Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Illustrator’s Confidential Dictionary: The Letter A

© 2013 Don Arday.
To celebration its first anniversary, The Informed Illustrator presents the letter ‘A’ of The Illustrator’s Confidential Dictionary. The dictionary was conceived to answer a desperate need for the language of illustration to be defined. The intention is for additional installments to appear at irregular intervals over an interminably long period of time.


1. describing any illustration completed between 1965 and 1971;
2. an explaination for an illustration done in the style of the old masters.

Client: “Yeah man, abstract, far out, I get it, I really get it...I think...?” Illustrator: “I knew you’d catch my drift.” Client: “It’s one hell of a portrait, I think it’s one of your best.” Illustrator: “Aw man...it’s a sailboat on a lake.”
Usage: “How did you manage to illustrate that movie poster with so many heads and only one body? It looks like an abstract version of the Hindu God Brahma.


1. a non-biodegradable paint that dries faster than you want it to, and doesn't dry when you need it to;
2. a molasses like substance that softens when applied fast, and hardens when applied slow.

Usage: “Sure I’ll have that illustration finished in ten minutes…I’m using acrylic.”
Usage: “It’s done in acrylic. Rest assured, that illustration will last as long as the paint on your house.”


1. the way an illustration ends up looking like it does;
2. the way most illustrators ended up with a graphic design career.

Usage: "All painting is an accident. But it's also not an accident, because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve." - Francis Bacon (1909-1992), English painter.


1. an antiquated material that cannot be touched by the human hand;
2. a clear protective film with static properties that attracts finger prints, dust, and grime, to wit, it no longer appears to be clear.

Usage: “I’ll cover it with acetate, that way if the art director spills coffee on it again, I’ll be able to wipe it off this time.”


1. the way an illustrator that hasn’t had a commission for a while works;
2. the way someone works who allows Adobe Illustrator to select colors for them.

Usage: “I hope I get that phone call soon, I’m down to my last tube of paint. I have to work achromatic.”
Usage: “Can somebody tell me how I can add some colors to this achromatic Illustrator file?”


1. something that no longer comes standard with every illustration assignment;
2. usually seen in the gutter of a magazine printed in 3 point type;
3. an award presented to an art director for an illustrator's work.

Usage: Well its your own fault, if you hadn't used that dark blue in the corner of your illustration that black type would have shown up.


1. when someone in a remote part of the world suddenly takes an interest in your work and you’ve never heard of them;
2. when someone on the street is wearing a t-shirt with your illustration on it and you don’t recall being paid for that job;
3. a freebie.

Usage: “Have you seen my latest acquisition? My illustrator was influenced by Parrish, Wyeth, Leydendecker, and Disney.”


1. the substance that adheres a UPC code on the one side, and a price tag on the other side of an expensive piece of watercolor paper;
2. the uncanny state that happens to the lid of a matte medium jar that has been closed for more than four hours.

Usage: “I remember when, not only did paste work as an adhesive, but you could eat it too.”


1. the developer of an unspecified number of software products, all looking somewhat similar, but turning out to be drastically different;
2. a suite of software requiring a user to learn a different set of keystrokes in each program to do the same thing;
3. the Walmart of software companies.

Usage: “If you’re confused just go to Adobe Help, but be sure you tell them which software program you’re using so they don’t get confused.”


1. a term not typically associated with illustration or illustrators;
2. what an illustrator sees when his or her eyes are closed;
3. something usually experienced once or twice a day when one is in a seated position.

Usage: “These days aesthetics has nothing to do with beauty.”
Usage: “To study aesthetics is to delve deeply into one’s innermost Ch’i, and listen intently to one’s outer most Mp3.” - Thomas Richard Harry (1935-2001) American curmudgeon.


1. a thought that sometimes occurs after an illustration job has been accepted, and definitely occurs after the job is finished;
2. the next illustration produced.

Client: “I had an afterthought, I mean a thought just came to me.” Illustrator: “That’s not an afterthought, it’s an original thought.” Client: “Nope, that’s impossible.”


1. an individual who mysteriously has the ability to obtain an illustration commission so they can get a commission;
2. someone who can make money simply by answering a phone;
3. an illustrator’s better half.

Usage: “I’m really lucky…I got a real bargain…my agent only takes 38% of my gross earnings.”
Usage: “When I call my agent she’s at lunch…I guess they serve lunch in New York City from 9:00am ‘till 6:30pm.”


1. a rather unpredictable apparatus with a mind of its own for simultaneously applying paint to an illustration and anything else in the immediate vicinity.
2. a computer mouse or track pad.

Usage: “I spent twenty hours on that piece and in less than a second that damn airbrush ruined it.”


1. a substance used externally to wipe equipment and surfaces clean, and taken internally to wipe memories clean;
2. a liquid responsible for reducing the net worth of an illustrator's income by 50%;
3. an art director’s only friend.

