“Overall, the entries were very inspiring and showcased the high level of illustration talent out there today,” says juror Brian Danaher. “I really enjoyed the range of styles for portraiture. The editorial category had many entries that combined great execution with a strong concept, and there were a number of fantastic entries for children’s books.”
“I was thoroughly impressed with the work done for advertising, an area that has suffered from being very self-conscious,” juror Whitney Sherman says. “I was heartened to see the warmth and caring in many entries—a real sense of knowing the audience without pandering to them.”
“I was very impressed by the quality of work submitted for the competition,” says juror William Gicker. “The professionalism and expressiveness of the work was quite moving. I was especially impressed with the quality of the student work.”
“There were some beautiful noncommissioned works in response to the COVID lockdown with the common themes of isolation, self-reflection, and a new examination of nature and our place in it,” juror Nigel Buchanan says.
“I noticed a pressing urgency to ‘say’ something—to spread a social message, from exhorting people to vote to taking care of the elderly,” says juror Gloria Pizzilli.
“Many entries dealt with the events of the last year and gave heartfelt responses to suffering and to social and racial injustice,” juror Mirabel Fawcett says.
“There was a good, healthy mix that included diversity across the board in subjects, portraits and mediums,” says juror Dian Holton. “I was glad to see the variety.”
“There was wonderfully diverse representation in the character illustrations,” juror Jay Grandin says.
“I was relieved to see so many diverse entries,” says juror Maria Middleton. “Pieces that uplifted marginalized voices, not just in calling out injustices, but also portraying the joy of diversity. Seeing slices of life from a variety of perspectives was refreshing and encouraging.”
After reviewing thousands of entries, several jurors commented on some of the visual trends they saw in the work.
“This year, the entries in general skewed toward two areas: a colorful graphic feel, and imagery that let us sink into the details,” Sherman says. “Did a year of living life onscreen shift our eyes to images that are easier to decode as we also yearned for alternate complexities to the political strife we endured?”
“The few entries that were spontaneous, exuberant, loose and painterly stood out as a breath of fresh air,” says Buchanan. “Perhaps a result of the times, but there were many dark, foreboding and slightly gothic images that were meticulous in their execution. They formed a large subsection of overall entries.”
“I love seeing the shift back to realism and more ‘traditional’-looking media,” Middleton says. “And illustration that embraces 3-D space is really exciting.”
“Like all creative industries, it feels like there’s a giant pendulum, but I do really appreciate the lean toward classical, well-crafted illustration that we’re currently seeing,” says Grandin.
I asked the jurors if anything surprised them about the entries.
“It made sense, but I didn’t realize we’d see so many COVID- and election-themed submissions,” says juror Nok Sangdee.
“I thought I’d see more political entries, specifically as it related to president Trump,” Holton says. “I’ve judged other compe-titions within the past four years, and that theme saturated some categories.”
“Illustration on packaging is every-where these days and is used to great effect, so I was surprised at the small number of entries in that category,” says Danaher.
“I was surprised how few institutional pieces were selected in the final cut,” Sherman says. “Editorial, Books and Advertising yielded the most images making it through the judging. Perhaps we were all immersed in news, reading and purchasing from our homes and apartments while pandemically isolated.”
I also asked the jurors to describe their biggest disappointments with the entries.
“2020 was a rough and lonely year for many,” says Gicker. “There was a great deal of expression around the many troubles that preoccupied our media and daily lives. I would have liked to see more expressions of hope throughout the work.”
“To be honest, I felt a bit distressed by the trauma of the year, which a lot of the work was created to emphasize—Black Lives Matter, Trump, COVID,” Grandin says.
“Most COVID-related submissions were pretty generic,” says Sangdee.
“The majority of the entries were focused on just the ‘beauty’ side of the picture, forgetting the importance of content and avoiding the repetition of well-known stereotypes,” Pizzilli says.
“There’s a cookie-cutter editorial style that, in repetition, and especially given our current circumstances, feels void of emotion,” says Middleton. “While I always appreciate problem-solving and intelligent concepts, I hope there’s room for that style to evolve.”
Lastly, I asked the jurors for their perspective on what may be in store for the field of illustration.
“The traditional avenues of advertising, marketing and editorial seem to be more open to illustration than ever before, but there are also many areas outside of those where illustration is making inroads,” Danaher says. “Illustration works so well in digital media, and not just for editorial or marketing content, but for other areas like interactive, animation and product design, that we’re seeing a demand there as well. There are many more opportunities available for illustration than there were even a few years ago.”
“From an editorial perspective, with everything now on digital platforms as well as print, illustrations need to become adaptable to all the different formats: app, web, social media and so on,” says Fawcett.
“I think the essence of illustration is storytelling, so I see the field of illustration continuing to be a gathering place to tell our diverse, human stories,” Middleton says. “And perhaps we’ll see more in the 3-D space with everything from escaping to fantasy lands, to advocating for a more just world.”
“I think illustrators are embracing ideas that may go against the grain—ideas that are nontraditional and unconventional,” says Holton. “They are growing more comfortable with implementing new mediums to their work. I also see traditional illustrators exploring digital and animation. Not all of it is polished, but I commend them for dipping their toe in the water.”
“With us all so quickly thrust into our homes and the zoomisphere, and the last twelve months testing our patience at dealing with the virtual world, we may find that our hunger for real contact, with people and things, will drive us toward things less virtual and more tangible,” Sherman says. “Humans need stories, and the pandemic has created more for us to write and hear. Visual journalism has seen a resurgence, showing us how we can learn and care about others. Most high-touch illustration is found in illustrated books we can hold or letterpress prints, yet we may find our senses enlivened by 3-D printed characters or small and large softies. So, what’s new may be what’s old, but reconsidered for the new world we will enter postvaccination.”
