Beyond words: A closer look at editorial illustration

Anna Goodson

Illustration / Stephanie Wunderlich

Original, editorial illustration is everywhere these days from the covers of magazines to the front pages of leading news sources around the globe.

Crafting an illustration that accompanies an article or news feature–to reveal its content at a glance–is all about taking a concept and making it visual.

I’m seeing a renaissance, of sorts, in editorial illustration in the last few years.  The art directors I talk to tell me editorial illustration entices readers to engage with content.  That makes sense because for so many of us, what grabs our attention is the illustration first, then the words.

Illustration/Agathe BB

Tackling complex conceptual content is probably the most important aspect of what a good editorial illustration can do.  But there’s more to the impact editorial illustration has.

Editorial illustration can be representational, stylized, or abstract; a likeness of someone who’s famous, a beautifully-rendered image that distinguishes one feature of a product from another. In each case, an editorial illustration shows more than words can describe.

Infographics also illustrate editorial content and are gaining in popularity; encapsulating information into a graph or chart to present economic or scientific constructs.

Illustration / Joe Magee

Art directors admit, they sometimes hire an editorial illustrator for style alone though it’s usually the combination of style and the ability to depict content that ultimately sells an art director on working with an illustrator.

They say the best illustrators know how to synthesize the content of a story into a form that gives insight into its meaning. An illustrator never needs a prescription when given an assignment; they simply require a roadmap to create illustration that pops. We see the essence of the author’s premise distilled into one image.

Illustration / Sebastien Thibault

I find our most in-demand editorial illustrators possess a rare combination of outstanding artistic ability and a unique talent for conceptualizing.  Masters at creative problem-solving, hats off to editorial illustrators, revealing the meaning of the stories we read every day.