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Lectures & Projects

Non-objective, realistic and abstract

Let’s say there are three directions that illustration can go. For our learning purposes, we are going to concentrate in the direction of abstract and apply it to basic subjects, like animals, plants, etc. I think this is the best way for students to start out. It allows for a nice balance between giving students freedom to create what they want and also some parameters to give students some sort of direction. Let’s break down these three directions and why I don’t want to use the other two.


Think of artists like Piet Mondrian or Jackson Pollock. Non-objective art is just that; there is no clear, definable subject. I feel that non-objective art is something that should have been studied in the introductory art and design classes. While it can be very expressive, it’s more about a study of aesthetics. It’s too open-ended for our purposes, and frankly, it’s too easy to create with computer graphics in many instances. We need something more tangible to work with. If you really want to spend your time just throwing around colors and textures on the screen, so be it, but I’d rather see students practice more useful and job-oriented skills.


Not many of us are Renaissance masters, especially when learning how to use new tools. There are very few people that can paint or draw in photoshop with a Wacom tablet, or in real life, with the skill of a master. It’s beyond this class.


Abstract is usually everything in between realistic and non-objective. Personally, I think it can also be the most fun. Check out local artists such as David Vogin or Jesse Lenz. Or maybe something more simplified like Luba Lukova. Or an illustration hero from Baltimore, David Plunkert. Consider any textbook for this class replaced by On this site you can pretty much find the best digital illustration in the world. Use it for inspiration and to study the styles of other artists to get ideas of how you can work. Some abstract styles are very complex, and some are very simple. But somewhere in between, we are going to attempt to find a style that suits you.

Bonus: Conceptual Illustration

illustration of coffee mug with brass knuckles handle

Illustration by The Heads of State, an example of conceptual illustration and clever juxtaposition.

Conceptual illustration is a loose term but for our purposes, let’s just say it’s illustration with a message. In the drawing classes that I have been in, we warmed up with loose line drawings and shading. And we did this for warm up because it there was not much thought behind it. It was really just studying aesthetics, technique and just getting the muscles loosened up. But probably the most challenging aspect within any medium of art is the idea behind it. Is it trying to say something? Art that invokes emotion, a response from people or just provides some sort of entertainment is the most powerful. We all have our own personal favorites and examples. My favorite example to use is shown above and created by some of my favorite illustrators, The Heads of State. For a magazine article about abusive and bullying bosses, they created this graphic of a coffee mug with a brass knuckles handle. This demonstrates clever juxtaposition, the merging of two unrelated objects to create a new message, and I consider this the first step in creating conceptual illustration. While this example seems simple, you would be surprised how many students struggle with it, as I still do and probably most professional illustrators. While I don’t really push conceptual illustration on beginners, be aware of it, and keep your eyes open for any potential awesome ideas.