“The quality of the entries was high caliber. It was really difficult to judge,” says juror Marlene Szczesny. “The range of styles and artistic expression was so diverse—it was exciting to see.”
“I was overwhelmed with the caliber of work that had been submitted,” juror David Way says. “It’s always a humbling experience to look through so much amazing work, and then the guilt of being asked to judge it.”
“It’s always interesting to look at such a high quantity of work in a condensed amount of time,” says juror Martin Dupuis. “The overall impression was a bombardment of styles, personal vision and hard work.”
“Before judging the entries, I felt that, on the whole, the field of illustration was a bit stale—too much similar-looking work, too much superficial flat stuff,” juror Michael Ng says. “The winning entries reassured me that the outlook for creativity in illustration is bright.”
When asked what surprised them the most about the submissions, several jurors commented on the quality of the Student Work and Animation entries.
“It was great to see so much student work that felt fresh, interesting and distinct,” says juror Cheyne Gateley. “It was really some of the best submitted work overall.”
“We were very impressed by the high quality of the student animation entries,” jurors Anna and Elena Balbusso say.
“I was impressed with the storytelling and visual design in the animation category,” says Way. “There were some staggeringly beautiful pieces that really pushed illustration as a narrative vehicle in a way that I hadn’t seen before.”
Several jurors also commented on how the use of color significantly impacted their view of the work.
“Some special and original color palettes were, for me, one of the most outstanding surprises,” says juror Nora Grosse. “Color plays an important role, and it can be such a determinant in making a big difference in illustration.”
“There were quite a few illustrations that used two colors, black and white, as well as a single color,” juror Raquel Leis Allion says. “The artists producing work using limited colors created amazing depths and shadows. Some images almost felt 3-D. Amazing.”
Subject matter and content also elicited several responses from the jurors.
“I was relieved to see images using people from diverse ethnic backgrounds,” says Allion. “I just hope that the artists producing the works are also from varied backgrounds.”
“I was most deeply impressed by the number of entries that signaled a commitment to issues of social and climate justice and other ethical considerations that are surfacing as illustrators’ personal convictions as well as client priorities,” juror Robert Brinkerhoff says.
In addition to my questions about their impressions of the work, I also asked the jurors to share their biggest disappointments.
“Because many of the entries were created digitally, I felt many pieces looked somewhat similar,” says juror Tatsuro Kiuchi. “For example, the edges of shapes were clean and similar, and the way that characters and faces were depicted were similar. From this point of view, pieces created traditionally really stood out.”
“There was too much imitation of street art styles,” the Balbussos say. “There were also many similar vector digital illustrations that were not always original.”
“The quick pace of the internet is definitely becoming a hurdle for some amazing traditional illustrators,” Gateley says. “It’s a lot easier to make a change to a layered vector file than it is to edit a watercolor, which is leading to a lot of homogenized illustrations.”
“Some of the most masterfully executed works were compromised by the inevitable challenge of finding new ways of saying and showing things,” says Brinkerhoff. “This is one of the great challenges illustrators are facing: the need for original ideas that still manage to resonate as familiar with an audience. It’s a real conundrum in that we are reliant on a shared understanding of tropes, and yet, this reliance always skirts the cliché.”
I asked the jurors how illustrators are finding work besides waiting for commissions.
“We are thinking about applications in animation, 3-D products and graphic design,” the Balbussos say. “With digital printing techniques, it is now possible to use images in fashion, interior decoration and more. There is also on-demand printing and the possibility of self-producing and selling one’s own editorial products without a publisher. But you have to be careful because many online sales sites promise easy earnings to the artists, but they are only illusions. Often, there is the risk of giving up copyright for just a few pennies.”
“Younger artists are creating their personal pieces more and more based on what they truly love, and they are connecting directly with their fans,” says Kiuchi.
“I am beginning to see some jobs being realized either directly through a self-initiated project or indirectly, where a commissioned job was landed because of a self-initiated project,” Ng says.
“As someone who lives in a small country far away from everywhere, the ability to grow a global audience through online channels has been imperative in forging a career around what I love to do and collaborating with people I enjoy working with,” says Way.
Lastly, I asked the jurors where they think the field of illustration is going.
“It’s interesting to see how the technology of animation is evolving,” says Szczesny. “Since digital content is now overtaking print, I think the future of illustration is animation and augmented reality.”
“This is purely anecdotal, and perhaps it’s a bit meta in regards to different markets or locations, but I think the ease of access to tools that mean ‘anyone can become an artist’ with minimal effort seems to have led to a growth in plagiarism, mimicry and regurgitation,” Way says. “Hopefully, the community and organizations like CA can help curb this through the celebration of individuals who are bravely creating new and wonderful work.”
“Our world is going to be more and more visual,” says Grosse. “Illustration is growing as a media, and it’s becoming a powerful tool to express and communicate through images—as an alternative to photography—where we can imagine all we want.”
“Our world needs visionaries, and, historically, illustrators have often played a significant part in leading social and political change with courage and conviction,” says Brinkerhoff. “How to turn moral conviction into money is the tough part.”
