John Grimwade: Infographics for the People

Illustrator, designer, and educator John Grimwade has started a great blog on information design and data visualization called Infographics for the People.

For his posts, Grimwade pulls together contemporary infographics, historical examples and samples from his prolific career working with newspapers, magazines, books and corporate clients. From his mission statement:

I’m trying to promote infographics that engage the general public. There is a trend towards elitist visualizations, that seem like they might be designed for data geeks. Of course, visual communication is a powerful way to help people understand, but first we have to get people on our side. Be inclusive, not exclusive. And never forget that a sense of fun is an important component in getting our message across. Infographics for the People!

He critiques his old work with self-deprecating humour and encourages readers to learn from his mistakes and to think critically when creating our own work.

Infographics for the People by John Grimwade

Embrace the Future

Cannot Predict Now

If only we could look into the magic 8 ball and know in an instant what the future of technical illustration will be.  I know some have seen it develop from the strictly traditional execution of the past to the now multi-functional digital aspects of today.

Yesterday evening, I attended the graduate show for the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Illustration program held by the 2014 class of Sheridan College students, my alma mater school.  It’s interesting to reflect back on where I used to once be, starting out as a professional after completing my degree, with no idea what the future would hold.  To now be able to see how far a career can progress, just by getting out there and doing.

Doing what? Creating, designing, marketing a skill set, keeping current with ever-changing trends and always new and improving software programs, creating and never ceasing to ask questions about how better to visualize information not only from a technical standpoint, but from a perspective where any viewer just “gets it” in one look.

This led me to ponder how the educational institutions play into what’s really going on in our industry and how this shapes the future as we professionals know it.  Sheridan College in particular when I attended educated students in the Technical and Scientific Illustration stream with a focused vision on what types of illustrations you could be creating out in the world.  Now, this stream is no longer going to exist, as they move towards a more University style approach, allowing students to choose which courses they want to explore.  The courses that were previously within the niche of the technical and scientific stream will still be available, however as a student, you would not be getting the end-to-end experience as I once had to hone the skill set in this ever-evolving field.

We have to ask: Are the educational institutions shaping the technical illustration industry properly, if not at all? Have they looked into the Magic 8 ball and know the answer, or are they assuming they know what the future will hold?

I believe there is still a successful career to be had in Technical Illustration, as the work I do daily reflects the need that clients still have.  So, I should be jumping for joy that major competition is being cut out, right? I think not.  The biggest reason I love competition is that is makes me better at what I do.  It pushes me creatively to do more and go further.  So, the real loss to the industry would be a lack of competition to keep those of us that have been doing this for years “on our toes”.

On the other hand, I know that technology is a driving force to how clients hire, whether freelance or in-house and that the other side of the coin, as a professional you always have to be improving upon the foundation of skills that an initial education brought.  A continual growth in knowledge of software, now even more into 3D modeling and animation, web design or even design of info graphics will allow for a more well-rounded approach for dealing with any and all clients that come along, now or in the future.

Sometimes it’s a challenge to get a pulse on an industry when we work in our own little bubbles, more now with online media.  But some of the indication of that pulse has to come from the education that future Illustrators would be receiving.

Inevitably, from where I stand today and where I stood years ago when I graduated from Sheridan, I choose to embrace the future.  If we don’t, we’ll be left behind.  The future may change, but there will always be Technical Illustration.  It may just be executed differently down the road.

A big Congratulations! goes out to the 2014 class of Sheridan Illustration students.  Good luck and embrace your future!  If you are in the greater Toronto area and want to check out the up-and-coming talent of illustrators, the illustration show is on until Friday, April 11, 2014 at 9pm.  You can find more information on

What do you see where you live? Is there a large school nearby that teaches the Technical Illustration skill set if you were to get into the field? Or has a program that you knew previously existed been pushed to the wayside?

Have you been in the industry so long and have a different take on where things are headed?

Business of Illustration

Business of Illustration

Business of Illustration is dedicated to educating new and aspiring artists to the field of illustration from a business perspective. Its primary focus is on the nuts and bolts of being an illustrator and what it takes to create a sustainable career in this challenging, creative field.

Subjects covered include finance, promotion, contracts, rights, and general knowledge for a career in illustration. Updated every Monday (work-permitting) it should be a great resource for anyone interested in working in the field.


Choosing a Niche

Technical Illustration by James Provost

Flaunt My Design interviewed me about specializing as a creative freelancer. Here’s an excerpt:

There are many reasons to specialize as a creative freelancer: Clients trust experts, word of mouth works better, and your marketing becomes more straightforward. For your inspiration, and to give you a little push to specialize, I interview graphic designers, illustrators and web designers who already have chosen their niche.

What’s your niche?

I specialize in technical illustration, the visual communication of technical information. I work with magazines, advertising firms and corporations with projects in the automotive, aerospace, architecture, engineering, energy, science and robotics fields.

How did you originally break into technical illustration?

My first job in technical illustration was an internship with Toronto’s Transit Commission where I produced instructional illustrations for their training department. During my final year of school I started receiving freelance work which enabled me to continue freelancing fulltime after graduation.

Nowadays, how do you find new clients in this niche?

