Artists & illustrators: Have you used your superpowers lately?

Marie Mainguy

My first contact with illustrations were from children’s books. Whenever my parents would head out for errands or to the shopping mall, they’d drop us off at the bookstore (this was when the world was much safer) and come pick us up when we’re done. They said that I’d be studying the books – both images and text to the point where it seemed like I disappeared into my own little world.

My mom also frequented a second-hand bookstore right below her office at the time, and brought home all sorts of gems – like Richard Scarry’s books, old classics like the Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton and many others. It was a mixed bag of goodies and I was always enthralled by her finds. Back then, I was more into words and text, rather than images. My parents found out how much I love reading by the way I kept looking at newspapers instead of just normal children’s books – although the latter was much more colorful!

My love for illustration was ignited after I was exposed to publishing. While I was in design school (studying landscape architecture), people often remarked how my skills belonged in the fine arts instead of design – and I couldn’t understand what they meant at all. When I consciously made a decision to take a step into the world of magazines – and publishing – that’s when my appreciation for beauty began to solidify. And it also marked the beginning of an informal introduction into the psychology of sales, marketing and how creativity works in the real world.

So when I discovered illustrations after being in the publishing arena, it was from a completely different viewpoint. It wasn’t a love borne out of pure nostalgia. It wasn’t a love that was with me for a long time. It was new, it was fresh, and it had meaning. Illustrations to me were more than just pretty pictures. It had to be able to “speak” in order for me to feel as though it has completed its transaction. It had a purpose, and it had a voice.

I’ve learned that creativity has a lot to do with communication. And that goes the same with illustration. How you tell the ideas behind your story, is every bit as important as the story itself.

Because let’s face it, everyone can draw a picture. And almost anyone can tell a story. But to tell a story through a picture? Now that’s not something that’s easy to do, and to do well. But that is what makes all of you – artists and illustrators – so powerful. You’re practically a superhero.

But remember this: without the tangible aspects of building a bridge between you and the viewer, your work becomes something that is hard to reach, harder to grasp, and ultimately something that will be forgotten.

So illustration to me is communication. Art is communication. And communication is an art.


Have you communicated with others besides yourself lately? Have you used your superpower for the greater good? I’d love to hear your stories!

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[Illustration: Marie Mainguy]

16 Replies to “Artists & illustrators: Have you used your superpowers lately?”

  1. Dana says:

    I always love looking at pictures that tell a story. I have an exhibit of my artwork coming up in February 2014. My goal for each picture has been to convey something very simple and straightforward to the viewer. My pictures communicate peacefulness (sailboats, hot air balloons), relationships of love (mother and child images), and a number of other positive emotions. I like to create images that make people feel relaxed and happy. I think it’s a nice alternative to the demanding media images we are exposed to all the time.

  2. What a great thing it is to wake up and read about how I’m a superhero! Thank you! I certainly hope my books (one soon to be released, and the other in process) work for the greater good. As long as they touch someone, somewhere, I think the art has done its job. And you’re quite right–communication IS an art! Thank you for this thoughtful, insightful post!

  3. At the hospital when I was six years old, I received what will change my life forever a picture book named “Martine”. This book was magical too me and I loved so much the illustrations of Marcel Marlier. From a very young age, I always enjoyed drawing and I remember telling my Aunt on this particular day “When I grow up, I will draw for story.” Well I kept my word, I did only one picture book soon to be released and I am now working on another project too.

    1. amy says:

      Oh wow, congratulations Nathalie! What a beautiful story – thanks so much for sharing!