Illustrator A: “Can you believe the nerve of that guy. Telling me that my Mick Jag…ger looked like Steven Twy…Tsy…Tyler.”  Illustrator B: “Boy, that’s a lot of nerve. Any idiot can tell the difference from one from the other. Bartender, more alcohol.” Illustrator A: “Yeah, I told…uh…told that guy where to get off. Do you want to hear what I told him…huh…do you? Well do yooo? Illustrator B: “Uh…sure. I know what I would ‘ave told him. Do you want to hear what I would have told that guy.”  Illustrator A: “Uh…I don’t know. Illustrator B: Uh…well that’s OK. Tell me what you told him.” Illustrator A: “I told him…well here’s what I told him…I told him, I’ll do that illustration complete over again…and that really got him…it served him right.” Illustrator B: NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT…YOU REALLY GOT THAT BASTERD.”


1. a type of paint that even its manufacturers have no idea what it’s made of;
2. a term sometimes confused with “alkie” by those who are;
3. a type of paint always on clearance at art supply stores.

Usage: “I’m trying out these paints called alkyds. They are made from recycled war materials and they’re manufactured in the Balkan Islands, or perhaps it's the Falkland Islands.”


1. the most desirable form of conversation to use when addressing a client;
2. what every sketch proposal should impart;
3. a tool used by clients to describe the whereabouts of the check that was cut in payment for illustration services rendered.

Usage: “You know, after an hour long discussion, I’m not really sure at all what they thought about the illustration, the client was lost in ambiguity.”
Usage: “First they said ‘approved’, then they said ‘stop’, then they said ‘revise’, then they said ‘stop the revise’, then they said ‘go with the revise’, then they said ‘stop the revise’, and then they said ‘go with the original’. Oh, the ambiguity of it all.”


1. a state of mind inherent in a student who was forced by parents to study graphic design instead of illustration;
2. the impression an illustration leaves when it had to be approved by a committee;
3. a sentiment that develops during the third round of sketches.

Client: “I gave you hours and hours of  input for this assignment, and all I see in this illustration is ambivalence.” Illustrator: “Ditto.”
Usage: “I’ll have to channel my inner ambivalence to get through this assignment.”


1. how to describe your opinion versus the opinion of your client;
2. a descriptive term for two colors that don’t look good together;
3. the way you think things should be done as opposed to the way Adobe wants you to do them.

Usage: “My gangsta visuals are analogous with gangsta lyrics.”
Usage: “It may be analogous to what you are seeing in this illustration, but it’s definitely a hand.”


1. knowledge that every illustrator cannot be without, but many illustrators have yet to acquire;
2. the study of the separate parts of an organism to ascertain their meaning and function, for example a clients brain.

Usage: “I though anatomy was all about drawing things you can see like with naked models. I never realized it’s about drawing things you can’t see like with overweight naked models. I take my hat off to Peter Paul Rubens.”
Usage: “My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size...has ever surpassed my courage.” – Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Flemish baroque painter.


1. 120,000 illustrations of the same thing;
2. an illustrator with attention deficit disorder;
3. something that has nothing to do with a cartoon.

Usage: “So, you say you like animation and illustration. Have you decided whether you want to be an animator who animates, an animator who illustrates, an illustrator who animates, an illustrator who illustrates, or an animator who does nothing?”


1. Japanese animation originating in Japan, produced by Japanese artists, for a Japanese audience, about Japanese culture, in Japan;
2. not animation or illustration created for an American audience, by American artists, for American animation companies, or American publications in America;
3. an animated character with either very large eyes or very small eyes; and either very large mouths or very small mouths; and sometimes with no mouth at all.

Usage: “If that character isn’t a cat, then why does it have cat ears on top of its head…what’s that…you say it’s anime?”


1. the phenomenon whereby an illustration appears to resemble the illustrator who created it;
2. an attempt by a client to become something they are not, say, an illustrator.

Usage: “For this assignment, I need you to conjure up some of your magical anthropomorphism…I need you to make a hummingbird look like Cee Lo Green.”
Usage: “Why is it that every living thing in all your illustrations looks just like you?”


1. something every illustrator should never be without;
2. the inspirational part of an illustrator’s creative process;
3. a state one will soon be in when illustrating for PepsiCo.

Illustrator: “Well doctor, I have an anxiety attack every time I pick up a pencil.” Doctor: “Have you thought about using a computer, that way you wouldn’t have to draw?”
Usage: "I don't have big anxieties. I wish I did. I'd be much more interesting." - Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), American painter.


1. created with the use of a pencil, pen, palette knife, brush, or an application;
2. a digital tool for use in place of a pencil, pen, palette knife, brush, or skills;
3. a form of entertainment.

Usage: “With this application I can create a set of brushes out of a head of lettuce…I’d like to see Winsor & Newton do that!”
Usage: “I promise you it will be done soon…I know it has been six weeks, but I’m waiting for the last application of varnish to dry.”

Applied Arts

1. a term used by old timers and educators to refer to illustration and design.
2. art that has a purpose;
2. an oxymoron according to some.

Usage: “You mean to tell me you’ve signed up for an applied arts degree…what the hell is that?”