A minimum of seven out of ten votes was required for a project to be awarded in this year’s competition. Judges were not permitted to vote on projects with which they were directly involved; I voted in their stead. I would like to extend our grateful appreciation to our jurors for their conscientious efforts in selecting our 61st Illustration Annual. —Patrick Coyne ca
Raquel Leis Allion is an award-winning art director and book designer at The Folio Society in London, United Kingdom. After receiving a BA with honors in graphic arts and illustration from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, Allion worked both in-house and freelance for Cartoon Network, Headline, Little, Brown and Company, Orion Publishing Group, Penguin Random House and Scholastic. Outside of work, Allion volunteers by helping people aged 65 to 95 with craft projects, some of which have been displayed at the British Museum. She also creates linocuts, one which was commissioned by Little, Brown and Company for a book cover, and is interested in medieval embroidery.
Anna and Elena Balbusso are an internationally recognized team of Italian illustrators. Together, they have illustrated more than 40 books, including the award-winning Folio Society edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and have received more than 80 international awards, including Gold and Silver medals from the Society of Illustrators, the Chesley Awards, the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles’s Joseph Morgan Henninger Award, and the V&A Illustra-tion Award. Their work has also been recognized by American Illustration, Applied Arts, the Association of Illustrators, Communication Arts, Creative Quarterly, Spectrum Fantastic Art, 3x3 and the University & College Designers Association.
Robert Brinkerhoff is dean of fine arts and professor of illustration at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). His teaching explores the intersection of illustration, literature, design, writing, semiotics, social justice and narrative theory. His work for major corporations and cultural/educational institutions, as well as regional and national magazines, has been recognized by American Illustration, HOW, Print and the Society of Illustrators. He was education chair for ICON7 and vice president for ICON8. In 2015, RISD hosted the illustration research symposium Illustrator as Public Intellectual under his coleadership.
Martin Dupuis is an award-winning Montréal-based art director with a background in cinema, fine arts, illustration and graphic design. He was born in Québec but grew up in New Brunswick, returning to Québec to study graphic design at Dawson College. Ever since his first childhood drawing of Snoopy made it to the fridge door, Dupuis’s appetite for pop culture has grown to omnivorous proportions, especially for film, music and the visual arts. Currently an art director at Les Évadés in Montréal, Dupuis still finds himself buying DVDs that he can’t help but redesign the covers for. He is slowly but surely making his way through Gravity’s Rainbow.
Cheyne Gateley is the creative director for Variety magazine’s upcoming data-driven subscription-based Variety Intelligence Platform, directed towards upper-level executives in the entertainment industry. As the managing art director for more than a decade at Variety, Gateley created his own illustrations and infographics along with working with some of the most amazing illustrators and photographers on the planet, and has garnered numerous awards for his art direction. Prior to Variety, he was the news desk chief/art director for the Los Angeles Times’ community news division and a news artist at the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California.
Nora Grosse is a senior designer at Penguin Random House in Barcelona, Spain, creating a range of projects from book covers to fully illustrated books. She also leads the design team overseeing the Literatura Random House, Alfaguara, Lumen, Taurus, Debate and Reservoir Books imprints. Grosse studied graphic design at the Escola Massana, Art and Design Center in Barcelona and then pursued a postgraduate degree in typography at the EINA, University School of Design and Art in Barcelona. Prior to Penguin Random House, Grosse worked for six years at Enric Jardí disseny gràfic, specializing in editorial projects, magazines, newspapers, books and visual identities.
Tatsuro Kiuchi was a biology major and graduated from the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, before he made the switch to an art career, graduating with distinction from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Kiuchi began by illustrating children’s books for several publishers in the United States and Japan. He eventually branched out into editorial work for magazines, book jacket illustrations and advertising commissions. In 2019, he published his first official art book, Tatsuro Kiuchi, published by Genkosha. Kiuchi is the owner of the illustration studio PEN STILL WRITES. He currently lives and works in Tokyo with his wife and their dog.
Michael Ng is a self-taught visual artist based in Singapore. Using the moniker Mindflyer, his practice is embedded in concepts related to flight and escapism. Some of his recent work includes commissioned artworks for Coach, the Elephant Parade, IBM, Jetstar Airways, Microsoft, the National Heritage Board, the National Museum of Singapore, Samsung, the Singapore Art Museum, Starbucks, StarHub and Tangs. Ng serves as the festival director for Illustration Arts Fest, an annual festival he founded in 2016. He is also a founding member of the illustrator group OIC Singapore, where he is actively involved in engaging and challenging young illustrators.
Marlene Szczesny is art director for the Off Duty section of the Wall Street Journal. With more than 20 years of experience in page layout, concepting, and assigning illustrations and photography, Szczesny began her editorial design career working on two now-defunct television magazines called Total TV and the Cable Guide. After moving to San Francisco to art direct Macworld magazine in the early 2000s, Szczesny returned to New York to freelance at magazines such as The Hollywood Reporter, Home, Men’s Journal, Star and Us Weekly. One of her favorite parts of her work is collaborating with illustrators and photographers to bring an article or concept to life visually.
David Way is codirector at Watermark Creative, a collective of artists, animators and designers operating from New Zealand and Australia. Trained as an illustrator, and as a self-taught animator, his primary focus is in growing the team’s capabilities beyond static canvases and into new media. Having worked with major brands both locally and internationally over the last eighteen years, he aims to foster a culture of collaboration that’s centered around blending technology and illustrative processes, notably in the animation, AR, VR and mobile spaces. When not tinkering with pixels, he travels, paints and sculpts as a way of unplugging from the Matrix.