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The demise of technique

Finally catching up with things after the exhibition. Here’s another illustration blog,ILLUSTRATION ART, a sharply observed insight on the lost craft of technique.

It got me thinking. (Here we go, another grumble…)

It’s been suggested that the two world wars basically destroyed the skills of finish and technique for illustrators, (you know, the “craft” part of Arts & Crafts), though the 20th Century was pretty much of a helter-skelter for creativity even without two titanic struggles in the middle. I think it has more to do with the rise of sliced bread, photography, and Andy Warhol’s “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” but I won’t delve into sociology here too deeply. Suffice to say that by the time I was at college in the late 1970’s tight academic drawings were frowned on by my tutors, I was encouraged to “loosen up”, “be more expressionate”…..

Maybe they were right at the time, I did loosen up, and developed a shorthand children’s style that got me work, but I still regret now not having a stronger disciplined training in technique and observation, which at the time I really needed. Most of my meagre skills I honed under the demanding pressures of working in the real world after graduation. When I show my work to publishers in the UK today I often hear them bemoaning how “younger graduates don’t have these kind of drawing skills any more…”, so things obviously haven’t changed much.

I tell myself that techniques have changed, the discipline of illustration has evolved in new directions, with new materials, demanding different skills. Not many people would want to return to strict Victorian conservatism in art, but I sometimes wonder whether the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. Some of those skills seem to have been lost forever.

What I particularly worry about is another more insidious trend that seems to characterise too much illustration today (especially in Japan) – the growing popularity of “sampling” (or, as they used to call it in my house “ripping-off”!). By that I mean the wholesale copying of style, or plundering of old images.

Copying Style – the re-hash of old 50’s and 60’s styles without any personal input from the illustrator, a souless veneer of technique slapped on a mediocre idea to give the impression of trendiness. Shockingly just such a re-hash 50’s style copy illustration is being used to promote sales of this year’s “Illustration File” sourcebook in Japan. It’s an unforgiveable stylistic rip-off!!

Plundering Images – the digital collaging of other people’s out-of-copyright work in some attractive juxtaposition and calling it “original artwork”. – “Oy! That’s not illustration, it’s graphic design!”

In the USA lobbyists are about to pass new legislation that strips copyright protection of orphaned works (copyrighted works where the copyright owner cannot be found), making it easier than ever to “sample” other’s work, cut and paste, and get away with it.(A campaign against the bill is being promoted by The Illustrators’ Partnership)

Whichever case, it’s the blatant re-moulding of old work re-launched for a generation that doesn’t know or care about the original source. I see it every day I get on the train into Tokyo, (I’ll try and remember to post some examples…) and it bugs me.

Computers have made it so easy to copy and re-package. The general trend is “hey, anyone can be an artist”. I won’t argue with that. Anyone really can be an “artist”, for art is after all in the eye of the beholder. But illustration is a much more professional business, which is being undermined by a lowering of technical standards and fees. The bottom line is – if you don’t have the skills you shouldn’t be doing the job.

The old saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” has always been true with illustration, you can never come up with a truely original concept, everything has it’s precedants. However there’s a big difference between being “inspired” by other’s work, and simply stealing it to repackage as your own.

And on that note I put a smile back on my face and get back to work…

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