Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Serving Swiss Graphic Art

With no doubt there is no other region in the world which has a comparable density of high class graphic artists as Switzerland has. Day-in, day-out freelance artists and graphic designers are working there on new creations on a high level. Nonetheless these artists are little noticed in their country – in contrast to regions abroad. The artstübli is going to tap this source to give the Swiss population an understanding of the well established Swiss creativity.
Artstübli figures itself as support, network, and platform of Swiss graphic arts based in Basel. We would like to reconsider and pilot the exchange within the national creative scene. Due to our curiosity we are already woven in the Swiss creative network. We feel at home within it, know where the strings lead to, and watch this network with tension and confidence. It is necessary to provide a new platform to this by appropriate gallery-exhibitions, the annual ARTig exhibition for graphic arts and the new the new online art-shop.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Artist's Dilemma

Dilemma of Service

Centuries have passed, yet a major dilemma remains for the artist. How does one find a balance between art and commerce? Is it possible to achieve exceptional artistic merit while providing a service for our patrons? This conflict has consumed many gifted artists, and sometimes to the detriment of their physical and mental well being. Achieving this balance is essential to the growth and prosperity of every artist. Our patrons provide us with revenue and an audience. Moreover, the patron’s request keeps the artist’s concept grounded in the reality of communicating to an audience. Without that audience art can potentially become meaningless or irrelevant.The advent of digital technology has deepened this conflict. Traditional media vs. Digital tech-nology is a debate heard in art studios and schools around the world. This debate is more pas-sionately engaged in by artists trained in a traditional atelier approach in an academic setting. The belief of the atelier school is that digital art is not a valid art form. Also, lacking the training and dexterity required with traditional mediums.

So what is the answer?

Pros and Cons of Service

With many things in life there are pro’s and con’s — working with a client is no exception. I am not unlike many illustrators who, at times while working on a project for a client, wish to be in-dependently wealthy to avoid torturous compromises. The temptation is to forgo the project, to pursue my own artistic vision. As luck would have it, escapism is not my usual reaction. The many disadvantages are obvious for us all to see. We must respond to our clients’ needs and desires. Some of our greatest conceptual ideas may never see the light of day. A number of clients do not speak the language of the illustrator. Artists speak in the romantic language of the visual world: the patron speaks the language of numbers and bottom line. Then there are the looming deadlines, the deadlines that can cause us to serve our wine before its time. Every illustrator I know wishes they had more time — time to perfect the wry smile of a child, to add the twinkle of life in a grandmother’s eyes, or to magically capture the sunrise on the rolling hills. All of these external constraints can cause an artist to question their vision.

Through the years my perception has changed. I no longer view a patron as someone to be en-dured or, a changeable advisory. Admittedly, the con’s can seem quite dreadful, but I actually perceive them as a benefit. The advantages that a patron brings to the table far outweigh the con’s. The patron can act as a compass, guiding us along a path to real and effective communication. We have the responsibility to clearly convey our message to the target audience. Our message can range from an insightful political satire, to something as simple as “buy this product”. This responsibility is paramount and can deliver us from a focus on self-indulgent, narcissistic work that can be a trap for many students and young artist. To create and prove their worth they choose to journey down a road of self aggrandizement, astounding themselves and their viewers with their virtuosity. Lost in this fog, they lose sight of communicating the purpose of their illus-tration. Many times when I question students about the content and meaning of their work, I receive comments similar to: “I just wanted it to look cool!”. Looking cool does not define the pro-fessional. A seasoned illustrator wants the image to communicate both the visual artistry and the message.

Once your work enters a public forum, you are responsible for communicating to that forum. That forum may be one or many persons, but the goal is still to communicate to your audience as clearly as possible. Moreover, strong visuals come from the innermost place. The feelings generated “in the heart” derive from intense opinions we have about the current subject to be illus-trated. The client provides the structure within which our vision reveals itself, and can assist us in communicating effectively to our target audience.

