Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Typography For Illustrators: 1. Intro

Illustrators are being asked to deal with typography more and more, whether it is incorporating words into our images, selecting font(s) to accompany an illustration, or actually designing an entire project for a client. For many graduates of illustration programs with curriculums devoted strictly to pictorial concerns, having to deal with typography in any capacity on a professional level can be daunting. However, there are ways to overcome whatever typographical challenge an illustrator may be faced with. This article is the first in a series of articles that will provide advice on two complex subjects: (1) typographic integration, type used within an illustration, and (2) typestyle coordination, type used to accompany an illustration.

For many people words, reading comprehension, and literacy are what visually inexperienced people call “left-brain” activities. Dealing with visual aesthetics, pictorial literacy, and visualization is known as “right-brain” activities. Surprisingly, even illustrators and artists subscribe to this worldview, however, graphic designers and typographers don’t. So it is important for illustrators to know what designers know that they don’t.

Most simply put, designers have learned how “not to read”. Instead of reading for content, designers have developed the ability to look at letterforms as pure form, the same way we illustrators look at the human figure as pure form. In other words, a graphic designer's figure study is the study of letterforms. A designer’s awareness of a letterform proportion, style, weight, tone, etc. are the equivalent of an illustrator’s understanding of figure form, posture, musculature, expression, tone, etc. in a figure.

By thinking of type purely as a pictorial element, it’s possible to learn to choose and coordinate type with the other subject elements to be incorporated into an illustrated composition, or to apply type to accompany an image.

There are a number of considerations that form the basis for a decision concerning typeface choice and application. In reference to illustration, the coordination and integration of typography depend on the conceptual direction, the subject content, the compositional layout, and the purpose of an illustration project. These components form the frame of reference for the application of typography. Bearing that in mind, there are some fundamental, or central criteria, that can influence an illustrator’s selection and application of type.

The following criteria categories may be the used individually or in combination to choose and execute an assignment solution. Those categories for making typographical decisions are: context, function, association, and style. For this introduction, these central criteria will be discussed briefly.


The application of typography based on context involves a close assessment of the native use of form and appearance of elements within an illustration. Following along the lines of not reading type for content, context in this sense refers to visual context. The choice and use of type based either on mirroring the visual traits in an illustration or posing a contrast to the form. The first two examples below demonstrates a contextual type use by similarity, and the third example displays contrast.

Contextual type integration. Typeeverything.com.
Contextual type integration. For the Australian New Years Day 
Music Festival.
Contrasting type selection. Illustrative design by Dannygdammit.


Obviously, type included in, or accompanying an illustration has the purpose of fulfilling a function. The intended function of the text forms the basis for decisions concerning type. One instance would be when type included in, or associated with, an illustrated logo must be legible when reproduced at very small sizes. Another instance would be when type is used in an illustrated billboard ad on a motorway and must be must be seen and read quickly. Below are examples of type used in these two extreme situations.

Functional type selection. Illustrated logo design by Seven Thirteen 
Creative Inc.
Functional type selection. Illustrated billboard by Helena Garcia.


Association refers to the native design intent and attributes that are inherent in the typestyle itself. Every font design was motivated by, and based on, a specific purpose. Certain fonts have been able to transcend their original purpose to become “versatile”, while other fonts remain stagnated by a narrow functionality or a stereotyped association. Use of a specific font may be for the purpose of creating a visual association to an historical or cultural form of style or usage. Below are some examples that demonstrate the use of both highly adaptable fonts and stylistically limited, stereotyped ones.

Stereotypical association type selection, western. Illustrative 
design by Tuck Industries.
Stereotypical association type selection, circus. Illustrative 
design by Michael Doret.
Versatile non-stereotypical type selection. Illustrative
design by Lucie Rice.
Versatile non-stereotypical type selection. Illustration by
Cailtin Kuhwald.


Style is what most illustrators believe to be the most important criteria for creating or selecting type to be used with illustration. However, style choice without the support of the other decision-making criteria mentioned above can yield less than satisfactory results. To a great extent, a successful typestyle choice is based on context, function, and association, which then are shown to be evident in the visual appearance of a typestyle.

Stylistic integration emphasizing context. Illustrative design
by Kerian Massey.
Stylistic integration emphasizing association. Illustrative
design by Tuck Industries.
Stylistic integration emphasizing function. Logo design by
Scott Whitehouse.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Brainstorming For Illustrators: 4. Fortune Telling

Most brainstorming techniques involve the interaction of a group of participants. These techniques, and there are many of them, are used by businesses and organizations to solve problems more quickly. Unfortunately, as illustrators, we mostly work alone, so group brainstorming activities aren’t much use to us. However, there are some group techniques where the underlying principle can be adapted for individual brainstorming. Fortune telling prediction is one of them.

