Industry Trends

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

Chuck Green’s Idea Book and

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 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.


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.


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!

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.

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.


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 5-10 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.


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!

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

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: Drawing on Constructivism

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

It 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.

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:

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!)

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.

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:

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.