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Thread: Illustration vs drawing

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    Illustration vs drawing

    I like drawing. For a while, I thought that I wanted to be an illustrator, because I thought that would be a job that would allow me to draw a lot.

    However, it seems that the more and more that I learn about (contemporary) illustrating, and the more illustrating classes that I take, the more I seem to find that "advanced" or highly "technically proficient" drawing isn't necessarily relevant to the illustration field.

    A lot of my teachers talk about how they're really bad at drawing. The artists that we look at in class create graphically and compositionally strong works, but I can think of very few that utilize styles that contain a high levels of technical proficiency in drawing. Using found imagery, simplified vectors, or very naiive styled drawings seems to to be the most popular styles.

    I like their work a lot, but it also makes me feel conflicted. I know that following their example and placing less emphasis on drawing would allow me to produce higher quality, more quickly generated, and more visually appealing illustrations-- however, the only reason I wanted to illustrate in the first place was so I could draw. I like the idea of being someone who can make cool, streamlined illustrations in a short period of time, and I like these works, but I don't admire them the way I admire more drawing/skill oriented pieces, and I don't find them as interesting or engaging while I'm creating them.

    But they're usually objectively better in spite of this.

    Can anyone relate to this or offer any opinions? I'm not trying to be dramatic when I say this, but I feel like the "smart" thing to do is to lose this attachment to drawing. But why bother illustrating at all if I throw out why I wanted to do it in the process? I'm not really sure how to think about all this and I'm wondering if you peeps had any opinions on the matter. Thanks

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    Hey Snacks, where do you go to school again?
    Illustration is a huge field, and it's always changing. It's not just one thing. "Technically proficient" drawing isn't a requirement in today's illustration market, but it's not not a requirement, either. And that's been true for at least the past sixty years or so. Do the kind of work you want to do, and find/make a market for it, rather than chasing a (possibly inaccurate) idea of what's trendy at the moment.


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    This is actually a common concern and a very smart question. The kind of work to which you are referring fits, for the most part, in editorial and advertising illustration. It is a highly prized area for a lot of illustrators because of tradition and intelligence. The deadlines are generally very short so the work often needs to be abbreviated in some way. The illustrators also have a specific audience in mind and a specific goal.

    The kind of illustration you are interested in has always had its place but took a back seat for awhile in the academic illustration world. A lot of programs still hold onto the editorial as king mentality, and it is still a vital and incredible world if you fit in, but neglect the more technical directions like fantasy/sci fi, concept, comics etc. because of lack of interest, training, and knowledge. The skill you mention can be found all over illustration now as these areas have grown and, if not now, will soon dominate the illustration world. The trick is to find a program that have faculty who teach in these areas. It's difficult because a lot of faculty, just like those in the fine art areas, grew up not learning the kind of drawing skills you are interested in.

    So don't give up the hunt. The key to getting good at this stuff is to develop passion and stick to it. And the key to sticking to something is enjoy it enough to work at it and eventually develop true passion. I love every direction of illustration. Maybe it's because I've taught it all and done most of it in some form. But don't be discouraged because your particular program emphasizes one over the other. Keep working hard at what you want to do, try to find mentors here and there, ask lots of questions, and get supplemental help from places like this. You can still learn a lot from the other illustration directions but don't let them kill your dream.

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    Balancing facile execution with good design is a challenge and most people focus on one aspect to the detriment of the other because of their own limitations. To have both qualities in equal measure will always trump people of lesser abilities.

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    The world is full of people who have both but have gotten nowhere near as far as others with lesser ability. I see a lot of illustrators who can't help showing off to the detriment of thinking and making a successful career. The bigger picture for me is knowing where one fits. Being aware of which direction your abilities can take you.

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    50% of successful illustration is networking and contacts..ignore these and you find yourself sidelined by new illustrators following you ..

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    The good news is that if you become proficient at more traditional drawing and picture-making, it's easy to learn how to stylize. The other good news is that illustration encompasses most commercial art - including animation, concept art, storyboarding, production art for film and games, comic books, childrens books, etc. etc. Many of those areas welcome a more traditional approach. Note that picture-making and communication are important no matter what, though.

