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Why hand-drawn is the new black

There’s been an interesting trend recently in print and advertising work in particular away from the perfect symmetry and airbrushed cleanliness of vector art and back towards a looser form of hand-drawn illustration. I see it everywhere, from the middle pages of highbrow pop culture publications to the style sections of local broadsheets. And yet, it’s unexpected, especially so soon after the wave of vector art which swamped the print world just a few years back.

New York-based Australian designer Deanne Cheuk, who for so long was responsible for the beautiful artistic vision of edgy culture magazine Tokion, is one who noticeably shied away from embracing vector art during her tenure as the magazine’s art director. Which is not to say that she never used it, but rather that she always seemed to have a real appreciation for the subtle rawness of hand-drawn fonts and ink rendered design touches.

In many ways, her art direction veered towards classicism, which in turn encouraged countless of younger art directors to look back again for their artistic inspiration. Many of the better European, Australian and American magazines, for instance, are now dominated by more abstract, hand-drawn work, while vector art is finding its footing amongst CD packaging and gallery prints.

And yet, there are exceptions to this trend.

Vector artist Autumn Whitehurst, whose work is not only phenomenally good but also hanging on my apartment wall, is one obvious example. Her luminous, sub-realistic pieces are in demand, her style is immediately recognisble, and she’s never felt compelled to compromise her artistic techniques in order to get work.

She gave Web Esteem magazine an insight into how her beautiful vector pieces fall into place: ‘I have to use a photo reference to comprehend how light falls on a three dimensional form but the figures in the illustration rarely look anything like the photographs because myself and my friends are not such lean sleek glowing forms. It’s one of the biggest challenges but is also really enjoyable and is probably the bit that I have to get most creative with.’

So Whitehurst embraces the artistic freedom that vector art enables, whilst many seem restricted by the potential it offers to strive for perfection in every shape or object that they create.

Personally, I love the looseness and sense of absolute freedom that someone like Fernanda Cohen’s hand-drawn illustrations convey. She is getting a lot of work in major international publications, in a time when so many of their art directors are looking for that less realized style.

It’s wonderful to see too that personality has again been revived in print work. That a perfect rendering is not necessary to convey form. And that we’re looking within to interpret what, for many years, has been made all too apparent.

Whitehurst sums up it up nicely when she says. ‘There’s too much work out there that lacks the artist’s personal vision, stuff that’s being done because it’s a popular style used in marketing. The pitfall in working that way is that they’re taking part in a trend which will eventually die off.’

Very true words indeed.