Excerpts from Robert Mason's "Mere Illustration"2005
"It sometimes seems as if the nouns "illustration" and "illustrator" were never meant to be used alone so often do we read them prefaced by a qualifying adjective or phrase.
"Its mere illustration". " He or she is just an illustrator".
"Perhaps its important to identify illustration's unique strengths";
Illustration's paramount quality is perhaps it's hardest to define. Idea...subject matter...concept...content
I would contend that drawing in its many forms and irrespective of medium is the second constant among illustration's strengths...whether formal, informal, serious, funny, observational, imaginative, experimental, compositional, technical, or investigative, developmental doodle or meticulous masterpiece it remains the keystone of illustration.
Commitment to making - the process of working on an image until it's right.
" So content, drawing, making and context - a quartet of factors that might be useful in defining illustration, historically and in the present. Though imperfect and slippery, they seem useful since they can describe illustrators of different times and cultures; they are relevant if you like to Bewick and Fanelli. They certainly seem central to the business of learning to be an illustrator, though there are other aspects of that process-ability, tenacity, flair, imagination, luck - that you can't put on any curriculum.
From a tutor's point of view, however, perhaps the best thing about this quartet of factors is that their relevance is not limited to illustration, even though they seem to happily define it.
No illustration course can guarantee success for all of its graduates, as freelance illustrators; and any course that claims it can has a rosily delusional take on reality.
However if you see education as education, not as training, this is as much a virtue, as a problem.
Variety really is the spice of life, and students' routes beyond education should vary. If one has an eye to graduate's futures, those four factors should underpin almost any direction they may choose.
There are similarities, within illustration's academic recipe, to many other areas of art and design education. But there are few areas that offer the same degree of rigour and reflection, and of professional and personal concerns, while having an open attitude to the forms which the work produced can take...
Illustration can involve any medium that can be produced on a screen or a printed page.
Does an image have enough content even to merit coming into existence?
Have I been smart enough in 'finding' the basic drawing?
Have I spent long enough, or if its a quicker piece, have I been rigorous enough about its final form (commitment to making the process of working on an image until it's right)...
The last factor concerns the eventual context in which the work appears.
At its best mere illustration offers a positive means of combining personal and professional achievement, as any other area of creative activity. This should be the belief of all aspiring illustrators, as well as their tutors - and especially of those who employ them.