My most recent lecture was on illustration, the key points being what does it compose of, and how does an illustrator elucidate his ideas.
A key point drawn upon was research. This, I think, is such a wide and abstracted term that now; even undergraduate students can be lost and confused when confronted with the idea. Paul Davis quoted that “I feel sick when I forget potentially good ideas…” and this is what research is meant to be! Unless it’s for a commission and one actively needs to go out and collect information relevant, as a creative mind it should be inspiring enough simply being curious about the world. There are poignant differences in what research can be conducted, and how to conduct it. Primary consists of physically going out and gathering information - which is the area I’ll speak more about – and secondary is where you extrapolate existing research and mould it to your needs. Going to the library, looking at coloured monographs of artists, picking up your friends sketchbook and delving through it, this is all secondary research.
Sketchbooks I think are an intrinsic part of an illustrator’s sphere of inspiration. The idea of a sketchbook has mutated along with the definition of research, and they become as unique and as personal as the artist themselves. Sabrina Ward Harrison, a Canadian illustrator, is a prime example of one extreme of sketchbook, where her written and sketched thoughts literally overlap one another, leading to a cacophony of colour and intrigue in the pages, and, for me, quite an inspiring thing to see.
I could go on forever about the qualities and constituents of sketchbooks, but that can be saved for another blog.
Another property of illustration, which parallels nicely with research, is inspiration. Once again – showing its importance – the sketchbook has a key role to play, being the intermediary stage of research and inspiration. Staring at a blank canvas does not inspire, and many past masters have written of the ‘fear of the canvas’; where one simply crumbles in front of the daunting task. Inspiration is everywhere; it should be an ongoing process of cataloguing the world in a way that makes sense to you. Personally I have 3 or 4 sketchbooks; one which is pure text, where I scribble ideas down as they come to me, one where I experiment with different media, an A4 Moleskine which I only use for pencil sketching, and one where I collect, annotate and deconstruct found inspiration, so, postcards (a past favourite), examples of typography, road signs, graffiti, textures, things that exist all around us could well be integral to a future project. Not to mention having sketchbooks of reference to fall back on can save your hide on a future brief.
Although these two aspects; research and inspiration, are vital to an illustrators blossoming, they are by no means all that is required. Think visually, experiment, as soon as one stagnates the work mirrors it. Mark Wigan said that development is; “[Being] Open minded, working hard, have sustained and continuous practice, and finally take risks…” Because, if you take risks on small personal projects, you will be more inclined to on the larger ones, and (hopefully) this can help lead you to a better understanding of your own visual practice.