The restrictions a client places on the illustrator can be very beneficial. I am a firm believer in the “Less is More” theory. True beauty is about what is not there as much as about what is. Creativity is a process of dealing with the limited things that are around you. Great ingenuity does not come from having a great abundance around you. Discoveries, are made from a void in your sur-roundings. Impoverished people the world over, have learned how to stretch whatever food they have to feed their families. How many more ways can I cook this potato? The illustrator faces the same scenario. How can I paint the same character again and again, while making them feel fresh and new to a viewer. Sometimes our restrictions will not be about keeping continuity of a character. Maybe the restrictions will limit our color choice, or size dimensions. All of these constraints present the artist with a great opportunity to expand his or her ability to create — an opportunity to think beyond the obvious. These restrictions can make the struggle for the correct visual image daunting, yet, this is where true growth originates. Anyone can paint their own picture and make it visually striking. The question is rather — can you bring your patron’s vision to reality? This is what the best illustrators achieve, day in and day out. The professional must come to terms with this, being held to a different standard than a hobbyist. The hobbyist can create art for arts sake, but this is not the luxury of an artist. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Valezquez, Rembrandt, Holbein, Daumier, Sargent, Mucha, Leyendecker, Rockwell and countless others confronted this same issue. They all struggled individually in a unique way, either coming to terms or never finding the balance. Each personal struggle left a legacy for the world to admire. When we struggle and conquer these restrictions, we receive our compensation of artistic growth. We are also compen-sated monetarily, allowing us to make our way in the world and perhaps to have time to realize a wholly personal vision.

Each artist has to find a balance with which they are willing to live. For some, working as an illustrator may not be a good fit because that balance cannot be met. Some feel that their artistic integrity is being compromised. They may feel that fine art is the answer. A word of caution for those — the patrons change but the conflict remains the same. I have reconciled the struggle in myself. The reconciliation has been to provide whatever talent or gifts I have for others and with spare time I pursue my vision. Whether it is painting for a patron, family, or myself, the goal is to give them something accessible and heartfelt.

Digital vs. Traditional Media

The last ten years has seen a dramatic explosion in technology. The advent of the personal computer has shifted the way the world works, and thinks. We are no longer separated by our continents physical isolation. This shift has been jarring for some. While the internet can unify people, it can equally keep people hidden behind their computer screens, fully detached from one on one interactivity with others. Automated voice mail service leaves us hungry for conversation with a real person. It leaves many yearning for the good old days. As this relates to the craft of illustration, you have three camps. The older generation trained in the traditional atelier system. My generation, a generation trained in the atelier system, yet the first to begin to embrace the technology. Lastly, the generation completely raised on the new technology. The older and new gen-eration are usually clearly divided as it relates to the argument of “Is it art?”. The middle generation usually bears the greatest conflict on the subject. We were trained to love and respect all as-pects of the atelier system — the perfecting of one’s draftsmanship, the intimate connection be-tween oneself and his or her medium of choice. It is a romantic spiritual experience to create something with one’s own hand. Nothing can compare to this. In contrast you have the ease and convenience of digital technology, allowing faster realization of our vision. A parallel argument exist in photography. Is the convenience of digital photography worth the sacrifice of the beauty and technical proficiency of film. The artist and photographers who have not experienced the traditional methods do not typically feel this conflict. It is hard to have emotional feelings about something you have not experienced.

As an educator, I have seen the attitudes of successive generation reverse on the idea of working digitally. I personally teach traditional and digital methods. When I first began teaching Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop 9 years ago as a painting medium, many if not all students did their best to avoid the class. Why would I want to learn how to illustrate on the computer? Tradi-tional art looks and feels better. You had to strongly encourage taking the class. Today is a com-pletely different story. The classes are full. Students have a much higher proficiency with the software before they come into the classes. The interest in the technology is at an all time high. Moreover, the digital software is currently dramatically more proficient at providing a painting experience for those who long to paint with real paint. Digital technology is not going to disappear anytime soon. We must stay current and grow with the times in which we live. This does not mean we have to for go all traditional mediums. Some are mixing the two mediums to pro-duce amazing results. This brings up another disturbing trend affecting some newer generation students. Many ignore the advantages of the traditional atelier academic system. Students have expressed their love for the computer, because they do not want to clean up their paints, or to spend the time to learn how to paint traditionally. This is lazy and absurd logic that typically leads to a failed career. They are looking for the easy way to solve problems. The goal should be to find ways to solve your problems in the best artistic way, not the easiest or cleanest. Digital is a wonderful medium that can do both, aid the challenged and help the innovative.

