Friday, 16 December 2011

Illustrations Digital Future

“I know these are hard times for print journalists, I read that on the internet. One day you’re writing for the papers and the next day you’re sleeping under them.”

Malcolm Tucker
'The Thick of It'

Although this quote was originally directed at journalists, it speaks volumes about the concerns facing illustrators today. Editorial illustration is still the 'bread and butter' for most illustrators and yet the newspapers that commission them are seeing sales drop year after year as the truth becomes painfully evident that digital technologies are bringing print journalism closer to extinction. Why would anyone want to go out to buy an actual newspaper when they can find their news online? Many are blaming the 'Kindle' and the 'iPad' for allowing consumers to download the days paper from the comfort of their home and thus bringing printed news ever closer to irrelevance.

However, I would argue that those that despair over the deaths of both journalism and editorial illustration are somewhat missing the point. The public may be loosing its appetite for newspapers in their printed form but they haven't lost their appetite for newspapers all together. They may be able to find news online but the public still wants the verification and assurance that what they are reading is true and that only comes from trusted and reliable sources: like newspapers. The newspaper is not dead and neither is the editorial illustration, the home for both is now no longer at the news stand but on the IPad ,the Kindle, the SmartPhone or the Computer. 

The same can be said for book illustrations; the public still wants to read books and now they have the technology that can give them an entire library, full of books and full of illustrations at their fingertips.

There is still a market for editorial and book illustration, but illustrators have to realize that the format has changed and that their work is going to be viewed digitally. And with this change of format comes a range of exciting new possibilities. For example the illustration need no longer be a static, lifeless image, it can now be animated, it can now have sound, it can be interactive and can compliment its associated text in a whole new way. A good example of this is the Oliver Jeffers book 'Heart and Bottle', a children's book created for the iPad that was released to much acclaim last year. Jeffers tells a story using the standard practices of reading a book (for example page turning) and animation and the iPad's interactive potential has created a new and exciting way to children to engage with the text and the illustrations.

The new digital format may prove to be a blessing in disguise for some illustrators, after all now they need not worry about the print quality of their publications, thus allowing them to use a variety of textures and colours that may have otherwise been unsuitable. I am reminded of an interview with Cris Ware (at 3:25 in the video) during which he mentioned the difficulties he had in getting his book printed correctly. He mentioned how there had been certain editions where the colour combinations that he had so carefully chosen had not printed in the way he had intended and hence the entire mood of the piece was changed and the atmosphere he was trying to create was lost. Arguably he need not have had such concerns were the book published digitally.

So as illustration moves towards its digital future all hope is not lost, so long as illustrators can find creative and interesting ways to adapt to their work's new context.

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