Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Kind Of Illustrator Are You?

I've been wanting to make this post for a long time and it's taken a long time to formulate my opinions on this subject. If you're an illustrator perhaps you really haven't thought too much about who you are. One thing's for sure - you need to know who you are to be able to exploit your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

1. The Gunslinger. Like Clint Eastwood wielding his Smith & Wesson the gunslinger illustrator wields his paintbrush, stylus, or drawing instruments with great skill. Great craftsmanship, design, and rendering skills are his/her trademark and the reason clients want him/her in their posse. This illustrator is typically brought in when the job has been defined and visual communication is needed. The skill level of the gunslinger can vary greatly. Most illustrators fall into this category. Examples: David Catrow, Dan Santat, Kadir Nelson, and Paul o. Zelinsky.


2. The Story Teller. This is a writer turned illustrator - a dangerous combination. Not willing to allow someone else to visualize his/her dream - the Story Teller has developed the art of picture making second -to pair with his/her master story telling skill. Often primitive, the art communicates quickly and effectively while craftsmanship and rendering are less important. Examples, Mo Willems, Laura Vaccara Seeger and Gerald hawksley


3 The Renaissance Man. The rare combination of story teller and gunslinger - this complete package can tell a mean story and back it up with very skilled illustrations. The renaissance man (or woman) dares you to find a weakness in his/her game. The R-Man is often a strong contender for the coveted Caldecott award. Examples: Lane Smith, Chris Van Allsburg, and Peter Brown.


4. The Gambler. With no real polish to either the story telling or visual communication skills - the gambler hopes to get lucky. While some gamblers are working hard to earn a higher rank others are content to roll the dice. Sometimes gamblers get lucky and win a contract - sometimes they wait and wait wondering when their luck will change.

I won't give any examples of gamblers because it would be too controversial and potentially hurtful. If primitive unrefined art is your thing and you're good at communicating with it I would suggest that you incorporate storytelling with it. It's a much harder sell to editors and art directors to catch your vision if you send them a portfolio of basic art. You're much more likely to sell rudimentary drawings with a great story.

If you've mastered good design, drawing, and rendering skills and are having a tough time finding contract work it might be due to the rough economy. It also could be that your style isn't exactly what editors are looking for. With so many changes in the world of digital publishing you may find it more attractive to partner with an author or write your own stories and go directly to market with digital ebooks or apps.

Knowing who you are and what you can become is crucial to making a good living as an illustrator.

25 comments:

  1. Hmm, nice insight. I think I'm the last one, time to improve!

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  2. We're all the last one when we're on our way up. The journey is never finished. I mentioned Lane Smith as a renaissance man- he used to be a gunslinger and I remember his work before that. Enjoy the ride - it's the journey that's the fun part - not the arrival.

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  3. Well, I have been on a really long journey. Guess I'll just enjoy the ride.
    Thanks Will, you always teach me something.

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  4. The names you mentioned for each type really help bring home each concept - a pity you can't supply us for names of "gamblers," though I guess I can sort of see why.

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  6. Great post. Fascinating questions/categories! I'm curious though--, who, in your opinion, are some Renaissance women?

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  7. Hi Elizabeth, I also really like Judith Viorst, Mary Grandpre, Cathie Bleck (wish she did children's books), Anita Kunz (same thing), from the archives - Trina Schart Hyman and Jessie Willcox Smith - I mentioned Laura Seeger - Holly Hobbie and all the women in my facebook group holy cow is there some real talent in there!

    When I complied this list I really only went with my top picks off the cuff. Probably the most influential illustrator for me was Mary Grandpre - I used to stare at her illustrations for hours - hope it doesn't show too much in my work. I like a lot of illustration from both men and women that didn't make my very short lists - I wasn't trying to say anything by choosing mostly men. I just dig their illustration.

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    1. Wow, you picked some amazing guy illustrator's in your original post and thanks for giving credit to the ladies, too. Trina Schart-Hyman (hello...Cricket Magazine, anyone? Love her work as illustrator and AD) and Holly Hobbie (I had Holly Hobbie everything when I was a kid...that pretty much dates me, doesn't it?) were some of my big influences as a young artist and later, I discovered Mary Grandpre and Anita Kunz.

      One of the most influential illustrators in my life is one of a team...Diane Dillon, who sits upon illustration's Mount Olympus with her (late) husband, the amazing Leo Dillon. Their collective work still amazes me every time I see it.

      Also, there's Sheila Beckett, who was one of the intrepid few female forerunners of the mid-century studio set. She is still drawing well into her twilight years! I'm just amazed by her work because she did everything from advertising, album covers and books for kids.

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    2. Amen. I'm going to have to look up Sheila Beckett - thanks!

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    3. Believe it or not, Sheila is rather active on Facebook. You can find and friend her there. She's quite accessible. I knew her work from my early childhood books and records, but I only heard her story through Leif Peng's site "Today's inspiration"

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  8. You can put me on the list as a pre-gambler! I don't mind...really. My work is in the no no category of ethics dealing with overt messaging telling not showing...political environmentalist stuff...it may not be suitable for anyone except myself. It's a risk I am willing to take for what I feel is the greater good:)In interior design terms - in relation to illustration, I am probably a poser, a kitchen table designer. My work tackles not so fun stuff directed at the parents of the children...kind of like Canadian Authour Robert munch pulls at the heart strings of the parents when they read to their kids "Love you Forever", in every book he sticks with the same illustrator (which seems like alot) for branding and alliance reasons I am sure. I also know as an artist of sorts that is wrong to compare myself to other authours and artists especially very talented ones:)I am learning everyday!

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    1. As long as you're doing what you like - do you love what you do? To me that's all that matters. Just remember - those "talented ones" were once rank beginners so you are just like them.

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    2. Ah thanks Mr. Terry! I do love what I am doing and I notice progression in my skill set every day...drawing got me by as a kid in school I could pretty up every assignment with an illustration...maybe it will get me by now:)

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  9. It seems I'm somewhere in the 3rd option. Although I could work more on storytelling and, that would be a big +, on adding typography to my illustrations.

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    1. That is a great place to be - I'm trying to learn how to write as well. I'm in a critique group of illustrators learning how to write and we help eachother a lot.

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  10. Great post Will! Can I share this on my blog as a post?? I'll be sure your friendly mug is featured and links aplenty back to you!

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    1. Absolutely Wilson! I hope the main reason came across for making this post - that knowing who you are or what you want to become can help you create what you want to create and market it!

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    2. Thanks so much Will!!! I'm sure it will elicit some great conversation!

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    3. Ok Will it's posted over on http://onceuponasketch.com/blog/ I pretty much put the whole thing up there with links back to you for more information. If anyone asks anything in particular I'll do my best to forward that stuff to you! Thanks again!!

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  11. Really great post! Thanks for sharing! As with Wilson,I would like to share this with my students at the Art Institute this fall...would that be ok?
    (I will also give you huge-ola credits!)

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  12. Hi Laura - What a compliment! - ideas are should be shared - there are some really good comments up above that add insight to what I wrote about - I think this is a great discussion to have with students because I think they need to realize now more than ever that they should consider getting involved in the idea creation process to become more relevant.

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  13. thanks for the post Will. Really makes me think and encourages me to get better in the story telling arena.

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  14. #2 it is! Helpful and encouraging. Great blog. Thank you!

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