to center your entire illustrative style around the kind of things that are currently attracting commission. Reasons being:

  • The market changes constantly, and you’ll always be one step behind.
  • Chances are you’ll end up being a second-rate version of the people you’re trying to emulate.
  • You run the risk of losing your love of illustration.

illustration how-to

But to those that are worried that their own illustrative style or direction is so quirky and out there that nobody is ever likely to commission work from you, we’d say don’t fret… and definitely don’t underestimate the selling power of originality. We previously covered five illustrators that not only stuck true to their own inimitable style, but it also lead them to a lucrative career.

 

5 Of The Most Influential And Famous Illustrators of ALL Time

Today, we’re taking a tour of some of the most influential and/or famous illustrators of all time, with works spanning from the 18th century up to modern day. If you’re a student attending illustration school and want to take a page out of the books of giants that came before you, check out the following trailblazers of the illustration industry.

1. Charles M. Schultz

No list of the most influential illustrators of all time is complete – or should even begin – without a hat-tip to Charles M. Schultz, the godfather of daily comic strips.

Charles Schultz most influential illustrators

Not only did the Peanuts creator directly influence the likes of Bill Watterson (of Calvin & Hobbes fame), but he also set the bar infinitely high for success in the field of comic illustration. Peanuts is most likely the most syndicated, most translated, most merchandized, most awarded and most influential comic ever created and possibly the longest running (at least by a single author and illustrator, with Schultz having created close to 18,000 strips over 50 years.)

Schultz worked tirelessly on Peanuts, drawing a new one daily and refusing any assistance. He also took only one break – to celebrate his 75th birthday – during the five decade run of Peanuts. The hard work certainly paid off, however, with Schultz having earned around $1.1 billion over his lifetime.

2. Richard Corben

As one of the lesser-known illustrators listed here, Corben is the kind of guy whose work abounds in popular culture and is instantly recognizable, even if you don’t know the name. Amongst his immense body of work, there’s at least one individual piece that you’ll probably recognize:

famous illustration: Bat out of hell Album

For the most part, Corben has kept his mastery to the graphic novel sphere, but his work there has received no end of praise from other top illustrators. One such example being H.R. Geiger, who wrote: “People like Richard Corben are, in my view, maestros.”

And speaking of which…

3. H.R. Geiger

Few illustrators have a penchant for the nightmarish quite like the late Hans Rudolf Geiger, a man whose surrealist work – be it illustration, sculpture, or paintwork – was as unique as it was unsettling.

Alien concept art

His bizarre melding of the biological and the mechanical went on to attract the attention of Ridley Scott, who put Geiger’s talents to good use on a little sci-fi film called Star Beast. Of course, this was later entitled Alien and the rest is history, with Geiger’s horrifying eponymous creation having endured in pop culture to this day.

As an amusing aside, the artist was once held up and searched at an airport. Of the experience, Geiger recalled: “Dutch customs once thought my drawings were photos. Where on earth did they think I could have photographed my subjects? In Hell, perhaps?”

4. William Blake

While the English poet’s art and illustrations didn’t garner much acclaim during his own lifespan, his artistry – both written and illustrated – had a huge influence on the world from the pre-Raphaelites onwards, and his depictions of biblical and other subject matter have endured in popular culture ever since.

Blake influential artist

Incidentally, when speaking of the most influential illustrators of all time, Gustave Doré’s name frequently crops up. A curious link is that William Blake wrote and illustrated Milton: A Poem in Two Parts, which was centered around John Milton (real-life author of the epic poem Paradise Lost) returning from his tour of the heavens to recount his tales in poem format. Gustave Doré had earlier illustrated Paradise Lost, and also provided the illustrations for Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy

… an epic poem which featured the author taking a tour of the heavens to recount his tales in poem format.

5. Maurice Sendak

Sendak illustrated and wrote a huge array of highly popular children’s titles, but it was his 1963 creation Where the Wild Things Are that arguably influenced American children’s illustration moreso than any other title (by Sendak or otherwise).

