August 23, 2023
5 minute read

The Art of Illumination

Juan Carlos Concepcion
Photos by
Illustrations by

I became an illustrator by accident. I had always thought my future was that of a fine artist, painting away whatever I wanted. I studied graphic design in college however, and it was a challenge to translate my inclination to traditional art into digital design. Through this process, I discovered illustration as I found the intersection of both — visuals serving a particular function, but with more freedom in expression.

By its definition, illustration means to clarify and explain, to give an example of, to provide with pictures. But a more interesting definition is that illustration is the act or process of illumination; shedding light into a topic or concept that remains unclear. More than just art as a form of expression, it functions as a step in understanding the bigger concept.

This is where today’s illustrator steps in, expressing their own unique perception in visual form. Illustration acts as an observation of human behavior, a depiction of how one sees the world and themselves. It is through these personal perspectives that we can continue to develop a range of styles. From the iconic hand-painted advertisements of Coca-Cola, to the exaggerated forms in The Simpsons for comedic effect, each style serves the vision of its creator.

But how does one translate their vision into an illustration? And how can one learn and develop a personal style?


When creating your own illustration, ask yourself first: How can I illuminate others? How can people relate to or understand a specific topic or concept more? For example, in editorial pieces for publications, think about how you can transform the author’s opinion in an eye-catching visual for readers to get the full picture at a glance. For children’s books, think about how you can enhance the overall learning experience of a child. When I do illustration work for clients, I think about the target demographic and what visuals would excite them most. Having this clear objective helps influence the form your illustration will take.

When sketching your illustration, seek different ways you can highlight the subject. Utilize different visual elements such as perspective, space and composition to make your statement. From the many versions you create, think about which one will resonate most with the audience, as well as the brand or client. Or if you are illustrating for yourself, which is most authentically you?


After setting the overall scene or subject, applying a particular art style is paramount in bringing out your message. Use a doodle style to show the imperfections of daily life. Illustrate with clean edges and minimal forms for a sophisticated brand. Try out basic geometric shapes to simplify concepts for a younger audience. There are endless combinations and styles that can bring out the audience’s perception of the matter.

In learning a new style, look at your favorite illustrator’s work and how they make you feel. Study how they convey their message by zooming in closer, looking at the particular nuances that make their style unique and give off that emotion. All these small details help influence and expand an illustration. When in doubt, look back at your references and inspiration and find one thing that you may have missed.

As fine art was the starting point of my creative journey, the works of the impressionists such as Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne served as my first inspiration. I was struck by how they used brush strokes to convey movement, so in my personal work, while digital, I try to emulate noticeable and hand-drawn strokes. Contemporary illustrators such as Haley Tippmann have also influenced my work in portraying slices of life. Inspired by her work, I began experimenting with various brushes and applying textures to enhance an analog-inspired approach when illustrating people and their daily fashion.


With a base art style in place, this is where the illustrator truly makes their mark. More than applying a style to perfection, evolving it is the key to the development of your personal style. Sir Quentin Blake, famed illustrator of Roald Dahl’s books said that “with my pictures, what I hope is that it encourages the reader to imagine more pictures of his own.” The next time you look at an illustration, think about what the artist is saying, but also think about how you would say it.

Consider how else you would add your voice. Conceptualize your illustration’s setting to a local landscape. Dress your figures in a way you would dress yourself. Even try incorporating opposing styles and subjects. As illustration seeks to illuminate and inform, the blend of all these elements create your own unique take.

In my personal illustration work, I like to mix other styles and combine different references to create something new. From pairing Greco-Roman statues with hard geometric shapes, to merging outlined illustrations of Japanese city life with offset primary colors, fusing styles is where I began to develop my personal style, all while applying a traditional hand-drawn look. I like to think of it as mixing genres in music, while having a main instrument to play. I kept my hand-drawn style while delving into other techniques to expand. So start with what you know best, then add something new each time.

“The secret to so many artists living long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting.” — Norman Rockwell

The field of illustration is always evolving, with styles that help us document and shed light to the stories of the times. I think that illustrations serve as capsules in time, a record of people’s visions of the world. So always look out and be in the moment; absorb experiences and express in the way only you can. Art imitates life, but art also illuminates life.