Illustration vs "Illustration"



  • As a designer, I wonder why most critiques related to illustrations don't even mention one of the fundamental topics in every communication process: the efficacy of the message carrier in relation to the receiver successful understanding of the message. An Illustration, anyone, has a practical function that must be achieved in order to get the status of real illustration. If not, is a drawing, a painting or even a visual adornment, where the receiver doesn't necesarilly must to understand a message but to live a sensorial and/or emotional experience.

    The complaint: there are a lot of wonderfull images that don't fulfill the emissor-receptor requirements but are presented as illustrations. It means that a lot of candidates for the title of "illustrator" are leaving aside one of the core duties.

    Guernica, a famous painting by Picasso, has a message (in short, the horror of the war). So, it can function as an illustration, but if the receptor doesn't know what did happen in Guernica, during the Spanish Civil War, will have problems undestanding the message behind the painting. If the painting share space with a text that talks about the german bombing over Guernica, a Spanich city, the painting could obtain a new status a a message carrier.

    guernica.jpg

    Guernica, today mentioned as a painting, did born as an illustration. It was requested to Picasso in order to attract simpathizers to the Spanish Republica. I mean, the painting was created whith a practical function in mind and a very specific (adult) audience. It's not only an aesthetic proposal or a brag about creativity, new artistic forecasts or other egotistical impetus.

    What about illustrations for children? The effectiveness of the illustration as a message carrier is specially crucial. The illustrator doesn't have the "freedom" that can fence when illustrating for adults (well, some adults never grow, so...) I mean, serious illustrators MUST study illustration as a Communication Strategy, and it requires to understand the receiver skills related to the level of message decode.

    In short: It's not enough to have a good command of composition, color, perspective, lighting, gesture, anatomy, etc., if you don´t attend to your audience skills. If the message can't be decoded correctly by your readers, your image is not an illustration but a sad attempt.

    Of course, it's about common sense but, as a clever and sharp guy did say "common sense is the least common of senses". We, average mortal people, need to study in order to have a good command of whatever we want to reach as professionals or good amateurs.

    Another matter I'd like to debate: Visual Literacy. A deeper review of image as language.

    I hope my bad English does not ruin this comment.

    Any other opinion?



  • I would only add that the term "illustration/illustrate" can be pretty broad.

    verb (used with object), illustrated, illustrating.

    to furnish (a book, magazine, etc.) with drawings, pictures, or other artwork intended for explanation, elucidation, or adornment.

    to make clear or intelligible, as by examples or analogies; exemplify.

    Archaic. to enlighten.
    verb (used without object), illustrated, illustrating.

    to clarify one's words, writings, etc., with examples:

    So if a book said: "I saw a brown bear with a pink hat" and on the next page there was a brown bear with a pink hat THAT would be an illustration. If I just saw just the picture and had not read the words the illustration would still be effective--but would be indistinguishable from "just a painting" of a brown bear with a pink hat.

    So the "practical function" of an illustration, as you put it, has been achieved but it is still "just" a drawing/painting. As with pretty much everything in life context matters. The only way you could tell if an illustration "worked" would be to know the idea/text it was made for. Example: a picture of a brown bear with a pink hat would be an awful illustration of "I saw a blue car sitting on a pizza."



  • @mattramsey

    You can't use all dictionary definitions to explain what an specific activity produces. That's why lecturers frequently start by stablishing the correct definition for the terms they will use in their speech or course. Serious professionals also do that in order to have a deeper knowledge of their own activity and avoid confunsions.

    In other hand, polysemic words change their meaning depending on the context. I'm speaking in the context of visual storytelling, so it's not about visual adornment or verbal strategies (yep, you can illustrate without images).

    "So if a book said: 'I saw a brown bear with a pink hat' and on the next page there was a brown bear with a pink hat THAT would be an illustration"

    Yep, I agree. In fact I did use the same example in other post, but it's a specific strategy that can be related to a level of literacy, a particular audience behavior or even an author preference. The point: if the image works as a message carrier for a particular audience, It's an illustration (functioning as a visual storytelling object). It's frecuent to use the strategy of literal translation of words into images even in illustrations addressed to adults.

    "So the 'practical function' of an illustration, as you put it, has been achieved but it is still "just" a drawing/painting"

    Pretty obvious. I did never say that an illustration is not a drawing or a painting. What I did say is not every painting or drawing is an illustration, right?

    So, what can be pretty broad is not to stablish, as a professional or "lover" illustrator, a definition for the product of you activity. "Illustration" is even an era in History in other languages like Spanish. Must a Spanish-speaker say that an illustration in a book is "an era in history" because a dictionary definition says that? I don't think so. It's the right definition in other context.

    Then, the definition of "illustration" related to images used to make clear or intelligible a message can't be the same for images used only as adornment, or for phrases used to "illustrate" by example. To accept that definition is to be pretty imprecise. A cube and a ball are geometric shapes. It doesn´t mean that are the same thing.



