The Functions of Illustration


The unit explores a range of the functions of illustration through project work that requires you to propose three interpretations of a given issue with the respective intentions of informing, commenting and decorating. Building upon the unit Introductory Studies and Digital Imaging the unit introduces you to the potential functions to be served by illustration and aims to support you in identifying possible areas for personal development in Level 5. Research, supported by academic guidance, will enable you to develop the contextual references informing your interpretations.

Outline Syllabus

An indicative guide to the content covered in this unit.

Introduction to the three broad functions defining illustration.

Explaining the different thought processes required by particular functions.

Understanding of the contextual uses of illustration.

The interaction of external factors (e.g. client, target audience and functions) in determining the appropriateness of realisations.

Matching of illustrative styles and methods to specific illustrative purposes.

Assessment Requirements

Presentation to your peer group and written analysis on one of the three functions of illustration relating to own practice (600 words) and 3 completed visual proposals, containing roughs – idea generation, worksheet/preparatory drawings displaying alternative solution and problem solving methodologies

Reference Material


Gombrich, EH. (1982). The image and the eye: further studies in the psychology of pictorial representation. London: Phaidon

Gombrich, EH. (1991). Topics of our time: twentieth century issues in learning and in art. London: Phaidon

Gregory, RL. (1997). Eye and brain: the psychology of seeing (5th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press

Staniszewski, Mary Anne. (1995). Believing is seeing: creating the culture of art. London: Penguin.


Hall, S. (1997). Representation cultural representations and signifying practices. London: Sage.

O’Sullivan, Tim et al. (1994). Key concepts in communication and cultural studies. London: Routledge

Steiner, Henry & Haas, Ken. (1995). Cross-cultural design: communicating in the global market place. London: Thames and Hudson

Zappaterra, Yolanda. (1998). Illustration: real world illustration projects – from brief to finished solutions. Crans-Pres-Celigny, Switzerland: Rotovision.


Communication Arts, Creative Review


The Independent Review, The Observer, The Financial Times Magazine, The New Scientist, Scientific American


Illustration can be used to ‘comment’ on a particular subject, and to therefore, be expressive and in turn, form an opinion.  The most effective method being, where you the illustrator, begin to express your own feeling, or, discover truths about a subject and pass it on, thereby creating an opinion to a wider audience.  It is one of the most interesting and complex aspects of illustration, where illustrators start to express their own feelings on a subject.

‘Commentable’ illustration should be conceptually strong and original in approach and can sometimes draw upon strategies such as subverting texts/images plus the use of visual metaphors.

‘Informing’, is to explain something, or define literally.  Informative or explanatory illustration can be seen within diagrams and has a capacity to show places, activities or things that we are unable to see directly from one fixed viewpoint in the real world or display material of a factual nature.

‘Decorating’ can punctuate, alleviate or illuminate a text.  It can take the form of an arrangement or composition, act as a frame or rule, break-up an area and provide ‘light relief’ to texts or typography.


Produce one completed visual proposal for each of the defined functions of illustration – commentable, informative and decorative – relating to a topical news item or issue of your choice.

To assist you in this process, a series of newspapers have been provided as a starting point, but your selected topic could equally originate from an existing interest or perhaps linked to a campaign issue that you are passionate about.  Essentially, you will need to find a piece of text or texts to enable you to interpret and realise the potential of, in relation to the requirements of this unit.

Consideration should also be given to the ‘end user context’ for each of the visual proposals, which could range from a magazine, book, t-shirt, advertisement, newspaper article, web-site etc., with particular reference and appropriateness to a print or screen-based audience. Ultimately, your final outcomes must be seen within a context, i.e. a relevant newspaper spread, magazine article, website, T-shirt design etc.

Ultimately, your final three visual proposals need to clearly reflect your understanding of the various characteristics of each of the roles that illustration performs.

You are also required to prepare a 5 minute presentation to your peers about one of your images. This could involve selecting one digital file that can be projected and discussed within the group.  Ensure that your chosen image for the presentation is a flattened jpeg file, this will help ease the process during the presentation activity.  Equally, you may wish to produce a ‘Powerpoint’ or other presentational device, enabling you to convey your work to an audience effectively.

The assessment also requires a written analysis of 600 words, relating to one of your outcomes. Further guidance will be given regarding this activity and that of the peer presentation on Thursday 22 April 2010.

Critical reflection should be evident within your written piece coupled with attributed research and reference sources, using the University College referencing system, please consult the course handbook.


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