Graphic design is illustration‘s chatty, clean-cut cousin. The two are separate creative fields that overlap, with graphic design often being seen as commercial and illustration often viewed as more of a fine art. Graphic design is ultimately more about communication, while illustration focuses on creative interpretation and inspiring emotion. Each art discipline has its own way of creating beautiful work, but the dominating field in today’s art world seems to be graphic design.
Don’t get me wrong, graphic design is a big part of contemporary culture and I have no problem with it. I actually admire many graphic designers, but not only is graphic design absolutely everywhere, it’s starting to feel like other art forms, such as illustration, are ebbing away as graphic design becomes more commonplace. And while illustration jobs are few and far between, there are hoards of vacancies for Graphic Designers and Art Directors. If you really want to work as an illustration you have almost no choice but to go freelance.
Is there really a difference between illustration and graphic design? As I see it there isn’t much difference, I studied Illustration at Staffordshire University and the course had a large graphic design element, and we got lots of design briefs, which were interesting, but these were never reciprocated with illustration briefs, so the designers among us never really had to try their hand with a good old fashioned pencil.
Not only has the line between graphic design and illustration become blurred, but it feels as though illustration has been ‘swallowed’ by graphic design, which is sad because we may lose some of the more traditional illustration methods. Through my degree I have discovered a love for screen printing, letter presses and bookbinding. This passion makes me feel that we all focus too much on this digital element of the creative industry, and that we are starting to lose some of the more magical elements of the creative process. Although I still use digital elements in my work, the traditional parts are usually the ones that get the most love and attention.
I noticed a good visual representation of the difference between graphic designers and illustrators while sitting at university and looking around at the people working. You could see all the illustrators (myself included) drawing and painting in sketchbooks, moving around, while all the graphic designers sat hunched, motionless behind a Mac, clicking away at the mouse. I get that graphic design is a more precise and cleaner art form, but there are so many other techniques that can achieve similar results. Maybe as with fashion, each discipline has its heyday and illustration has died down for the time being and is letting graphic design steal the spotlight for a bit.
Whatever the case, I still see illustration being very valuable and very much needed, let’s just hope we don’t lose both it and the old techniques altogether.