  • In my opinion, an illustration is a painting, but not all paintings are illustrations. To me, an illustration goes along with a written word. It can still stand alone from the story, but someone seeing just that image may not get the whole story, whereas a painting is a story by itself. Just because an image started as an illustration, does not mean that it can also stand alone as a painting. A lot are both, and i see nothing wrong with it :)



  • For me illustrations tell a narrative, a story of some sort with or without words.

    A painting could do both, it can tell a stand alone story or it could just be a painted pattern of leaves as in art licensing.

    But for a painting to be an illustration there must me a story in there no matter how subtle.



  • @Lynn-Larson said:
    .. A lot are both, and i see nothing wrong with it :)

    Of course. I'm not talking about the merits of painting or drawing versus illustrations based in its quality as message carriers, so it's not the point.

    The main point is: there are images presented as illustrations for children that don´t reach an effective message delivery. So, those images are not fulfilling its function as illustrations. In spite of the lack as illustration, an image could be a great painting or drawing. So, again, it is about the merits of an image defined by the author as an illustration, nothing else.

    I´ll ask you a question: why many "illutrations" doesn´t reach a good level as message carriers, even being beautiful painting or drawings?



  • @Charlie-Eve-Ryan said:

    For me illustrations tell a narrative, a story of some sort with or without words.

    Generally speaking, I agree. Anyway, if you check some illustrated books for preliterate kids, you'll find there are not narrative but an specific theme as thread. So, the illustrations are accompanying a concept, being the main intention to estimulate by using flashy colors and high contrasts.

    Why to use the word "Illustration" for an image that doesn't tell a narrative? Because it is reaching a function (to stimulate) beyond the decorative function. Anyway, we are talking about preliterate kids with a very basic cognitive development. A specific category.

    Age is pretty important. You can't address secuenced stories to kids under 2 years old because, normally, they will not decode them. So the concept "narrative" starts to make sense when your target audience is 2+ years old.

    For me, to know deeply your target audience is as important as to understand color, anatomy and other matters related to visual storytelling, and I'm pretty sure that a lot of images are unsuccessful due to that "forget".

    If you want to be a serious illustrator, you must know your potencial audience as deeply as possible.

    A question: an image of a duck besides the word DUCK, is it an illustration?



  • Yes concept narrative such as an illustration of ducks with the word DUCK is an illustration because as you said it serves a higher purpose and yes to be effective the age and reading level of the viewer has to be understood well. Paintings can be solely decorative where illustrations typically are not but are serving a purpose whether through concept narrative or storytelling.



  • @sergio said:

    @mattramsey

    You can't use all dictionary definitions to explain what an specific activity produces.

    I've noticed that as well. My intent was more to point out that it is a broad concept and dependent on context.

    Serious professionals also do that in order to have a deeper knowledge of their own activity and avoid confunsions.

    I figured it would be clear that you/I were not talking about "clarifying words with examples." I apologize if you were confused!

    In fact I did use the same example in other post,

    Not sure what the other post was--so I missed it.

    Pretty obvious. I did never say that an illustration is not a drawing or a painting. What I did say is not every painting or drawing is an illustration, right?

    I don't think I said that you said that an illustration is not a drawing or a painting...of course, now I'm hopelessly confused.

    A cube and a ball are geometric shapes. It doesn´t mean that are the same thing.

    I've noticed that as well.


  • administrators

    I wouldn't worry too much about this stuff. These kind of conversations, while interesting, always sort of bummed me out in college. At the end of the day I just couldn't really use anything from the discourse.

    I came up with my own definition of illustration vs. fine art. It comes down to intent. Typically "illustration" has a purpose of communication. The media and medium don't matter too much. In that sense, a painting that DaVinci did that was paid for by the church was in fact an illustration. Same with the picasso example mentioned above. Fine art, on the other hand, delves into personal expression and doesn't need or require viewer participation or understanding. It just is what it is. If the artist got what they needed out of it, that's all it has to do. It's just a bonus if the viewer happens to like it.

    For us here at SVS, Illustrations are made for the context of commercial intent and use. There is an end user other than the person making the image. It expresses some idea that will be understood my a mass audience in some way.



  • @Lee-White said:

    I wouldn't worry too much about this stuff. These kind of conversations, while interesting, always sort of bummed me out in college. At the end of the day I just couldn't really use anything from the discourse.


    I agree with the first part of your post Lee 1,000%. Debates do little to sway me, as my process is " my " process and subject to how I feel it should be approached. Either I agree with what the discussion is or I don't, everything with a grain of salt and moderation.

    I feel as artists, we have 2 jobs, the first to satisfy ourselves, which in itself for many artists can never be done, because we're all closet perfectionists that will never be 100% happy with our work, thus the need to keep creating and strive to get better.

    The 2nd job I feel, and I agree with @sergio partly on this, is not only to know our audience, but to successfully reach our audience with communication first. If we're drawing a duck, does it read as a duck, or a sickly dolphin? If the latter, we have failed. If we were reaching for realism, and what came out was my 2 year old's refrigerator drawing, then yeah we failed.

    Somewhere out there, there's a job that goes with an audience begging for the epitome of duckness. I don't know if I wanna work for that person, but if I ever do. I hope that what I turn out says duck enough for them to go jump in a lake somewhere. Just kidding.