My marketing strategy is simply to do the best work I can and get it in front of the right people by sharing it as widely as possible online. Personal projects, where I’m pursuing my curiosity or exploring new techniques, tend to get the best response and bring in the kind of work I like to do.

What advice would you give a fellow illustrator/graphic designer about to choose a niche?

Be the best at what you do. Define your niche narrowly enough that you are among the best providers of your specific service. This may limit your job prospects, but clients who need your specific service will find you, and you will be prepared to provide exactly what they’re looking for.

You should compete on quality, not price. In a global economy you will lose a price war. But if you provide the highest quality service to your niche, they will receive the best value for their money and keep coming back to you.

Read the full interview.


AOI Awards Adds Category for Technical Illustration

AOI Awards

The UK-based Association of Illustration has added a new category to their annual international illustration awards:

Research & Knowledge Communication
Illustration commissioned for the purpose of undertaking research and communicating knowledge. Illustration that is used as a research or investigative tool and that represents, explains or seeks to understand information or data.
Includes but is not limited to… natural history illustration, wildlife, scientific illustration, forensic imagery, architectural imagery, illustration supporting academic research (for example in archaeology, geology, paleontology, natural sciences, biological sciences), visual informatics, data-visualisation and graphic facilitation.

The description may be vague and wordy, but this is a big acknowledgement of information illustration. The rise of photography in mass media largely redefined the role of illustration to be something more abstract, emotive and symbolic, more in the world of fine art. This schism between Art and Science meant that for decades illustrators who depicted things from reality, subjects of non-fiction, couldn’t find recognition from the larger illustration community. The inclusion of information illustration in these awards is an acknowledgement of the importance, relevance and indeed the enjoyment of the work that we create.

This is also a great promotional opportunity. Your work will be judged by a panel of influential industry professionals, and if selected, it will be published in the 2013 awards catalogue, promoted online and exhibited in the AOI Awards show.

The deadline for entry is February 28, 2013. Thanks to Kathryn Chorney for the tip!

The AOI Awards

Jim Hatch for Volkswagen

Jim Hatch - VW Beetle Cutaway Illustration

Jim Hatch recently completed this great project for Volkswagen, featuring finely detailed and rendered cutaway illustrations of their entire vehicle lineup. After the break, he shares some insight on working on a project of this scale, some process work, and lots of beautiful final illustrations.

Read More

The Textbook, Reinvented

Yesterday, Apple announced a joint initiative with publishers to bring textbooks to the iPad. This move would make them cheaper, lighter, always up to date, and—of interest to us—more richly illustrated and interactive.

When we set out to bring textbooks to iPad, there were really three areas we focused on: we wanted to have really fast, fluid navigation, we wanted to have beautiful graphics, we wanted to create an easier way to take notes.

—Roger Rosner, VP Productivity Applications, Apple

Apple also released a free iBooks authoring suite, iBooks Author. This application enables anyone to write, design, create interactive modules, and publish a book to the iBooks store for sale.

Medical Illustration in iPad Textbook

Scientific Illustration in iPad Textbook

While I’m not sure that the iPad is a more durable medium than paper for kindergardeners through high school students (could you see yourself in your garage with a iHaynes manual?), this is certainly an encouraging development for our trade. It demonstrates that people learn best, are enthusiastic about learning, when information is presented in a highly visual, immersive way.

The choice of graphics shown might also be a signal that if you’re not dabbling in 3D, motion and interactivity yet, it might be a good time to start. Remember, every threat is also an opportunity.

The Business of Freelancing Creative

Peter Beach, a technical illustrator with over 25 years of freelance experience, wrote in to share his blog The Business of Freelancing Creative. There Peter has a wealth of wisdom, including his 21 Practical Tips to a successful illustration career, and candid essays on finding your niche, work-for-hire, copyright, pricing and stock illustration.

I’ve only started reading through, but it’s already proving to be a valuable resource for those considering a career of freelance and seasoned professionals alike.

If you have a site or resource to share, please visit the Suggest page.

A Cautionary Tale

Bill Mayer, a seasoned veteran illustrator, recently shared this cautionary tale. Innocently enough, he took on a cover illustration for an alternative weekly magazine with a very low budget because he loved the subject matter and thought that being an award-winning professional would earn him some creative freedom. Instead his best concepts were thrown out and his final illustration was micromanaged by the magazine’s advertisers. Then he was tarred and feathered by his peers for ever taking on the job.

Steve Brodner summed the whole thing up best:

One more thing I tell my students: if [clients] pay you like shit, they treat you like shit.

It might be a good time to review our tips on pricing technical illustration.

Have a similar horror story? Let us know if you can relate in the comments.

Style versus Communication

Style vs Visual Communication

I’ve been meaning to write about style — the design and arrangement of visual elements that creates a tone or voice in an illustration, throughout a project, or across an illustrator’s entire body of work. More specifically, how style conflicts and complements with a technical illustrator’s role of visual communication.

This critique of dozens of newspapers’ adaptations of an Associated Press graphic serves as a great introduction to the topic. News graphics veteran Charles Apple dissects the minute decisions made by the various papers’ editors in the name of visual appeal, visual communication, story telling and branding.

Is technical illustration more about visual communication or style?
How do you compromise between the two?

[A Look at Tuesday’s Graphics-Heavy bin Laden Presentations]