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 62nd Illustration Annual. —Patrick Coyne ca
Nigel Buchanan is a New Zealand–based illustrator who recently moved back to that country after living and working in Sydney, Australia, for more than 30 years. He began his career with conceptual work for magazines, but demand for his portrait work has been constant since Buchanan’s bold, colorful, graphic portraits were showcased in Eight by Eight, the award-winning quarterly soccer magazine edited and designed by Priest + Grace. Other clients include Der Spiegel, the Economist, Fast Company, the Financial Times, Golf Digest, the Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Pentagram, Rolling Stone, TIME, Universal Pictures, Variety and the Wall Street Journal.
Brian Danaher is an art director, designer and illustrator based in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he runs the branding and design studio Made for Ending. He has more than two decades of experience creating strategic branding, design, packaging and illustration initiatives for numerous clients including General Mills, the Guthrie Theater, Minnesota United FC, Nestlé, Target, 3M and the University of Minnesota. In addition, he also works as an editorial illustrator and has worked with a number of bands designing tour posters. His work has been consistently recognized by AIGA Minnesota, American Illustration, Communication Arts, Graphis, the Society of Illustrators and 3x3.
Mirabel Fawcett is an editorial designer at the Economist in London, United Kingdom. She studied at the London College of Communication for a postgraduate diploma in Design for Visual Communication, putting her hands to screen printing, letterpress and litho-offset printing. During her studies, she was one of the recipients of the Print Futures award given by The Printing Charity. In 2015, Fawcett joined the graphics department at the Economist. Since then, she has worked on the weekly paper and everything involved in it, from page layouts to commissioning illustrations. More recently, she has taken on the animation of illustrations commissioned by herself and her colleagues.
William Gicker is director of stamp services for the United States Postal Service in Washington, DC. Gicker sets the direction for all Postal Service stamp program initiatives, including design development, rights clearance, production, fulfillment, distribution, inventory management and marketing. Working closely with Postal Service art directors and serving as an art director himself for some of the most popular stamps issued, Gicker has managed the development of more than 900 stamp issuances and 2,000 stamp designs since joining the Postal Service in 1998. A native of Pennsylvania, Gicker graduated from West Chester University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature.
Jay Grandin is cofounder and creative director of Giant Ant, an animation studio in Vancouver, Canada. As creative director, Grandin oversees nearly every project in the studio, leading the conceptual development and scriptwriting processes, and is actively involved in design and animation. For their work in entertainment and advertising, Giant Ant has received a Daytime Emmy and four ADC Gold cubes, including a Best in Category award for Illustration, as well as honors from the Clios, Communication Arts and the One Show. The studio has shown up four times on Working Not Working’s list of 50 companies freelance creatives would kill to work for full-time.
Dian Holton is senior deputy art director at AARP, where she oversees creative for TheGirlfriend.com, Sistersletter.com and The Ethel. Holton routinely contributes designs to AARP The Magazine, specifically for cover stories and other features. Her background includes integrated marketing, book design, branding, retail installation, styling and footwear design. She currently serves as co–programming director for the AIGA Washington DC chapter board and as a mentor for several mentorship programs including SHINE, a peer-to-peer AIGA DC mentoring program she launched that is embarking on its tenth year. Her passions include education, philanthropy, fashion and pop culture.
Maria T. Middleton is art director of Candlewick Press and Walker Books US. She began her career at HarperCollins, spent a decade creating award-winning books at Abrams, and then led the middle-grade team at Random House Children’s Books. As art director of imprints at Candlewick Press, Middleton currently works across a variety of children’s book genres. She’s a fan of quirky characters, hand-lettered type, serial commas, strong coffee and the color red. Middleton received a BFA in communication design from Parsons School of Design | The New School, and currently lives with her partner and their rescue pup, Wyla, in Brooklyn, New York.
Gloria Pizzilli was born in 1983 in Italy and started her career as a professional illustrator in 2010. She has had the pleasure of working with clients like Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, the Boston Globe, Èditions Didier Jeunesse, Éditions du Seuil, Éditions Milan, Feltrinelli, GQ, Il Corriere della Sera, L’Espresso, La Stampa, the New York Times, The New Yorker, Scientific American and WIRED Italia. She has received numerous international awards from Communication Arts, Illustratori Italiani, Scenari di Innovazione, Spectrum Fantastic Art, 3x3 and many others. Pizzilli has illustrated multiple books and has also exhibited her work at exhibitions in Milan, Paris, Rome and Tokyo.
Nok Sangdee is a creative director at VMLY&R Chicago. Driven by human insights, as they connect consumers to brands on much deeper levels, Sangdee is a believer in culturally, visually and emotionally relevant advertising. She has more than a decade of experience working on big brands including Jim Beam, Kimberly-Clark, Clorox, Jack Daniel’s, Dial, SC Johnson, Kraft, Motorola, Smuckers and Wrigley, and niche brands like the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Radio Flyer. Her work has won at the ADDYS, Cannes, the London International Awards, the One Show and the Radio Mercury Awards. She also has mean knife skills and speaks fluent toddler and Thai.
Whitney Sherman is an award-winning illustrator whose work has been exhibited at Giant Robot, the Norman Rockwell Museum, Nucleus and in the Library of Congress exhibition and book Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists. At the Maryland Institute College of Art, Sherman is the MFA Illustration Practice founding director and codirector of Dolphin Press & Print. She was a contributing writer and associate editor of the History of Illustration textbook and conducts workshops based on her book Playing with Sketches. Her limited edition work for Pbody Dsign represents her view of the expanding role of illustrators.