Illustration is a business that a surprisingly large amount of people know relatively little about. Maybe it's the ever blurring lines between graphic design, illustration, and fine art, or maybe it's just that people really can't wrap their heads around the fact that illustration is a legitimate, paying, and growing, industry. Regardless of the cause, there are a few places where people generally get it wrong when it comes to illustrators. Allow me to expand on some of my favorites.
1. Illustrators are amazing representational artists.
Yes, illustrators are artistic, talented individuals who put a lot of time into honing their craft. But the truth is they're not all the best representational artists and can't all channel their inner Michelangelo at will. That's not to say that there aren't some extremely practiced, technically perfect, representational illustrators out there, but the majority of illustrators aren't going to spend a whole lot of time getting the lighting on that apple JUST RIGHT unless it's part of the job description. More than that, they don't want to. Illustration is often about portraying an idea, or a feeling, rather than the accurate representation of an object, and while technical skills can be VERY beneficial to an illustrator, it's not a prerequisite of the job.
2. Everything comes from an illustrator's imagination.
Okay guys, this one is controversial, and I feel like I'm going to blow a lot of people's minds, but it has to be acknowledged. Illustrations don't just fall out of illustrators heads fully formed. MOST ILLUSTRATORS USE REFERENCE IMAGES. Whether it's using a photograph to draw the face of a mouse, or another illustrators work to figure out how they got that amazing textured look, inspiration often comes from other sources. Some people feel cheated when they learn this, and I must admit it's a misconception that a lot of illustrators don't bother to correct because it makes us seem cooler, and supernaturally talented, but when was the last time that ANY professional created a product that didn't use the technology or information already available to them? Using a copyrighted image as a basis for an illustration is a legal gray zone, but is heavily frowned upon (unless the image is being used under Fair Use in a transformative context, such a satire or parody), so most illustrators have go to sources for copyright free images that they use as references for their work.
3. Illustrators are designers.
This one happens all the time and it's just a symptom of two very overlapping industries being confused. It usually goes a little something like this.
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm an illustrator."
"Oh wow that's great! Hey, I have been needing some work done, would you be interested in a job?"
"Heck yes! What do you need?"
"A powerpoint presentation layout!"
Illustrators like to make pretty pictures, which doesn't always translate to having a great eye for design, typography, or layout. That being said, the two industries are heavily intertwined and some designers will be illustration savvy, while some illustrators will be great designers (eg. some illustrators love making logos!). Just don't make any assumptions, and if someone says they are an illustrator, chances are they're looking for illustration work, not design work.
4. Illustrators only work by hand/Illustrators only work digitally.
Most illustrators land somewhere in the middle of the analog/digital spectrum, with fewer working only on one side. Depending on the look they are trying to achieve, a lot of illustrators will start a piece using a pencil and paper and then scan it into their computer to finish it off digitally. In the end an illustrator will provide the client with a high resolution or vector file of the finished illustration, while keeping the sketches and process work for themselves.
5. Illustrators can produce art in any style.
Another big one. Asking an illustrator to produce something in a style that is not their own is akin to asking a sushi chef to prepare boeuf bourguignon. They could probably do it, but it's going to take a lot longer because it's not really their thing, and it might come out tasting like crap. Anyone looking for illustration work would best be served by finding an illustrator that already has a body of work in the desired style, or asking their creative friends for a reference.
6. Illustrators are not fine artists.
Illustration is by nature a commercial endeavor. Illustrators sell, license, and use their art as companions to writing, decorations for products, flourishes, or as a part of a larger campaign. That doesn't mean that illustrators are any less of artists. Remove the writing or products and you will find that most illustrations can stand on their own as works of art, and many illustrators also have thriving fine art and gallery careers. Context is king, and illustration is really just art with context.
7. Illustrators draw all day.
Yeah...and Astronauts spend most of their time in space. If Illustrators could spend all day drawing then there would be a lot more illustrators in the world because, honestly, who wouldn't want to do that? The reality is that at least 75% of their day is spent doing other job related activities. Marketing, networking, bookkeeping, writing emails, phone calls, research, debt collection, PR, archiving, web design, writing, social media, organizing, cleaning, etc. Most illustrators have to consciously schedule drawing time because if they didn't, then the list of other things to do would always take precedence.
8. Computers do most of the work.
Advances in technology have lead to an epic surge in products aimed at creatives. Tablets, apps, filters, editing software, stock images, templates and every kind of stylus are just a few of the high tech options illustrators can chose from these days. The truth is that a lot of this stuff just makes life more complicated for your average illustrator and that the MOST useful innovations, apart from editing software, are layers and ctrl+Z. Most Illustrators use tablets in one way or another, but drawing on them is actually harder than drawing on paper, so if ctrl+Z existed on paper then no one would use a tablet. And I'm sorry to say, but fancy gadgets don't automatically make for a good illustrator. Computers have made life a little more convenient for illustrators, but they have absolutely not rendered creative talent and practice moot.