#Illustration Explorer | Part 2
OPENING TO AN OVERVIEW OF TECHNICAL ILLUSTRATION
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” so goes the axiom. From time in memorial, our species have had a need to create things that work to improve, protect or simplify our lives or to understand the universe around us. It’s been how we’ve advanced through the centuries, despite our fallacies getting in the way at times; resulting in tremendous destruction and unnecessary pain and suffering.
Sometimes, we can’t simply build these things in our heads or theorize how our surroundings work. We first have to create models. I’ve used all sorts of things like wood, paper and cardboard, Plasticine and Lego to make three-dimensional representations of things I want to draw or paint. There are countless times; however, that no one can even make an actual three-dimensional mockup of anything without first creating a 3D representation through 2D media. This is technical illustration; sometimes referred to as product illustration. I’m going to start referring to it as simply TI.
This is just the first half of this overview. I’ll explain more about that in the end, and tip you off on what’s to come in the follow up.
TI Earning Potential
I want to clear the air. There is good news and bad news about making a living creating TI. I’ll start with the good news. Being a fine artist is not a 9-to-5 job but being a commercial artist, such as any type of illustrator, largely still is. Whether hired by some company fulltime or contracted as freelance, illustrators spend a relatively fixed number of hours each workday on art projects, and get paid for each of those hours. That’s a steady income.
For those parents who get the crap scared out of them when they hear their children say that they want to pursue a career in the visual arts, in most developed regions around the world, being a technical illustrator is still a middle-income job regardless of what the middle-income currency range is within a given country. Technical illustrators include draughtsmen, architects, archaeologists, paleontologists, engineers, biologists of all kinds, set designers and others. So yeah, your kids will make money in TI. Tech illustrators are needed to create drawings, renderings and diagrams for or about practically anything. Well produced TI’s are highly important for communicating important concepts, plans, histories and other facts. TI’s are still necessary, so people are still needed to make them.
Mum and dad, it’s understandable if you have doubts but please don’t hold your visual art inclined youngins back with your fears. As a professional tech illustrator, he or she won’t be a dreaded, stereotypical starving artist. He or she will be a levelheaded, pragmatic and content commercial artist.
Born in 1965, Roy Scorer is a premier technical illustrator based in Swindon, UK. A specialist in freelance motorsport illustrations, he also regularly does work for the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). I got the chance to ask him frank and personal questions about how he got into the bizz. How he’s been professionally and artistically inspired, and what support, if any, he had from his family.
“Early 1982 visit to careers officer at secondary school before taking my O Levels. I wanted to be a PE teacher, but I was told I would have to teach a second subject. Easy, art or technical drawing but no, it would have to be a core subject so that ended.”
“Behind the careers officer there was a poster of a cutaway of an aircraft engine, I think. Pencil line one end, then thick and thin ink work finished off in airbrush. Wow now that looked cool. It was the advert poster for the technical illustration course at Portsmouth College of Art and Design. That will do, so I applied after borrowing the poster and showing it to my parents.”
“Parents must have been supportive, as I do not remember them being anti technical Illustration. It would mean leaving home a week after my 17th birthday but that did not phase me or give my parents any concern.”
“I guess parents were supportive, it’s been a few years. Dad was a long-distance continental truck driver and a big motorsport fan. He raced saloon stockcars in the late 60’s early 70’s, raced trucks for the haulage firm he worked for in late 80’s and repaired his own cars. So, Haynes manuals etc. were a crucial item. Full of technical illustrations, so must be a good trade to be skilled in.”
“No impact from parents on me personally on my choice of career. They have always been impressed with what I have done. I tried to become a motorsport artist in the late 80’s and when I had the idea of a stand at the London Olympia 1989 Racing Car Show, dad was happy to be guarantor for the business loan from the bank and also accompanied me every day on the stand, and I sold not a single painting but dad was still upbeat. Better to try than do nothing. That kind of thinking has stuck with me ever since.”
I was also able to interview one of the US’ top named tech illustrators Clint Ford, and ask him all of the same questions I asked Roy.
Based in Detroit, MI, Clint is a freelance technical illustrator, and he provides an excellent viewpoint of the profession from an alternate region of the world in comparison to his British counterpart. Here’s what he had to say when I asked him about his earliest motivations toward the field.
“I was a senior in high school. My mom and I were flipping through a course catalog trying to figure out what path I should take and after reading the description of the Technical Illustration program, I thought, that’s it. I’ve always loved to draw, especially the little details in everything. I didn’t know of any other illustrators, or even if this would be a real career, it just sounded like a good fit.”
“I was very lucky in that my mom was very supportive, she gave me a big nudge and really helped guide me towards a career that would be a good fit for what limited skills I did have. My grades were not impressive at all in high school and the only thing I liked to do besides ride dirt bikes was drawing.”
“My mom was a creative person and recognized my attention to detail. She probably also didn’t want me to join the air force, or at least, I didn’t.”
I love how both Scorer and Ford had the full support of their parents when they were young. I honestly believe it is critical as to why they have the success they do in their visual arts careers. It also helps when you have at least one loving parent who understands the instinctive need to express oneself creatively.
“It impacted me in a major way,” says Clint about his mother’s support. Without her guidance who knows what I would have done. I am constantly thankful to her for guiding me and putting me through college.”
Graphic design (GD) is another commercial art job that is closely associated with TI. It is quite common for job postings to be for filling TI/GD combined positions. This is because in today’s world, TI and GD are frequently applied in marketing, and market analysis and research. People who enroll in arts academies for GD or TI typically wind up learning the intricacies of both and other types of illustration anyway.
TI opportunities include working for a wide range of firms, and going freelance. Freelancing can be harder to do but can lead to establishing and growing a successful firm of one’s own with a team of subordinate artists. A career in TI can lead to amazing, expressive, freeing, inspiring, satisfying and lucrative paths in a visual artist’s life.
In Part 1 I mentioned Ralph McQuarrie. Prior to conceptualizing for Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and other films and TV shows; literally giving them the everlasting multi-million dollar looks they have, he was a technical illustrator for Boeing. Just think, you may have actually flown on an aircraft that he had a hand in designing.
Now, in interviewing Roy Scorer and Clint Ford, I wound up with so much great feedback that I had to split this overview into two phases. I know that some of you don’t particularly like extremely long blog posts.
I hope that you’ll follow the blog into next month to read the conclusion. In Part 3, Roy, Clint and I will cover some of the controversies and benefits of being a technical illustrator. You’ll get to see the kind and quality of art they do that makes them highly sought-after artists. I think it will be a real eye opener for artists and non-artists. Get a real understanding of what it’s like to be this specific kind of professional.
Do check out the work of these high-level illustrators.