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Work / Opinion

Isn’t it time the world of illustration had a bit of a kick up the arse?

This week, Features Editor Liv Siddall wonders whether the world of illustration, and the events that champion them, have perhaps become a bit stale. And maybe we should take steps to champion as many new and exciting artists as possible, as opposed to falling back on the same names time and time again.

I love spending my days at It’s Nice That writing about incredible up-and-coming and established people from all over the world who have chosen to dedicate their life to drawing.

The UK is constantly churning out great people who are making fantastic, fun, and genuinely cool work, but what boggles my mind is the constant one-step forward-two-steps-back approach to the whole thing. One minute you get someone perfectly summing up a tricky conflict in a war zone in one image for people like The New Yorker or Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, the next minute someone’s been awarded an “up and coming” or “one to watch” prize for drawing yet another cat/teacup/cupcake/bird mural that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an illustration compendium from 2007.

“Sometimes I feel like the world of illustration is a little bit laughed at.”

Liv Siddall

Sometimes I feel like the world of illustration is a little bit laughed at. I’ve been at arty parties before where people have looked visibly unimpressed when I’ve brought up how I work predominantly in the world of illustration, which has made me really upset. “You don’t get it though,” I’ve thought to myself. “You haven’t seen all the good stuff I’ve seen.”

But then why would they have done? They probably hear the word “illustration” and think of naff murals in cafes, screen printed pictures of bears wearing beanies, or t-shirts with wistful flocks of birds across them. They probably think of in-house supermarket magazines, or bad billboards for phone adverts on The Tube. They might think of craft fairs with people selling baubles, and knitting, and etchings of girls in raincoats with fringes, or haughty birds wearing top hats and carrying pocket watches. This stuff is only a small corner of the brilliant, clever, diverse world of illustration – yet it seems to be what gets the most attention.

“People hear the word ‘illustration’ and think of naff murals in cafes, screen printed pictures of bears wearing beanies, or t-shirts with wistful flocks of birds across them.”

Liv Siddall

This week was the London Illustration Fair, which describes itself as “London’s freshest artist-led illustration, print and design fair.” I’m all for events like this, and visiting them are some of the best parts of my year. I’ll admit now that I haven’t visited the London Illustration Fair in person, but upon checking out its website I felt oddly disappointed and frustrated at the featured artists and people involved. It made me think how slow the world of illustration moves: Jean Jullien is one of my favourite illustrators, same goes for Mr Bingo and Supermundane – but they’re all so well-established, and have been for a good five years or more now.

For the “freshest” print and design fair, I was disappointed not to see many “fresh” artists, or really any modern illustration and artwork on the bill. The selected artists picked by the team are all great, but something says that it’s not pushing in any new directions, or showing us things we haven’t seen before. The ever-brilliant Puck Collective were chosen in this category but, you know, they’ve been going since 2010.

“It’s not just illustration that seems to be moving around in circles – a lot of design-related events constantly fall back on the same names over and over again, something that comes to my mind every time London Design Festival comes around.”

Liv Siddall

Where other big, annual artistic events work hard to promote wildly different artwork every year in order to showcase the most up and coming artists, I feel that if I had told you that the London Illustration Fair 2014 was actually the London Illustration Fair 2010 – you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

It’s not just illustration that seems to be moving around in circles – a lot of design-related events constantly fall back on the same names over and over again, something that comes to light almost every time it’s London Design Festival. Even at It’s Nice That we too find ourselves championing the same people, and we’re constantly talking about how we can try harder to dig deeper, look harder, and find new and exciting talent to promote.

The world of illustration is constantly moving, progressing, changing, and the work being put out is evolving and surging in trends. I think those representing this corner of the art world need to make sure that it’s staying afloat, and fresh, and exciting, rather than stale and has-been. Let’s concentrate on the truly special stuff, keep it racing rather than trundling, and maybe we can make people realise that illustration is more than just a bunch of people who like tea printing birds on to tea towels.