Can you teach an “old dog” new tricks? I believe you can, if that “dog” wants to be taught. I have seen many of my mentors pay the price for not being willing to learn the digital technology. Now, many of them are rushing to learn. When I graduated from college, I was a purist. I abso-lutely refused to learn about computer illustration. I wanted to produce illustrations in style of the great illustrators past. My refusal cost me many job opportunities. As I accepted the realities of our changing times, I slowly dabbled into the digital world. Hating every stroke of my wacom pen. Lamenting the fact that this is not like traditional paint. Then, something changed. I stopped comparing digital to traditional. Once I did this, my appreciation and fondness for digital media grew. I still prefer traditional mediums but I realized that it is not an all or nothing proposition. I can create in both. Therefore I do. I quiet the purist voice in my head by recognizing the fact that all artists created art with the technology of their time. Illustrators began with etchings. This is what could be mass produced. One and two colors were slowly introduced. We finally arrived at a place where we could paint in full color. The printing process is the fastest and cheapest it has ever been. This allows the illustrator to push the boundaries of the visual medium. With the internet’s presence, illustration will continue to evolve into a non-print forum. Animated illustra-tion is already popular with web banner’s and interactive media. The technology is changing — the need for visual images will not. Beginning with the primitive drawings in the caves of Las-caux to the wonderfully 3D animated films of today, the illustrator is here to stay if he or she chooses to work with and be open to all available media. Adaptability is a virtue — we can change the paradigm of our thinking. Traditional media will always have its place in the market-place. To what extent? Only time will tell.

Technology has many benefits for the illustrator. The biggest advantage is the ability to make drastic changes to your illustrations without having to destroy the original painting. This has always been the biggest challenge with traditional illustration for me. How can I make changes in my work retaining the freshness and not overworking it. Digital technology has completely removed this impediment from my process and has completely refashioned my working relationships with my clients. I can provide them with their vision while preserving one of the earlier preferred iterations for myself. Digital technology has also assisted in meeting deadlines. We can provide press or web ready digital files through e-mail or through secure web servers. I remember shipping paintings overnight, hoping they would not be damaged during transport. The beauty of it all is that I still have a choice to do traditional painting and can simultaneously use technology to make changes to my traditional paintings, as well as to bypass shipping by converting my paintings to a digital format.

In conclusion, “Good illustration should never be based on the medium. Its strength of design should be apparent in any medium.” These are words taught to me as a student. They penetrated my core and have never left. I approach every illustration with the same inner dialog. What is this for, who is this for, and why am I doing this? If I can answer these questions resolutely, I have a good chance to create a strong illustration. When I fail to answer any of these questions, often my illustration fails right in front of me. The medium was not the problem, I was. Digital and Traditional offer different working methods, but serve the same end. It will be used for print, web, or TV. The choice of medium is deeply personal. Every artist has different needs and philosophies. Use everything, experience it all. You will be in the best position to make a choice that suits your artistic vision. Some want speed, some need a more visceral tactile experience, and others may incorporate a mixed media approach. The choice on the spectrum are yours.

Robert Revels is an award winning artist from the United States. As a student athlete his art education began at College of San Mateo. This is where the love of art began. Choosing to forego his athletic career, he enrolled into The Academy of Art University, San Francisco. After receiving several awards in college, he earned a BFA in 1995. Immediately he began to work as a professional illustrator. The projects he has worked on has varied from children’s stories to large concert backdrops for Lollapalooza, Carlos Santana, and U2. In 1997 he began working as a graphic designer for Hull & Honeycutt Marketing and Design. Robert has since returned to teach at his alma mater to give back to the next generation of artists. When not teaching or working on freelance projects — he loves to travel to different countries with his wife.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

I am in Favor of Nonsense


Cédric Quissola, winner of the Young Illustrators Award in Paris 2007, reports back from Marais.

