Wednesday, 18 May 2011

PP - Identity (International)


In an industry so based around personal role and identity, it can be difficult to really understand where you sit in terms of the overriding entity that is Illustration. Whether in terms of contemporary practice, international markets or social-historical placement, getting and maintaining an idea of the practice allows us a wealth of resources or inspirations with which we my further develop our own work.
When in education this is simple enough, the first half of the projects you do tend to involve a lot of research; it becomes the go to practice when starting work for the first time. For their part, universities supply the resources to do this; libraries and learning centres, as well as professional contact and input should all be treated as invaluable to the development of your practice.
However, upon leaving university, and indeed in your own time during those years, what measures can we take to be sure we have some awareness of a wider illustration scene?

To begin with, and perhaps most significantly, the Internet has become hugely influential to both our awareness of industry, and indeed how the society behind it is conducted. The rise of social networking and the ease of self-web publishing mean its easier than ever to establish some sort of point of contact, albeit one in a sea of millions of similar points. Acting to correlate the mass to some degree are community sites; web sites that are based around shared interests and interaction with other practitioners. Sites such as and are expanding steadily, integrating the social aspects of social media and basing them around shared interests.
While the open nature of these sorts of sites does mean a lot of them will be clogged with high density, low quality output, by careful exploration and learning how to browse selectively, its easy to find artists and practitioners you would otherwise have never been aware of. Furthermore, oftentimes these practitioners are willing to discuss technique, produce tutorials and instigate community projects, creating something of a well of knowledge.

Similar in nature but more personal in approach, blogs offer higher levels of adaptability and ease of use, and are generally perceived as more professional than the aforementioned sites. This has seen blogging become standard practice for most contemporary illustrators, offering them a chance to show how they work, their personal background or approach, and generally offer more depth of information than a personal website would offer, so deeply tied to functionality and design as they are.

It is worth considering the benefits of joining a collective or association. This may be large-scale organization like the Association of Illustrators (AOI) (which offer professional representation and reliable resources) or more small scale, group driven practice based bodies (which are as much about the working relationship between members as they are representation or establishment) Like the Paper Jukebox, recently established by a group of students of my course.
The smaller scale collectives in particular offer a much more natural or receptive approach to work, a more obvious sense of relation or placement and a decent balance between self driven freelance practice and more open, team based projects, a balance of which it is always important to maintain.

In terms of my own practice while not as exhaustive as others, I try to keep up a constant awareness of certain areas of the industry, the indie and web comic scene in particular as of late. RSS feeds have made it simple to keep tabs on contemporary artists, and I am currently following the likes of Rene Engstrom, KC Green, Steve Purcell, Aaron Diaz and more.
Recently Aaron Diaz’s blog Indistinguishable from Magic has been especially helpful, with regular discussions on the art of comic production, and has been really indicative of how blogs can be used to further both your own and your readers practice.

I signed up to Deviantart several years ago, and as well as acting as a space to show my work to the general public, it has provided a strong sense of motivation when working. Sites like this offer a destination for pieces, a type of closure or grounding for a finished piece of work. While I would never use it as a professional point of contact, it has helped me repeatedly with projects in the past, either in terms of the resources available (tutorials, textures) or even just as inspiration to get through a dry spell.

Last year saw my first foray into blogging. I will admit it is not something that comes naturally to me, but I am making efforts to update regularly, and it should take a larger role as I begin to work on my proposed comic project.
My first blog was a Livejournal page, chosen mainly as it allowed me to subscribe to HARVEYJAMES’ blog. However, Livejournal seems to have a stigma amongst many people, and increasingly artists are using Wordpress or Blogspot instead. I set up my second blog MANYHEADEDMONSTER earlier in the year and resolved to take a more professional approach to the process. I have consciously made my posts more concise and image driven, though occasionally will discuss something that interests me, or I feel is worth exploring. While its primary function is, of course, to give some sense of context or background to the work I produce and show elsewhere, it has also been beneficial to my own work and especially to my sense of artist identity, especially in terms of the customization options that has allowed me to redesign it closer to my personal preference.

Honkfu have been of interest to me for a while. A visual arts based studio collective producing animations, comics and artwork, there is an obvious sense of style and identity, but not to the point that it overrides or defines the work produced. I think some sort of comic collective or studio group would be worth getting involved with in the future, and if I can find a group of people I am comfortable working with and who’s work would be conducive to my own, it could be a really positive thing for me. Often times I am highly insular with my work, a point that has caused a lot of anxiety of late, and I am increasingly aware of a need to remedy this.

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