    I'll third what Bill and Elwell said... Illustration faculty is often heavy on editorial illustrators, who tend to be following the latest trend in editorial illustration, which is currently that vector-mishmash-faux-naive look. (Note that this will probably be out of style by the time you graduate, so don't get too attached to it.) At first I didn't even know that I could be an illustrator and pursue work outside the editorial fields, until I unearthed a couple of teachers who encouraged us to do different things.

    There will be pressure to take the editorial path, but you have to forge your own direction and find the markets where your kind of work fits best. If you can find any teachers who can help you move in the direction you want, latch onto them and milk them for all they're worth! Also if there are any electives that will be useful for gaining the skills you want, take them wherever possible. Get creative with your class schedule if you have to.

    (I took every life drawing elective available, and even crashed a few classes I wasn't enrolled in. Also when I got assigned to an editorial-obsessed portfolio teacher, I talked to a different portfolio teacher who I thought would understand my goals, and he let me sit in on his classes. I'm glad I did that, because my assigned teacher was kinda useless...)

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    Quote Originally Posted by bcarman View Post
    The world is full of people who have both but have gotten nowhere near as far as others with lesser ability. I see a lot of illustrators who can't help showing off to the detriment of thinking and making a successful career. The bigger picture for me is knowing where one fits. Being aware of which direction your abilities can take you.
    Nah,
    Guys like Iain McCaig and Craig Mullins will always trump some short lived popular trend towards lesser talent. That's why Guys like Cornwell and N.C. Wyeth are still remembered and the oh so hip artists who were from that era faded into obscurity except as historical curiosities. As the saying goes there are no undiscovered geniuses in art.

    Nicholai Fechin said it best
    Concept or rendition: which is more important? That is a basic question in art. In the first case it is frequently said: “Not badly conceived but poorly executed!” Such evaluation is no credit to an artist. On the contrary, fine workmanship makes one forgive even triviality. In such cases it is said: “Stupid, but devilishly well executed!” This is a common rule. A high degree of expertise in technique has always had, and always will have, a predominate place in art. The subject, in itself, has value only according to the mode of the day. Tomorrow it will be superseded by a new fashion or fad. With the passing of time, the subject loses much of its meaning. But the fine execution of that subject retains its value..

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    @dpaint: There is more to the illustration world than concept art.

    Just like there's more to the illustration world than editorial illustration.

    It's a BIG. FIELD. With a lot of possibilities for success. Get with the twenty-first century, yo...

    (Seriously, if Thurber can be enshrined alongside Pyle as one of the "Great American Illustrators"...)

    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; November 4th, 2012 at 12:11 PM.
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    "Do the kind of work you want to do, and find/make a market for it, rather than chasing a (possibly inaccurate) idea of what's trendy at the moment. "

    I think thats right. And also, theres lots of work thats a bit dull or without glory that you can earn dough from and learn on their dime. Just as an example architectural renderings for marketing isnt exactly glamourous but if you do what they want theyll pay you and you can take a day off a draw fun stuff. Im sure all products need similar illustrations so theres lots of potential clients. Lamps, wires, light bulbs, lamp technical manuals, lamp brochures, textbooks, whatever, needs illustrations. Same for fridges. And cars. Get some boring clients and some fun ones to make sure theres always money owed to you. And gradually you get more work doing stuff you like and are particularly interested in.
    its a slowish process but just take it job by job. hope that helps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    @dpaint: There is more to the illustration world than concept art.

    Just like there's more to the illustration world than editorial illustration.

    It's a BIG. FIELD. With a lot of possibilities for success. Get with the twenty-first century, yo...

    (Seriously, if Thurber can be enshrined alongside Pyle as one of the "Great American Illustrators"...)
    He's not, he was a cartoonist and a good one. Don't confuse the two because no one else is.
    The reason I mention McCaig and Mullins is because they don't just do concept art but also book interiors and covers, comics (in McCaigs case) and movie and game work. Pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want. Anybody can make a living doing something poorly if they are tenacious enough, so what? The shelf life on that stuff is short in the grand scheme of things. Its a lot harder to sustain a lifelong career as an artist when you are trying to be trendy or lack skills in some important way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    Nah,
    Guys like Iain McCaig and Craig Mullins will always trump some short lived popular trend towards lesser talent. That's why Guys like Cornwell and N.C. Wyeth are still remembered and the oh so hip artists who were from that era faded into obscurity except as historical curiosities. As the saying goes there are no undiscovered geniuses in art.

