No One Said a Picture Needs to Be a Photo

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But no one said that picture needed to be a photograph. As an art director, I've found that sometimes pen and ink drawings or pencil drawing illustration is simply the best way to tell a story, particularly a conceptual one.

Scotty Reifsnyder's illustration I commissioned for an article on artist website design.
Scotty Reifsnyder's illustration I commissioned for an article
on artist website design.
From the Editors of American Artist magazine

Illustration has been a profitable commercial job for painters and draftsmen since the turn of the century, as noted by Allison Malafronte in her article about The Society of Illustrators in the recent issue of Workshop: Professional Practices: "If you were an American artist at the turn of the 20th century, you were likely either employed in or considering a career in illustration."

It remains a profitable enterprise for artists to this day, if only as a side job. Although print media's use of illustration has declined, there are plenty of newspapers–like The New York Times, whose Op-Ed and Book Review sections have featured the art form for many years–and magazines, such as GQ and Wired, that still regularly hire illustrators.

I also recently got the chance to commission Scotty Reifsnyder to illustrate a story in Workshop on how to set up your own artist website. Scotty took this basic idea and ran with it, creating an opening illustration and accompanying spot in his cool mid-century style.

Today, illustration is being used in platforms beyond print to great effect. Ryan Snook was commissioned by the Washington Post to create illustrations for its new DC tourism app. Absolut Vodka consistently features illustration on its packaging. Most recently, the brand released Absolut London, whose packaging was designed by London comic-book artist–and co-creator of the band Gorillaz–Jamie Hewlett.

An illustration for the DC tourism app. Absolut's illustrated bottle labels.
An illustration for the DC tourism app. Absolut's illustrated bottle labels.

The website for the clothing company Opening Ceremony uses illustration in their ad campaigns to evoke a whimsical world and feelings impossible to achieve through photography or type. Book covers use illustration to pack an immediate visual punch (sometimes we really do judge books by their covers!) and movie posters are great vehicles for illustration as well. Drawings can create fantastical images that even a Photoshop pro can't manage. The We Bought a Zoo movie poster uses illustration to relay a storybook feeling that coincides with the "child in all of us" appeal of the movie. Better than Matt Damon's face? You be the judge.

Book cover illustration by Jillian Tamaki. Clothing company, Opening Ceremony, uses illustration for its ad campaigns. Is a movie poster illustration as evocative as an actor's photo?
Book cover illustration
by Jillian Tamaki.
Clothing company, Opening Ceremony,
uses illustration for its ad campaigns.
Is a movie poster illustration
as evocative as a photo?

My advice to you if you're an illustrator, is that a great way for art directors to find you is by getting on websites like theispot.com or illoz.com. You can upload examples of your work and tag your style, medium, and expertise in these virtual directories.

What great illustration work have you seen or done lately? Share it in the comments below.

–Amy

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