Digitalization in Illustration When tablet replaces ink

An illustration by Anemone Kloos for the “Grüne Stadt”
An illustration by Anemone Kloos for the “Grüne Stadt” | Photo (detail): © Anemone Kloos

Computers, tablets and digital programmes are an integral part of illustration. Still, many artists prefer to work with pencil, ink and paper.

They already accompanied the texts in medieval manuscripts, and were at the latest indispensable with the advent of book printing: illustrations. For several years this art of drawing, which is now a frequent accompaniment in books, newspapers, magazines, brochures and of the course Web publications, has been undergoing a rapid process of technological transformation: digitalization is changing arts and crafts.
 
One of the most renowned illustrators in the world is Christoph Niemann, who was born in 1970 in the Swabian town of Waiblingen. After working for eleven years in New York and designing countless covers for The New Yorker and the New York Times, he has lived since 2014 in Berlin. This has made no difference in his employers nor to his success; in 2017 he will be honoured with a work retrospective at the Cartoon Museum Basel.

Pencil and potato stamps

Since the start of his career in the 1990s, Niemann has come to grips with the new media and repeatedly made them a theme in his work. His subtly humorous cover designs have often unmasked the absurdities of the modern world in the lightest way, such as his picture for The New Yorker of a Japanese geisha with a cloak of Pokémon figures and a fan consisting of mobile phones. Niemann frequently combines drawing, handicraft and photos into original and witty images guaranteed to evoke an aha experience in the viewer.
 
He uses pencil, ink and paint, but also potato stamps, shells and Legos; he overpaints and collages. A good part of Niemann’s work is readily recognizable by the apparent simplicity of his black lines “jotted down” in a few ink strokes. Yet in spite of their hand-made look, they are mainly generated on a computer; the elaborate process of formation remains invisible.

Hidden object pictures for scrolling

How does the younger generation of illustrators see digitalization? The Leipzig artist Robert Deutsch, born in 1981, works for, among others, magazines such as Psychologie heute (Psychology Today) and is known for his detailed hidden object pictures. He has just published his first graphic novel, Turing, with Avant Publishers, which is about the life of the brilliant British computer pioneer Alan Turing. Ironically, the book was created completely on paper and with genuine acrylic paints.
 
While Deutsch occasionally generates illustrations with vectors, he usually prefers actual drawing: “I place a good deal of value on the original because it makes more of an impression at exhibitions than does a printout”. But he also appreciates the opportunities afforded by digitalization: “I think animated illustrations like the animated newspapers in the Harry Potter films are delightful”. Moreover, there is money to be made with illustrations through internet shops and merchandizing. And there are new projects that spark Deutsch’s enthusiasm for experiment: a short series of radio plays, produced by the Central German Radio, approaches Martin Luther in the Reformation anniversary year of 2017 in an unconventional manner, in the form of a Web radio novella entitled Lutherland. “I’m creating a huge hidden objects picture for scrolling. At various points in the picture, the viewer can listen to individual episodes. The possibilities are far from exhausted.”

Animated drawings

Like Robert Deutsch, the illustrator Anemone Kloos values the aesthetics of traditional drawing on paper. Her filigree, elegant, sometimes fairy-tale-like drawings decorate numerous magazines and children’s books such as Im Land der Wolken (In the Land of the Clouds), but street art and wall design are also part of the thirty-year-old artist’s portfolio. “At the beginning of all my pictures is drawing by hand with pencil and ink. I simply work more quickly, more boldly and more aptly on paper”, she says. Then Kloos scans the drawings and processes them digitally. For example, the “Brunnengott“ (Fountain god), the UNICEF calendar motif of a fantastic being from whose wavy beard water drips. “I find it very beautiful when digital and analogue blur, so that you can’t see any more how the images were created.”
 
Kloos has built up a fund of scanned backgrounds and structures that she can access as needed. “Digitalization brings with it exciting changes – for instance, e-books can play with music and lighting moods; the reader interacts with the book and the drawings.” Some of her illustrations for advertising clips and explanatory videos are animated and accompanied by text and music. “And already there arises an atmosphere and a content level that could never have been achieved in a two-dimensional drawing.”
 
Christoph Niemann’s curiosity about digital innovations has recently made him think about smartphone apps. After his picture book app “Streichelzoo“, he developed “Chomp” in 2016. In “Chomp” he combines pointed animations, illustrated animals, professions or situations with selfie photos, which the user can adopt. Young and older users slip into crazy roles, simultaneously creating a comic effect that even digital refuseniks can hardly resist. Or have you never wanted to be a cuckoo clock?