Fibs and fripperies: references to the real in digital illustration
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This paper considers the phenomenon of illustrators digitally mimicking traces of the hand-made as ornament. It will explore whether these decorative tendencies are Loos’ backward or degenerative tendency, or a generous contribution to our visual environment. It will ask why illustrators falsify the smudges, spills, textures and shadows of paper-based work within the digital workspace, what is gained and lost by doing so, and for whom? These questions will be explored in relation to examples of digital illustration and interviews with practitioners to unpick the professional benefits of the phenomenon, coupled with a foray into theoretical perspectives on ornament. In this regard, the paper will consider whether illustration is using the pre-digital age as Owen Jones’ “half-filled stagnant reservoir” of visual language, and whether illustration is suffering from Herbert Read’s horror vacui, in order to understand what happens when we fill these terrifying empty spaces within images with introduced artefacts. The discussion will also take skeuomorphism into account to explore the phenomenon, which then raises questions concerning illustration’s ‘usability’. Ultimately, the paper aims to evaluate the utility of these different perspectives, which have been brought from other fields to illustration discourse, as much as it seeks to consider the pleasures and pitfalls of a richly-ornamented composition.
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