Maurice Sendak famous illustrators

Where the Wild Things Are eventually became an unprecedented success, having sold around 20 million copies since its publication and tangibly changing the way countless illustrators thereafter approached artwork for children’s books – while dark themes have always been common to children’s literature, it was very rare for illustrators to mirror this darkness in the graphical elements. This could be the reason why early reviews of the book were negative, and many libraries refused to carry it.

Despite the huge popularity of the book, Sendak refused to create a sequel, calling it “the most boring idea ever.” Following his death in 2012, New York Times heralded his lifelong achievements and noted in their obituary that Sendak was “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century.”

Few would argue that distinction.

The Dangers of Illustration Competitions

If you surfed on in at random hoping for a slew of 2015 illustration competitions to enter, you’ll find a link below which will take you to a whole host of them.

… but don’t scroll to the bottom just yet. First, a few words of caution.

the dangers of illustration competitions

An increasing amount of debate is being held as to whether illustration competitions are worth entering in the first place, with many professionals going so far as to saying they actively damage the industry. On the face of it, they seem like a great way to promote new and established talent; on the other side of the coin, they can be seen to take advantage of – and exploit – the eagerness of new illustrators.

Today, we’ll take an impartial look at both sides of the debate, starting with:

The Case For Illustration Competitions

You’re a student at illustration school, working hard to master all facets of the craft and get ahead of the competition. You may even be at the level that you’re consistently producing excellent work with the skills that you’ve learned and feel that you’re ready to take on paying illustration work.

Question is, how best to get your name out there?

Obviously a website to act as a one-stop shop for your services is important (check out our guide to creating a photography website, since most of the advice is transferable). But drawing attention to it, as well as having some accolades to put on the site in the first place, can be an uphill struggle.

That’s where illustration competitions come in. With only a few hours of your time, you can submit your work to numerous applicable competitions and – fingers crossed – win some, or at least get yourself some recognition on the short list.

2015 illustration competitions

In a nutshell, you stand to gain some useful recognition and whatever prize is up for grabs in exchange for just a little of your time. What could be wrong with that? Isn’t it nice of whoever is curating the illustration competition to give up their own resources to create this opportunity?

The Case Against Illustration Competitions

Detractors of such contests are quick to point out one solid point: your time and work as an illustrator should not be considered valueless, and you’re potentially giving both up – for free – with nothing to gain.

Of course, a freelancer of any profession needs to put in a little bit of unpaid time to get their career rolling, but that’s for their own benefit. It’s ill-advised to devalue yourself in order to further someone else’s agenda. And therein lies the crux: what is the competition actually for?

Before entering any illustration competitions, ask what the ultimate aim is. One of the biggest sticking points is what is known as ‘on-spec work‘ – i.e. carrying out artwork for a company with the hope that you get selected for payment, all under the guise of an ‘illustration competition’.

The Problem With On-Spec Work

Particularly prevalent in logo illustration, a contest holder – usually a business – will run a competition asking illustrators to submit branding designs. Fifty illustrators will make a bespoke logo, and the best one will be chosen (and hopefully paid for). The upshot? Forty-nine people worked for nothing – the company took advantage of fifty people’s expertise, and only paid for one.

on spec work

http://www.nospec.com

Even worse, some illustration competitions go on to use all of the work submitted despite only giving ‘prizes’ to a select few.  But there’s a practice that is even worse still, and something you should avoid like a plague:

Big Red Flag: NEVER Pay to Enter Illustration Competitions

Just don’t do it. Plain and simple.

Whereas it’s argued that some companies are unaware of the devaluing nature of on-spec competitions (like the example above) and should be educated by those of us in the field wherever possible, those who charge entry fees are simply out to profit off your unpaid work. Look out for any unspecified ‘admin fees’ associated with entering the competition, and go the other way.

competition fee to enter

$20 might not sound much to you, but five hundred illustrators all paying the same amount represents a lot of cash to the competition runner who nearly always offers nebulous promises of recognition and prizes in return. Even if the entry fees are used to fund a monetary prize pot, this is tantamount to a pyramid scheme.

Further Reading

The organization No!Spec explores all of the ideas touched upon here in greater detail, and offers resources to help keep yourself from being exploited (and as mentioned, a lot of parties offering on-spec work are genuinely unaware of the harm such illustration competitions cause, so feel free to point them in the right direction too.)

