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Into Illustration

By The Drum, Administrator

May 6, 2004 | 10 min read

Clockwise from top left: Illustration work by Third Eye Design for Heather Cream, Knockdhu distillery and Posey and illustration commisioned by 999 Design for Burn Stewart Distillers.

Michael Hart

Deputy creative Director, The Union

Illustrators are affectionately known by some as “wristers”, a playful moniker that conjures up images of Dale Winton and the bathroom exploits of the single male. And, rather appropriately, conjuring up images (ones you won’t find in the back of a Hasselblad) is exactly what they do.

Wristers, like Geordies, have been playing a part in the creation of our ad campaigns for many a good year. The Olympian Pine work by Stephen Drummond and Di Placido by Mick Stalker being two fine examples. Simple, cheeky, slightly surreal but definitely unique. The opportunity to bring their own ads to life in their own inimitable styles added strings to Stephen and Mick’s bows and awards to our boardroom. Would Nadav Kander have made the campaigns better or just different? Actually, I don’t think he does furniture.

The Scottish IPA map by Aird McKinstrie is another great bit of wristmanship. The prospect of creating a fictional map of a fictional world got Aird truly salivating. (Whether or not his fee did, we’ll never know.) Once again, the end result carries the unmistakable stamp of its creator. It’s part Treasure Island, part Dungeons and Dragons and part VisitScotland. And totally unique. It won some awards too.

Illustration lets you do some magical stuff and takes you to weird and wonderful places.

Spare a thought, however, for the anonymous wristers. They’re the uncredited heroes in a lot of pitches. God knows how many storyboards and ads we’ve presented over the years that wristers helped make fit for public exposure. Their unsigned contributions have, without doubt, often tipped the balance in our favour and sold the uncertain client the dead cert winner. And for that we thank you.

Jim Ramsay

Design Director, 999 Design

Illustration versus photography, now there’s a question. Or is it? It’s a bit like asking serif versus sans really; surely it’s the individual project that dictates which avenue we go down? Fitness for purpose was always my lecturers’ word du jour.

Although, that being said, you just can’t beat the tactile, warm and, in some cases, naive qualities of illustration. Or the literal and, better still, lateral translation the illustrator makes of the brief. I just wish more clients thought so too.

The main drawback of illustration is getting the client to make the leap in seeing the end product from the mood board in front of them. Let me paint a mental picture ...

“Now, imagine your brochure in this style of illustration.”

“But there’s no computers there. Will my illustration have computers in it? I did say I don’t like green, didn’t I?”

“Yes, of course, your illustration will have computers. So, do you like the style of illustration?”

“I do if it has computers. And isn’t green.”

But, that hurdle aside, there is something truly refreshing in using illustration as your vehicle.

In a recent small identity scheme for a florist, the client required a look that would set her apart from her established competition. And, as floral trends come and go, there was the need to convey all flora and fauna, without depicting any in particular. With this in mind, I remembered the abstract work of Joe Moore, whose work I had seen at her degree show last year. The naturally organic qualities found within her work reflected our needs, within our boundaries, perfectly. Of course we could have produced an abstract photograph but that would not have conveyed the bespoke, hands-on qualities of the client’s approach.

At the opposite side of the scale, distillers Burn Stewart required a presentation pack for a limited edition blend of Scottish Leader. “Traditional yet contemporary, proud yet mysterious” was the brief. A tall order, which we achieved through illustration. The traditional woodcut-style illustration of a stag was given a modern twist. Printed as a spot varnish onto matt black. This subtle rendering also created our “proud yet mysterious” requirement.

Yet again, you could have used photography, I hear you say. But try as I might, I just couldn’t shake the words tin‚ and shortbread‚ from my head. So, the next project you work on, be you creative or client, why not give illustration a go? Fitness for purpose, of course.

Mark Noe

Managing Director, Third Eye Design

Since starting Third Eye Design, almost a decade ago, I’ve never once commissioned an illustration from an outside source or a freelancer. A pretty strange thing, you may think, when as a company we’ve completed well over 2000 projects and continue to commission photographers and copywriters every other day. I think the reason for this has been twofold. First, there have been very few illustrators in Scotland who have made themselves high profile enough for us to be inspired to commission them. Also, the standard of illustrative skill from our own designers has never been higher. Styles or “fashions” of illustration are perhaps looser and much more graphic and a finely crafted “labour intensive” approach is not required as often.

