Illustration in Visual Arts

Illustration – The Concept

An illustration is a visualization stressing more on form than on the subject. It can be a drawing, sketch, photograph, or painting. It aims to elucidate & highlight the subject, while aiding a better understanding of the textual information for a viewer or reader. The principle advantages of illustration are:
o Gives a face and a unique identity to the characters in a script
o Shows the examples of the subject in more than one form
o Clarifies and enhances the meaning of the text
o Helps understand difficult concepts by relating to pictures and images
o Can be used to depict step-wise instructions in a pictorial manner
o Helps understand the themes of the text at a glance

The History

The first instances of illustrations date back to the age of prehistoric cave paintings, depicting the then lifestyle. These pictorial representations are very informative, particularly because no script existed in those days. The early 8th century wooden handcrafted illustrations have been found in Japan and China. From the 15th century onwards, books on engraving, etching, and wood designing were available. The 18th century saw further development in the field due to the birth of lithography. The ‘golden age’ of illustration lasted from the late 18th century until shortly after World War I (1914-18).

The Types

o Technical Illustration – As the name suggests, it is used to convey technical information visually. It enables even a non-technical audience to understand the basic technicality of a concept. Usually in the form of technical drawings and diagrams, these illustrations are accurate in their dimensions and proportions.
o Illustration Art – There is a surge in the illustration arena, due to the increased consumption in the media vehicles, such as magazines, music covers, and billboards to mention some. A meteoric rise in the popularity of video games and comics is especially a great booster to the field, in the countries like USA, China, Korea, and Hong Kong. Various art galleries and museums too display the interesting illustrative pieces.

The Artists

While, the English poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake (1757-1827) emerged as a pioneer of this epoch with his relief etching, Honore Daumier (1808-79) was an immense contributor from France. England particularly had potential illustrators, who helped evolve the field, such as George Cruikshank (1792-1878), Hablot Knight Browne (1815-82), and John Leech (1817-64). Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), the Dalziel Brothers [George Dalziel (1815-1902) & Edward Dalziel (1817-1905)], and Georges du Maurier (1834-96) gracefully ushered illustrations in the nineteenth century. Santiago Martinez Delgado (1906-54) and Arthur Wragg (1903-76) gave the field its identity in the twentieth century.


The Growth of Fantasy Art

Fantasy art, where Dragons and Orcs roam forgotten lands have been with us since well before Tolkien introduced us to Bilbo Baggins the hobbit. Aliens in all shapes and sizes were roaming our imagination long before Giger introduced his Alien into our nightmares, but recent years have seen fantasy and science fiction art be accepted in main stream society and no film that falls into this category can be a success today without the visual special effects, art and imagination that some of most talented fantasy artist can bring us today.

With the growth of the internet, along with the explosion in the games industry, both off and online, and more instructional art books being published by companies like Impact books, fantasy art has been propelled to main stream acceptance and evolved into many new forms, but all rooted in imagination and artistic talent. I only have to think how far things have come when I think back to when I stood in the rain to queue and see the original Star Wars film.

Technology has moved on and the fantasy art I knew as a student has been brought to life in an age of technology that, like the fantasy art subject matter, seems to have no limits.

As a student and budding artist, fantasy art was very much a specialist avenue to take and many a lecturer would dismiss such art / illustration as a waste of time.

Today we see fantasy art in all walks of our daily life. From online games where you fight aliens a billion miles from home to the latest home appliances advertised by the Star Wars icons C3PO and R2DT. All started as ideas, art and a passionate artist drawing and designing the things of imagination.

Online galleries show us the new and established fantasy artists and the work they have created. Films like Avatar have become breathtaking in their appearance due to fantasy artists / designers who’s wealth of imagination have no limits and games like the new Dead Space can propel you to another world while sitting in your armchair. These and many more started as ideas, drawings and artwork with fantasy artist and authors.

Like the fantasy artwork which has no limits it seems that the growth of fantasy art has itself, no limits, as fantasy films get more spectacular, games get more imaginative and publishing by artists and writers becomes more widespread with the continued growth of the internet.

