On 22nd August, we immersed ourselves in the world of illustration over coffee and croissants at Shoreditch House.
Illustration has the power to communicate messages big and small, from the fun and frivolous to the sensitive and serious. But it can be a tricky medium to get right.
On 22nd August, we took to the Library at Shoreditch House to examine the different ways illustration can be employed to engage, educate and inspire action for audiences of all ages, and across a variety of topics.
We were joined by Dorcas Brown and Ciara Phelan, co-founders of talent agency Grand Matter. The pair are plugged into emerging illustration trends, and represent a range of artists working across diverse disciplines, from papercut expert Owen Gildersleeve to expressive illustrator Alice Bowsher. They helped us explore popular styles and recent client projects where illustration has been applied to great effect.
Dorcas and Ciara were also joined by Alec Doherty, one of the talented illustrators on the Grand Matter roster. His characterful illustrations have graced the pages of newspapers, large-scale hoardings, and the labels of beer bottles, for clients including Byron, the Guardian and The New York Times. He talked about his experiences as a practicing illustrator, sharing what he's learnt from recent client commissions.
Speaking alongside them was Paul Willoughby, ECD at Human After All. A practicing illustrator himself, he shared what he's learnt from being on both sides of the commissioning process, explaining how the role of commercial illustration is evolving.
Here's what we learnt.
Detail and Depth
Describing illustration as one of Human After All's signature strengths, Paul discussed the agency's approach to a brief. He used BAFTA as a case study, a client that had allowed the agency to really "delve deep" into the brand.
Paul explained that some clients provide detailed and specific briefs, whereas others would only give a few words. BAFTA simply gave the agency "idea sparks" to work from; this allowed Human After All to consider many choices and respond to the brief without limitations.
Paul shared Human After All's 'Windows to Another World' campaign for BAFTA's 2016 Film Awards, which developed from such "idea sparks". In this instance the agency commissioned illustrator Levente Szabo, whose use of texture and attention to detail communicated BAFTA's value of creative excellence.
As an illustrator, Paul said an insight he'd taken from his career was that he was often given a one line brief as a commission, which wasn't enough information to accurately gage what the project was about. He therefore set out to make sure any BAFTA illustrator was given a really detailed brief, including all technical specifications and the philosophy behind the brand, so the concept could land perfectly.
Alec acknowledged that briefing an illustrator in detail can be helpful but argued that it should also be open, to allow for some degree of interpretation and creative freedom. He added that if you have a good relationship with the client, then whether the brief is detailed or not doesn't matter too much as you will already have an idea of what each other wants. He said that building this relationship helps ensure both sides enjoy the process and get the best possible work out of it.
Shared Values and Strong Relationships
Expanding on this idea of forming a relationship, Ciara and Dorcas discussed their position as a mediator of sorts between the artist and the client. The importance of communication here cannot be understated, to ensure that the feedback process is smooth and productive.
They stated that Grand Matter's mission as an agency is to champion artists with integrity. One way in which they maintain this is by keeping their roster quite small. Ciara and Dorcas can therefore work closely with each artist, targeting the projects they find interesting so that the artist and client can pursue something that both parties are happy with. And, if the artist feels proud of the work and the client is happy, that ultimately is what secures that important relationship.
They added that working with clients whose goals are aligned with their own allows them to pursue common values, to create something that is lasting—in their words, "meaningful creativity".
According to Alec, having a good relationship with the client means both sides can be open about their desires for the project, which in turn allows for more constructive feedback. He said the best feedback is scarce—little tweaks—something supported by Paul who stated that feedback shouldn't be fluffy but solid and well articulated. Alec concluded that a good relationship means the artist and client can bounce back and forth, aiding the creative process.
Flexibility and Diversity
Ciara and Dorcas discussed their motivations for launching Grand Matter. Having worked as a freelance illustrator for eight years with several agencies, Ciara said she never felt like she was encouraged to be experimental, but rather to fit in a box, to be "packaged". They therefore felt there was a gap for an agency that supported artists to be flexible and work across disciplines, to push them as an illustrator in new ways.
They used examples from their roster, such as Alec Doherty himself who pushed the boundaries of his illustration into a new realm by experimenting with sculpture. Similarly, illustrator Saskia Pomeroy has explored other mediums outside the 2D including textile and pottery.
Paul expanded on this, saying the more styles you can experiment with, the more potential you have as an artist. He acknowledged that it can be beneficial to hone in on one particular style to be recognised for that, but that being flexible allows you to enjoy different crafts and develop a broader range of skills.
Alec added that his style is always evolving, experimenting with different types of media. He stated that the key is to keep a core that runs through all your work—something that remains with you, like your handwriting—whilst allowing for evolution and flexibility around this.
In spite of this, Alec stated that you shouldn't neccessarily adapt your style too much to fit in with a brand's identity: the best result for the commissioner is for them to see an illustrator's personal style, as this is what led them to commission that illustrator in the first place.
Thank you to David Townhill for the photos above.
Location:Shoreditch House Library,
London, E1 6AW,
Start:22nd August, 2017 at 9:00am
End:22nd August, 2017 at 11:00am