Brainstorming Techniques

Fortune Telling Prediction

Not normally recommended in the illustration business, fortune telling is a great way to divorce yourself from your own bag of tricks and old habits when it comes to problem solving. Fortune telling is to make a prediction; to declare or indicate in advance; to foretell on the basis of observation, experience, or conjecture. In the business, it generally isn’t a good thing for an illustrator to approach an assignment by trying to predict what a client would want. This approach can end up badly. Believe it or not, clients generally don’t have the best ideas, in fact most of them don’t even like their own ideas, not to mention the fact that they aren’t illustrators, and don’t know what would work best pictorially. So it’s best to stay out of the client’s head. In fact that’s the only rule about brainstorming by fortune telling.

This brainstorming method works the same way as a fortuneteller does. It is an effective, entertaining, and fun way to generate ideas. It requires the fortuneteller, aka, illustrator, to try to identify thoughts in whomever they are attempting to “read”. The group version of this brainstorming technique involves using other people to come up with thoughts. This interpretation uses only other people’s personas. So instead of asking another person about a particular problem directly, you suppose how they might answer.

Continuing on in the same manner as the examples in Brainstorming For Illustrators: 1, 2, and 3, the example assignment is to create an illustrated icon for the subject of brainstorming. More specifically, the fortuneteller, aka, me, the illustrator, will try to suppose what different people think of, when addressing the subject of brainstorming. For this method, it is possible to choose anyone, famous or historical person, family member, classmate, or acquaintance to use as a subject. Below are some selections and supposed responses. Whether they are realistic accurate predictions of what these people would say is inconsequential. However they have provided inspiration for ideas that can be used to visualize an image for brainstorming, and they were generated in an unorthodox manner that conventional conjecture could not achieve.

Oscar Wilde – “What makes an artist think they are an artist.”
Winston Churchill --  “A link in a chain of destiny.”
Hilary Clinton – “Globetrotting by way of imagination.”
Jonas Salk – “Germinating an idea.”
Steve Jobs – “A thought tsunami.”
Kathy Griffin – “A twisted sense of humor.”
Moe Howard – “Being hit by a ton of bricks.”
Chuck Yeager – To soar among the clouds. 
Groucho Marx – “For a serious thinker, someone other than me.”
Harpo Marx – “Honk, honk, honk.”
Rudolph Nureyev – “Leaping freely in mid air.”
Policeman – “Walking down any street and you’ll get lots of ideas.”
Cabbie – “Lane weaving to get ahead quickly.”
John Dillinger -- “A blackjack and some brass knuckles makes for some thinkin’.”

Below are a few thumbnail sketches inspired fortune telling brainstorming.

Marx & Churchill. © 2013 Don Arday.
Nureyev & Yeager. © 2013 Don Arday.

Clinton & Cabbie. © 2013 Don Arday.
Dillinger & Griffin. © 2013 Don Arday.

Illustrators sometimes become very self-conscious about presenting outlandish concepts, especially for business types of problems, but clients are always looking for unusual ideas. The idea of combining Edvard Munchs The Scream with John Dillinger and Kathy Griffin is about as peculiar as it gets, but finding a conceptual way to make a clients message stand out should always be in the mind of an illustrator. Fortune telling can provide that unusual idea, and clients don’t care how am idea comes about. Metaphorically speaking, they are less interested in how a clock works then how to tell the time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brainstorming For Illustrators: 3. Question Definition

There are a number of ways to solve a problem, brainstorming is only one of them, but it’s a very effective one. Many illustrators and designers approach problem solving in an overly judicious way by waiting to be struck by an idea--the “one” idea. And even though these artists have many thoughts about a problem, those thoughts are instantaneously dismissed, because they aren’t the “one”. The thoughts are immediately judged and rejected without any notion of being added to a cache of thoughts that could spark more thoughts and ideas.

The Dartboard Analogy

Visualizing a dartboard as a symbol that represents an assignment problem, and the darts to symbolize ideas, is one way to quickly understand the effectiveness of brainstorming. Taking the afore mentioned approach of searching for only "one" great idea, is the equivalent of only having one dart to throw a bullseye. Brainstorming creates darts, and the more darts there are to throw at the dartboard, the more likely it will be to hit the bullseye. Question definition is a brainstorming method that can generate a multiple of ideas.

Brainstorming Techniques

Question Definition

An easy way to think about a problem is to ask questions about it. The questions become the basis for organizing a structure for your thoughts. What, when, where, who, and why each form categories to help to identify isolated aspects of a problem. Illustrators and designers are most familiar with questions as they relate to the demographics that are associated with a subject or problem. Questions like: What is the benefit of the product? Who is its intended audience? Where is the product distributed? When is the product available? Why is the product desirable? Etc. However, this is not the way question definition works in brainstorming.

