We pulled in some brilliant first person perspectives from a panel of illustrative maestros; from artists to commissioners, examining what's at play in the practice today.
Illustration is a seductive medium, offering a powerful and emotive way to communicate in spaces large and small. Practically, it can be more straightforward to organise than photography, and offers an abundance of talent with which to work. However, it can also be a difficult medium to get right: finding the right artist, convincing clients of their relevance, nailing the briefing process, giving clear feedback and then applying it across a variety of formats.
At this visually loaded Breakfast Briefing, we drew together a trio of panelists bringing expert and complementary perspectives from contemporary, commercial image making. Joining us were Handsome Frank co-founder Tom Robinson, former head of art buying at M&C Saatchi and Director of Soho Curious & Co Sarah Williams, and illustration supremo Paul Patemen, AKA Paté.
Each shared their views on the craft drawn from projects past and present, their key professional learnings so far and what's coming up that's getting them excited. Paul got us underway with an entertaining and visually loaded tour through his career to-date; beginning as an art director in advertising — before falling in love with the idea of a sole focus on illustration. Cannily he carved out an opportunity to create some beautiful posters for the museum of childhood (while still working full-time), and the attention they attracted enabled him to make the leap. Paul took us through his working process too. Focussing on his weekly assignment for the FT Weekend Magazine, we were treated to an insight into the briefing process; seeing how he drafts a number of responses to a headline — pragmatically knocking ideas back and forth with a busy commissioner; a process that has really found it's rhythm over time. Paul talked passionately about the excellent living that's available to illustrators, who can succesfully self-promote and manage their career, and find the right balance between editorial commissions and more lucrative advertising work. And we reached a universal consensus on the importance of never working for free.
Sarah talked us through her career as an art buyer — a discipline that is losing it's status within advertising agencies, especially at times where budgets are coming under ever-increasing scrutiny. She described how one of the best things about being an art buyer is the amazing array of creative people you come into contact with; and it's this benefit that she's carried forward into her own business. Sarah works between client companies and creative talent, adding value to both sides of the commissioning process by helping clients identify the best possible creative talent for their campaigns and collaboration, and ensuring that those they team up with are best supported along the way. So of course continually building relationships with talent in all disciplines is key — and Sarah talked us through some recent collaborations with Craig & Karl, Tegan Price and Joey Yu. She's also been writing recently on the topic of how brands and artists can better work together, and you can read more on that here.
Tom brought the expert perspective of someone representing a whole roster of illustrators and working on hundreds of commissions a year. We heard the charming story of Handsome Frank's beginnings, named after Tom's Grandad and going on to work with some of the finest talent in the industry today (and he shared this lovely shot of Jean Jullien's studio). Tom talked us through some very helpful guide of how (and how not) to commission talent; including these sage pointers — Do send over relevant brand information, Don't say here's a 300 page brand guidelines document to look over. Do encourage ideas but give structure, not limitless freedom, and Don't say things like "It's a really open brief, do whatever feels right." Do always include references to the illustrator's current work, and Don't say "Can you create something like this other illustrator's work." Do specify the formats you'll need from the outset, and Don't ever ask "Can you just supply this watercolour as a vector please?".
A big thanks to our panelists for their candid contributions, and to our engaged and curious audience who also shared their own challenges, goals and projects. This collaboration between bespoke shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser (established in 1885) and a collection of today's freshest illustrators was great to discover. And to Sam Bush once more for his photography.