Illustration Defined! Sort of…

According to the Oxford Dictionary, an “illustration” is an “example serving to clarify or prove something.” So in other words, an illustration is a visual representation of an idea. Or rather, something that allows someone to visualize or realize a meaning.

Easy right? Well, it’s when it gets thrown to the “art community” that the word’s meaning becomes a lot less clear. There are innumerable definitions for the artistic term “Illustration.” Though when you peel away the bias and slants it seems as though it all comes down to really what is a matter of opinion.

So let me share mine. I dare to believe that a lot of art falls under the great umbrella term of illustration. Non-photographic imagery that serves a function (even if that function is to simply entertain) is illustrating something. The Sistine Chapel? The cave paintings of Lascaux? The Sunday comics? The Pringles guy?  They’re all illustrations.

It’s for the artists who double up as inventors and innovators, who can’t and won’t stop learning about the world and about art. The good ones are those that can effectively draw from the ideas they accumulate. Pictures are worth a thousand words and illustration is the visual language that can make ideas and concepts universal. Capture the essence of a story in a drawing and then everyone can break the rule and actually judge a book by its cover!

Versatility is vital. Dabbling in a bit of everything isn’t a bad thing. I’ve seen three-dimensional sculptures and textile needlework used to illustrate things from children’s books to news stories. And I know from experience that illustrators can be graphically minded and do a good design job when necessary. This is an art that lets you continuously grow as an artist and shout out to the world. So find your style(s) as you study and you’ll find your voice on the way.

Pop quiz! Was Michelangelo an illustrator?

(*cough* Absolutely.)

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