One of the challenges in practicing illustration is steering clear of the cliches that saturate the design world. The ubiquitous trend of the moment appears to be the chevron pattern. First lauded in the pages of the now-defunct Domino Magazine which was laid to rest in 2009, the chevron pattern was used first in chic area rugs and bed linens. Five years later, it’s on everything from blouses to Christmas cards. I am bored to tears by this pattern, as much as I genuinely liked it at first. When you see something everywhere it loses it’s potency. Another such cliche is the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, which also took flight as a trend via Domino Magazine. Now part of the public domain, this World War II era poster is now re-purposed by Paper Source and other trendy stationers on cocktail platters that say “Stay Calm and Eat Latkes.” Jesus! Could this be any more a grotesque distortion of the purpose of these posters — to assuage the fear of Londoners during the extended arial bombing of their city? WTF Paper Source? Not to point fingers, but I now look to Paper Source if I want to know what to avoid drawing for my clients. Right now, they’re showing a lot of octopus-strewn paper products, owls (a now nauseating trend since 2010 or so), prisms, mason jars, and still (!) the ever-present deer with antlers.
If I am 100% honest, I am guilty of following trends in my own work too. My logo for Vigilante Paper is surrounded by antlers. (I’ll be changing my logo in 2014.). Similarly, I offer a really fun wedding invitation on my shop that features a prism-esque pattern. Perhaps the most difficult for me, as an illustrator and hand-letterer is the proliferation of “naive lettering” which everyone & their step-brother is attempting — in particular in the manner of the talented Anna Bond of Rifle Paper. I feel bad for Mrs. Bond: she was so original and cool that the establishment has stolen her great ideas. Her calligraphic approach to lettering has snowballed into a naive movement of sorts — especially now at the holidays when you’ll see Happy Holidays printed in gold foil cursive. It’s not easy to stay ahead of the curve. And it’s not easy to drop one of your signature moves (in my case, naive lettering) once it becomes an official trend on the shelves of Paper Source. One must keep inventing new drawings and themes and stylistic forms to stay relevant and not get sucked off the cliff, an illustrator lemming.
One of my goals as an artist is to seek inspiration from within and bring it to paper. And also to crush convention. Why can’t a wedding invitation feature a VW Bus? Why can’t a birthday party invitation just feature a bunch of trees and a hammock? Can a holiday card reference Soviet style from the 1970s? The longer I am in the marketplace as a stationer, the longer I realize that it’s pointless to look at what others are doing. It will flavor your work subconsciously and taint your original ideas. At least this is what is working for me right now. And that is why you will not be finding a chevron pattern on my holiday card this year. But you might indeed find a weird portrait of Yul Brenner. Or a bowl of acorns. Or anything else amusing and out of the depths of my perverse noggin.