Taschen's book 100 Illustrators, is aptly described by its editors as featuring "today's most successful and important illustrators from around the globe". This is a stylishly designed and highly engaging edition that sheds an illuminating light on illustration's trends and practices. Any working illustrator as well as absolute beginners taking their first steps in this highly competitive field, should find this collection enlightening.
The stunning artworks are accompanied by profiles of the artists featured including his/her own take on their career, direction and creativity. Narrowed down from six hundred to just one hundred illustrators by editor Steven Heller, the final cut includes creatives Istvan Banyai, Gary Baseman, Seymour Chwast, Anita Kunz, Christina Drejenstam, EBOY, Daniel Egneus, Catalina Estrada, Tomer Hanuka, Gianluca Foli, Zohar Lazar, Craig Frazier, Gez Fry, Chris Gall, Paul Davis, Brad Holland, Mirko Ilić, Carmen Garcia Huerta, Christoph Niemann and many more. From striking drawings to lavish oil paintings, purely digital to acrylics and charcoal, the thoroughly versatile artwork is striking and inspirational, screaming originality and genuine talent.
These are creatives at the top of their profession who through hard work, innovation and perhaps a pinch of good fortune, have managed to sustain an admirably successful career but how is the creative market place treating the majority of working and aspiring illustrators?
Andrew Conningsgy of Debut Art is optimistic, "there's more work today for illustrators than ever before" he says, "what's getting harder is to secure economic pay rates for the work. Erosion of compensation rates secured by illustrators is a real problem. The high supply of illustrators in the market has the effect of making it more of a buyer's market than a seller's (illustrators). Couple this with a lot of creative cloning (not to say witting or unwitting plagiarism) that goes on in this visual media saturate world and one can start to see the problems the illustrator supply side faces in terms of even arresting pay rate decline"
The message from Andrew is clear; graduates entering this market today must "create different work, original work, distinctive work, work with an intellectual resonance in order to secure regularly commissioning clients. Out of every 100 recent graduates wanting to practice full-time professionally, probably only 10-15 are still going two years after graduating. And after five years that figure is probably only five or so in every hundred.
Andrew does not view stock illustration as too much of a threat "because original commissioned illustration can be so very up-to-the minute and 'latest news topical', as such it will always have an edge over stock illustration. Art Directors, by selecting particular illustrators styles and approach for commissions are also more able to reflect the tenor and timbre that the publisher wishes for any given piece of content. And really 'tailored' apposite illustrations do help sell the content I believe. Its more attractive /interesting to the purchasing punters"
A view shared by 100 Illustrators' editor Steven Heller who adds "good work will triumph over cliche. There has always been stock in some form or another and it hasn't ruined it for everyone. Generally, illustrators don't earn what they did in the 50s or 60s but that has to do with many economic factors"
Factors felt by practicing creative Stewart Bruce, an illustrator for 10 years who has had some success "with writing tutorials and articles for Advance Photoshop, Digital Arts and Computer arts". Stewart even had exhibitions in London, New York and and Los Angeles "but there are so many new artists coming to the foreground and magazines are always on the look out for new talent."
The solution seems to be in originality and the ability to diversify when called upon. "These days" says Bruce, "you have to have more strings to you bow, you can't be just an illustrator and hope to get steady work." Steven Heller agrees noting that the economic climate and general business sense are these days part of the illustration student curriculum colourfully adding "Blue sky may be pretty, but not realistic"
To Kemistry founder and creative director Graham McCallum self promotion is a key factor to making your mark as an illustrator. "It is important to get noticed" he stresses, "you may be a brilliant talent but the market is crowded and doesn't favour shrinking violets. Being noticed is what makes the difference between success and failure".
Andrew Conningsby whose artists are among the one hundred in the definitive collection urges illustrators to be original, "don't copy" he advises, "try to do something really different, from your own soul and mind. Practice, graft, put in the extra hours (10,000 extra hours are required I believe according to Malcolm Gladwell to really achieve excellence in ANY field), say something, convey something conceptually, don't just beautify and decorate". When it comes to business, "be ruthless and exercise a zero tolerance policy regarding legally unsustainable commissioning client contract content and practices (tendering of additional contract content after a previous contract was agreed), request high % advances, extend only 7 days credit, be a polymath (that's where you get to bring what you've gleaned 'to' your illustration), seek to instill sufficient confidence in your clients for them to feel be able to give your open briefs rather than dot-to-dot prescriptive briefs, love making and love communicating. Be prolific. Have hunger and remember that commissioning clients are also in the creation business"
"Illustration is essentially a fashion business" concludes Graham McCallum, "I've seen many illustrators bring a style that catches the moment and the phone never stops ringing for a couple of years" he explains, "the problem is that the successful style is then aped by others until saturation point is reached. The internet has speeded up this process. What was once innovative becomes the norm and everybody moves on. In any creative endeavour, the best don't rest on their laurels and aren't afraid to experiment with new ways of looking at things or the work is so good that it becomes timeless. Easier said than done"