    Nicholai Fechin said it best
    Concept or rendition: which is more important? That is a basic question in art. In the first case it is frequently said: “Not badly conceived but poorly executed!” Such evaluation is no credit to an artist. On the contrary, fine workmanship makes one forgive even triviality. In such cases it is said: “Stupid, but devilishly well executed!” This is a common rule. A high degree of expertise in technique has always had, and always will have, a predominate place in art. The subject, in itself, has value only according to the mode of the day. Tomorrow it will be superseded by a new fashion or fad. With the passing of time, the subject loses much of its meaning. But the fine execution of that subject retains its value..
    You're looking at what interests you. A hundred years from now there will be illustrators, on that need to know list, who you would put in the trumped category. Iain Mcaig and Craig Mullins would not trump Brad Holland and Gerard Dubois in the editorial category, they wouldn't want to or need to. They have different drawing skills and apply them in different ways. I know you and I may never agree on the idea that there are different kinds of good drawing but I believe that there are and have the proof of a lot of different artists having successful careers in many different areas. And Fechin's quote while appropriate to your argument is certainly not the final word.

    Read your last post. I think our problem comes in your definition of skill. For me it's very limited.

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    Thurber did book illustrations and invariably ends up in books on the "History of Illustration" and "Great Illustrators"... Literally a few pages away from people like Pyle and Rackham. I know, I've got the books.

    Also I don't see McCaig or Mullins being big in the editorial, advertising, corporate, or fashion illustration fields, among others. Nor would their work be accepted by all art directors. Different strokes for different fields. There's room for successful careers for both illustrators who take a "traditional" approach and illustrators who take a more stylized or even crude approach. If N. C. Wyeth were to try to get a gig doing magazine covers now, he'd probably be rejected because his work simply doesn't fit the current field. Not to say he couldn't be successful elsewhere.

    (And by the way, cartooning is ALSO a subset of illustration.)

    (It's a really REALLY big field.)

    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; November 4th, 2012 at 01:16 PM.
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    Thank you, everyone who is responding. I'm kind of just listening; you guys have a lot of smart/interesting things to say.

    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Hey Snacks, where do you go to school again?
    I don't recall mentioning it. Maybe this is stupid, but I'm kind of internet paranoid, so I don't feel comfortable saying.

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    Welcome to the world of post-modern, post golden age pluralism! Here's your card. But really, it is both good and bad (but I think good) and Elwells advice to do your own thing, do it well and find a market is right on the money. You can do lots of other things as well - most of us do. I also agree that chasing any trend is a bad idea...but being flexible and able to adapt is very helpful.

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    very interesting discussion. thanks for the interesting read guys.

    i just want to (re)emphasize that draftsmanship and picture-making skills wont hurt, whatever you choose to do with it.
    they might not be a prerequisite for every job though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sone_one View Post
    very interesting discussion. thanks for the interesting read guys.

    i just want to (re)emphasize that draftsmanship and picture-making skills wont hurt, whatever you choose to do with it.
    they might not be a prerequisite for every job though.
    But when you say that draftsmanship and picture making skills won't hurt what does that mean? Does it mean that there is one standard for those skills? This is what the discussion is about for me. Draftsmanship and skills can come in many forms. We seem on this site, understandably considering the population, that there is a gold standard that every artist must achieve and that standard is the key to every other visual direction.

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    "Does it mean that there is one standard for those skills?"

    Does it satisfy the spec as agreed and invoiced for? Y/N

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    Have you considered that among all of those people producing the trendy, vector-type artwork, work by someone who is actually able to do accurate representational drawing will really stand out? And standing out is what you want to do as an artist.