In this brainstorming technique, questions are posed in reference to idea gathering. They are used to guide explorative thought, not to provide a definitive answer about a subject. This aspect of question definition is difficult to grasp, so the best way to explain it is by demonstration. The following is an example of question definition for an assignment to create an illustrated icon for the subject of brainstorming. The questioning can also be sub-organized like the "WHAT" questioning below, which is based on human senses.

WHAT (Could Brainstorming Look Like)?
It looks like is a light bulb lit, flame burning, spark plug firing, lightening striking, match striking, nerves tingling, etc.

WHAT (Could Brainstorming Sound Like)?
It sounds like a cymbal clashing, bomb exploding, siren sounding, thunder clapping, popcorn popping, static spark, etc.

WHAT (Could Brainstorming Taste Like)?
It tastes like a habanero pepper, mouthful of pop rocks, shot of ouzo liquor, teaspoon of wasabi, etc.

WHEN (Could Brainstorming Happen)?
It could happen in a split second, during a song, in the shower, with a sneeze, awakening from a dream, while being slapped, etc.

WHERE (Could Brainstorming Happen)?
It could happen on a mountaintop, in flight, inside our head, in our hand, under our hat, before our very eyes, etc.

WHO (Can Brainstorm)?
A professor, an astronaut, a dolphin, a child, Auguste Rodin’s the Thinker, William Shakespeare, Penn & Teller, Leonardo DaVinci, etc., can all brainstorm.

WHY (Brainstorm)?
Brainstorm to become a superhero, get rich, be on TV, meet the president, own a jet plane, surf in Hawaii, have your dreams fulfilled, etc.

Below are a few thumbnail sketches that were created using the some of the metaphors from the question definition brainstorming example.

Natural idea. © 2013 Don Arday.
High enlightenment. © 2913 Don Arday.

 Sparked thought. 2013 Don Arday.
Spontaneous idea. © 2013 Don Arday.

Question definition is an extremely effective way of producing visual metaphors to symbolize a subject or a problem.  These metaphorical ideas can then be used separately or in combination to illustrate an unusual concept, one that draws attention, entertains, and causes the viewer to think, recognize, and remember a subject or product.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Brainstorming For Illustrators: 2. Negative Thinking

Brainstorming is a problem solving activity that we all use when we are presented with a problem to solve. Even when the solution seems instantaneous, a bit of the brainstorming thinking process has occurred to limit the thought of too many possible solutions. Brainstorming can be a controlled exercise using a variety of techniques to stimulate creative solutions to a visual problem. It provides a method of forming random thoughts into thought patterns that provide a coherent interpretation of a subject. Brainstorming emphasizes the problem solving process and deemphasizes the solution. The result is a less predictable, less stereotypical set of ideas and sketches.

Brainstorming Techniques

Thought Juxtaposition

Thought juxtaposition is based on the concept of paring up two or more divergent thoughts and eventually evaluating their relationship. It’s a way of thinking about a problem, backwards and forwards. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a way of examining both sides of a coin. Unless we are able to look at both the front and the back of a coin, or a problem for that matter, we cannot truly understand its’ significance. This brainstorming method discards a single directional approach to thinking in favor of a bidirectional, or even a multidirectional approach.


Whether you are a glass half empty, or glass half full person, “opposites” is a dynamic way of applying thought juxtaposition to look at a problem both negatively and positively. In the illustration business, negative thinking is generally considered to be non-productive, but used to brainstorm with, it can be quite the opposite. Negative thinking works by channeling our uncertainty about a subject. In brainstorming, uncertainty provides the flexibility for us to keep pondering ideas, and avoid becoming stifled.

Stage One
Opposites is a two-stage process, the stages can be done in tandem or separately. The first activity involves brainstorming to record random thoughts about a problem or a subject. The thoughts can be negative or positive considerations of the problem. They can be recorded as words or as simple thumbnail sketches before they are combined to create compound ideas for presentation to the client. Below is a partial selection of stage one word thoughts that were generated to produce an illustrated icon on brainstorming.

Locked         Unearthed         Thoughtless       Hollow       Stuck        Trapped

Stage Two
Stage two is the search for opposites or antonyms of the original set of thoughts about the problem. Here are the opposite matches to the original inspirations. The six original terms led to six sets of juxtaposing words. The sets can then be used as pairs, or split up to become twelve individual words that can then be cross-combined to create unanticipated results. Below are a few sketches.

Locked >> Opened       Buried >> Unearthed        Thoughtless  >> Thought Full
Hollow >> Solid           Stagnation >> Growth       Trapped >> Freed

Unlocked vision. © 2013 Don Arday.
Though full input. © 2013 Don Arday.

Hold that thought. © 2013 Don Arday.
Germinated ideas. © 2013 Don Arday.

For negative brainstorming to become productive, it is important to complete the cycle of juxtaposing opposing pairs of relationships. Opposites lead to contrast, which in turn adds a certain amount of tension and narrative interest. This method of conceptualizing can yield extremely positive results.