Draw your blessings. And these are days of yore, at the gates of Jerusalem. Competent graphic designers who can’t draw…
Art Chantry (email@example.com):
This is a great example of a very good competent graphic designer who can’t draw worth a shit.
This is a little Christian booklet from back in 1970 – just about the time the whole Jesus freak movement was starting up. The liberal church (yeah, there used to be liberal churches) was trying to attract youngsters by ‘speaking their language’ and began to use pop culture as a tool to attract converts to ‘the word’ (or whatever they call that stuff.) So, this little booklet has a fake psychedelic cover done in mechanical process technology. Toss in a little of that typeface then called “smoke’ and bingo! cool graphix! it SPEAKS!
The fact that this designer (probably called herself an ‘artist’, because back in those days of hippieness, everybody was an artist inside, if they only had the time.) But the truth was she understood the print design process very very well, but she was a terrible illustrator. She was one lousy ‘drawer’ (i have her name, but i won’t provide it because i’m being so critical of her work). I mean, this stinks. It’s laughable. But, imagine everybody thought it was perfectly wonderful. It was the liberal way – like everybody had to humored like a child – “that’s WONDERFUL, dear!”
Upon closer inspection, you can see how incredibly well she understood the design process of the day (production art – a ‘mechanical’). She used standard PMS inks ( a system of ink colors with solid pigments pre-mixed to the color you specify. A standard ink system still in use). It’s four ink colors I can spot – warm red, pms 116 (or maybe 123), a green color and black. These are all layered on top of each other to create the additional colors seen.
The artwork is all cut out of overlay mask (usually ‘ruby-lithe’) and crudely drawn (a marking pen?) b&w images (probably phototstats of those images and line drawings. often called a ‘veelox’). It’s all assembled on cardboard with plastic flaps (called ‘overlays) that, when sandwiched together when the ink on the printing press, will all exactly fit together (called ‘registration’) to create the finished image you see here. Basically, the full color artwork/image you see doesn’t exist except until AFTER it is printed. It’s all created in abstract in the designer’s mind. There is no real ‘original’ artwork, except a bunch of little black and white pieces of paper all pasted together on cardboard. It’s a system of art creation that is rapidly disappearing all together.
So, this image (or illustration) is actually just one little piece of a much larger process that results in this cheezy little cover. Before computers made everything all wizywig, the whole thing was extremely difficult to master and was considered a sort of ‘magic’ to clients. Often, we only had to show them what we did to sell the project/idea. They were so overwhelmed by the seemingly complexity of the mechanical process to be totally intimidated. they would just back up, wave their hand and say “wonderful. do it” and then hold their breathe and wait to see the result. If you screwed it up , it was YOUR head. To mix metaphors (again) it was very much like a cowboy flying blind. It took confidence and real skill. If you didn’t have the chops to back up your own bullshit, you were toast.
Over the years of teaching and confabbing with other commercial artists, I often run into
confusion between design and illustration. Everybody seems to assume they’re the same thing. Teachers (who should professionally know better) don’t seem to be able to teach the difference, either. Now that the computer has placed the tools of this craft into everybody hands and told us we are all our own commercial artists, the confusion is total.
Yes, I agree that illustration and design are very closely related. I even get hired to do illustration myself, even though I really don’t consider myself an illustrator. I even make that same mistake myself when hiring talent. The honest truth is that illustrators are usually second rate designers. And designers and usually second rate illustrators. They are basically creative skills that use different areas of the knowledge and possibly even different parts of the brain.
Some times you get lucky and hire people who can do the whole thing beautifully. but, that’s rare. An illustrator who is a really talented designer is very very rare. And the designer who can illustrate is usually faking it and only ‘designing an image’. To get a true great illustrator along with a designer in the same person is like hiring conjoined twins – sorta freakish.
