The Trends issue: Illustration

Enough Postmodernism already: Gavin Lucas picks out the styles that illustrators have recently been drawn to, from jazzy abstraction to digital tools

Enough Postmodernism

Without a doubt, the biggest illustration trend currently in the grip of the zeitgeist is the influence of the 1980s postmodern style of The Memphis Group. A proliferation of zig zags, dots, wobbly lines, geometric shapes, bright colours, fuzzy gradients (and the occasional pot plant) has all but taken over the world of graphic art in the last year or two. Couple this illustrative style with a no-messing bold weight of a sans serif font (like Adobe’s Avenir or Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Gotham Bold) and you’ve got yourself the most in-vogue (widely copied) graphic style of the moment – and one which has permeated every product and brand iteration imaginable from magazine editorial and book design through to graphic identity, record sleeve design and clothing. Heck, Adidas just released a Memphis Group-inspired sneaker (the ZX 9000 Memphis Group, below). Students beware: creating work in this style will have the opposite effect of setting you apart from the competition.

Painterly, jazzy abstraction

Perhaps a natural progression from postmodernism, and moving further away from computer-generated illustration, is a much more hands-on, freeform approach demonstrated by a steadily growing number of practitioners. There are still plenty of wobbly lines but dots and geometric shapes are replaced by splats, brush strokes and different textures. UK-based image-maker Pat Bradbury is an illustration graduate of the University of Brighton who uses paint and cut paper to create textured and vibrant collages that have something of a jolly and abstract disposition. Finnish illustrator Linda Linko uses similar methods and similarly imperfect shapes, humour, and hand-rendered, brushstroke type to make posters, magazine covers, and patterns for textiles. There are also signs of this kind of approach developing in recent work by other illustrators including UK-based Ed Cheverton, Cyprus-based Anna Kövecses, and Spanish designer Jorge Primo.

Character-based narrative

Character-based narrative illustration – the kind of illustration that comic strips are made of – was perhaps once solely the domain of youth brands. However, it is now increasingly of interest to all kinds of brands and agencies wishing to tell complex stories with wit, charm, humour and irreverence whilst appealing to a certain youthful demographic. Artists who tend to draw in black outline, including Andy Rementer, McBess, Rob Flowers and Rami Niemi, are being commissioned to create narrative, character-based work for sophisticated magazine titles such as Apartamento, Bloomberg Businessweek and The New York Times, as well as for clients including The British Museum, Google, Which? and Transport for London.

Pattern and production

It’s easier than ever for illustrators to connect with craftspeople and manufacturers (and vice versa) who can help them create their dream products – from gift cards and wrapping paper to tote bags, tea towels and cushions through to hand woven wool rugs. While websites such as Etsy and tools like Shopify make it easier than ever to set up shop and start selling product, clever use of social media can take care of marketing and promotion. As a result, more and more illustration portfolios include pattern-based work which, in some cases, is then picked up by brands who also want to work with illustrators to create patterned products. I particularly like Ruby Taylor’s self-initiated hand-drawn repeat patterns, the painterly illustrated wrapping papers that Charlotte Trounce recently created to sell through WRAP, and the wallpapers and fabric designs by Kristjana S Williams for Osborne & Little’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection. The cushions and rugs that Finnish company Tikau hand embroidered with Lotta Nieminen’s illustration work are pretty special too.

Digital tools for maximum impact

Every illustrator should have a portfolio website where prospective clients can peruse their recent projects. However, by using simple looping animated gifs, some enterprising young illustrators are making their websites more impactful than those of their peers. We signed Ed Carvalho-Monaghan to Outline Artists partly on the strength of his first website, on which every project was represented by a brightly coloured animated gif that beckoned you to click it and find out more. Illustrators and animators such as Jack Cunningham and Robin Davey also have similarly dynamic websites, both of which are Tumblr sites which make sharing of posts very easy, thus increasing traffic and garnering followers. Other illustrators such as Jean Jullien and Gemma Correl, for example, favour Instagram as a nifty means to showcase new personal work (and their personalities in the process) on a daily basis. They have tens of thousands of followers as a result. The tools exist, and the pro-active illustrator who understands how to use them to give their work maximum impact to reach ever larger audiences across various channels will be rewarded with shares, follows and, with a bit of luck, commissions.

Gavin Lucas is a former CR senior writer who is now at illustration agency Outline Artists,

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