Art Discussion

What is the difference between a visual artist and an illustrator? What makes a drawing an illustration? Is there still a line between art and illustration?

By Zom Osborne


  • Mary Heath B. artist
    Mary Heath B. (@natoutdoor)
    12/24/2020 @ 10:32am

    No, there is not a line between art and illustration in my opinion. Visual art is visual art--includes all kinds. Political comic, oil on canvas, comic book, childrens's book illustration--it's all visual expression. We're in the information age and to me that means that many people get to share or appreciate someone else's creativity. There is a difference in propaganda art and advertising art (imo) because the purpose is singular--to convince a person to believe or do something. Still art, but my engagement with it is entirely different than coming on Doodles to see what others have been creating.

  • JosDerckx artist
    JosDerckx (@JosDerckx)
    12/25/2020 @ 3:19am

    Illustration is based on text. Visual art doesn't have to be.

  • Lindsay Baker artist
    Lindsay Baker (@VeryNaughtyBoy42)
    12/29/2020 @ 8:10pm

    Illustration is meant to show what something (or someone) looks like, or what was happening at a particular moment in time. As in, botanical illustration showing what a leaf looks like, or an illustration from a story book showing an event in the story. It's intended to show something that can't necessarily be conveyed by words alone. Visual art, on the other hand, has no such boundaries. It can be literally anything. It can be utterly devoid of meaning (abstract art), or loaded with meanings (direct or allegorical). It can show exactly what something looks like (realism), or an interpretation of it (eg, impressionism), or re-imagine it in new ways so that it does not necessarily resemble the thing at all (eg, cubism). I think it's fair to say that all illustration is visual art, but not all visual art is illustrative.

  • Zom Osborne artist
    Zom Osborne (@zom18)
    12/30/2020 @ 1:57am

    I have always understood being an illustrator as different from being an artist. Not that someone can't be both, or that illustration can't be art - but that illustration has a different goal than art. The goal of illustrating something, a book, an ad, a music CD, or botanical illustration- is necessarily secondary to what one is illustrating. Kind of in service of. I asked the question because it seems like the definition has changed. Now it seems to be used when someone's art looks a certain way - whether or not they are actually illustrating anything. This confuses me.

  • Lindsay Baker artist
    Lindsay Baker (@VeryNaughtyBoy42)
    12/30/2020 @ 6:32am

    @zom18 I understand what you mean. A while ago I realised that, at heart, I wanted my art to look like illustration rather than "fine art". With a lot of illustration, you know it's illustration the moment you look at it - but try defining exactly what it is about it that makes it look that way! I spent months researching and googling and asking other artists online, but nobody was able to satisfactorily list the stylistic properties that make something "look" like illustration. I've also seen artists criticised by having their art labelled as "illustrative", implying that it's somehow a lower form of artistry! I think all of these labels are extremely blurred - for example, is comic book art illustration? It's art that tells, or underpins, a story. Yet there's a great deal of demand for it as individual pieces of art. So my feeling is, don't worry too much about trying to fit within a definition, because they overlap too much. If you want to make art that stands alone, you're an artist. If you want to make art that supplements text, you're an illustrator. If you want to do both, then you're an artist and an illustrator. All that really matters at the end of the day is that you like what you create. Leave the categorisation for art historians :)

  • Zom Osborne artist
    Zom Osborne (@zom18)
    12/30/2020 @ 3:38pm

    Thanks Lindsay for the thoughtful reply. @LPBaker I actually already am an artist. I have worked in oils and then acrylics. As soon as I began doing my recent drawings in pen I have been referred to as an illustrator. Considering I have never illustrated anything, I was curious what brought about this apparent change of perception. Hence the question.

  • Bleu Hope artist
    Bleu Hope (@bleuhope)
    01/22/2021 @ 7:24pm

    In my honest opinion, I have no idea. I find that whatever the rules are for meeting the criteria for self-identifying as a visual artist and/or illustrator have become increasingly blurred for all kinds of reasons, and it shows in all manner of publications be they mainstream or indie or whatever. It's not always a bad thing if you ask me though.

  • kanaiyah ward artist
    kanaiyah ward (@jadewest)
    04/14/2021 @ 10:10am

    both a visual artist and an illustrator draw so there .a illustrator may draw in books only and call himself that but it's just the same as visual art because we see it

  • kanaiyah ward artist
    kanaiyah ward (@jadewest)
    05/25/2021 @ 10:20am

    in my opinion, they are both the same thing In visual art, you see it and in illustration, you view it so there an illustration is a picture illustrating a book a drawing is a mark made by one of the various drawing supplies

  • Taro Baugnon artist
    Taro Baugnon (@tarobaugnon)
    09/28/2021 @ 9:50pm

    I think traditionally illustrators worked from a text or prompt given by someone else, like a book publisher or art director for a magazine. But nowadays illustration seems to be a term for a style of drawing, something between cartooning and painting, maybe. I like watching interviews with Francis Bacon, a British painter, who says he avoids illustrating his subject, because he associated that with a literal depiction of something. He would say he makes his pictures by a process of "accident on top of accident" which sounds a bit chaotic! Perhaps Illustration today refers to pictures made with line & wash or cross-hatching techniques, or the collage-style of some children's books. I think some interesting results come from mixing various styles together - fine art, commercial art, painting, drawing, serious, non-serious - these can all work as tools for artists to make new things.

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