The bottom line is that illustration is product and design is process. Now, I know such a crude definition will cause much backlash out there. It even sounds insulting to those purists out there. To suggest that illustration excludes ‘process’ is ridiculous in the extreme. and to deny the end result of the design process as mere product beggars credibility. But, I stand by this difference.
When you hire an illustrator, it’s to produce an image that can can depict an idea for some function – a drawing, a photo, a graph, a self-sustaining IMAGE. An illustration is rarely NOT accompanied by an article or an ad or some sort of text – a ‘caption’, if you will. It’s purpose is explaining the image and the image depicts the caption. they stand together as a unit, both dependent on each other. A stand alone illustration that does the whole task is always a show stopper. but graphic design that doesn’t utilize an illustration is commonplace.
When you hire an illustrator, the selection is based on style – the particular “look” that illustrator can give you. Whether it is appropriate for the information it accompanies is critical. You don’t hire Rick Griffin to illustrate a medical textbook, for instance (unless you’re rather daring or high). So, the ‘stye’ the illustrator can do is as important as their skill as an information presenter – often MORE important. And because style is so subject to fad and fashion, styles constantly change with time. So, an illustrator’s peak career phase is often quite short – I guess at 5 years. Very few illustrators are so profound and influential and iconic that they survive that short career life span. These guys that do are considered old masters. But, even they have careers that fade dramatically over time.
So, the bottom line is that illustration is bought as a ‘product’. You buy a style and expect the image created to do the requested function in the style desired. Like buying a car – you ask for the color and upholstery and features and it takes you from point A to point B.
Design on the other hand is almost pure process (although often sold as a product – i.e., you ‘buy’ a ‘logo’). In truth, unlike an illustrator, when a client enters the door, you have no idea what is going to happen. What could start out as a small business startup client (a fledging new company just getting off the ground) looking for a logo could start a process that could go on for years and produce all sorts of posters and advertisements and industrial design and architecture and and even manufactured and sold product/items itself. You just never know where this contact is going to lead. You could even end up being one of the owners of the company. It happens all the time.
The designer’s job is to take all the skills and knowledge at his disposal and provide a client with what he needs to succeed at a given task. We use color and line and form and shape and composition and medium and materials and printing and writing and letterforms and photography and illustration (yeah, we hire illustrators as contractors all the time) and thinkers and doers and contractors , etc. etc. etc and build what is needed to so the client’s task. It’s like conducting and orchestra or directing a movie. It’s a collaborative process that counts the client as an equal partner in the decisions. To call a designer an ‘artist’ is to miss the point of the vastness of our task. Just doing a piece of muse-driven art is a snap compared to the amount of work designers have to do to even provide the simplest effective scribble we all call ‘a logo.’
All art and illustration use design in their creation, but not all design uses art and illustration in their process. It seems that illustration is actually just a tool/skill designer’s often purchase to get the larger task accomplished. This is not to belittle illustration and lionize design (though being primarily a designer, i tend to do so). I could never make an image of the evening sky and call it the ‘starry night’. Never. but I imagine Van Gogh likely was a lousy sign painter or poster dude. Savvy?
Like I enjoy saying about computers, just because you have a solid gold hammer doesn’t mean you’re an architect.
Art Chantry:when i hung out on gigposters, i got so much grief for my efforts at defining the differences. it was like raining on their little parade over there. all those poster folks who were one step above classroom doodles were suddenly calling themselves major level design professionals because they did a full color rock poster (aka – a picture with an unrelated caption). trying to explain the diff got me soooooo much grief. fantasies are very powerful in this business. if you can bullshit yourself first and foremost, you can much more easily convince the client. confidence sells (thus the term ‘con man’). standard sales mantra stuff…. i also have to step in and point out that sub cultures (like religious groups) are where all our collective cool ideas emerge from (certainly not academia or nyc , like the elite want you to think). to dismiss all xtian graphics as lame is to blind yourself to really amazingly cool and influential work by an entire huge piece of the world. back up and start over….