I made illustrations for each of the TEDx speaker’s topics in order to represent the content on a screen and online.
Before creating these visual images with a pencil and computer software, I researched each topic and provided both visual and written references. We illustrators usually follow this process before making works due to two reasons:
1) to familiarise ourselves with each topic in order to develop our visual language.
2) to avoid making inappropriate images.
Illustrators not only dedicate ourselves to convey aesthetic practices every day, there is usually a lot of research also behind a single piece of illustration. In the TEDx project in November, I used my time for roughly 70% of research and 30% of practice because many topics included controversial, sensitive and subject-specific content.
For example, Ankit Sonkar, who studies in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, gave his talk about how we can manage AI without losing our control over it. There are a lot of sci-fi films and graphic images which illustrate our possible future, overcome by intelligent robots. These are related to his topic and eye-catching but unsatisfactory to represent the essence of his contents. His talk promotes a consideration of our own intellect while asking the question, ‘what is AI?’ Therefore, a visual language based on the AI which is in ‘The Terminator’ is not appropriate, (though I love the scene where Schwaltzenegger lowers himself in to melt in the end of the 2nd film.) Instead, I make visual references from illustrations of business magazines, science articles and website of other TED talks, whose graphics are much closer to his contents.
In terms of avoiding inappropriate images, the research for Ankit Sonker’s topic also helps me to consider visual literacy and illustration which I should not provide. There are some failed cases related to inappropriate images for academic situations. The illustration of JSAI is one of the examples.
I believe that their robot girl illustration does not intend to be sexist at all, but it is a shame that nobody realised that it is not a suitable image for the academic journal until it is published. It could be avoided if there was someone who were familiar with visual literacy. It actually requires training to see works of illustration, as well creating them.
Professional illustrators study not only technique for aesthetic practice, but also a substantial amount of knowledge related to our subjects. There are always some tensions for illustrators to visually represent someone, especially if they are vulnerable or minority. While we provide artworks for communication purposes, these can sometimes harm someone if we make them carelessly.
Ignorance is sin for us.
By Chiho Nishiwaka
(See our News page for more of Chiho's illustrations and her website here).