When Liz Danzico and I launched our new site A Brief Message last week, it was also effectively the end of Illustrate Me. That project, which started in May of last year and ran more or less into early this year, was my first attempt at trying to actively integrate illustration into my online work; each month I invited a designer or illustrator to create art to accompany the previous month’s archives of this site.
I had a great time doing it, and I was lucky enough to get some truly wonderful contributions from some terrific artists. Ultimately, however, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t yet and was unlikely to ever reach a point where Illustrate Me achieved that satisfying effect that I look for in the meaningful use of any illustration.
Reasons Why Not
There were a few things at the root of this column. First, the illustrations were hidden away in the Subtraction.com archives, and users rarely just browse the archives for fun. That in and of itself was probably the biggest hurdle to its successȯ I tried to brainstorm solutions to this problem, but could never settle on an approach that could give the pieces the prominence that they deserved.
Second, the illustrations were created after the fact, meaning that only when, say, we were in the first or second week of July would June’s illustration appear, taking a bit of the wind out of its debut.
Third, and most crucially, there was no meaningful connection between the art and the content — in fact, I actively encouraged contributors to treat the titles of the posts that were required in their pieces in as arbitrary a manner as possible. While visually pleasing, that distance between words and images left a lot of people cold, I think.
None of which is the fault of any of the contributors. Ultimately, Illustrate Me’s failures were entirely my own. It was imperfectly conceived from the beginning, and where I thought that persistence and momentum would make up for those shortcomings, I found myself discouraged before too long.
What I Learned
But, you know what? That’s why we try things; not because we know they’ll succeed, but because we know we’ll learn something along the way. A lot of what I learned about working with illustrations online — and working with illustrators volunteering their efforts — made A Brief Message possible. To be sure, I still have loads to learn with A Brief Message, too, but having had the experience of Illustrate Me was a great foundation. And, in spite of the overall failure of the project, I’m still delighted with the way all the contributions came out; I think they’re beautiful, and I remain terribly, terribly grateful to the all artists for contributing them.
As a final hurrah, I’m assembling here thumbnail versions of all the Illustrate Me illustrations — all in one place, for the first time ever. Click on the thumbnails to go to their full-sizes, and enjoy them. I did.
Well there you go. I’ve been lurking around these parts for sometime and never seen these.
First off, thanks for your great site and insights, Khoi. I visit your site on a regular basis and am always happy when there is something new — it almost always interests me.
Now, thanks again for this article! It’s an inspiration. When you said that you invited illustrators, i thought ”Who the heck could i invite to illustrate for me?“ Nobody of cause, because i am a nobody, and nobody would benefit from illustrating for a nobody — but i can illustrate my own articles — and i would benefit, even both times, as a writer and as an illustrator!
I actually thought about this earlier, in fact, i love the ALA illustrations, and i think almost every article at ALA benefits hugely from the illustrations/paintings they add.
Anyways, i just wanted to say thank you!
Well, you mentioned that you were thinking of dropping this last year when I saw you speak at Villa Julie college in Baltimore. So it does not come as a complete shock. I always enjoyed it but I understand all the points that you touched on above. I think the fact that you normally made a post announcing each new one, helped draw some attention.
And so i did, how is that for an inspiration you just gave me: Link.
That’s some great art. I wish I could’ve seen them when they were up.
This is kind of unrelated, but there is something that I don’t quite understand though.
Looking at the contributors I see all the familiar names. All of them. Looking around in the web design world you almost always see the same names, again and again. How is that possible? Is this realm of work that small? Or is it only that these Rock-stars (as I call them) are friends with each other and keep it tight? Perhaps there are only a handfull of really good designers out there?
you should’ve done it for your homepage image. Makes more sense, no?
Alas, we never did finish that interview for the one I did. No worries, it was fun anyway. Thanks for listing them all here, it’s neat to see the varying styles.
Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.