The Logo Factory also has further information on contest and crowdsourcing related work, and the pitfalls associated with it.

And finally…

2015 Illustration Competitions

A concise and comprehensive aggregator of 2015 illustration competitions can be found over at Contest Watchers, but you’ll have to comb through them with a skeptical eye now that you’re armed with the above information.

on spec work

The Drawing Renaissance: Digital Illustration vs. Hand-Drawn

The resurgence in drawing in recent years is a refreshing step away from the deluge of conceptual art pieces of the 1990’s. Not that there hasn’t ever been a time when drawing was not essential to the production of art, but it seems that there are more exhibitions devoted entirely to hand-drawn art now than at any other point in the last 50 years.

To boot, there has also been an increased interest in the study of illustration, with professional illustration schools coming into prominence in recent years… and it’s easy to see why.

Drawing is instantly accessible. There is not one person who has not drawn something at least once in their lives. Drawing can be used in all manner of settings, from detailed anatomical drawings from the field of biology and architectural drafts to illustration, tattoos and comics with a subversive undercurrent. From the simple process of mark-making to more complex abstract techniques there is a wealth of artists producing fantastically emotive pieces which are bringing the art of draftsmanship right into the forefront of 21st century art.

The Versatility of the Medium

artbike1Illustration is notably versatile, with an amazing variety of different mark making processes which are bringing a new breath of life into this traditional art form. The mediums used can be as diverse as the artists. Thinking beyond pens and paper, anything can be used in the creation of great illustration, from using rocks and bones as a canvas to Joseph L. Griffiths amazing bicycle drawing machine.

Part of the reason so many artists are returning to illustration as a medium for creative expression is the fact that it is relatively inexpensive to produce and does not typically require investment into a huge studio. This makes drawing the perfect medium for today’s troubled economic times, especially for young artists who are struggling in a climate that would never have supported the likes of a young Damian Hirst or Rachel Whiteread in the early years of their careers.

The Roots of the Movement

While the resurgence in the art of drawing may seem like the antithesis of the great conceptual pieces of the end of the last century, the roots of the movement started at the same time.

For example, in LA in the 1990s the drawings of Ray Pettibon were being distributed through the growing e-zine movement, as well as being exhibited in various locations around Los Angeles and New York.

Raymond Pettibon

While he was one of the most well known artists of this period, there were plenty of others who were already moving towards this simpler and more accessible aesthetic.

Known as ‘Low-Brow’ or ‘Pop-Surrealism’, there were clusters of artists across the scene who were re-visiting the techniques of the 60s with hand drawn lettering and detailed pattern making. These techniques have unquestionably become a driving part of the revival of the folk art movement and the increased appeal of the hand drawn image. At the same time there were many more fine artists working with embroidery or beading to create work which is beautifully individual and unique.

It seems that the greater hold the digital age has on our collective consciousness, the more people crave the craftsmanship that goes into making a truly unique, one off piece.

Illustration to Make Sense of a Turbulent World

Although the art of drawing has always been an integral part of creating pieces in all different mediums, the idea that a hand-drawn illustration can indeed be a finished piece of work is something to be embraced. There are some truly innovative approaches happening in contemporary drawing which see the conventional being turned on its head as the art world reawakens its sense to the immediacy and purity of the mark-making process.

contemporary illustration

3D Animal mural by Fiona Tang

In an age where digitally-produced art seems all-consumng, today’s renewed interest in this most fundamental of artistic techniques is a sign of the times as society enters one of the most challenging periods it has seen for centuries. The immediacy and creativity of the process allows the concepts of social and political turmoil to be addressed in the most simplistic of lines and forms.

Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop have changed the industry landscape forever – generally for the best – but hand-drawn illustrations can be created anywhere, with anything the artist has to hand which makes it one of the purest forms of expression in an increasingly turbulent world.

Illustration by Pejac

Illustration by Pejac

Whatever the medium for the process of mark-making (and whatever the digital die-hards might proclaim), the art of contemporary illustration is still integral to the creative interpretation of the 21st century.