When we start out a project we’ve got no preconceived idea of how we will communicate the message, whether through photography, illustration or words, or a combination of them all. It just depends. When used well, it can be a very a powerful tool and can help communicate often very complicated messages. Illustration (if used properly) can give a sense of personality and style that no other medium can offer. Two very different projects for one client, Inverhouse Distillers, spring to mind. Here, we found two diverse forms of illustration to be really effective.

One was the repackaging of their 12-year-old single malt whisky, An Cnoc. The aim was to introduce this rare malt to a younger audience by rethinking the brand. For the packaging design, we used a subtle use of type, simple colours and a very elegant, stylised charcoal illustration. The illustration of the actual Knockdhu distillery itself complemented the contemporary palette and layout beautifully, providing a warm, welcoming feel to the pack.

“Heather’s Place” was a website to promote Inverhouse Distiller’s whisky cream liqueur, Heather Cream. The use of contemporary flat graphic illustrations of the character Heather were Flash animated, positioning Heather as a “sassy chick” role model, who loves to shop, eat and drink in all the right places. I think these illustrations captured a look and feel that most 25- to 35-year-old women would be at ease with. Perfect for the target market in mind.

So, whether it’s a new feel for the “water of life” or something for a very defined target market, it’s clear that illustration has a very valid place in design.

Tom Richards

Freelance Art Director

Why use illustration? Why not?

It’s not the obvious choice, that’s why I like it. It gives an ad standout when most people automatically go for photography. And it’s one more weapon in an art director’s armoury. Sat nicely beside typography, photography and pure stubbornness.

Of course, the idea will have a say in why you end up going down the illustration route. For example, your image may be of a cartoon character. Now you’re not going to get someone to dress up in a Mickey Mouse costume and take a photo. That would just be Mickey Mouse, wouldn’t it? Or your idea is so far-fetched visually that it would take a lot of money and some very ingenious model-making or computer wizardry to achieve. Sitting for hours watching pixels dry.

Sometimes people even suggest you use illustration when you can’t afford photography. I normally do some two-finger painting for them.

What’s particularly great about illustration is there are so many different styles to draw upon (sorry). Illustrators are coming up with different looks and styles all the time. Like my son Rhys. He’s currently going through his naive stage.

Personal favourite uses of illustration in recent years include stuff for Oddbins, Merrydown Cider, VW Polo, endangered species press ads and the Adidas Rugby World Cup print campaign. Of course, they all made it into D&AD so I would pick them, wouldn’t I? But it’s proof illustration isn’t the poor cousin.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with four different illustrators on one job, the Scottish Executive Home Reading campaign. The brief was to get parents to read to their kids. So we made the ads look like children’s storybooks. I chose a different illustrator for each ad. And Pete got to test his writing skills with a target audience of 4-year-olds. How apt.

To source illustrators you have to be a bit of a magpie. I’ve shoeboxes full of postcards and cuttings. For the home reading job, I tracked one guy down to a trailer park in LA. I’d seen his work in an American magazine that had a feature on some recent illustration graduates.

Bet he never thought he’d get his first job from Scotland.

Jane Wright

Editor, Sunday Herald Magazine

The Sunday Herald has a reputation for packing a punch when it comes to photography, but this desire to present the paper in a strong visual way that is both innovative and striking extends to the use of illustration too. Often this is caricature. For example, Harry’s Horse’s image of Blair as Gollum or Steve Camley’s depiction of Jeremy Paxman as a fly. A couple of years ago, in the sports section, Peter Howson was commissioned to illustrate an Old Firm game, which as far as I know is a first. It was certainly arresting.

On the magazine, illustration is used in a different way, sometimes to accompany a short story, but most often in the regular slots of the restaurant review and health pages. Using illustration instead of photography gives a different feel to the magazine, in terms of its pace and the way it looks. Sometimes we like to use an illustration because it underscores the humour or irony in a piece; in these cases we plunder the Advertising Archive for those 50s and 60s-style illustrations, which are full of warmth, gentle humour and optimism and act as a perfect foil to the subject matter.

With short stories, we are trying to get across maybe several ideas or themes that a photograph may not be able to convey so well. When you are not dealing in facts, a looser interpretation seems more appropriate. It’s more of an impression that is required, rather than something literal, and often a montage style of illustration is employed.

With the restaurant review, a picture of a restaurant every week can become very boring and samey. I also believe using an illustration gives the slot a signature, a recognisable identity. Adrian McMurchie has a very distinctive, individual style that has proved popular with readers and restauranteurs alike and there is great demand for the illustrations after the review has been published. With health, using an illustration again avoids the dull repetition of samey images and is also an opportunity to try out new artists.

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