How was your personal feedback after Illustrative? Did any positive news evolve from that?

First I went home by Metro rather tired. The success at Illustrative confirmed my plan to become an illustrating author.
I became acquainted with several agencies for illustrators. Since then my work is represented by talkiewalkie.tw, by whom I also became involved in works for the press. French graphic-design magazine ETAPES is going to feature a double-page in August.

Your works presents surrealistic series in crayon. Is there a topic you would regard as a leitmotiv of your drawings.

No, actually there isn’t. There are no real repetitions regarding what I make a topic of my work. It is more a similar production process that the pictures have in common. Of course certain subjects such as the human body are more interesting to me, but actually it’s more about formal modules than integrative subject. My work separates in different phases. I’d say it all runs a rather scientific way. I can do something with the idea of a different reality and with the idea, that there is an alternative to every-day life. The work of David Lynch touches me. His movies fascinate by a subtle dose of surrealistic delirium and deliberate fiction.

Has surrealism taken influence on you?

My works don’t have the dream-poetics of surrealism. They are closer to our every-day world regarding their background as well as form. The pictorial aspect and the subjects considered are thoroughly contemporary. Some of my pictures are interpretations of images I found in the internet, others are mountings of sketches and personal photos. I also attach much importance to words at the beginning of a project; I write much and pen the concept which controls the drawings in the end. Actually it is a permanent exchange between the written and the drawn idea. In the end you can behold my pictures as well as read them, no matter if they contain a sentence or don’t.

Though the absurd idea is important to you, isn’t it?

We are used to monosemiotic pictures, pre-digested pictures. I am in favour of nonsense and the multivocal. I feel the urge to create pictures which are not complex in the perspective of formal understanding (I draw a dog in its traditional form), but which are complex in perspective of content (like a greyhound with a snail-shell). If I had to label my work, I would combine terms which otherwise do not agree with another: figurative abstraction.

What keeps you busy at present? What are upcoming projects?

I work on different projects like the corporate identity of a fashion label, Illustrations for a major aperitif-brand, and a personal project in the field of publishing.
Hitherto I did not have the time and even less the courage to knock at gallery-doors, but this idea is on my mind for month now.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sandra Nuy-Flashy Constellations

Illustration and Memory


“It is neither the case, that the past sheds light on the present nor that the present sheds light on the past, but the picture is the thing, in which bygone things coincide with the present moment in a flashy constellation. In other words: A picture is dialectic on a halt. For as the relation of past and present is one of time, the relation of the bygone things and the present is dialectic: not by nature of time, but by nature of picture.” (Walter Benjamin, 1991, 578)


Pictures are older than scripture: Before perceptions of the world were written down they have been depicted – the cave-paintings of Lascaux and Altamira are among the most important and most beautiful examples. At all times drawings have illustrated reality and saved it for following generations. And it is not by coincidence, that the German words “Zeichnung” (drawing) und “Aufzeichnung” (chronicle) are etymological that close related. For both describe documentation of cut-outs of reality, fixations of frictions and on-passing of relevant cognition.
Also apart from its dispositions from primitive times the picture is regarded the oldest memory-system of mankind. As a vital part of ancient rhetoric, ars memoriae derives from a founding myth formed by picture. The Greek poet Simonides once had left a feast for a moment, when suddelny the ceiling suddenly collapsed and buried the guests. He was then the only person who was able to identify the disfigured guests for he remembered the seating arrangement. This allowed the bereaved to entomb their relatives appropriately. Since then the combination of pictures and places is regarded the ideal way of mnemonic techniques. The myth of the invention of ars memoriae as art to conquer oblivion refers to the fact, that memory is not only an individual, neuronal, and psychical phenomenon. It is a social phenomenon as well – and it is always a phenomenon of communication and media.

