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.