Contemporary Illustration

Illustration today is a very difficult subject to define. Some may say that it sits in a no-mans land between fine art and design due to the vast number of styles that have emerged over the past decade. This range has allowed the discipline to enter a plethora of opportunities in different markets. There is therefore a high demand for more unique styles to be developed and matured. Work that once seemed modern is now seen as being too digital and clinical, whereas individual and dynamic styles are becoming far more popular.  Clients are now looking for personality within styles and quite often quirky humour. To be successful, illustrators must continue to observe and adapt to whatever is in fashion at that time whilst adding their own unique ideas to it. For example, the repetitive pattern and swirls produced by vector graphics was a popular choice a short while ago, but is now being avoided as it is seen to be outdated. As computer software becomes updated so quickly, it allows for new ideas to be continuously explored. As there has become such a vast encyclopaedia of design and techniques that are always evolving, it would be a very difficult job to try and define every one individually. However, here are a few styles that are very popular yet very different in subject, technique and style.

Typical example of vector graphics that is becoming outdated.

Typical example of vector graphics that is becoming outdated.


The word collage originates from the French word ‘coller’ — meaning glue. Traditionally a collage would consist of cutting out and gluing down many different materials, for example, handmade paper, newspaper, fabric, and photographs. Collage allows the artist to create a completely new scenario, often rather surreal and eclectic. Positioning of the elements within a collage is very important to create the correct viewpoint, as the slight movement of a photograph could change the whole perspective of the final image. Collage is also effective when no narrative is needed as it allows for ‘cut and paste’ impression. Although traditional techniques are still used, they are often combined with photoshop techniques to create a more modern style. Photoshop permits options of textured appearance, change in colour and proportion and much more. However, some may argue that this modern day approach lacks in substance as the final piece would be completely 2-dimensional and not give as much impression of depth compared to a more 3-dimensional handmade piece.

Heather Landis 'Lead the Way'

Heather Landis ‘Lead the Way’

Emma Rios "Bombass and Parr" Book Cover

Emma Rios “Bombass and Parr” Book Cover


Manga is traditionally a Japanese genre of comic books and style of illustration. It is one of the most widely used styles in Japan today and is becoming more and more popular throughout the world. Manga has been in used as a style for centuries, evolving throughout the decades, yet the fundamental aspects of drawing remain the same. These detailed illustrations are primarily used for Manga comic books, but if successful enough, are animated into short episodes or even films called Anime. Traits of the Manga style include whimsical and colourful backgrounds and the characters facial features are often very similar, portrayed with large eyes, a small nose and a small mouth. To produce this style, the artist usually draws an initial line sketch and then renders the image with computer software programs.

Manga Illustration by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Manga Illustration by Nobuhiro Watsuki


When most people hear the word ‘typography’ they will usually associate it with the clean and precise lines of graphic design. However, recently there has be a far more illustrative approach to type where more imagination has been put into making the words look more appealing to the eye. Quite often artists will shape words into an associated image so that the image actually contains the word. As the message is already being conveyed through the actual words, the illustrator may often convey a second meaning, or reinforce this message through their visual approach to the typography.

Sam Bevington 'Sugar Skull'

Sam Bevington ‘Sugar Skull’


This contemporary style is quite often illustrated using black ink and watercolour but can be created using a multitude of mediums. It could almost be described as impressionist in its spontaneity and allows for excitement and fluidity in imagery. It is not a perfectionist style but instead uses its mistakes to add character to pieces as ‘happy accidents’. These illustrations are often isolated on a background of crisp white or cream paper and create an impression of being drawn in long fluid lines rather than many sketchy marks. Illustrator Christina Drejenstam explains,

“I draw almost exclusively in black and white with one accent colour, I also like to leave a part of the picture incomplete for the viewer to fill in.”

Lines that don’t meet fully against one another is another trait that loose illustration possesses which adds to the style. From an early age we are taught to keep colour within the lines but loose line illustration allows the artist to oppose this rule and create a feeling of freedom. The impression of movement that loose line illustration holds reflects the ever-evolving aspect of this style as well as contemporary illustration as a whole. 

Christina Drejenstam Wine glasses

Christina Drejenstam Wine Glasses

(Unable to find reference material as research was carried out previous to blog assignment.)


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