But what are the characteristics of pictures within the discussion on a social, a collective memory? The following remarks try to give some answers, though necessarily cursory. Too multifaceted is the discussion on pictures, too complex the imaginable perspectives of theories on this topic. The memory-oriented paradigms of research are very popular for some years now: Memory became a “main term of humanities” (Aleida Assmann). Also politic and journalistic practice is constantly dealing with this topic; the different cultures of remembrance are controversial subjects of discussions in public and in politics.
Let’s come back to “dialectic on halt”. How can you describe this in a not only iconographic way, but considering aspects of cultural history and cognitive sociology as well? Ariadne’s threat of this consideration will be outlining illustration as media of cultural memory. Put another way it will be asked, what specific characteristics illustration as form of cultural knowledge-management has.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Semi-Utopistic Retrofuturism

Roman Bittner

Visiting Roman Bittner in his studio in Berlin with references to Eboy, Mies and Hergé

Hello Roman, in recent time we see only one new picture a year by you! What's the matter?

Well, two pictures a year I however made so long. Though this year I have three significantly smaller ones yet; I am currently working on a larger one. One of few negative “results” of the broader public of my work since ILLUSTRATIVE!

You don’t have time for uncommitted work?

I have to decide indeed. I have more and more commissions concerning editorial illustration in exactly that “ancient-city-style” which was displayed at Illustrative. They are eating my time.

Aren’t vector graphics – this complicated you conceive them – an extreme complex task? Don’t you just copy elements?

Vector graphics really are quite time-consuming. Of course I double things sometimes, for example the windows. But I do at least variations regarding colours and positions of the blinds. This way I try to draw a balanced mix of freshly drawn, modified and doubled elements, which will not cause the impression that I chose the easy way.

One couldn’t help but notice your cycle “Ancient Cities of Tomorrow” on ILLUSTRATIVE. What is this series about?

I am a big fan of architecture and metropolises. At the same time I grow up in the late seventies and early eighties at Kaiserdamm in Berlin. In this scene there was a character-forming mood of occupants, rioting, fury of demolition, failing modernism, mordant criticisms towards major projects like Gropiusstadt or Märkisches Virtel. Though I was a little kid then all this had major influence on me. Later on I studied art-history and history in Berlin, visiting almost solely lectures on history of architecture. As Kippenberger told his students: “Do what you feel like doing. If you love cars, go in for cars!” – so I was attracted by buildings and urban structures.

While beholding your pictures it is impossible not to think of Eboy (founder of pixel art). Is there any relation or is what you do something completely different?

Of course I know Eboy’s work and I appreciate it. But there is no direct influence. This impression is more likely aroused by external perception. I don’t do pixel art. Formally we work on two different segments. What is similar is the topic of cities, the density, maybe advertisement and neon signs, and in certain respects the perspective with its parallel lines, not meeting in a vanishing point.

So the subject of megalopolis shams having more in common than there actually are?

Yes, there is rather much in contrary. I used to see Eboys in their aesthetic of pixels more than in that of classic modernists. Also their town views have rather futuristic or at least contemporary elements. And pixel of course is absolutely something of the late nineties when computers were something very new and therefore a cult of machine was adhered in a way.

Your pictures pay homage to the anti-modernism more.

You could say that, yes. This is why my cities are more and more noted as “retro” and indeed there is hardly any building from the years between 1940 and 1995. So nothing looks like Mies, Corbusier, Gropius or Liebeskind. I absolutely define myself as an anti-modernist also by the seamless dense of details, ornaments, and urban canyons, all in flat piles like in a medieval painting. The formal pendant to what is displayed is the missing background.

You work in a way more detailed manner, however…

As the Eboys have to pass everything through the transformer of style-forming pixels they can hardly pay attention to architectural quillets like friezes, cornices, architraves, pilasters, and covings. Neither light nor shadow play a role in their art – though this of course is not what they focus on. I would rather consider Chris Ware, Edward Hopper, or Ali Mitgutsch as inspirations. And Hergé of course, with his tendency to fetishistic research about planes, cars, and trains and the Ligne Claire, quasi his invention.

