CA Illustration Annual No. 51 Thoughts

the hallowed halls of Communication Arts and detail of Marshall Arisman painting

Late in January, I was honored with the responsibility to review over 7000 entries in this year’s “Communication Arts” Illustration Annual No. 51. The Patrick and Jean Coyne were very hospitable as myself and 4 other judges hung out in the Menlo Park area, chatting about inspirational topics and the state of the communication’s industry.

C.F. Payne

Admittedly, I found myself like a duck out of water, as Chris Payne, Rob Wilson, Joan Ferrell and Melanie Doherty discussed serious topics about the decline of the magazine industry and feelings of instability. And as I reflected, it was interesting to me that all of the chosen panel were over the age of 35. Is this a reflection on the “lack” of art directors working with illustrative professionals, (I know that there are many young guns making their mark in new media avenues, leaving traditional media behind).

"go for it”

Further introspection put me in a state of mind that sees many of today’s creative types in DIY (do it yourself) mode, maximizing minimal budgets, responding to quick turnaround or solving visual problems with little to no on-the-job mentoring. This observation was furthered in the “CA” competition, witnessing many graphics created for indie music posters, CDs and self-promotions.

Jean and Patrick Coyne : C.F. Payne

And as we await the final results for CA Illustration No. 51, I thought to share some of the questions that were asked by Patrick Coyne, as a result of judging “Communication Arts” Illustration Annual No. 51 this year. I submit this respectfully, for consideration and by no means a final indication of the state of the industry, as I write in a matter of personal opinion only. Enjoy.

Chris Buzzeli (Great example of an artist who consistently pays attention to the details)

1/ What was your overall impression of the submitted entries?

The entries shared many of the same repetitive themes and subject-matter, this could have been the result of popular storylines and art directors borrowing similar ideas amongst like-minded publications. The portraits of Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Obama, Biden and Palen were favored, while monkeys, severed appendages and teddy bears found their way to the top of the most popular. (Though, not necessarily inspiring to look at, sorry!).

Colors seemed to be off this year, possibly the state of flux of 2009 or too many logged in entries on FB and Twitter, a clear distraction, while the illustrator should have been working. Colors were often mismatched in the final composition a bit garish at first glance. Which leads me to ask? “What happened to analysis of color, composition and continuity in the final illustration?” “Is there a heavy reliance on the computer to spit out true genius or do commercial peoples truly swim in the sea of color possibility?”

Personally, I felt the gap between top-level rendering and amateur presentation have further widened. And as I reflected further, this might be due to the state of publishing as a whole: lower budgets, inexperienced art directors, shorter deadlines, senior editor control, ill-prepared graduates and a lack of industry-wide participation in annual competitions. (And I further ask, “When are colleges going to be challenged for their lack of inspired graduates? I mean how many thousands of artists do colleges on a world scale kick out each day? Huge topic, scary thought and it psyches me up to think that in a given year there might be less than 50 super stars emerging each year. I want to know who they are and celebrate their genius).

Examples of Melanie Doherty and Joan Ferrell’s Art Direction
(Pete Ryan for American Lawyer on R)

2/ Did anything surprise you about the entries?

When I arrived at Communication Arts to review 3,500 of the 7,000 visual references entered I was completely open minded for each image as it was presented. Surprisingly, artist’s failed to edit the amount of work submitted before entering it into this competition. (In one year, look at your top ten, and pair it down to your top 5. Maybe throw a non-illustrator/artist in the room).

When working alongside of 5 unique judges, I never know how a competition will turn out. There is always that worried thought that the final book might represent a poor reflection of the submitted entries. (One judge might favor a cute image over a more serious image by example. I like well articulated work that makes me feel something emotionally or inspires me to connect, FYI).

The “Non-Published” category was the weakest category. Possibly the work was entered by young professionals recently exiting school or possibly student works. I would say that this category should be redirected in 2010, to personal work, experimental work, student work, rejected/canceled work, non-profit work and thus, stronger entries.

Gary Taxali

3/ What did you see as new?

After 20 years in the industry, it seems that portraits were the hot ticket, which was great to see, (not really new). There were many different styles, drawings and paintings in this category. Many commercial illustrators (artists) who are trying to make the leap into the gallery space, seemed like they were well represented. (I am a kid always open to see more, newness, things that echo personal style, chancy rendition and leaps of faith on the page. I would have loved to see more of this idea).

Another observation was how design has influenced many of the presented styles that include flat graphics with texture, Dover clip art, Martha Steward inspired layouts, evolved iconography, and Saul Bass knock offs. This could be a result of art direction style, safe measures to please the board and non-confrontational images that get the job done, as opposed to raising eyebrows, challenging readership or spending the time to articulate a creative concept more completely.

Yuko Shimizu, “Tsunami” art direction by Rob Wilson of Playboy

4/ What was the biggest disappointment about the entries?

I think it was great to see the variety of entries. The tough part about this year’s entries is the fact that many talented folks are trying to do the best they can with little resource, too much art direction, or not enough opportunities to take care of an industry that is now inhabited by comic artists, designers, animators, concept artists, medical illustrators, commercial artists, hobbyists, celebrities and students.

Today’s commercial illustrator is challenged by the fees in a current downsizing of a global marketplace and “for free” illustration that is available to “get the job done” mantra exercised by many emerging artists, free online resources, DIY designers and a lack of college preparation for today’s marketplace for new professionals entering the field.

Joseph Hart, Gary Baseman, Ryan Wallace open art direction by Mark Murphy
Tree Hugger tShirts yet to be released

Murphy says it’s all about the exchange, “I started my firm in ’91 and soon realized that the best work was inspired out of mutual collaboration. I loved themed projects, calendars, and graphic narrative promotions featuring motivated friends. They were constantly searching out opportunities. Never knowing how something was going to end up looking visually, I found the easiest way to best represent and record all of this goodness was to publish books. And thus, Murphy Design and Murphy Fine Art Publishing and Exhibitions were born.”—

Related Posts by Categories

Total Pageviews