As Einstein once said ‘imagination is more important than knowledge’


How To Hire An Illustrator And Live To Tell About It

If you’ve never had the opportunity to hire an illustrator, here are a handful of tips than can help you with the process. Aside from the style and quality of an artist’s work, the most important factors when looking for an illustrator are professionalism, dependability and getting the job done right within the time given. Contrary to popular belief, most of us are a pleasure to work with and don’t bite. With that in mind, here’s a simple step-by-step guideline:

1. Research. Before contacting an illustrator, take some time to study the portfolio of the artist you have in mind. Make sure the style, technique and creative vision you are looking for is represented in their work. Look beyond the subject matter of the images. For instance, if you are looking for an artist who paints fun animals but you don’t see examples in their book, ask the artist if there are any examples they can send you. Another thing to consider is the digital format of the final artwork, vector or bit-map, which can be crucial in determining the usage of the image (more on that later). If the illustrator has more than one style, make a note of specific images from their portfolio as style samples to refer to.

2. Contact. Once you have contacted the illustrator of your choice, exchange information such as your name, company name, contact info, client info and project description. The more information you can provide the better, especially if it involves winning lottery numbers.

3. Describe Project. A detailed description should include: specific art direction, usage, deadlines and last but not least…money. These items are explained in detail as follows:

A. Art Direction. Describe in detail, what type of imagery you are looking for, how many illustrations you will need created and what the size dimensions for each will be. It would be great to supply any layouts, comps and reference materials at this time. Also, as mentioned earlier, if the illustrator has more than one style, specify which particular image or images from their portfolio you have in mind as examples. Giving as much information as you can up front will paint a more clear picture of what you need done for your project…pardon the pun, I couldn’t help myself.

B. Usage. The ways an image will be used are a big part in calculating how much a project can cost. Disclosing how frequently the images will be used, how long they will be used for, where they will be displayed, whether on the web, in print, or some other medium and the geographical range of the usage will help determine a price for the project. Another factor in usage is copyright ownership. Who will own copyright of the final image? Asking for exclusive rights for an image will result in a higher fee than rights for a limited time. Any rights not transferred in writing are retained by the artist.

C. Deadlines. A time line should clearly be spelled out from the beginning with milestones set for each phase of the project from when the first round of sketches are due to when the final art has to be completed and delivered. It is a good idea to work out how much time will be needed for everyone involved, to review each stage of the process and get back to the illustrator with comments in a reasonable time. Give ample time for revisions to meet the project’s needs before giving approval to proceed to final art. Keep in mind most illustrators will include minor changes and or color tweaks to the final art, but any alterations to the final art, that are different to what was approved in the pencil stage, will usually result in a separate fee which will be determined by the extent of the change. There’s nothing more frustrating (unless you are a Washington Redskin fan) than having a revision request coming out of left field after the art is complete…that is good stuff for primal scream therapy…seriously.

D. Money. When setting a budget for an illustration project, consider all the factors involved. The complexity of the work, time given to complete the assignment in a skilled and professional manner and usage of the final art. Payment terms should be worked out at this point whether they are scheduled throughout the project or paid in one lump sum when the final art is delivered. Getting a payment schedule worked out beforehand will eliminate any confusion or have you running in the streets screaming into the night once the project has started.

4. Format. As mentioned briefly earlier, file format can be crucial depending on how you plan to use the image. In today’s world, most illustrations created are done digitally and those done traditionally are digitally scanned. Digital file formats and file resolution requirements should be stated in the beginning to avoid any confusion. Images that will be used in various sizes and media applications may work better created in a resolution free, vector format such as Adobe Illustrator. Images created in a resolution dependent, bit-map format can still be used in various sizes and media applications as long as the resolution and size is worked out beforehand. In my professional opinion, bit-map programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Draw using a digital drawing tablet, can offer a wider range of styles and techniques in digital artwork than a vector program. Finally, how you want the final file delivered should be specified whether it be via email, disk, ftp site or other types of file transfer.

There you go. A painless step-by-step process in hiring an illustrator and living to tell about it. There are more factors that I could go into more detail about but that will have to wait until next time. Until then, pick up the phone and call an illustrator…we don’t bite…really!

About The Author. Fian Arroyo has been creating award-winning illustrations and character design for his clients in the advertising, editorial and publishing markets for over 20 years. What at first began as something to do until he found out what he wanted to be when he grew up, has blossomed into a full-time detour from getting a “real job.” His fun, colorfully vibrant and conceptually clear illustrations have kept his work apart from being just another pretty picture. The quality of his art and the fact that he works at the speed of light getting his projects done on-time have kept him in demand and pretty busy.