Eboy depicts actual cities with all their known and unknown landmarks…

…which gain their appeal and wit from the simple and abstraction by their transfer into pixel. Me in contrast, I try to depict cities which are not existent in a way as realistic as possible with all their tiny details.

This reminds me of the “Cities of the Fantastic” by the Belgian comic artists Schuiten and Peters who were shown at the world fair in Hanover. Would you say that your “Ancient Cities” are of an utopistic – or semiutopistic – character?

Of course there is an utopia in all of my illustrations – that cities become more dense, urban, heterogeneous, figurative and detailed. This would be the opposite of architectural utopia of the classic modern from the twenties to seventies, a new utopia-like city turning away from common, future-oriented utopias in a sense of “old is the new new”.
Many details, but also crafts and ads can be assigned to the past. Nonetheless I add a certain element of utopia to the entire scene, for the elevated railways crossing in the air, the airports on roofs, and the densification and piles of transportation routes contain a subtle idealisation of well known urban scenery. Therefore I think this can with no doubt be referred to as “semiutopistic retro-futurism”.

What will be next?

Next I would like to make the large scale “Air Harbour und Train Station” centre of a polyptych of about 5- 8 illustrations! This will keep me busy over the next years…

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Down the Rabbit Hole

An essay by Annette Lodge 2008

In a visual hungry world, illustration is a transient visitor that meanders between being meaningful and amazing to being fashionable and banal.

When is illustration art? When is art illustration?
These are vexing questions that critics like to debate when they have nowhere else to go and which inevitably lead to prickly and incoherent conclusions. Generally, high brow proponents of abstract thought believe illustration has no place in the sacred world of art and yet, without images to transport us to that holy ground, we are left floundering inside the plasticity of a concept without a story.
Illustration is the magic beneath the narrative. It lurks in the shadows, ready to transport the recipient beyond words and into the dialect of a new language. It is only when this dialect resonates enough to stir our souls that illustration can truly be art.

In a cultural climate that seems intent on exclaiming loudly that techno-science is the new force of creativity, it may be time to take a breath and allow the art, the image, the idea, the essence, the subtext to imbed themselves back into our souls, rather than the razzle dazzle of technology. It may be time to look back rather than forward, inside rather than outside and heed the warning of Friedrich Nietzsche who concluded that the human race would evolve not through science and technology but through art and play.

Wise people have known this for some time: It is impossible not to be awe struck by the image of the massive rainbow serpent painted onto rock by Aboriginal artists 20,000 years ago, or the Nazca geoglyphs etched into the earth in Peru 2000 years ago, or the journeys to other worlds, captured in pictures that adorned the tombs of the pharaohs 4000 years ago. Such is the power of the narrative image.

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Monday, August 4, 2008


Zürich 2008

ILLUSTRATIVE, the leading European forum for contemporary Illustration and Graphics, is coming to Zurich this year. From the 17th to the 26th of October, the city of numerous creatives, graphic-designers, and artists turns into the metropolis of illustrative art.

Founded in Berlin in 2006, the ILLUSTRATIVE has taken place so far twice in Berlin (2006/2007) and once in Paris (2007). This year, in the exhibition centre Zurich, the festival spans over 2.500 m² with more than 400 works of about 60 artists, an inspiring density of graphics, Illustration and related works.

In the centre of the 10-day festival is an exclusive display of works by 25 internationally established illustrators. To guarantee the continued attractiveness of the event, the artists exhibiting are carefully chosen and attended to. The show, which is curated by Pascal Johanssen, does not only represent the quality and fantasy of contemporary graphics, but also reflects the visual impact that graphic de-sign, illustration, book art, comics, concept art, and animation have on the art world.

Furthermore, the Young Illustrators Award, conferences, a film programme and parties attract a young, design-oriented audience. The short listed artists of the newcomer award, whose works are included in the exhibition, reflect the latest developments of the illustration and graphics art genres and represent a fascinating seismograph for new movements.

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