According to our go to guy, our trusted fount of all known knowledge, the word ‘illustration’ comes from the latin word ‘illustra’tio’ or ‘illu’stro’ meaning ‘enlighten’ or ‘irradiate’ – ‘irradiate’ meaning ‘illuminate (something) by or as if by shining light on it’.
Thought as much.
Since I became an interpretive designer – since February 2014 – I have commissioned more illustration than I have during the rest of my long, roller-coastering career. I've worked with visualisers before, to capture concepts, but not so much illustrators, to capture stories. As interpretive designers though, a large part of our remit is to bring stories to life – to shine a light on them. To, as the godfather of this discipline put it, 'make the remote, coherent'.
And boy, what a tool illustration is – what a pleasure it is to commission illustration and what a joy it is to see the work of amazingly talented artists. With illustration we can visualise the impossible to see; the legends and maybe-truths. The romantic I-hope-it-happeneds or the horrific how-awful-that-must-have-beens.
With illustration we can capture not just scenes beyond our time and vision but imagined emotions – we can fulfil the primary directive of interpretation, to paraphrase Tilden, we can, 'relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor'.
We can compress and combine ideas – illustration is an extremely pliable tool. But that's not all, illustrators can add more than just their ability to render a scene in a technically acceptable way – they can do it in style – with their own style.
These pieces are by a local illustrator, Sam Hunter. I've had the pleasure of working with Sam a few times since I moved to Belfast but over that last year Sam's done loads for us. And he's done it with a startling panache, a 'flamboyant confidence of style or manner' (seeing as we're using definitions a bit here).
His linework astonishes me. Each piece is more than fit for purpose and more than answers the brief well, they delight. They also baffle me. How does he do it? Sam's illustrations display such flare (such 'flamboyant confidence of style or manner'). How come those squiggly, scribbly lines work so well? It's alchemy to me. Delightful alchemy.
We're using these on outdoor graphic panels that will be installed at points along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. The illustrations will bring local legends or unique episodes in history to life. One shows how children used to stilt-walk across a shallow causeway to school everyday; another is about an evil, poisonously spinned wart hog that, it is said, would emerge from the sea with murderous intent; another depicts a town's worst fishing disaster, which happened when a storm was summoned by a rather unneighbourly sorceress.
I could go on but maybe you see my point. Illustration may be one of the simplest tools for interpretation – the discipline is, after all, 'an art which combines many arts' – but it's also one of the most accessible and, perhaps, most powerful thanks to how varied styles can be (we can choose what best suits each opportunity) and how pliable the end piece can be (we can make it do what we want it to do). The key to all this, of course, is the skill and flare of the illustrator.