Illustrating the future

How can we visualise a world that has not yet come to pass? Here we speak to three illustrators to find out what makes something look ‘futuristic’, and examine whether our visions of the future are in fact rooted in nostalgia

Only one series of the cartoon The Jetsons, which debuted just over 60 years ago, was ever made. But with its mid-century stylings and hyper-modernist twists, the show is often cited when we try to imagine what the future might look like. It’s proof that while flying cars, silver jumpsuits and hologram phone calls have perhaps become clichés, sci-fi illustration and animation still hints at what might be.

“The usual suspects, and of course I use them constantly, are hovering vehicles, the Geordi La Forge-style visor, things with buttons, things with screens. You can use all these to make a clean, positive, retro-looking future world,” says Amsterdam-based illustrator Stefan Glerum. “But if you want to make a darker, more negative future, you can go the post-apocalyptic route with sand, wasteland, dirt, rust, and weathered equipment. The cyberpunk route is a lot of wires, neon, and gangs. But of course there is so much more.”

Glerum’s work is a big melting pot of references, but he often looks to the past for inspiration. “I’ve always been into the geometric form language and typography of early 20th-century avant garde, like Futurism, and how those shapes came back in a more psychedelic way in the 60s and 70s,” he says. “And I’m a big fan of the aesthetic of older sci-fi like the Thunderbirds, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and the original Star Wars.”

Top: Intersection by Stefan Glerum; Above: Cover for Más Profundo by Bruxas by Stefan Glerum