Saturday, July 14, 2012

Illustrator + Graphic Designer = Illusigner? ...No that can't be right.

Sometimes it's weird going back into a field where everything you learned 5+ years ago is almost obsolete.  When I was at SVA, I learned that it was next to impossible to get anywhere in the field unless you sent out postcards of your work to art directors constantly and carried around a portfolio with examples of your illustrations to show potential clients.  I thought, "Eff that" and quickly abandoned ship, since I'm not exactly known for my tenacity and drive.

Fast forward years later, and everything I do, while related to my backbone in illustration and the arts, is computer-based.  I'm not sure if the absence of using the computer as a tool is because I attended an arts college with a fine arts-style illustration program, or if it just simply wasn't an option back then.  I, personally, used my computer extensively in school, mostly for reference purposes, but we were even taught the old "go-to-the-mid-manhattan-library-picture-collection-for-reference" angle by our illustration professor (to date, I have NEVER ONCE gone to the library to find picture reference, let alone check it out in a giant brown envelope to bring home).

Neither did our school have any computer classes, which I find a major snag in an otherwise very pleasant learning experience at SVA.  Meanwhile, at FIT (a school I loathed from start to end), our hands on classes were terribly lacking, but we got a good chunk of computer classes in (QuarkXP, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, all within two years).  So thankfully, I was able to cherry-pick what I needed from both avenues of education to formulate them into a (somewhat) well-rounded illustration background.

Except for the fact that I know next to nothing about compter layouts.  That, when I do try, even if I successfully deliver upon my word and impress the client, I feel like a huge fraud.  Example: I do primarily logo and icon design using Adobe Illustrator.  I had a client ask if I could do his page layout graphic work - no coding or text layout, just visuals (ie color, graphics, illustrations, layout).  I agreed to do it, then almost pissed myself.  I've never done this before!! So I told him exactly that, and that while I could probably do it, it might take a touch longer...which it did (and he didn't complain, thank god).  But I felt incredibly lost and blind, feeling around in the dark, wondering if I was screwing up before I took each step.  I thought, "I'm an illustrator, not a graphic designer!"

Which brings me to my next though, something that's been tumbling around in my mind these past few months - what's the difference between an illustrator and a graphic designer, anyway?  Which brings up more subquestions: "Does a graphic designer need to have the ability to draw?", "Illustration is all about composition and making a finished piece look good, isn't that what graphic design embodies anyhow?".

(An aside: I had a terrible teacher at FIT who, from her art director experience, told all of us [students] that we shouldn't worry about layout and composition, that we should simply paint AS LARGE A PICTURE AS POSSIBLE and that the art director would crop it to the layout they liked.  So, for example, if the art director wanted a scene of a table in front of a cafe, we shouldn't just paint the table and some chairs and the background - we should paint ALL the tables and chairs in front of the cafe, AND the people walking by, AND the whole cafe, AND the surrounding buildings, AND the street in front.  Not only did I think this was a massive waste of time, it didn't make sense from a resolution standpoint [if I paint this theoretically massive picture at say, 18"x24" and the scene of just the "chair and table outside a cafe" only takes up a 6"x6" space, there's gonna be hell to pay to the pixel gods when that's scanned and blown up to a larger size.]  One reason I was very glad to see the end of FIT.)

Anyhow, back on track (I always say catharsis is good).  What makes an illustrator any different than a graphic designer?  Maybe illustrators focus much more on the, uh, illustration and not so much the other aspects (typography, readability, etc)?  I know my knowledge of typography is shit, though I can appreciate a good serif font.  I recently told Baz (who made the astute observation that my weak point in a layout is typography) that I thought all sans-serif fonts looked the same and he almost left me, he had such a fit.

Maybe I'm a hybrid of the two - illustration AND graphic designer?  I feel limited, however, as I have no training in true graphic design (I don't even know what classes they take).  I feel like a straddle both worlds pretty actively, though - I'm not the illustrator hunched over a piece of paper from start to finish, but I'm not the designer scouring fonts and stock photos to create instant readability.  I do a bit of both, though, as it's needed.

I won't lie - I feel both incredible awe and pity for graphic designers.  I think it takes wearing a lot of hats to be able to be a good graphic designer, since there's so many different elements to balance, yet at the same time, half my graduating class at SVA was graphic design (it's like the liberal arts of art school), so how hard can it be?  Also, when your major is half your graduating class (I'm sure statistics are somewhat similar for most art colleges), how good are your odds of getting a decent job?  I'd find that just this side of terrifying.

Who out there is a graphic designer? Thoughts? Opinions? Flaming bags of poop on my doorstep? (Don't worry, I live on the top floor, my downstairs neighbor would have to deal with it anyhow)

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