Illustration Education

The Illustration Idea Book: 50 Illustrators Offer Inspiration for Your Next Great Work of Art

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas

All images cour­tesy of Lau­rence King Pub­lish­ing.
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As an illus­tra­tor, how do you come up with ideas? It’s eas­i­er said than done. Real­ly, when we ask that ques­tion, we’re talk­ing about how we think; how our minds can make con­nec­tions and visu­al­ly express intan­gi­ble con­cepts. Like all things, com­ing up with good ideas takes a lot of practice—of not just exe­cut­ing them, but cul­ti­vat­ing them from a tiny seed into a full-grown bush.

The Illus­tra­tion Idea Book will help you in your quest to come up with con­cepts and com­mu­ni­cate in clever and con­cise forms. Writ­ten by the imitable Steven Heller and Gail Ander­son, the pub­li­ca­tion fea­tures inspi­ra­tion from 50 illus­tra­tion mas­ters. Yuko Shimizu, Matha Rich, Marc Bouta­vant, David Plunk­ert, Edel Rodriguez, Jen­nifer Daniel, and Lot­ta Niem­i­nen are some of the names shar­ing their work.

Steven and Gail have divid­ed the many works into sev­en cat­e­gories of how ideas are expressed, from cre­at­ing char­ac­ters to visu­al­iz­ing data to using sym­bols and metaphors. As you look through each spread, you’re intro­duced to illus­tra­tion ideas and the insight behind them—from both the authors and the illustrators.

I was honored to talk to Steven about the new illustration ideas book, which was released today. Scroll down to read the interview and learn how you can win a copy!

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas

Where did the inspi­ra­tion for this book come from?

Gail Ander­son and I have been doing a series for LKP [Lau­rence King Pub­lish­ing] the …… Idea Book. They pro­posed doing The Graph­ic Design Idea Book, I pro­posed the “Typog­ra­phy … “ and “Illus­tra­tion .…”

What your cri­te­ria for select­ing the illus­tra­tors in the book?

Cri­te­ria were sim­ple. Good ideas! Gail and I have long expe­ri­ence as art direc­tors of illus­tra­tion. We both know how invalu­able ideas are. If the style is beau­ti­ful that’s great, but ideas come in dif­fer­ent forms. The ideas we select­ed ranged from the famil­iar to the surprises.

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas

What do you think the group, as a whole, says about the field of illustration?

It is alive and well. And there are some very smart peo­ple out there. I’ve always known this, but I’m glad to val­i­date the fact. Illus­tra­tion is a viable art and a dif­fi­cult craft.

You state in the intro­duc­tion that there are “tried and true ways to con­ceive visu­al ideas”, call­ing them the “gram­mar of illus­tra­tion”. How did you come to iden­ti­fy these approaches?

We let the work speak for itself. In oth­er words, we might have pin­point­ed one idea, but after ana­lyz­ing and fig­ur­ing out a nar­ra­tive for each or cer­tain work, we found new or addi­tion­al ideas at play. Some eas­i­ly cross-over, so it was a mat­ter of mak­ing an informed deci­sion on where and why they fell into the buck­et that they did.

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas

Are there are any oth­ers that did­n’t make the book but you still think are important?

Prob­a­bly. Doing a book like this, we did not start with 50 ideas and then found work to fill them. We had a cou­ple of dozen ideas and found more. If we con­tin­ued, we’d have found more, I think. There were, how­ev­er, many left on the cut­ting room floor for one rea­son or another.

Most of the select­ed illus­tra­tions were cre­at­ed in the past decade. Why is that?

Most yes, but not all. Unlike graph­ic design and typog­ra­phy which builds on its lega­cy, we felt that illus­tra­tion is much more tied to its time­frame. There is also just more “idea” work being done in the past, say, 40 years than in ear­li­er times and we want­ed the read­er of the book to feel currency.

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas

Of the ideas you list in the book, is there one (or two) that stands above the rest as the most impor­tant for an illus­tra­tor to mas­ter? Why is that?

Metaphor and trans­for­ma­tion are two key ideas. But all the con­cepts, ideas and even tropes are impor­tant. The more you know, the more you can accom­plish. But illus­tra­tion is no longer about pure real­ism or idealism/romanticism as it was in the ear­li­er 20th cen­tu­ry. It is impor­tant to be able to trans­late the real into the sym­bol­ic and allow the audi­ence to draw their own interpretations.

You and Gail are both edu­ca­tors. Where do you see this book fit­ting into the edu­ca­tion of an illustrator?

What we love about the series is it is con­cise, com­pact and acces­si­ble. Stu­dents can learn and can absorb. In this era of too much and over­done, this suits us just fine.

I’ve teamed up with Laurence King Publishing to give one copy of The Illustration Idea Book away to one lucky reader! Follow me on Instagram and comment on this post to enter until 11:59PM CT on November 20. 

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas

The Illustration Idea Book // illustration ideas