Against the typical grain of thinking.
A look at what’s hot and what’s not from stylistic and workplace perspectives.
Illustration and graphic design is a relationship that will never go stale.
There is no denying that there is a lot of beautiful artwork being put out there by extremely creative people but without an understanding on what sells versus what looks pretty, such art may not always be commercially viable.
This is where understanding what’s trending now and what will be in the future is key to becoming a successful illustrator.
As an aspiring illustrator it’s not always easy to pinpoint what exactly the next big thing will be. The best sources for inspiration, as it stands, are the web, public exhibitions, networking with industry peers, magazines and maybe a little bit of intuition.
Based on these touch points for resources and inspiration, here is a quick summation of what I’ve been able to suss out to be the emerging stylistic and industry trends in illustration for 2014.
1.1. Hand-rendered art and its ageless appeal
A style of illustration that will never lose its appeal is hand-rendered art. Such artwork is organic and personable.
This type of illustration is more likely to have a fan base across a general cross-section of the population due to our cultural conditioning to appreciate classic art styles.
Also, through a common schooling system in the arts, we’re taught from a young age, whether we’re good at drawing or not, to associate an ability to draw scaled and detailed impressions with talent. As a result, the appeal of hand-rendered illustration is ageless.
Where we’ll see hand-rendered drawings evolve is in the subject matter of what is drawn rather than the mediums used to draw them. The latter will remain a constant with traditional choices staying faithful; pencil, charcoal, marker, pen, paint, tablet and so on. The subject matter, on the other hand, will change. Animals in costume and men with facial hair may have run their course.
In its place we may see an emergence for artists to experiment with a ‘North Asian’ aesthetic. Already we’ve seen such styles pop up in New York, UK and across Europe with blossoming interest. I recently wrote a more extensive piece on this concept.
Another trend for 2014 is hand written type. “[This] is a skill in high demand in advertising at the moment, which also fits in with the hand render art and its ageless appeal”, said Stacey Bennett, Melbourne-based illustrator and designer.
Kirsty Burke, designer and owner of Brisbane-based studio Four Dogs Design, also believes there will be a continuation of quirky hand-rendered artwork, as what is seen in Frankie Magazine. It is a unique style, which the market has appetite for. As well as this Kirsty suggested a continuing interest in tattoo styled pieces, involving intricate pen work and colour.
1.2 Pinning it on Stippling
Currently the most popular piece of artwork on Behance is, in fact, a stippling series, created by a Paris-based graphic designer whose user name is “Hello Shane”.
On the theme of hand-rendered art, a style that will be going through a bit of a renaissance is stippling.
Like most hand-rendered work, stippling fits very well into vintage-themed artwork. This is because of its preciseness; there is appeal in transferring a stippling piece to interesting print work like letterpress. A studio here in Australia that is producing such work is Bespoke Letterpress Boutique. It is an extremely painstaking process, to create a stippled drawing but the level of detail that can be created in one piece is masterful.
The appeal of stippling is that, as an original, it is a great demonstration of an artist’s talents and as a copy; it can easily transfer into Adobe Illustrator to a vector, therefore increasing its application possibilities as a final image into a commercial piece.
Not only this, stippling illustration may see resurgence in the picture novel area, as a favoured form for illustration.
Ultimately, what we may see happening is, because of the intricacy involved in stippling, the trend will pick up as a niche rather than a mainstream technique.
1.3 Animated gif’s get smart(er)
The types of animated gif’s that currently dominate the market are kitsch flicks involving a celebrity spoof or cute kitten. They all have a tacky vibe about them. Thankfully, in recent times we’ve seen more creative gif’s pop up on the web, which are smarter in appearance and resemblances of mini movie animations.
These slicker gif images are a mix of cute vector images, flat design and photography. Due to the witty design of the refurbished gif’s and fast load speed, it is likely that such graphics will continue to stay on trend.
As the technology and skills to develop more intricate vector images are refined, it will naturally increase the possibilities available for designers to further play around with gif’s.
The ability to create such graphics is not just reserved to the animator specialists. There are a number of illustrators also adding animated gifs to their portfolios, such as Simon Prades, who created a gif for a recent Nike campaign.
