“I was impressed with just how many great pieces had been entered,” says juror Ryan Anderson. “We saw everything from the completely abstract to very tight realism. Agencies, companies and publications are once again coming to appreciate the nuances of emotion that only illustration can provide.”
“There were tons of entries to choose from—especially from new talent,” says juror Carolyn Perot. “It was fantastic to see brilliant work from both the old guard and new and unknown illustrators. I was surprised and excited to see some established illustrators totally reinvent themselves.”
“The biggest surprise was the large amount of illustrators I’d never seen before,” juror Chris Buzelli says. “It was a refreshing surprise, especially after my experience judging other illustration competitions.”
“Maybe what’s old is new, but there were a lot of classically rendered pieces,” juror Lesley Palmer says. “I didn’t see as many vectors or bold poppy colors as I thought I would, given current trends.”
“I’m heartened to see that illustration is coming back to hand-drawn and painted styles and moving away from hard-edged computer or photo-realistic styles,” says Perot. “But contentwise, illustration is more heavy hitting, brash and irreverent than ever.”
“The ability of illustrators to communicate quickly, clearly and shockingly in one strong—often politically motivated—image was evident and on display in the entries,” juror Kristen Nobles says.
Speaking of politics: “Another surprise was the large amount of Trump illustrations,” Buzelli says. “Illustrators are having an important visual impact on our current political environment, and I can only imagine that number increasing for next year’s competition.”
Though jurors had much to like among the submissions, they found several areas lacking.
“Coming from the world of children’s book art and young adult fiction covers, I was disappointed that not many entries were from my flourishing, diverse field,” Nobles says.
“My biggest disappointment was the lack of quality animation in the competition,” says Anderson. “Maybe animators and illustrators don’t really think of animation when it comes to the Illustration Annual.”
Several judges also provided advice for those illustrators whose entries were not accepted.
“There was a very fine line between some of the pieces that made it into the Annual and some that did not,” says Anderson. “Generally, the pieces that made it had something that pushed the work to another level. It wasn’t enough to be proficient—the work needed to tell a compelling story.”“There were certain styles that dominated the new illustrators’ work that didn’t make it to the final round,” Perot says. “Art directors still favor punchy, conceptual work over complex work that doesn’t have a clear, simple message.”
“While many images were strong in their statements, they also seemed a bit one note and lacked a broad spectrum of emotions,” Nobles says.
“It’s important for artists to remember to steer clear of visual clichés—bird cages to represent entrapment is one example,” says Palmer.
When the judges were asked to suggest other profit centers that illustrators could pursue, one direction dominated their responses.
“Lots of publishers want animated GIFs and video content,” Perot says. “I hope illustrators can find ways to make these clever and simple—not merely distracting. If animation adds to the story or tells one of its own and entertains at the same time, I’m all for it.”
Palmer agrees. “More and more companies are looking for short video opportunities, particularly for social media.”
“Technology has opened up new career possibilities for illustrators,” Buzelli says. “It is up to us to keep pushing for healthier budgets and educating for fair contracts so that more can enjoy working in this industry.”
A minimum of three out of five votes was required for a project to be awarded in this year’s competition. I would like to extend our grateful appreciation to our jurors for their conscientious efforts in selecting our 58th Illustration Annual. —Patrick Coyne, ca