Too busy in fact, to pursue his true ambition…conquering the world with his Legions of Doom and acquiring total global domination. Well he doesn’t have any Legions of Doom, but he would have if he weren’t too busy drawing and being held hostage by his wife, kids, pets and a mortgage.


Digital Art: Explore Illustration

Digital illustration is big business these days. A quick look at roadside billboards, club flyers or magazine covers should be enough to convince anyone that the art of the digital designer has never been in higher demand, and its popularity just keeps on growing.

But defining exactly what digital illustration is proves tricky. We all know what the words mean, yet the myriad of ways in which illustration can be applied makes it one of the most versatile of the creative arts and as such, it’s pretty difficult to pin down.

With a strong creative vision and the right software, concepts can be articulated in limitless ways; each style opening new doors for expression. The one crucial skill that ties it all together is the need for some innate artistic ability. You don’t need to be a virtuoso with a pencil to be good at computer art, but there’s no doubt that most professional illustrators are proficient with traditional art techniques.

The basics of image structure are the same across mediums, after all, and with software increasingly able to mimic traditional drawing methods, the transition to digital has become almost seamless. Let’s take a closer look at the main branches of digital illustration and discover a little more about how the experts put them together.

Vector art

It’s no great accident that vector illustration is currently one of the trendiest and easily recognisable of the digital art disciplines. The signature flat colours and clean lines are easy to spot and quick to grab attention, which of course makes the style hugely popular with advertisers looking to catch the eye of potential consumers. In addition, their reduced colour palettes and scalable technology means they are perfect when it comes to artwork for the Web.

Created with precision by manipulating Bezier paths, the mechanics of vectors are based on mathematic principles that make them infinitely scalable without suffering degradation. This trait is extremely attractive to illustrators because it means images can be shrunk to a stamp or stretched to a billboard, without having to be redone. Paths are also easy to edit at a later stage, making vector images quick to tweak and rearrange if need be.

Vector shapes are often produced with photographs or hand drawn scans as templates, digitally tracing as much of the outline and detail as needed. Programs such as Flash can even create vectors automatically by tracing over photographic or pre sketched material, allowing picture elements to be created quickly and with little effort. However, the real artistry comes when choosing which elements to take to the digital image, and knowing how to colour and arrange the final illustration.

Keeping up to date is crucial and, since digital artists typically spend hours in front of a screen involved in their masterpieces, it’s all too easy to become isolated from what’s going on around you. Styles ace constantly changing and trends can come and go at great speed, so keeping your finger on the industry pulse is vital. Not only does it make good commercial sense, but it can also act as a rich muse from which to draw ideas

Mixing media

While vector art focuses on clean shapes, simple forms and bold chunks of colour, other digital illustration techniques take things in the opposite direction. Since the arrival of Photoshop in 1990, artists have been able to digitally manipulate photographic material and combine it with other visual ingredients, and when layers arrived with Photoshop 3.0 five years later, the stage was set for a new form of digital image. In 1995, digital photo illustration was born.

Based on the traditional method of using scissors and glue to cut and paste photos and artwork together in new arrangements, it’s a technique that has always been popular with children but has now become the favoured strategy of many an adult illustrator. This is primarily due to Photoshop’s specialised, yet accessible and intuitive, toolset, but also reflects the success the strategy can have when attempting to convey a complicated collection of ideas.

Sketching toons

While everyone knows that Photoshop is the king of detailed mixed media illustration, less well known is the fact that it’s also astonishingly good at producing line and comic style artwork. Deftly sidestepping the need to use intricate filters and effects, the hand drawn, hand coloured look is gaining favour with artists and art directors alike.

Because of the time saving tools that Photoshop offers, professional comic book artists are beginning to use the software to colour their hand drawn sketches and are taking digital art into previously unexplored areas. Using a mixture of both hand drawn and digital painting, new styles are surfacing that are making a massive impact on the established illustration industry.

Realer than real?

