Is illustration one of society’s core storytelling vehicles? An artist, professor, and network designer suggest the answer is yes

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The craft of illustration is not always appreciated as much as it should. We see the end result and absorb the total effect of a piece and have difficulties seeing the detail and how it was built. Moreover, illustration is human and emotional. As such it is not just an artform, but it is a vehicle for human communication because it is very authentic and subjective (meaning it will differ by person based on their personality and experiences). Therefore, illustration is a brilliant and powerful vehicle for storytelling.

If we see how an illustrated piece is built, we start to really understand and appreciate the craft, but also the emotional investment and thus the power of the artform to those digesting it. The below work is from Patrick Vale (see website here). His pieces are truly impressive and you cannot help but be drawn in to the stories buried on the page. Patrick created a video of the creation of one of his pieces and this exercise really brings to life his mastery and the level of detail that goes into each piece (see below). As you watch the film, you may find yourself appreciating each neighborhood as it is being drawn. This awakens you to the fact that each area of his finished piece has magic and story within it which is why the overall piece is so strong.


Empire State of Pen from BigAnimal on Vimeo.

The power of illustration as a storytelling vehicle was best brought to life by the guys behind RSA Animate. They did this by using illustration as the visual layer that helped bring to life recorded speeches. Each speech tends to be highly intellectual, and when presented dry or with the help of typical Powerpoint, the impact of the content can be dulled. Meanwhile, with the help of illustration the thoughts really come to life – the story of the content is unleashed.

Ultimately this allows these talks to connect with a much broader audience. I have posted two of my favorites that bring to life my point. The first speech is about The Power Of Networks and discusses how the theory of evolution is fundamentally changing. It is very compelling, but just imagine the story without the help of illustration. The second is speech from Philip Zimbardo and discusses how someone’s time perspective has a profound affect on how they view life, they care for their well-being, and how they nurture relationships. Again, it is another cerebral topic that is simplified and made more “digestible” through illustration. Enjoy

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