What is illustration?

What is illustration?
Most dictionaries will explain that an illustration is a picture or diagram explaining or decorating a body of text. Ever heard the saying: a picture speaks a thousand words? Well, in most cases illustration's purpose is precisely that.

In a world of information overload, it is vital to explain copious amounts of text and abstract thoughts fast. What better way than an image to tell that story. Sometimes if images are enticing enough it might even convince the viewer to read the text accompanying it.

But that only explains a part of the purpose of illustrations. To better understand what the full scope of illustrations are let's see where it is used.

Book illustrations might come to mind first, because the earliest memories of illustrations might be of that wonderful picture book from your childhood. Children's book illustrations usually are vibrant and depict friendly and happy characters. It is meant to accompany the text in such a way to partly explain the text. Usually with the most important aspect of the action in that part of the story. Most adult books do not contain illustrations apart from the cover illustration.

Technical illustrations are mostly used in books where it is impossible to photograph an object or action. A good example is anatomy books where the inner parts are better displayed by illustrations than photographs. With illustrations you can also simplify certain aspects to better explain it, thus removing the proverbial clutter. Technical drawings are used to illustrate ecosystems, modern and ancient architecture, prehistorical humans and animals.

Satirical illustrations are used in daily publications, for example the comic strip. It is used to explain the unsocial or unethical behavior of the person or origination contained in the article. It sums up what stupidity has been committed and how it is justified in a funny way.

Comics or graphic novels are great fun to read and some even caries a moral lesson. Some comics have reached collector status and can even be sold for more money than it was acquired for, thus gained investment value. Some companies today uses comic art as an internal tool to send messages and company ethos through its structures in a fun and accessible way. It usually requires a mascot of the company saving the day with an action that is required by all in the company. This instills the ethos in a fun way for all to aspire to.

Promotional material heavily relies on illustration work to carry the message of products or campaigns to its targeted customers. This might be in the form of videos, posters or brochures. Having a quirky or simple image that captures the audience might be all the difference between a failure and a successful campaign.

Musicians also might make use of an illustrator to create a visual identity or images for their album covers. A great illustration will speak to the relevant audience and entice them to buy the album.

These are just a few industries that make use of illustrators. Once you start to look around you, you might notice how illustrators has shaped your world. You are surrounded by illustrations, some subtle and others very obvious. Try and count how many illustrations you encounter tomorrow as you brave the world out there.