Jillian Tamaki

Be Interesting

Oct 25th, 2010


Step 2: post exasperated decrees on Twitter! (And get @Drawn to RT you.)

Let me speak a little bit about the background behind this pseudo-proclamation.

Last weekend i was hanging out with Mike Kerr and Renata Liwska. Mike is a former teacher of mine at ACAD and Renata (who also happens to be his wife) was in town collecting a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators for her children’s book The Quiet Book. Renata’s work is gorgeous, soft, inviting, and has a classic feeling to it. Renata grew up in Poland (a place with its own history of amazing illustration and design). The books she read as a child and her own memories of the place serve as inspiration for her current work. Those influences tinge her work with nostalgia… not “retro” at all, but an emotional connection to memory.

Also last week, I was discussing with my drawing students at SVA the importance of being culturally aware and how it behooves the creative person to LOOK OUT into the world. Beyond your own brain, your classmates, your peers, your teachers, even your heroes. Because as an illustrator, I’ll just assume you one day hope to contribute to the culture and the world. The notion of artists toiling away in isolation is somewhat of a myth. I’m not talking about Community here (I’ll be honest, sometimes I think Community is overrated). I’m talking about isolation in the sense that sometimes I feel students feel like they should magically improve if they simply try hard enough, spend enough time on a piece, or do something enough times. It isn’t enough. Usually.

Art has been created since the dawn of civilization, so I think there’s a good back catalogue of Masters for you to look at, and learn from. People have been pondering the same artistic problems, visual and conceptual, as you are. For thousands of years.

Besides. Aren’t you enrolled in Art School because you LOVE looking at Art?

Looking at the Internet kind of doesn’t count anymore, in my book.

OK, it counts a little bit. It counts because you can see what is relevant in the industry, what is successful, what people are doing. I was being a little provocative in that last statement (I am addicted to provocative statements now because they land you on Top Tweets).

But there is a distinctive thing that is happening in Illustration, and it’s because Illustration is becoming very self-referential. Many students will cite a DeviantArt blogger as their favourite artist. Whole portfolios are based on mashing together two popular illustrators’ “styles”. Illustration is becoming a “style” unto itself, with no connection to context. Everyone’s creating work that’s influenced by Paul Rand or Alphonse Mucha or Edward Gorey… 250 times removed. It’s like looking at a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.

It’s a little boring.

But that’s OK. In a way, this is a great time for Illustration. It’s popular and a lot of people are doing it. A lot of Illustration is bad, and it’s visible because everything is visible online. I mention all of this because I hope to push my students to create authentic, unique work that is their own– not a pastiche of whoever happens to be topping the Tumblr charts at the moment. Something that speaks to lived experience, experimentation, hard work, and curiosity.

P.S. Yes! I am @dirtbagg. Follow me if you like, but not everything I tweet is pithy or relevant to Illustration!