    I had the exact same problem as you - I started an illustration degree once but dropped out because of exactly this. I felt like my ability to draw, and my personal focus on drawing ability, was a hindrance rather than a help in that course! It's also saddened me to see that aspect of illustration sidelined in book illustration in favour of mostly simple stylisation (though of course not so in other areas of illustrative skill like concept art, which seems to be where most of the artists who like to create imaginative but realistic work end up in this particular era). I really admire the artists who are independently creating illustrated graphic novels and books with fantastically skilled artwork and wish that kind of thing would gain more mainstream appeal.

    But I agree that if you're great, you're great, even if it doesn't fit the current marketplace trend. You can look at James Gurney for a good example of a book illustrator who has really managed to make it "despite" his incredibly skilful, realistically rendered oil paintings!

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    This is what I'm talking about. There is a whole other illustration world out there that most people here don't know. Timely does not need to mean trendy. And if you think skill has been sidelined in book illustration you really need to get out more.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sone_one View Post
    i just want to (re)emphasize that draftsmanship and picture-making skills wont hurt, whatever you choose to do with it.
    they might not be a prerequisite for every job though.
    Draftsmanship and picturemaking are not the same thing. The first may not be a prerequisite for all kinds of illustration, but the second most definitely is.


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    Quote Originally Posted by bcarman View Post
    This is what I'm talking about. There is a whole other illustration world out there that most people here don't know. Timely does not need to mean trendy. And if you think skill has been sidelined in book illustration you really need to get out more.
    I agree, but forgive my lack of clarity - I know that a lot of skilled illustrators and concept artists still create book covers, but because of my particular area of interest, I was thinking of inside them, hence the examples of Gurney and graphic novels. I have a small collection of old books of fairy tales and other children's works which are beautifully illustrated and love the work of artists like Rackham from that era, and every time I go to the bookshop I look in the children's section hoping to see some traditionally-drawn work or some of the kind of beautiful fantastical work I see my favourite artists online create - artists who generally have to self-publish their work if they want the world to see it. I usually come away feeling frustrated by all the McBooks on offer. But perhaps I'm just too accustomed to the concept art industry, with its intolerance of lack of technical skill.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Birkeley View Post
    every time I go to the bookshop I look in the children's section hoping to see some traditionally-drawn work or some of the kind of beautiful fantastical work I see my favourite artists online create - artists who generally have to self-publish their work if they want the world to see it. I usually come away feeling frustrated by all the McBooks on offer. But perhaps I'm just too accustomed to the concept art industry, with its intolerance of lack of technical skill.
    No beautifully illustrated contemporary children's books? What alternative universe bookstores do you frequent?


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    Children's books are still a stronghold of beautiful illustration. There are dogs as there are in any area but it's still a place I go for beautiful work.

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    Bill,

    There is definitely a gold standard for quality and most artists, including most of the people on this site will never achieve it. That kind of art stands the test of time, once trend and fad is stripped away, which is what Fechin was referring to. I think you are making a mistake in assuming I am talking about academic art only, because I'm not and neither was he if you read all of his notes. You are right to assume that I do not respect a lack of facility though, where an idea alone is given carte blanche over execution. No one will ever convince me unrealized intent holds any worthwhile place in art.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    Bill,

    There is definitely a gold standard for quality and most artists, including most of the people on this site will never achieve it. That kind of art stands the test of time, once trend and fad is stripped away, which is what Fechin was referring to. I think you are making a mistake in assuming I am talking about academic art only, because I'm not and neither was he if you read all of his notes. You are right to assume that I do not respect a lack of facility though, where an idea alone is given carte blanche over execution. No one will ever convince me unrealized intent holds any worthwhile place in art.
    Armand, the gold standard is what I'm arguing. That there is one gold standard is what I oppose most in anything. Churches say there is perfection which suggests that there is one thing that is best above all leaving no room for difference. I did not assume that you were speaking about academic art but wish that there were some way of defining this gold standard, or "best" skill set, or greatest ability. When you say something stands the test of time then we can't include anything that has been done last century because there has not been enough time. And then we also need to ask who makes the value judgement that something has withstood the test of time. Some of my favorite work comes from the caves. It has withstood my test of time but maybe not yours. Different skill set different time but beautiful visual communication.

    If you are saying that realized intent is facility then we are in complete agreement but that there is a gold standard of intent is something I don't believe.

