Inside the process - The Philanthropist
A look into the choices, compromises and epiphanies that go into making an illustration.
This is a Inside The Process letter of The (Im)posture — the newsletter from Julien Posture. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing.
State of emergence: Why we need artists right now, by Shannon Litzenberger for The Philanthropist, 2022.
Once in a while, people reach out to illustrators early on in the life of a project to really collaborate and think together about what’s the best use of illustration in a given context. The Philanthropist is this kind of precious collaborator. Even before talking about the content of Shannon’s text, we discussed how we could best illustrate this long piece. I suggested two options, either one main image followed by 4 spots for each sections, or 4 main images if the text were to be divided in several posts. We went for the first option.
Shannon Litzenberger’s text deals extensively with the current state of the arts amidst the pandemic, and how while artists (especially from live arts) have been particularly struggling, they might also hold the key to a different future, both for the art world and the rest of it. It was a story of resilience, but mostly of emergence, of creativity in times of crisis. It was clear to me that these were the two main component I wanted to work with. A restraining structure sustained by an artistic work which simultaneously tries to take it down.
I usually am very clear in my sketches but for some reason with this one, I sensed that I hadn’t quite seized the essence of my intention at that stage. The client hesitated between #2 and #3, which were simple, graphic options. When I started to work on the final, I felt completely stuck. I think it’s because I hadn’t thought things through properly and thought of the articulation main image / spots and was therefore working against my own logic. It took me a while to get out of that rut.
The conceptual solution stemmed from a graphic experiment. Up until that point, the collapsing frame appealed to me but didn’t make enough sense in relation to the text. The solution “bloomed” when I started fill in that dark heavy space with graphic elements. Suddenly it made sense, the stage is to performing artists what the frame is to illustrators, this needed to be a stage. The graphic elements in the frame turned into an abstract heavy fabric falling on the characters.
Fun fact, the history of theatre drapes is actually fascinating and I learned about safety curtains, or fire curtains, meant to protect the audience in case of fire on stage. All the more fitting for a metaphoric text on the burning state of emergency in whic the art world is right now.
Now this was a curtain, the colour and physics of it got resolved automatically, no more liquid cave weirdly drooping on lost explorators for no reasons. Now the main image characters got their salvation thanks to the spots. Having the chance to work on 4 spots derived from the main image gave me the opportunity to work sequentially, which is veeeeery rare in illustration, for me at least. I used the idea of the frame for the spots as well, but only as a colourful reminder that would change overtime. Here is the sequence :
Voilà. This the messy reality of how I personnaly work sometimes. It took me a while to be at piece with this “process”. At first I thought struggling was a sign of me not being professional enough, of me not having figured out how to work yet. I used to think that as a “conceptual" illustrator, I needed to have a clear method based on ideas and concepts, i.e verbal ideas. Eventually, I realized the most interesting parts were of my work were the serendipitous ones, and the ones I couldn’t translate in words conveniently.
Drawing is a way to figure out things we might be unable to figure out verbally. Drawing has its own way of “making sense”. This is a complicated balance because as illustrators we also need to communicate our ideas verbally through emails or phone calls with ADs. Dancer Isadora Duncan put it this way : “If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it".
How to “explain” what can only be illustrated ? I still don’t know. I can only count on the patience, the openness, the trust of the people I work with to understand the ineffable nature of making illustrations.
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