Of Pixels and Pencils – A Traditional Artist Embraces The Digital World

Hello. My name is John Fraser and I’m a Professional Illustrator. I’ve always considered myself very lucky to be making a living doing what I love. I think with that privilege however goes a responsibility to pass on to others some of the things I’ve learned, especially to younger, up-and-coming artists. In this column I plan to walk you through many of the experiences I’ve had as a commercial illustrator and how that discipline has evolved and adapted to the digital age.

The Three Wise Men – Maxfield Parrish

Illustration is a time honoured profession that has taken on many forms over the centuries. Hand renderings illuminated medieval manuscripts and woodcuts accompanied the text in early printing presses. In the late 1800s illustration matured into the so-called Golden Age where the works of turn of the century masters like Maxfield Parrish and J.C. Leyendecker adorned the covers of popular magazines like Colliers, McCalls and The Saturday Evening Post. These early periodicals furnished society with exciting stories and reports on current events just as TV, movies and the internet do today.

But despite it’s prominence as an important element of communication and entertainment in the modern age illustration saw a decline in the late 20th century. Photography had taken a firm foothold as a cheaper, more practical and accessible alternative. Illustration simply took too long and cost too much. It was hard to justify the purchase of what had become a novelty more than a necessity.

I started out in the mid 1980s when there was still lots of work for the average commercial illustrator. My studio was a clutter of painting and drawing materials and storage space for the stacks of finished illustrations that I had received back from clients after they were finished with them. I used the airbrush, paint and coloured pencils. I got my hands dirty.

I eventually hired a rep who pitched my work successfully to her client base and helped me clean up some of my business practices. I will be forever thankful to her for pushing me to go digital. Although she was an older woman with most of her expertise founded in the past she had read the writing on the wall of the future.

Once I achieved a reasonable level of proficiency in Photoshop I couldn’t believe how efficient my work process became. Everything began falling into place. Illustrations that once took me three days now took one. I was able to reach out to clients in faraway places that I once thought too costly and difficult to access. I’ve worked for clients throughout North America, Europe and Australia. It is most definitely a different world than when I started out.

For good or bad the digital revolution has had an affect on almost every aspect of our lives. For myself I am pleased how it has levelled the playing field for the illustration business with other media related disciplines. After years of uncertainty I feel the pendulum is once again swinging back in favour of my beloved profession.

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