A Dash of Colour: The Palette Shared by Visual Art and Illustration
Above all, the task of an illustrator is to communicate something particular. It is a practice which crafts images to be seen by specific audiences. In History of Illustration (Bloomsbury), the first peer-reviewed textbook of illustration history, Professor Susan Doyle suggests it is an illustrator’s intent that distinguishes their works. For example, many pieces considered as visual art are shown to be illustrative images, striving to influence perceptions, opinions, and consumer choices. A reasonable argument could be made that illustration’s status can benefit from this critical mapping of it’s domain-specific history.
What has certainly contributed to the ambiguity between visual art and illustration is having shared the same means of creation. Drawing and painting was undertaken to make saleable works of fine art, as well as images intended for commercial use. Today’s illustration practice has seen the wide adoption of polygenous digital methods, spurring the ubiquity of images online and IRL. These are means to an end. But the output continues to be rhetorical images that resonate with the public psyche. Similarly, the lauded illustrators of the past were painters who also served the major markets. This commercial activity saw the distribution of their images via the packaging, media, and communication industries of their day.
Within the rapid technological and social changes of this new century, illustrated visuals have remained relevant. If considered in terms of semiotics, they convey meaning with signs that the audience can already understand. As in the past, the illustrator communicates what the onlooker is able to comprehend, which oftentimes happens with little more than a glance.
“Visual communication is always coded. It seems transparent only because we know the code already, at least implicitly […]”Kress & Leeuwin, 2005
Within today’s attention economy, the fleeting moment to consider images places importance not only on pictorial clarity, but the clarity of ideas which are made visual. In short, it is this communication of ideas that gives purpose to the crafting of illustrated visuals.