What is illustration practice?

Illustration uses drawing and other forms of image-making to bring ideas and information to life. It involves the ability to think about the content and ideas, creatively develop visual ideas, within ones own visual language or ‘voice’.

Illustration practice covers a lot of different areas and illustrators fulfil many different roles within them. There are many areas of crossover but illustration practice can broadly be organised around functions of:

  • technical: provides visual information to help the viewer understand something from a specialist perspective. This can include for example showing the inside of machinery, architectural illustration, medical illustration, botanical illustration. Technical illustration overlaps into the area of information graphics or infographics, which is a way of depicting statistics and information in visual ways.
  • narrative: tell stories visually is used in many different ways from book covers
    to children’s books, graphic novels to comic strips.Visual storytelling may mean working with writers, interpreting their ideas or re-telling their stories. However narrative illustration also covers illustrators who are also authors, either as
    writers of children’s books, graphic novels or as animators.The games industry is a new area for the narrative illustrator, providing ways to tell stories more interactively, with multiple endings.
  • editorial: provides a form of commentary through visual means.Editorial illustration covers cartoons satirising daily life, reportage illustrators documenting and reflecting on the world, or individuals using illustration as a means to say something themselves.
  • persuasion: part of the design and advertising industries from logo design to billboards, TV adverts to posters. In addition to commercial clients, public sector organisations, charities, local community groups and others also need to persuade and provide identity through illustration.

In contemporary illustration, developments in digital technology have created new ways of working, printing and distributing work. Some contemporary illustrators have been driven by fringe subcultural activities to explore a range of
different roles within urban street art, the writing and illustrating of graphic novels and fanzines, or producing work for sale in galleries. Many contemporary illustrators have blurred the lines between illustrator, author, and artist.