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We’re looking for participants for an illustration-themed Studio Audience

Last week features editor Liv Siddall put out a call to arms to the illustration community, inviting practitioners young and old to push their discipline further and keep their work exciting and fresh. She cited in particular the regurgitation of the same established names at illustration fairs and events as a cynical way to flog tickets and boost sales instead of creating a platform for new, innovative work.

Liv’s critique went deeper than that though, questioning whether illustration as an industry is one that’s less respected by other creative communities due to negative associations and a dumbing down of the discipline. “People hear the word ‘illustration’ and think of naff murals in cafés, screen printed pictures of bears wearing beanies, or t-shirts with wistful flocks of birds across them," as she put it.

Her argument rubbed some up the wrong way, including those she’d mentioned in the article. Rob Lowe was one of the first to offer a nuanced response to her arguments, exploring the ways in which sites like ours run the risk of jeopardising the quality of illustration work with the necessity of daily content. “Blogs such as INT need to be fed, and this means lots and lots of content. I have always thought that there isn’t enough great work to sustain the daily feeding of the masses.

Rob said: “Where we used to have updates once a month in magazine form we now have countless daily updates with multiple blogs vying for our attention, each one looking for the ‘new thing’ that they can promote before anyone else. It is unsustainable and because of this quality suffers and things that are touted as being ‘Stunning’ or ‘Amazing’ are just ok.”

“Where we used to have updates once a month in magazine form we now have countless daily updates with multiple blogs vying for our attention… It is unsustainable and because of this quality suffers and things that are touted as being ‘Stunning’ or ‘Amazing’ are just ok.”

Rob Lowe

Rob wasn’t the only one to question our role in many of Liv’s concerns. Illustrator Willa Gebbie said: “It’s about supporting talent, not about finding the newest fad. The article is a much bigger comment on the state of journalism than the state of illustration.” While we’d disagree with the contention that we’re wholly responsible for the state of illustration, there are important concerns raised about creating fads from interesting and engaging creative work.

On the flip-side there were those that didn’t think Liv went far enough. Leon Michael Sadler in particular wanted to see a stronger critique. “Where’s the kick up the arse? You made some good disses here but you could have gone in harder! I think It’s Nice That needs to be less nice. You lot are so influential you can say whatever you want. You are huge and have a responsibility to improve visual culture!

“Come on Liv Siddall u should be more aggro, this site is god to London Illustration Fair and London Design Festival, you should leave these organisers weeping in their ornamental papercut silhouette coke trays praying for forgiveness.”

“Come on Liv Siddall u should be more aggro, this site is god to London Illustration Fair and London Design Festival, you should leave these organisers weeping in their ornamental papercut silhouette coke trays praying for forgiveness.”

Leon Michael Sadler

Jay Cover put it a little more eloquently: “It’s inevitable that illustrators who’re mostly inclined to create when responding to a financial incentive are going to fall back on tropes when they’re not responding to anything other than the notion that they need to keep their work safe (non-ris-kay!) – because they’re at an illustration fair where they’d like to capitalise on visitors interested in buying something nice to put in their kitchen.”

Paul Bowman agreed that safe commissioning and the pressure of financial incentive stifle the creativity of young talent. “Clients and most commissioners operate in a market economy and seek to sell their products. They use Illustration a lot of the time to ‘humanise’ their appeal. I am not sure any creative force can look to the market place to advance it. Companies with commercial aspirations are not interested in creative advancement in Illustration unless it helps them sell. They have no imperative outside of exposure and profit.”

In short, Liv provoked hot debate, generating the most insightful and engaging comments we’ve ever had on an Opinion piece. But we’re not done here yet. We’ve opened up an enormous can of worms, and it’s one we’re keen to keep exploring. In the new year we’re planning a special Studio Audience podcast where we’ll invite members of the illustration community to come and debate this hot potato face-to-face. If you’d like to get involved leave your name and email in the comments below, along with any further points you’d like to raise. This is an issue we’re looking forward to picking up in the new year. See you then!