  4. i was just thinking about this yesterday! well, all of the time, but was really thinking about it yesterday!
    when i start to doubt my work, doubt my abilities and success, i have to give myself a little pep talk to realign my purpose. i always come back to this : i’m a visual storyteller.
    Not only am i telling my story but i am being told a story as well. It is this communication that constantly goes on behind the work that to me is authentic art process. My life, my thoughts, my experiences and ponderings all go into that magical script.
    Unlike you, i wasn’t partial to words I am guilty of being rather nostalgic – i can see the influence of all those wonderful chidren’s books in my stories – the memories pull me back in to that place of pure wonder. it’s a good feeling – being told a wonderful story.
    in that place i am a superhero and if someone else picks that conversation up from looking at my work, then…im a super duper hero!!! :0

    1. amy says:

      Yes you are Stephanie!! xoxo

  5. Bethany says:

    Amy, this is a great post. It made me think about all the art programs that are disappearing from our schools which is a tragedy because visual communication is as important as verbal. I think creativity is hardly taught in grade school and that’s a real shame. Most of us had to learn it from great childhood books and illustrations that sparked our daydreams and took us beyond what we knew day-to-day. Many of my own heroes are illustrators that I grew up with and when I see something now that I like, I greatly admire that artist for achieving something that came from a lot of independent learning and hard work, and not so much from just being taught how to do it. You can’t really be given a voice, you have to find it yourself and figure out what you want to say in your art. Heroes– definitely!

    1. amy says:

      High-five Bethany! I think artists and illustrators don’t realize how important they are – they give voice to text and life to mere words. Being creative takes time and persistence, which is also why the best superheroes have to go through intense training to harness their powers. Whoa!

  6. Reeta says:

    “So illustration to me is communication. Art is communication. And communication is an art.”

    Loved the closing!

  7. Dwie says:

    Hi Amy, thank you for reminding me about how the illustration basically supposed to be. I really agree with your opinion about illustration, cause that is the point that I believe it too.
    I realize how I nowadays to much spent my time and working with specific viewers, which is not I’m regretting anyway. cause I still do it with a lot of fun. But without doubt your article make me miss to do something again with my ability as an illustrator to share something for everyone.
    Thank you again!

    1. amy says:

      You’re welcome Dwie! Go out there and use your powers!

  8. Christina E. says:

    When invited to participate with one artwork in my first group exhibition to a gallery, I knew immediately I wanted that artwork to be interactive and give the visitors the opportunity to feel included and have fun, not just stare at the artists’ statements. I live in Athens, Greece and the show was about exaggerations in the city. I decided to focus on social exaggeration and created as many figures anyone would meet in Athens as possible. Street musicians, tourists, gay couples, protesters, skaters, stray dogs etc. I made paper figures out of them and created a social board game where the visitors are called to play, add more copies of what they would like to make an exaggeration of (more street artists perhaps), remove elements they feel that make a negative exaggeration (too many police units in the streets) or use their imagination to mix and match (put a little house over a homeless man figure or a stray dog) because some exaggerations just need a little love. I wanted my message to be simple and fun, like an elementary class going to a museum and playing an interactive game.
    So, with this particular project, I really felt like I used my superpowers for the greater good and I also felt I really communicated and got connected with other people through my work. It was very challenging and scary, being my first exhibition ever and not knowing how my idea will be perceived, and this is why it felt so good when I got positive feedback and appreciation.
    Thanks for the great article!

    1. amy says:

      Yay Christina! x

  9. Thank you Nathaiie, I think you’re right about communication. I’m fascinated by the way, (if you get it right) a picture can tell you so much about a character straight away, adding so much to the words it illustrates.
    One of the reasons I’ve started my blog is to practise getting it right more often!
    bw, LLH

  10. Cheria says:

    Hi amy,
    It’s already 2015 but I relate to this post very much.
    Like you, Artists around me comment on how my strengths lie in fine arts.
    I’m still in high school, so I’ve been thinking of studying product design so I could earn money more pratically in the future, but I’m more of an illustrator.
    I was moved by your ending about illustration being a form of communication, and I want to ask if you think it is better to study illustration or a advertisment and communication related design course in university–if one were to pursue the path of illustration.

    Thank you for your time.

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