But for many artists, the Holy Grail of computer art is realism. Recent advances in graphics technology have enabled software developers to accurately simulate
real world drawing and painting tools by modelling how inks, chalks, oils and paints behave when they are applied to different surfaces. Using random particles to create natural looking strokes on simulated materials, you can now produce painted images that are all but indistinguishable from their hand made equivalents.

Since you can also grab a graphics tablet and paint directly onto your digital canvas, digital painting is less a description of an illustration style and more a literal possibility. As well as further mimicking the traditional within the digital arena, it’s also easy to pick up and get started. To this end, having some experience with real world painting is a definite advantage.

Because the technology behind natural media is so intricate, there are only a handful of programs that can actually achieve believable results. The most specialised is Corel Painter, which takes the possibilities to extremes by providing an array of simulated traditional drawing and painting tools. It even goes so far as to model the way that watercolour Paints behave when wet, with drips, runs and splashes. However, with some crafty brush creation and expert manipulation of layers, equally exciting effects can be replicated in your humble copy of Photoshop.

Pixel power

But although illustration software is advancing, it would be a mistake to think that the industry is focussing purely on pushing the undiscovered boundaries of digital imaging. In among the simulated paintings, clean vectors and intricate photo collages, a resurgence of old school pixel techniques is proudly celebrating the humble beginnings of computer art.

Pixel illustration is arguably where the whole digital illustration shebang began, back in the days when computer screens could only display a small number of colours at a low resolution. But, like so many limitations, this situation forced creativity and produced a unique style that’s now being snapped up in an industry that’s constantly on the lookout for something different.

Because low resolutions mean large pixel sizes, pixel art uses geometric rules that ensure perspectives are correctly maintained . A by product of this is the familiar isometric view that’s so common in this style of illustration, yet it does lend itself surprisingly well to conceptual art.

Pixel art continues to gain momentum, with increasing numbers of advertising and editorial commissioners looking to capitalise on its retro style designs. The bold use of colour and scrutinising detail also make it ideal for clients wishing to attract close attention and its popularity shows no signs of slowing.


How to Take Good Reference Photos for Line Art Illustrations

The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” applies to reference photos for line art illustrations. If the quality of the reference photo isn’t very good, the artist is going to have trouble discerning the detail they need to make a high quality image. One of the earmarks of line illustration is sharp detail.

A good reference photo helps an artist see the detail they need to include, and enhance, in a line art illustration, but taking a good reference photo is not a simple matter of pointing and clicking. Here are some tips that will help you take good reference photos for line art illustration so you can streamline the process, save money, and produce better quality results.

Take plenty of photos.It’s better to have extra, than it is to have to go back and “do it again”. For larger subjects, such as a forklifts, zoom in and out on the various features while standing from the same spot. For smaller subjects, like a microwave oven, you won’t need to zoom in and out.

Get a variety of angles too, but keep in mind which angle you will ultimately want the illustration to represent. Get most of your shots from that angle. If, for example, you are shooting a power hand tool that will end up being illustrated in someone’s hand being used, try to get the angle right, and provide variations. Shoot a little high, a little low, a little left and a little right. Twist the angle, and shoot more. With digital photography, you don’t have to worry about film costs, so take a lot of shots.

Make sure you get the entire subject within the frame of the shot. Seems simple, but a lot of people don’t realize that they’ve cut off someone’s shoe, or hand, or something that extends from a piece of machinery.

Take close ups of key parts of larger products. For example, if you are taking a shot of a car and you want to make sure we get the hood ornament right, take a close up of it, so the artist has the detail they need. When taking close ups, make sure to take them from the same angle as the main photo. Either zoom in from where you are standing for the main shot, or simply step straight forward to get closer. Taking close up photos from alternative angles can help us understand the mechanical structure of a product – same-angled close-ups help streamline the illustration process and can save you money.

Lighting is the single most important factor that affects the quality of a photo. Studio lighting is the best. Sunlight is good, but creates harsh shadows that usually hide details. It is better to shoot in shade. Warehouse or office lighting tends to come from the ceiling, so if there are important details on the lower/under side of your product, think of ways to bring light in from the sides. Using portable floodlights, commonly used on construction sites and job shops, is a good way to bring light in from the sides.

Take shots with, and without, your flash turned on. The flash will add detail, but also create harsh shadows and highlights. If the subject has shiny parts, the flash can create hotspots that totally burn out detail.