I’ve noticed lately there is a new illustration “trend,” for lack of a better term, that I’m seeing out in the world, mainly on Instagram. It may have more to do with the tools (Procreate on an iPad) than a zeitgeist or accidental copying or just, I dunno, that thing that happens among human beings where spaghetti and noodles both get created thousands of miles apart, or where people who can’t possibly have met are all exploring cubism simultaneously. There are numerous examples of this phenomenon, and I’m referring to historical instances, pre-Internet, pre-information age; even before we had cars or boats or any realistic way to transmit what was capturing everyone’s attention at any given time.
Collective unconscious? Is that the correct term? I’m not sure it explains how lithography, say, swept through Japan and also France at roughly the same time. How did every nationality invent a kind of dumpling? Why are there donuts and zeppole?
Getting back to the original topic, I find it somewhat distressing that I am seeing so much sameness on Instagram lately. It’s gotten to where I am now trying to guess who the artist is, and the correct answer could easily be any one of dozens of illustrators who, it would appear, are tripping over themselves to mimic each other. I mainly focus on kidlit art, so perhaps it’s not as widespread elsewhere, but in recent examples of picture book illustration, all the eyes are shaped the same way, the flowers are identical, the hand-lettering is ridiculously derivative and uninspired, even lazy. The brushes all look the same to me, in that greasy, goopy way that Procreate brushes can look if you don’t customize or enhance them. Remember when Photoshop took over illustration and suddenly everything looked Photoshoppy?
My recent attempts to bring back an organic feeling to my work are partly my own natural desire to hold onto traditional tools, partly a reaction to the Procreate-y Goopy Look I am seeing every day. I have a long way to go, but I crave that leaky pen, that drippy watercolor, those happy accidents that can’t happen digitally, and more to the point, using traditional tools forces you to slow down and be in the moment, carefully applying paint, waiting for things to dry, going fully zen. If you can just undo or erase a mistake—while essential when on a tight deadline—you lose some of that zen.
I don’t mean to suggest a return to Wite-Out. I absolutely love my iPad, and Procreate is a brilliant app. But it’s time to start pushing its boundaries, the same way we collectively pushed Photoshop and Illustrator’s boundaries these past thirty years. Bandwagon Style is a puzzling phenomenon to me generally, because I can’t imagine copying someone else and enjoying the process. I’m sure my influences can be spotted in my work (by others, not so much by me), we’ve all got those; I’m not talking about influences. I’m talking about a cynical ripping off for the purposes of selling the work. Is it art directors pushing this bandwagon thing? “I like it, but make the eyes look like So-and-So The Famous Illustrator’s eyes.” I ask this because it was my personal experience with a few ADs: “Make the colors more like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and we have a deal.”
As I’ve said previously, I attempted to do this, to “brighten” my palette at the behest of a Grande Fromage at A Big Name Publisher and the experience was such a disaster that I abandoned my book. That’s on me, of course. Not anyone else’s fault but my own, but I was much younger and so, so wanted to get published that I compromised my essence. It’s one thing to change a wombat into an otter, or tweak the copy, or even redo half your spreads. Compromising what is essential to your aesthetic, what makes you you? Never do that.
So I guess my original question stands: is it Zeitgeist? A bandwagon? Is a donut the same as a zeppole? They’re both delicious, so maybe it doesn’t matter.