    This, of course, is a discussion that will never have an answer that works for everyone. But it sure is nice to be having nice discussion on here again.

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  44. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    There is definitely a gold standard for quality and most artists, including most of the people on this site will never achieve it.
    Except that nobody anywhere has yet come to an agreement on what this "gold standard" IS. And depending on who you ask, you'll get entirely conflicting opinions. Therein lies the problem when anyone goes around talking about "standards" in art - you can have your own standards, sure, but they mean diddly-squat to the rest of the art world.

    That kind of art stands the test of time, once trend and fad is stripped away, which is what Fechin was referring to.
    WHAT kind of art? The kind of art that has "stood the test of time" varies with every century and cultural shift. All over the world you can find art that has been alternately admired, reviled, ignored, admired again, ignored again, turn and turn about. What is considered "timeless" depends on the time in question and who you ask. Work that was timeless to the Aztecs was destroyed as rubbish by Spaniards in the sixteenth century and displayed in the Guggenheim in the twentieth century, and who knows where it will be in the fourtieth century? Who the hell is the authority who defines "timeless", and how do they know?

    (And who's to say that whatever has survived longest is "best"? Most art older than a couple of hundred years has "survived" by sheer chance, honestly.)

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    Thank gods that I'm not the only person having this question!!
    Here in germany there is only one public school which offers an Illustration course (in the other 4 you have to do design for 2 years before specializing) and even in this school realistic drawing and it's theories/foundations (anatomy, color theory, etc.) aren't considered to be very important, 'cause 'Illustrators don't need to draw realistically.' Would it even make sense to go there when my real goal lies in painting like Gurney (for example, there are so many amazing painters)?

    Please take a look at my Sketchbook! <- Comments are highly appreciated and returned C:
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    Quote Originally Posted by bcarman View Post
    But when you say that draftsmanship and picture making skills won't hurt what does that mean? Does it mean that there is one standard for those skills? This is what the discussion is about for me. Draftsmanship and skills can come in many forms. We seem on this site, understandably considering the population, that there is a gold standard that every artist must achieve and that standard is the key to every other visual direction.
    for me theres a standard for draftsmanship, beeing the ability to create representations of visual impressions (best to be combined with knowlegde about the structure of the subject) in a representational manner. i accept the fact that there are other valid opinions on that. i also do appreciate non representational art, but to me thats not a matter of draftsmanship then, but...

    picture making skills. thats a matter of design in all different aspects that make up a picture. composition, shapes, values, color, storytelling and emotion. i think the standard there, is, if a picture is adding to the experience of the audience. hard to define as it is completely subjective and im not really interested in attempting that task neither. beeing a less-intuitive artist than others, i appreciate that theres been established some routines to get a save bet going there, which are measureable to some extend.

    Draftsmanship and picturemaking are not the same thing. The first may not be a prerequisite for all kinds of illustration, but the second most definitely is.
    i agree with that. some jobs done lack both though and still got released.

    in short i think that good draftsmanship (as in my definition above) adds to the artists arsenal of problemsolving options and does not result in any disabilities. if anyone thinks his abilities in draftsmanship hurt the image, it just says that his picture making skills aint up to par.

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  48. #30
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    in short i think that good draftsmanship (as in my definition above) adds to the artists arsenal of problemsolving options and does not result in any disabilities. if anyone thinks his abilities in draftsmanship hurt the image, it just says that his picture making skills aint up to par.
    And my belief is that there is no ultimate draftsmanship. That draftsmanship is only good as it is appropriate to the intent. An obvious form of this comes in comics. Over-drawing can be a real detriment in telling stories. The problem with having a skill is that one always wants to show off that skill. So the key for me is that one is aware of where they fit in to the scheme of things. Having the painting skills of Sargent, would you ever settle for doing a daily comic strip? If you're ambition is to be a syndicated cartoonist, do they have those in Europe, then why study years of anatomy and academic drawing when you could spend the time studying current events etc. Having your kind of ultimate draftsmanship can be a disability.

    We could go around in circles forever with this subject and not change others' minds. I guess it just irks me a little when people assume that the ultimate skill in art is representing something accurately. That is presumptuous at the very least.

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