1. an extreme form of admiration by one artist for another artist’s work;
2. an activity used to overcome a mental block;
3. fan art.

Art Director: “I used the idea for the approbation.” Illustrator: “Umm…I think you mean appropriation.”
Usage: “I beg to differ with you…I find your appropriation to be quite inappropriate.”


1. any illustration that is two years old;
2. the one illustration an illustrator wishes he or she never did.

Usage: “That was a long time ago…I don’t even recognize that piece...I was a different person back then. All I know is that it was archival up ‘till now.


1. a contract that is used in place of a legitimate agreement;
2. a bargain with and for the client;
3. something you understood as having one meaning while your client believes it means another;
4. an understanding that never resulted in a payment of any kind.

Usage: “The illustrator and I have an arrangement…she does the work…and I make her do it all over again...at no extra cost.”
Usage: “Will we get you a contract? No, we don’t use contracts around here. They’re a waste of resources, but we will make you an arrangement.”


1. that which is not produced by an illustrator;
2. the thing referred to that an illustrator produces, but cannot qualify as;
3. a popular game played at parties.
4. a descriptive form of a joke.

Usage: “If it ain't hangin’ in a museum than it ain't art.”
Usage:  “Being able to hit that spittoon like that is a real art”

Art Appreciation

1. a non-intuitive ability that must be taught to a non-artist.
2. without or lacking the term illustration;
3. art history lite:

Usage: “First off, a nitwit like you needs to learn some manners, and then you need to learn some art appreciation.”


1. a naked, white compressed paper rendering surface, that illustrators stare at, and it stares back;
2. an uninteresting art class.

Usage: “Will you cover up that artboard...it’s indecent…for God's sake!”

Art Criticism

1. the self professed right of every citizen on the planet;
2. a profession adopted by failed social critics, literary critics, food critics, movie critics, music critics, and undecided trolling critics.
3. an occupation that sees art as being only black or white, ignoring all the color in between.

Usage: “Strangely enough, there are no critiques of art criticism.”
Usage: “If you look back into the recent past of a person who writes art criticism, you will find a drawing of a stick figure.”

Art Director

1. a person who takes orders from one person and gives them to another person;
2. a person who occasionally tries to illustrate a project, but with disastrous results;
3. someone who has lost the ability to listen;
4. an administrator.

Usage: “Even though I’m just an acquaintance, the art director seems to think we are married.”
Usage: “He’s a well respected art director for allowing other people do his work for him.”


1. an eraser that makes nothing disappear except itself;
2. a sticky mass found underneath drawing tables in art classrooms that can be used as an eraser in a pinch.

Usage: “I'll get rid of that pencil line if it's the last thing I do--hand me that box of Artgums.”


1. someone who cannot illustrate;
2. an illustrator that has never had a paid commission.

Classified Advertisement: “Artist available for commissions, paid offers only, illustration assignments acceptable.”

Artistic Temperament

1. an attitude that results in a cynical redefinition of words that pertain to illustrators;
2. aesthetic high blood pressure;
3. a license to ignore the obvious.

Usage: “The artistic temperament is a disease which afflicts amateurs.” - G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), English author.
Usage: “Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament.” - G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), English author.

Art Supply

1. an overpriced common tool used by an illustrator; 
2. an object or set of objects that help an illustrator remain in debt.

Usage: “But honey, I have to have those art supplies. The baby will have to go without for just a little longer.”


1. a term used to describe a commission when there is no concern for quality;
2. referring to a deadline before the time the assignment was even given out;
3. (a)lways (s)ecure (a) (p)aycheck.

Usage: “ASAP is impossible.”
Usage: “You got lucky on this deadline, it’s only ASAP. It could have been an ASAPASAP, or even an ASAPASAPASAP.”


1. the relationship between an illustrator’s effort and the compensation provided for that effort;
2. a compositional arrangement whereby things an illustrator has trouble rendering can be made much smaller;
3. a difference regarding what a client says and an illustrator does.

Usage: “That illustration is so asymmetrical that if you hung on a wall it would lean to the right.”
Usage: “It’s making me dizzy…it’s so heavy on one side I have to look at it sideways…I’m going to have to take two asymmetrical pills to put it right.”


1. something illustrators are not allowed to have, and clients deny having;
2. the angle a client turns his or her head while viewing a sketch proposal;

Client: “Do I detect an attitude in that red you are using?” Illustrator: “It’s only a color.” Client: “Yes, but I don’t like what it is suggesting.” Illustrator: “What’s that?” Client: “It is clearly saying buy my competitor’s product.”


1. a fictitious group of invisible people;
2. a theoretical concept referred to over and over again by a client;
3. a group of people who insist on talking instead of paying attention to what they are looking at it.

Usage: “As an account executive, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in focus groups, and I can tell you, when it comes to sports, the audience won’t understand it. An illustration that has an athlete in it is absurd. It’s all about the ball.”

I’d like to acknowledge the following individuals who provided inspiration for this project. G.K.C., L.T., B.A., B.D., B.H., J.P., G.H., B.F., and T.L.

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