Russian Graphic Design: Not All About Backwards Letters

There are few areas of design that are as riddled with visual cliches as the West’s approach to Russia. When offered a brief that has a Russian or Communist connection, many designers stick to the same script: a tight palette of red, black and white, and a general Constructivist look, with a triangle or at least a healthy bias towards the diagonal, and, above all, a couple of Cyrillic letters thrown in.

Whether you’re honing your craft at graphic design school or are already a seasoned professional, we’re here to break down the pitfalls that just about everyone falls into when it comes to Russian-themed design (and how to get out of the rut).

From Russia With… Threadbare Clichés

Constructivism Russian graphic designIt is easy to see why Constructivism is such a popular choice for graphic designers. The images created in the early years of the Soviet Union are bold, instantly recognizable and still strikes a chord, even though the style has been around for almost a hundred years.

First appearing in Russia in 1919, Constructivism developed as a form of art devoted to social purposes, rejecting the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ that was so popular at the turn of the century.

The new movement developed a style that focused on a stripped-down palette of primary colors, the frequent use of photo-montage, and a preference for sharp angles and straight lines rather than curves. As you might expect for an art form that emphasized art’s social responsibilities, Constructivist artists such as Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and Lyubov Popova used their skills to produce fantastic posters with a social message, such as this one, which promotes books: Constructivism is a seductive style to adopt, and many designers have fallen for it when covering briefs about twentieth century Russia, or even for anywhere beyond the old Iron Curtain.

But the Constructivist style has appeared on book jackets, film posters, album covers and posters for decades now, and it’s beginning to look a little tired. On one hand, by tapping into this imagery a designer will immediately alert their audience to the subject of their work, but these days the designer will also be revealing their own inability to think outside of the box – or rather, outside of the famous red triangle.

Russian art style how-to

However, while the Constructivist style is something that should be played with or used with caution by modern designers, the terrible habit of throwing in the odd Cyrillic letter into a sentence in Roman script should be avoided at all costs.

While it might signal ‘Russia’ to some, it is like nails on a blackboard to those who can read Russian, as it very often makes no sense. Lazy designers often flip the letter R in Russia, color the word in a good Communist red and think their job is done…

… Except ‘Яussia’ spells the non-existent word Yaoossia if the Я is pronounced properly. There’s nothing guaranteed to set a Russian speaker’s teeth on edge faster than these misplaced bits of Cyrillic. Using strong Russian-themed fonts will have the same recognisability without the potential for irritation – usually, a simple art deco font will give you all the flavoring you need without looking completely hammy:

Russian font tutorial

Luckily, there is a way for designers to expand their Russian visual arsenal without having to learn the language fluently.

While the vocabulary of Constructivism itself has become overused, the style of the fantastically over-the-top Socialist Realism posters has not yet been fully explored. Colorful, broadly painted, muscular workers staring off into the blissful Communist Future, solid women in headscarves, factories glowing in the sunrise: there is plenty more mileage to be found in these images from an artistic point of view (if you ignore the political idolatry behind it!)

Social Realism art tutorial

Designers can also turn to other artists for inspiration. Russian twentieth century art is every bit as good and as moving as that of the rest of the world, but the Cold War has rather stifled its reputation in the West. Aristarkh Lentulov‘s Russian Cubism, with its brightly-colored onion domes, are beautiful and memorable images, or the flamboyant imagery of Leon Bakst, the designer who worked with the Ballet Russe.

Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov) by Bakst

Looking closely at traditional Russian folk art can also produce fantastic results. The beautiful miniature paintings found on the tiny black boxes from Palekh look ancient, but these paintings only developed in the twentieth century and are ripe for adaptation:

Palekh graphic design tutorial

Graphic design is at its best when constantly moving forward – precisely the reason why people study graphic design in order to better themselves – and the current obsession with Constructivism and backwards-looking letters is keeping designers stuck on a loop.

Sticking to these tropes for Russian or Communist-themed design is like illustrating everything remotely American with pictures of Cowboys and Indians. Russia has a rich and complex visual history that is waiting to be explored by more intrepid and adventurous designers.