5 Illustration Trends for 2017
To get a fix on what’s happening now (and next) in the world of illustration—what styles are becoming popular, what’s changing in the industry and the technology, which skills to add to your quiver, and more—we checked in with top illustrators, educators, and artist representatives, and we asked them what they’re seeing.
1. VIBRANT, FLUID COLOR
Color can express an instant, direct visual message. Perhaps no one understands the power of color better than Danish designer Maria Grønlund, whose keen eye and tremendous passion for color are so evident in her art and her brand as a designer. Grønlund is particularly intrigued with a recent color trend she sees in the art of “young illustrators who are working at an advanced level with colors and gradients that are neon bright but also soft, almost opalescent. The colors are part of the motif and play such a significant role in the art.”
2. DEPTH AND DRAMA
Jon Cockley is a co-founder of Handsome Frank, a London-based illustration agency. “Over the past two to three years, there was a real hunger for a kind of clean vector artwork," says Cockley. "Now we are seeing a move away from those clean lines and more interest in texture, depth, and use of light and shadow. Clients often use ‘vector’ as a byword for an illustration style, not a file format.”
Cockley credits improved technology as being partly responsible for the increasing popularity of this style: the latest phones and tablets have the power to show and animate more complexity on a smaller screen.
Lovell points to the work of Richard Borge, “who is doing some amazing work. It’s a soup of 3D modeling, 2D illustration, stop motion, digital animation, and compositing. It’s gorgeous and smart. Traditional editorial illustrators like Melinda Beck are doing great motion work now that is concept driven, not just informational. She recently did an animated piece called Regression Analysis, for the Harvard Business Review, that’s really wonderful.”
4. PHOTO-COLLAGE ILLUSTRATION
5. ILLUSTRATOR AS CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR
Almost everyone we spoke to had a take on ways that social media, sharing work, and new platforms for self-publishing are changing the way illustrators work.
Historically, illustrators have always been freelancers and entrepreneurs; unlike graphic designers, they are rarely part of in-house creative teams. “Up to the later part of the 20th century, illustrators needed to have an established set of clients,” says Whitney Sherman. “Now we can create content and then publish and distribute it ourselves. We don’t need a magazine or book publisher. Illustrators can have an idea and capture that voice for themselves.” An early example from her students and faculty at MICA was To New Orleans with Love, a fundraising response to Hurricane Karina.
Leveraging social media is a given today, but the importance of different channels is changing. Instagram is one that’s ascending for illustrators. Whitney Sherman sees it being used more and more as an “appetizer” portfolio. “It’s picture-based but uses hashtags to add depth,” letting illustrators share their insights and perspectives to audiences actively searching for them.
Illustration trends come and go. As one style is introduced and becomes saturated, another visual look will swing back in counterpoint. But as Sherman so succinctly sums it up, “The way something looks is second to the idea. Any time someone hired me for a ‘look,’ they were looking at the wrong thing.”
One thing is certain: the field of illustration is constantly changing, and it’s important to experiment with new ways of creating imagery, not only to remain current but also to keep your work vital and in demand.