Friday, 6 November 2009

Charles Hively Lecture -The Rise and Fall and Rise of American Illustration

I was lucky enough to attend Charles Hively’s lecture; ‘The Rise and fall and rise of American Illustration,’ at Sheffield University this week.

Hively is the producer of 3X3 a three times a year publication devoted solely to illustration. The format being that it features three illustrators written about by three of their illustrator friends. The aim of the magazine is probably best put on the magazine website;

  1. “Our mission is to spotlight the best international artists working today and encourage a new focus on the use of illustration by the advertising and design communities.”

Being an ex-illustrator himself Hively started the magazine amongst a lot of negative advice from people telling him the magazine would never be successful, despite this, the magazine has gone from strength to strength since its first edition now reaching issue13.

It must be said that Hively is really all about promoting illustration as a valid method for communication compared to say, photography.

In his lecture he first explained how he got started in illustration, producing an illustration whilst under the influence of a bad cold, as well as the drugs which he had taken to subdue its effects. Producing a, ‘squewy, lined drawing’, of a local scene with a Christmas message, he was convinced that it would never see print. He was wrong of course and this was the launching board for more freelance work.

Launching an advertising agency and then becoming a creative director, he also became more involved in creating the layouts for the magazine he was involved with. This led to critical acclaim.

This gave him the opportunity to hire people that he really admired the work of and enjoy the relationship of working with people coming up with ideas. He really likes concepts and not just decoration.

This career led him to do photography, illustration and art direction, he also worked as an advertising head and this left him with a unique perspective when looking for the next thing and deciding to do 3x3 as a publisher.

Hively, as I have said is a strong believer in illustration going so far as to say that we; ‘have the power to change the cultural environment.’ Pointing out historical examples from American illustration of people wanting their hair lin the style perhaps of how a certain illustrator had drawn it or how everybody at one time could recognise, and know the name of, whoever had done a particular illustration, such was their notoriety.

The next section of the lecture contained what Hively saw as reasons for the ‘death’ of illustration. He named photography as art as one siting people like Steiglitz as art-photographers, suddenly making illustration look very dated. Photography was now capturing the environment in the way that illustration once had.

Another reason was art schools, coming up with abstract ideas representing things like emotions, that were before recognisable as an expression or action that the illustrator would draw now becoming strange shapes and smears of colour for example.

One that you might find surprising was the Apple Mac, whereby he talked about us no longer needing scrap files for resource and just googling everything for example.

Of course the lecture was not a bleak eulogy for illustration and Me Hively was of course dutifully bound to tell us of the resurrection of the illustration world and why his magazine is so successful.

He took us back to a day before computers and even photography (at least before it was used widely in print) and showed how art and illustration were almost the same thing. Moving on, he showed us how things moved on and illustration started to be used in advertising, with the obvious advantage that an illustrator can show an idea and not just a piece of art.

One problem he noted was that when he mentioned (recently) the idea that an illustrator could be hired to produce an idea to art directors that this came as a surprise to them. They had become so reliant upon photography that they were not even aware that they could hire somebody to think of and develop an idea for them. He stated that it was a problem amongst the industry that they would merely come up with an idea and then tell a photographer exactly what they wanted to see.

He stressed that this is something that us illustrators really need to take note of and that we should be pushing art directors, creative producers et-all to consider illustration as a practical and perhaps superior alternative to this sort of avenue. He also that they might be saving themselves some money by hiring just one person instead of the army of assistants and so on that the photographer needs. An illustrator will take an idea away and work on it and refine it and come up with new solutions. They have the ability to draw an idea straight from their heads onto the paper and develop it further. Also you would be buying something entirely more original, what with illustration being such a personal thing.

We were shown that a photographic style could be recreated by another photographer and you wouldn’t know who had taken the photo, but with illustration (at least good illustration) you would get that individual’s style. Interesting.

As well as this, we looked at the need for illustration to cross into the realms of art as both another source of income but also of course as a means of promotion. Hively tried to convince us that it would be pertinent to get a second job to support ourselves but also to always be looking at fresh ideas and working on our creativity, as the average illustrators career lasts maybe seven years. He suggested tactics such as having an alternate identity, a nom-de-plume, or having two or three recognisably different styles, which we can work in.

He pointed us to people such as Seymour Chwast, at Push Pin studios and animation as helping to once again breathe new life into the illustration industry.

Adding that even through digital manipulation not everyone could match the specific skills of the individual illustrator for producing ideas. ‘Not everyone can draw.’

As I have said he now enjoys promoting talented illustrators through his magazine 3x3. With his assistant Sarah they also now produce other sister magazines and they also now produce an annual for 3x3. This includes a competition contained in a section at the back of the annual.

He concluded by talking about the three things every illustrator needs to know and a list of do’s and don'ts for us all.

The three things we all need to know are;


Illustration is a business.

You work for yourself -you have to be prepared to jump in head first, those that get to the edge and turn back are not going to make it.

This also means that you do your own accounts, you bill and collect (always stating; ‘net due upon receipt’). You do the filing and taxes.


Websites are marketing tools.

Blogs are not, prospective clients need to see the work you are offering, not a long list of text and have to search around for the type of work you offer. You need your best work to be there straight away and not a bunch of flash animations and menus in the way.


Be visible.

Don’t just print off 600 postcards; send them to the people that matter, the ones that you think will hire you. Be everywhere, a client needs to see you at least three times for you to be in their minds.

Enter every show and keep doing it. Put you work in directories (good ones) not just the ones that charge, 3x3 is a good one, people pay attention.

Show work in galleries, this will get your work to a wider audience and rovide alternate income.

Try to get your work in to memorable media, Times magazine or similar, better quality print, more memorable media, wider audience.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do be original-Don’t be a copy

Be professional-Not a prima-donna

Do try to see directors-Don’t dress like a slob

Do be outgoing-Don’t be recluse

Be assertive and positive-Don’t do jobs you can’t handle

Do get the second job and take time to promote yourself, denying work while you promote yourself gives clients the impression that you are busy, they will call again if they want you!

Do publicize-Don’t wait for the phone to ring.

Do join clubs-Don’t just join the AOI

Art directors will give you work, illustrators wont.

Do take AD’s to lunch.- Don’t just take illustrators. This will extend your career.

Support the community-Don’t just support yourself.

Do bid fairly- Don’t undercut a pro. This is just undermining the industry and will bring all commissions down, how will we make a living?

Do be prepared to barter, if a client names a price, ask for more.- Don’t just jump at the first figure out of the bag. Have an idea what the job should be worth beforehand if possible, ask the community.

Do research-Don’t just make something up.

Do lots of sketches-Don’t just use the first idea that you come up with.

Do be ruthless-Don’t show everything you’ve done, only the best or things that you are prepared to do again.

Do subscribe to print-Don’t just rely on the web.

That should give us all something to consider….

For a little more information there's a good interview with Charles here.

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