Hello, Judith here. Over the last few months, and especially following the recent American election, I have been reflecting on my work as an illustrator and as an advocate for illustrators and illustration. With deepening political polarisation, rising inequality, and oppressive governments elected in Europe and around the word I think it is pretty timely to ask: as illustrators what role can we, should we, or do we want to play in society?

As illustrators we work in one of the broadest and most engaging mediums of visual communication. We tell stories, create ads, sell products, embellish texts, protest and inform, teach children and cause adults to chuckle. Our illustrations are online, in apps, in the streets, at your office, on your T-shirt and in your magazine. Our voices are everywhere. But in my opinion, and in the immortal words of Spider-Man, with great power there must also come great responsibility!

I am interested in exploring what the current wave of divisive politics means in relation to our rights, opportunities and responsibilities as creators and communicators. How do illustrators help shape the way people see the world? What steps could we take to make our role and work more democratic, more inclusive, more transparent, more informed, more engaging? What do we want to say, how can we say it? And importantly, how does that relate to our livelihoods and to the broader illustration industry?

Of course, not everyone starts from the same place or position, has the same politics, nor has the same opportunities. Here below are some of my thoughts and questions, and I welcome your ideas/suggestions/criticisms!! There is a comments box below the article, and I will also add this to the Illustrators Illustrated Facebook page, so please add your voice to the discussion, I would love to hear what others think.

What does it mean to work as an independent illustrator? Is this isolating us, or holding us back from communicating with a wider group of people? Could we think about starting or joining an illustration collective, with the possibilities afforded by more voices, more ideas, more connection, more opportunities to collaborate with and challenge each other. Can we work with clients in a more collaborative/engaged way?
Think about who you work for and how your creative skills can be put to their best use. Are you working for companies that cause harm? How can your work be used to affect positive change? Use your creative work as your voice, and if you can, try and work with companies that align with your goals and aspirations. Can you challenge your clients to push themselves in what they want or expect? How do you negotiate when you don’t feel comfortable working for a company or industry – does anyone have any tips or experience doing this?

Illustrators are creative, smart communicators – we can communicate emotion in a single line. How can we champion, and yes, sell, the importance of creativity and illustration while being critical at the same time? How can we harness the energy of individual and collective creative brilliance for social good?

What structures exist to support illustration and illustrators? Join an illustration union, and think about the role you play as an illustrator in a larger community and industry. Get involved in helping shape and defend illustrators roles, livelihoods, and/or challenge old or existing norms. Can these structures be improved?
Even though illustration seems to be a fairly gender-equal industry, is it really? What sort of gender inequality exists in illustration? Education, income, opportunities, voices, parental support, recognition? What about gender representation in your illustration work? If you’re asked to draw a superhero, does the client expect it to be a guy-superhero? Does it have to be?
What other inequalities exist in our profession? Ethnicity? Education? LGBTQ? Age? Disability? Language? Power? What can we do about it? Reflect on if you are creating discriminatory work, even unintentionally. Who is under-represented in your work? Think about diversity in your illustrations. Speak with other illustrators and clients about inequality and discrimination. Learn about other people and their experiences, and try to call out discrimination if you see it.
Think about privilege in the creative industries, and reflect on what we can do better as illustrators to be more inclusive, both in who we work with, and who and what we depict in our work. Seek out and read articles from a variety of perspectives. Here’s one to start you off.
Does the instability of freelance income hold you back in some way? What alternative financial support structures are there for illustrators? Would illustration cooperatives or collective budgets be a possibility for mitigating the peaks and troughs of freelance income? What kind of state support exists? What kind of funding is available? Do you know your worth, and do you have access to that information? How can we make budgets and costs more transparent?
Which technologies and systems do we use in our work, and how can this be made more open, more adaptable, less restrictive? Can using open source programs and utilising their possibilities advance illustration into new territories? Can using open licenses like Creative Commons challenge presumptions of copyright and ownership? Can it also open up new revenue streams for illustrators? How does working online extend your reach?
Are you interested in engaging with other illustrators or wider communities? Reach out to people online and in person. Go to meet-ups, drinks, talks and events (not only ones related to illustration!). Collaborate with people from other industries, or from other places. Pushing your own boundaries can open up new opportunities for learning and connection. If you are doing mostly drawing work, could you host a workshop to pass on your skills? Extend what you do, how you think, and what you can offer to clients.
More broadly, what can illustrators and illustration do to create change? What do we want to change? What are some pathways for active engagement and empowerment in the causes we care about? How can we position ourselves as strong voices in the world of visual and graphic arts? What about the commercial side to illustration – how can we demand change from clients? What can we learn from historical voices, situations, movements?

In asking these questions and taking some action, no matter how small, I think we can expand our ideas about illustration and our role as illustrators. There are so many on- and off-line spaces where we can add our voices, and in reaching out to others I think it will help us to continue developing as active, mindful and connected voices in the visual arts and wider society.

Text and Graphics by Judith Carnaby

10 November 2016, Berlin