    This is what is so great about the 3rd Thursdays and the critiques. They open us up to, if we are successful at problem solving, and dynamic thinking, and striving to get better. Now...

    BE the duck, you ARE the duck!!!

    Now draw the shizzle out of that duck!!!



  • @Lee-White

    It's not about definitions but attitude. As I did remark:

    • I see a lot of images where the complexity of the image is not adecuate for the target audience, so those illustrations are failing in it's function.

    When in my job we ask illlustrators or designers what age or audience is addressed a particular illustration, rarely we receive a professional answer. In general, it's not too grave but in the context of visual storytelling for children I see that a lot of illustrators don't understand their target audience capanilities and fail image after image as message deliverers. Of course, a lot of potencial clients did not understand that issue so those illustrator will have their place in the market.

    My question: illustrators, in the context you mentioned, must be worried about composition, focal point, etc. but not too much about the target audience age and capabilities? I don't think so.

    You can be sure that me, as a client, I'll prefer someone that has a full understanding of the audience capabilities and how to solve any image to address to them succefully.

    As remarked before: a clever and sharp guy did say "common sense is the least common of senses". We, average mortal people, need to study in order to have a good command of whatever we want to reach as professionals or good amateurs.

    Unfortunately, a lot of failed illustrations demonstrates that intuition is not enough.



  • @Bobby-Aquitania

    Well, the "duck" example says to me you didn't read carefully the thread opening. It's about the efficiency of the image as a message carrier for an specific target audience, not the level of "duckness" (a pretty poor simplification). What you are calling "duckness" is another matter and I did never mentioned it. Respecting the theme proposed in the opening, your concept could be pointed as one aspect (among several other) related to it but, unfortunately, it doesn't work as a synecdoche so it's a fail.

    I might be surprised with the fact that most comments are not taking in account the main issue mentioned in the opening of this thread . But not, I'm not surprised. Attentive readings are as rare as common sense.

    At this point I don´t expect that people realize what's the core issue I did mention and how the other paragraphs are related to it.

    So, what I did learn is that this forum is not the correct place to open this kind of threads expecting respectful and attentive readings.

    I apologize for making so clumsy mistake.



  • @mattramsey said:

    I've noticed that as well.

    That's the point. Everybody have noticed that, so it's unnecesary to mention it.

    I figured it would be clear that you/I were not talking about "clarifying words with examples." I apologize if you were confused!

    The context is pretty clear (a forum related to Visual Storytelling) so your comment with the list of meanings and my answer to it are, again, unnecesary. With or without examples.

    If you read carefully the opening of this thread you'll notice that there are no mention to the difference between a painting and an illustration per se. All the paragraphs and the Guernica example are crearly pointing to the audience issue.

    So what I did mention?

    • Illustrations are message carriers
    • Illustrations, as any bearer of a message, have receivers.
    • Receivers have different levels of cognitive development and/or knowledge so,
    • an illustration can fail as message carrier (inadequate for the target audience)

    All this means illustrators must care a lot about how to design effective illustrations for speciffic audiences

    So, if an illustration is a painting, or how many meamings of "illustrate" you can mention was never the point.

    Of course, the readers of this thread have the right to desrespect the opening comment and expose their own objects of interest. Anyway, I must say, it is an impolite behavior.

    Question 1: Is it important to illustrate taking in account the target audience?
    Question 2: If it's important, why nobody mention this issue in the critiques?
    Question 3: Why comments here avoid the mentioned issue and preffer to beat around the bush?



  • @sergio said:

    That's the point. Everybody have noticed that, so it's unnecesary to mention it.

    Ok, sorry about that.

    The context is pretty clear (a forum related to Visual Storytelling) so your comment with the list of meanings and my answer to it are, again, unnecesary. With or without examples.

    Alright--again sorry.

    So, if an illustration is a painting, or how many meamings of "illustrate" you can mention was never the point.
    Of course, the readers of this thread have the right to desrespect the opening comment and expose their own objects of interest. Anyway, I must say, it is an impolite behavior.

    At this point I'm getting a fairly toxic "vibe" here. You clearly feel that your initial post was well thought out and well communicated--I don't think that is necessarily true but in any case I think I'll try and politely bow out of the conversation. It seems that you feel that the others on here that have challenged you are simply not understanding you/not reading carefully enough. It COULD be we all don't get it...or their could be an alternative option.

    This (the SVS forums) is the absolute last place where I want to have negatively tinged arguments about art.

    If I'm reading you wrong then I apologize.

    Cheers!



  • @sergio I think a good portion of the people here already addressed and agreed that having an understanding of your target audience and their reading/comprehension level is important. Comments like this one below are uncalled for in this forum. I'm sorry if you feel misunderstood. At this point, I respectfully disagree with your approach.

    Sergio:
    "I might be surprised with the fact that most comments are not taking in account the main issue mentioned in the opening of this thread . But not, I'm not surprised. Attentive readings are as rare as common sense.

    At this point I don´t expect that people realize what's the core issue I did mention and how the other paragraphs are related to it.

    So, what I did learn is that this forum is not the correct place to open this kind of threads expecting respectful and attentive readings."


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