An illustrator who is making his mark, as an animated gif specialist, is Fraser Davidson. Within his portfolio he has an array of work spanning from the cartoon-like animated gif’s to more complicated mini animations such as ‘Street Sign Monster 2’.
1.4 Collage, not decoupage
The future trend for collage will be experimenting with texture rather than imagery. It will still have that insoluble mix finish but the illustration, itself, will be more homogenous.
It is fair to say that the vast majority of commercial illustration these days is mixed media.
However, not all illustration is designed to look as such. For instance, hand-rendered art, if it is used for commercial purposes, will involve an element of reworking in order to dot out any imperfections that might be transferred from paper to screen.
One style of mixed media, which is purposefully styled to look like a non-soluble mix of imagery, is collage. This is a revisited style of illustration that is experiencing a metamorphosis as it moves away from the ‘decoupage’ styles that we see so much of.
A great example is work done by US-based illustrator, Elise Sydora. Her work, ‘Dancescape’ is featured here. Another illustrator is Alex Butenko, from the UK, whose poster collage for Rise of the Apes is displayed below.
An emerging sub-trend is fabric collage. UK-based designer, Lauren Rutherford has illustration pieces featuring this type of collage.
Interestingly, with Rutherford, we see a body of work that has incorporated a North Asian aesthetic. Her design work for Glad Cafe (UK) demonstrates this. Also, Icelandic graphic designer, Pierre Marly, recently published ukiyo-e inspired collage piece he put together called, Uikyo Patterns.
2.0 Up-skilling and drawing on demand
There are two key workplace trends that we’ll see emerging over 2014.
The first will be the urge for designers to ‘up skill’. This will come about as a result of the market opting for more personalised and intricate artwork.
As a result the designers who joined the market with fewer drawing skills will be obliged to hone their raw artistry in order to remain competitive. Stacey Bennett believes it is also working in the reverse way – in order for illustrators to remain competitive, are seeking vocational means to improve their technical skills with relevant software and industry standard practices.
The second industry trend is a spinoff from the first. In the coming year we can expect the market to move towards, ‘on demand’ illustration pieces, as opposed to ‘in stock’ pictures.
“The internet has allowed us to expand easily,” said Stacey, “…many illustrators once completed an artwork, sell their work online or via large markets.”
Ann-Marie Finn, illustrator and owner of AMF Illustrations, supported this concept, believing currently there was a tendency for graphic designers to source images from the internet rather than commission illustrators. However, with quirky and unique artwork being on-trend, such as what is displayed on the pages of Frankie Magazine, this habit is set to change.
Chrystal Falcioni discussed this topic in depth, an illustrator agent for US-firm Magnet Reps. She believes that the drive has also come from artists turning away from publishing their work as stock imagery for pittances or free. “My advice, don’t do it and you’ll never be sorry you did”, said Falcioni.
It is expected that such demand will spin off into other facets of design, requiring an illustrative base, such as brand development or product design and, as a result, illustrators will seek more entrepreneurial means to display their work and get paid for it.
Stacey explained that illustrators, currently, are applying their artwork to more tangible products such as mobile phone covers, bags or t-shirts. “Many hand rendered artwork sells well (and looks amazing)”, said Stacey, “as everything has become quite generic, shoppers find nothing more pleasing than finding something unique”.
In a nutshell, 2014 will be the year of ‘doing it better’.
Just to recap what was discussed, we looked at:
1. Hand-rendered illustration
3. Animated gifs
2. On-demand illustration
From hand-rendered illustration to collage, what all the stylistic trends have in common is that they are experimenting with old formulas.
The recycling and refinement of styles has been borne from a creative necessity to keep the industry fresh. As well as this, keep illustrators competitive not only amongst themselves but also within the greater design industry.
This is where the workplace trends fit in with up-skilling and ‘on demand’ illustration. Illustration will always have a place in advertising and will be constantly tested to be on par with the commercial tone of the industry.
We will also see niche markets emerging in which certain skills will be valued, such as may be the case if illustration continues to move toward the emerging North Asian aesthetic or stippling.
What can be safe to say is that demand will remain as long as the industry continues to pursue the quest to ‘doing it better’ in illustration and design.