001: Illustration – What is it?

An illustration of a tin lunchbox embellished with the graphic of a white Stormtrooper helmet from the Star Wars movie franchise

001: What is Illustration?

If you get confused when someone mentions the word Illustration or tells you that they are in fact an “Illustrator”, you are not alone.  Growing up with an interest in drawing and creating I asked the question “What is the difference between an illustrator and an artist?”  The reply to this was: “All illustrators are artists, but not all artists are necessarily illustrators.”

Confused by that vague statement, I sought to find the answers for myself.  I have defined being an illustrator as: A problem-solver.  A professional who is paid to communicate a client’s message through their artwork.

An illustration is a design that is used to describe or explain a subject.  It may provide an overall impression of what an object does with the goal of enhancing a viewer’s interest and understanding.

One example of how an illustration solving a problem would be the painting of a naval vessel sunk in battle during the 16th century.  Back at that time in history there were no cameras to visually capture the appearance of a ship, and there most likely wouldn’t have been a drawing that survived from the time to show us either.  Using historic texts though, an illustrator may be able to consume the information and transform the words on the pages into an illustration depicting the ship, down to its finest details.  This accurate illustration could then accompany the body of historical texts to help aid the reader in viewing and understanding the texts.

Another example may relate to a scientific illustration found in a graduate text book.  The goal in this instance may be for the illustration to explain to the viewer how a plant transforms light into energy using the various parts of its anatomy.  While the text in the book may do well in explaining the process, having a visual aid for the viewer can provide much more value.

This said, sometimes illustrations have a less functional purpose.  An illustration may be used simply to attract a customer to purchasing a product.  Take a child’s lunchbox tin for example.  Would they rather have a plain metal tin to keep their sandwiches in, or would they prefer to have a lunchbox with a Star Wars graphic on the top?  I’m certain that it would be the latter.  By applying this illustration to a lunchbox, it not only increases it’s appeal but in fact its value too.  In choosing the more visually appealing tin, the customer would also be willing to pay that little bit extra to have the design on the tin.  The illustration has solved the problem of how to create the most appealing product.

Here are some more in depth examples of how I have solved the problems of my clients through illustration: