Illustration in Indian Advertising
George Supreeth runs Pencilsauce, and Bite Lightning, an illustration studio and an Illustrator representation unit in Bangalore. He was among the new breed of computer literate visualisers who wiped out advertising studio artists in the mid 90s. He quit the Ad industry in 2000 and has been sulking around its periphery ever since. He teaches at the local art college and he loves to draw.
There’s something about the Punjabi word ‘Jugaad’, that doesn’t translate too well into English, but it is a concept that is intrinsic to Indian advertising illustrations. There is something about our advertising that utterly and completely ignores illustration as a visual device. Perhaps social scientists and psychologists may say that it is the inherent Indian trait to deify that makes the humanizing art of photography a more relevant option. That and the fact that Photoshop changed everything in the early 90’s.
Illustration in Early Indian Advertising
Illustrations actually had a pretty good run in early Indian advertising. The fact that it lent itself to the coarse ‘Indian’ art paper (as opposed to foreign art), and reproduced well also helped. Most illustrators were studio artists, who created stunning art using alabaster paper and poster colours. In fact until a few years ago, the model for most applied arts courses were actually illustration courses, posing as applied arts for advertising.
Since basic drawing skills were the very foundation of institutes like the JJ school of Art, almost every Indian art director in an advertising agency could draw. This led to quite a staggering range of illustrative styles in Indian advertising of the 70s and the 80s.
Remember Kapil and his BSA? Even then I thought that the artist’s lines were impeccable, and I loved the frame where he reaches the airport. This illustrator really nailed each action shot. and then there was the alien’s time machine in the Boroline ad. Another nicely done comic! Also remember the Nutrine rabbit? To be honest I always hated that guy, but comics, characters and even just ornamental styles were rampant in advertising of the 70′s and the 80s.
Visit Vishal Patel’s site for some examples of retro comic book styles.
In the early 90′s when Photoshop hit the agency circuit, and the possibilities of Photo manipulation dawned on the agency creative, the holy grail of advertising photography had been breached. Up until then, Photography was entirely the domain of the Photographer. From the shoot planning right up until the transparencies were handed over, the photographer ruled the whole mysterious process. With Photoshop however, you didn’t have to run back to the processing lab every time you needed a new overlay or colourisation. Even better you could create complete comps of the layout. That one software did everything. It wiped out photo strippers, colourisation artists, and cut and paste experts. A side effect of the whole process was that illustration got left out in the cold.
When applied arts and advertising students discovered digital photo manipulation, entire college projects were comped using the software. The idea of storytelling or using images to tell stories soon became prevalent, with the images informing the story. With illustration, the idea came first and then you briefed the illustrator on what you wanted. With photo manipulation, you picked an image with potential, and pick an angle to base your story on. As a result, an entire industry forgot how to draw, and with it how to use Illustration as a visual medium.
The Whole Point of Illustration
While some illustration enthusiasts argue VS photography in general, the point of illustration is something else entirely. Illustrations use the innate ability of human beings to anthropomorphise. Which is why Calvin and Hobbes are so endearing, and comic books feel like motion pictures when you remember them afterwards. Illustrations reach some areas of our mind that photographs just cannot. Unlike a photograph of a person, an illustrated character can be designed without a trace of gender, race or age. It need not even be of the same species, but it still has the power to resonate with basic human emotions.
A well designed illustration can present the viewer with a completely new experience. Take the Mother’s pride ads illustrated by the talented Sameer Kulavoor. Using a collage styled illustration completely and pleasantly disrupts the viewers expectation of the visual. Here, the skill of the illustrator is to keep the illustration within the realms of believability even when he’s exaggerating the characters and the environments. Disruption in this case directly lends itself to brand recall or the ability of the viewer to recall the brand due to him associating it with the illustration. The entire point of cleverness in advertising is to create spikes in people’s normative experiences. Little anchors that they will associate with the advertised product or service. These anchors are reactivated at the point of purchase through repeating elements from the original message or advertisment.
The Illustration Scene Today
While Illustration has been making a major resurgence the world over, in India we are only just begining to rediscover it’s potential. Artist’s like Kulavoor are among the few talented people who are creating an interest in this field. In an area which is cluttered with photographic imagery, Illustration can provide the key to differentiation. However our skills in this area have atrophied. During the period when advertising and publishing forgot illustration, potential and budding illustrators turned to a new area for sustenance. Computer graphics!
You could argue that computer graphics is just the tool and not the field. But in the time that illustration was no longer required for storytelling, artists turned their attention to graphical representation. Most Indian artists are extremely skilled at graphical representations, even at hyper realistic detail. This is not the same as Illustration. The word Illustrate itself means to educate by example or to enlighten. An illustrator needs to understand narrative, continuity and characterization to illustrate an idea. Graphical representations on the other hand are just maps. An objective device devoid of interactive potential.
The potential to brand through illustration will eventually dawn on the Indian advertising creative. With the number of advertising media increasing exponentially each year and as differentiation through imagery becomes increasingly difficult, Illustration offers a way to create unique visual experiences and newer ways to tap into consumers’ minds.