Drawing on new ideas

Love them or loathe them, advances in technology have had a massive impact on the world of illustration and creativity. Garrick Webster looks at some of the key digital developments

The impact of technology on creativity over the past 20 years is the topic of many debates. According to some factions, digital tools are responsible for soulless imagery, but nobody can deny that they have produced a myriad of new styles. Willingly or not, illustrators have embraced technology – and many of them love it.

’At university, I developed a collage style that was a messy, time-consuming whirlwind of iron-on transfers, scissors and Pritt Stick,’ reminisces Andy Potts about the year 1994. ’Then Photoshop, with its versatile layers and endless editing features, streamlined that creative process and expanded what I could achieve in exciting ways. Having an Apple-Z safety to fall back on also allowed for more adventurous creative gambits – and failures – that could often work in my favour as happy accidents.’

Digital illustration group eBoy’s Kai Vermehr also names the ’undo’ function, Photoshop layers, multiple versions of images, the mouse and e-mail among his list of key technologies. But bringing the discussion up to the present day and beyond, he predicts that soft interfaces – already possible on the iPad or iPhone – will be an important field. ’Pressure sensitivity and force feedback are still missing in current technology. 3D is being pushed to new boundaries, but eventually we’ll have direct-to-brain interfaces. Maybe we’ll become data ourselves,’ Vermehr suggests.

Saad Moosajee and Eli Bowes are 3D pioneers, Moosajee achieving other-worldly compositions and Bowes generating images impossible to make by hand. ’I use a lot of Cinema 4D and Poser in addition to Photoshop, and SketchBook Pro on my iPad,’ says Moosajee. ’Although I feel that sometimes I depend too much on my 3D software, it has certainly shaped my style and workflow.’

Bowes adds, ’In another ten years, maybe Photoshop will be shelved as obsolete, with people sketching in 3D, and all those professionals will be there with a huge and utterly redundant skill set.’

3D is being pushed to new boundaries, but eventually we’ll have direct-to-brain interfaces. Maybe we’ll become data ourselves Kai Vermehr, eBoy

Traditional illustrators felt similarly threatened about ten years ago when they came up against a new breed of creative who traced photographs using vector software. Lee Hasler believes the look is as relevant as ever. ’Vectors, once a fringe off-shoot of illustration – part drawing, part maths, is now an ever-expanding and highly popular trend. It has its very own flat, linear, crisp aesthetic that is like no other.’

Carin Standford and Casper Franken named their group Shotopop. ’I wouldn’t say we’re poking fun, since Photoshop plays a huge role in our business,’ says Franken. ’Rather, I’d say it’s a term of endearment.’

More than anything, illustrators name the Internet as the technology that has most changed the practice of illustration, making both research and self-promotion far easier. The Internet also allows illustrators to work anywhere and collaborate with people halfway across the world. Looking ahead, some see online social media, augmented reality and motion graphics as the future milieu of illustration.

The Web has also made everyone’s job a bit harder, with clients expecting illustrators to be permanently online and able to turn jobs around in hours. Illustrator Simon Pemberton notes, ’Working too hard, too late or too long, when at times you should be resting or unavailable, you can’t deny that the Internet has brought about the biggest shift in how illustration is done as a business.’

Standford sums it up nicely. ’For some people, technology will always be the alien dressed in a cowboy suit at the party – difficult to get along with and speaking another language. For others, the digital age is as liberating as a skinny dip on a winter’s night in Loch Ness. We all need monsters in our lives; we just need to decide whether they are our friends or foes,’ she says.

_Talking tech

Rishi Sodha
Top technology: The Internet
Prediction: If people are now spending 75 per cent of their time online, then your message, the illustrative piece, needs to inhabit that space as well.

Ben Tallon
Top technology: Photoshop, scanner
Prediction: Already we see moving film posters, the advent of reading tablets and such devices, meaning that print is frankly on its arse.

Tom Bagshaw
Top technology: Wacom Intuos graphics tablet, Corel Painter
Prediction: Faster connection speeds to the Web and, with any luck, the price of the Wacom Cintiq [a screen you can digitally paint on] coming down.

Simon Pemberton
Top technology: The Internet
Prediction: Maybe linking your brain directly to your Wacom pad is the next big step. But don’t forget to develop the brain properly first.

Nicolas Delille – aka Rad
Top technology: Photoshop
Prediction: Every new version brings you more ways to be creative and efficient, and Photoshop’s 3D features offer new paths for every graphic artist.

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