Through the year I have seen and heard from several practicing professionals and this post will explore the different pressures experienced by two of those individuals and how hey respond to them. I have chosen to look at Container PLUS who, in their words are "a multidisciplinary art and design collective specialising in playfully creating multifaceted fantasy worlds across a multitude of 2D and 3D platforms", and compare them with Andrew Foster whom I have talked about in a previous post.
There are a number of similarities with these two parties, the types of commission they are usually associated with include shop displays and a free heavily painted and hand produced style. There are also very distinct differences. Andrew Foster works alone, often through Central Illustration Agency ad has been responsible for much self motivated promotional work that has led to gallery exhibitions and a self authored approach to much of this work.
Container PLUS work as a collective, primarily driven by the founders Nicola Carter and Luise Vormittag who met whilst studying at Camberwell. Sharing a sense of humour and various other interests, they began working together, initially by promoting each others work when visiting clients and the like until they began to work on joint pieces and established their joint identity.This work led them to work with various other photographers, set designers and assistants, at times just hiring, at others with them becoming part of the group. Patricia Niven (a photographer) recently becoming the third member and forming the group as we know it.
Nicola and Louise have now developed so much with each other that they say it is impossible to tell their work apart, one can take over from the other at any time and no-one would know the difference.
The way these parties have approached their careers raises several questions about the nature of the industry and illustration as a whole. Both have in their own way carved a niche for themselves. Container PLUS have created a unique identity and taken on vastly different commissions with their ability to adapt by hiring people they need to complete the job in hand. Andrew Foster admits that he struggled after leaving educational security and has had to approach things much more from a more personal stance and produced much work that is for his own pleasure. He has a very personal style and it seems the nature of his work means that he is defined by it, being deemed only suitable for certain articles and installations. Currently he is attempting to promote himself and feels like he was tossed aside after his graduation with little actual knowledge of the industry to rely on.
We don't have to look far to see examples of the kind of collaborative efforts that are found now-a-days within illustration. It has become more and more acceptable to have a group identity and push design forward as a group effort under one umbrella, producing self-authored indulgent pieces that let the illustrators' more artistic , indulgent side shine through to create fetishistic, exclusive items produced purely for pleasure and contrary to the accepted norm of client-based illustration. Limited runs of specially printed posters and cards, mugs and tea coasters are pretty run of the mill for any self respecting studio or illustrator now and it seems are almost a necessity for anyone that wants to make a living.
It appears that Container PLUS will have their online shop open some time this year...
So, is this indicative of a failing industry ? Are there just too many graduates now? Is it necessary to club together and scrape an existence together by hanging on with the few people that were in your class at school? The ladies at container PLUS admit that they don't make a lot of money, besides enough to live on and most of their funds is pumped back into self-promotion. Many would call this a victory and I'm not about to deny it. They admit having to look further afield than just the 'safe' umbrella of the illustration community. Looking at themselves much more as a creative whole they are happy to exhibit in more art oriented exhibitions.
The opening that I attended in Sheffield was for Mr Foster's private work and was being exhibited purely as art and as not really having a lot to do with his illustration work at all. We were invited to watch videos of Andrew talking candidly and with an almost uncomfortable feeling the business-like side of things was thrown aside as we saw a much more intimate view.
I admit I wasn't really prepared for this, but being a fine-art student prior to enrolling as an illustration student has opened me up more to the sensitivities of the fine-art world and it was an interesting change from the vast majority of work I was looking at at the time.
Andrew is of course represented by Central Illustration Agency but admits that this can be hard, waiting for a commission whilst your agency handles it's other clients.
Surely it is easy for an agency to hire as much new talent as it desires? They are in a win/win situation. If they don't get you work then they don't pay you. They are eliminating the competition by signing everybody. And if you do score yourself some work..well they'll take a cut.
It seems though that seems self-promotion is a must. Agencies are finding new ways to promote their clients and also to show that they are more creative than others, that they have better talent on their books and so-on but that's their job and if they weren't doing that, well someone else would be.
Either way it seems both of the parties we are looking at having to fight to be where they are.