Inspiration in Illustration



“India” by Craig Mullins

Currently, it seems that illustration is experiencing a resurgence of sorts as its creation and usage becomes more widespread.  Thanks to the accessibility of software programs, an illustrator does not have to possess traditional artistic ability, and the advancements made mean that any idea can be realized and illustrators can express their creativity without any limits.  The result is an endless array of incredible artwork created for a variety of purposes.  And with the internet, these amazing images can be viewed by anyone.  Here, we have gathered a selection of work from a few illustrators who are creating work that we found to be truly inspirational.



Folgers Coffee Advertising Campaign by Ronald Kurniawan



“The Coursera Effect” for Fast Company Magazine, September 2012 by Yuko Shimizu

First on our list is Yuko Shimizu, an award-winning illustrator whose work has been described as combining “traditional Japanese art with surrealism and comic book culture.”  Her path to success was a circuitous one as she studied advertising and marketing at university and started her career in PR.  She spent 11 years in a corporate job before taking a leap and devoting herself to a second career in art.  After moving to New York in 1999, she returned to school and graduated with an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2003.  In addition to teaching several courses at SVA, she is also a freelance illustrator, and has an impressive client list.



“Going Green” The Atlantic, May 2010 by Yuko Shimizu


“Bracing for Climate Change” Green Source: The Magazine of Sustainable Design, Jan/Feb 2013 by Yuko Shimizu

Her long list of accomplishments includes the completion of a mural project with Stefan Sagmeister as well as contributions to his book Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far, and she has released several books of her own, including a children’s book. Her creative output includes work for comic books, book covers and magazine illustrations, as well as advertisements.  Shimizu’s work is the result of a multicultural influence and an open-minded approach.  She cites Bjork as an inspiration and when offering advice to those interested in following in her footsteps, she stresses the need to work hard and remember that one is creating art while also running a business.  Her latest project is illustration for a book of fairy tales reinterpreted for modern times by Michael Cunningham.

i6“The Dish on Fish” for Edible San Francisco Magazine’s 3rd Annual Sustainable Seafood Issue Spring 2010 by Yuko Shimizu

Another illustrator worth viewing is Michael Kutsche.  A self-taught artist from Germany, Kutsche caught his big break when he was asked to be a character designer for Tim Burton’s movie “Alice in Wonderland.”   Following this success, he was chosen to work on other big-budget movies, including “Thor,” “John Carter,” and “Oz the Great and Powerful.”   Despite his lack of formal training, Kutsche cites an interest in art from a young age, and in sharing his past exploits, his natural ability to find solutions to circumvent problems is apparent, as is his drive to create.  He is also quick to credit his good fortune, as the invitation from Sony came about after his portfolio was viewed online, and this success led to his further involvement in the world of movies.



“Alice in Wonderland” Dormouse Concept Art by Michael Kutsche



“Oz the Great and Powerful” China Girl Concept Art by Michael Kutsche



“Oz the Great and Powerful” Munchkins Concept Art by Michael Kutsche

Illustrator Tim O’Brien is known for his portraiture, and his work has been published in numerous periodicals including Rolling Stone, Time, Der Spiegel, Esquire, and National Geographic.  He has also designed several US postage stamps and received numerous awards including the Hamilton King Award from the Society of Illustrators.  He describes his style as being deeply rooted in traditional realism which is often combined with conceptual surrealistic ideas.  In addition to his art, he is also a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and at Pratt Institute in New York.



“From Farm to Table” for National Geographic by Tim O’Brien



Person of the Century for Time Magazine by Tim O’Brien

O’Brien has created portraits of many iconic public figures, including politicians and celebrities.  It is worth noting that many of his more well-known illustrations involve replicating famous pictures or people with some sort of twist or alteration which is relevant for the piece they are accompanying.   He has also made a reputation for himself through the interesting concepts that he depicts in his work which often offer a sense of surrealism.  Regardless of his subject matter, his work is always highly detailed and incredibly accurate while subtly suggesting emotion without overpowering the viewer.



Barack Obama for Rolling Stone Magazine by Tim O’Brien

No list of illustrators would be complete without mention of Craig Mullins.  Although his work is done digitally, his style resembles a painter’s, and he is known for the conceptual work he has completed for numerous movies and video games.  Mullins was an early user of digital software to create visual images, and as such, he gained mastery over the form and cemented his reputation early.  Within his otherworldly images, he showcases an ability to suggest more than appears in the image without adding unnecessary details.  Instead, his control of color, light, and texture create a style that implies so much more than is actually depicted.   Among his most noteworthy projects are matte painting and concept art for the “Matrix: Revolutions,” “Apollo 13,” and “Jurassic Park,” and illustrations for the video games “Halo,” “Mass Effect 2,” and “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.”



Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood Illustration by Craig Mullins



“Breach” by Craig Mullins



“Santa Maria” by Craig Mullins

In comparison, Ronald Kurniawan is known for his brightly colored and highly detailed illustrations.  A graduate of the Art Center College of Design, Kurniawan turned to art after failing to realize his goal of becoming a surgeon.  Many of his images include graphic imagery, type and numerous symbols.  He takes influence from the world around him, and many of his ideas for his work spring from word associations which he then links to images.  He states that he finds inspiration in “ideograms, syllables, letterforms, beasts and heroic landscapes.”   It is interesting to note that many of the backgrounds of his images consist of natural environments, and as such, it shows the importance that he gives to the world around us, and many of his works could be said to depict man’s attempt to co-exist with nature.  He has created work for a number of well-known companies including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Toyota, Mattel, and General Mills.


“Idiocy of Crowds” for Inc.Magazine by Ronald Kurniawan



“Fall Into Reading” Poster for the West Hollywood Book Fair by Ronald Kurniawan



“Sea of Lies” for LA Weekly by Ronald Kurniawan

The illustrators shared here are just a small sample of the wonderful work being created.  Each has found success in a different niche, proving just how varied the world of illustration has become.  With so many diverse viewpoints to be represented, the possibilities for creation are truly endless.



“City Street” by Craig Mullins



Work by Tim O’Brien in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators



“Alice in Wonderland” Caterpillar Concept Art by Michael Kutsche



“Buglady” for Spectral Magazine by Ronald Kurniawan



“The Unwritten” Cover for DC Comics Vertigo Series No. 36, June 2012, by Yuko Shimizu

Comments are closed.