RepositoryUniversity of Lincoln
TitleDarren Diss 'The Independent' editorial illustration collection
Date 12 Mar 2009 - 4 Nov 2013
Description Editorial illustration that appears alongside comment, opinion or debate articles in newspapers is functional and for the most part has a mission to decorate, inform and entertain; otherwise it has little purpose. It is distinct and different from other illustrated work such as cartoons and comic strips that appear in newspapers, as the content and message within the illustration reflect and respond to the writer or journalist’s words and views rather than those of the creator of the images.

Though the thoughts, reflection and commentary (which are ordinarily a response to current news issues) are the writer’s, the means of expression, concept and visualisation belong to the illustrator. The illustrator responds to the tone of voice, arena of debate and key concerns of the commentary through visual expression. This fascinating challenge has been a keen interest of mine since I was an illustration student and has remained with me throughout my professional career.

The practical purpose of this type of illustration typically draws attention to articles which are important within the journalistic context of a newspaper’s content. The immediacy of news events as they are witnessed is better supported by the medium of photography and, if online, video. Whether captured by professional or amateur image makers the lens based media are practical and effective in capturing the drama of decisive moments.
The reflective nature of comment or opinion writing, in contrast, is well served by illustration. At its most effective this type of illustration employs metaphorical thinking and by using thoughtful, identifiable signifiers in visual combinations elicits an intellectual or conceptual reward in the mind of a reader. The relationship between image text and the reader’s thought process is another level of enjoyment and engagement when harmonised with the main thrust of the written content. Perhaps this nudge towards reader participation is comment illustrations most potent cultural offer?

I have been fortunate enough to have worked as an editorial illustrator for many publications; the work now held in the University of Lincoln’s Special Collections represents a selection of work produced for the print version of The Independent newspaper. There is a selection of around 350 works presented in the context in which they were intended to be seen – newsprint pages with the illustrations set in a designed page containing an opinion article and headline. Some of the works are also represented in the online edition of The Independent and not all of my output is included in the collection. The comment section of the Independent went through several design changes and title variations finally ending up being called ‘Voices’ before the demise of the printed version of the paper in March 2016. I had the pleasure to illustrate articles for a diversity of these voices, including founding editor Andreas Whittam Smith, over a period approaching five years.

Anyone who has worked in the fast-paced world of newspaper publishing will know that deadlines are short. Comment articles are commonly written in response to a previous day’s news issues. On occasions they were still being written concurrently with me illustrating them, so my work was based on a synopsis.

The illustrations represented in this collection were produced on the day, usually in a few hours before they were due to be published for the next day. I was typically responsible for the concept as well production although occasionally whichever art director (or sometimes the editor) would hint at a direction for the image though this was a rare occurrence. From my point of view producing an appropriate, intriguing and, where possible, clever visual response was the most exciting aspect of my work in this field. I hope a sense of this remains tangible for those spending time with these articles and their supporting illustrations.

The craft aspect and conceptual aspect of producing these works are enmeshed. Many years of producing ideas at speed has given me a repository of approaches to producing initial ideas which are captured in small thumbnail drawings (made in pencil or pen on paper) as rapidly as the thoughts come. I usually capture a range of starting points for ideas before moving on to refine the ones I think relate to the heart of the written commentary. For me it is always the case that an idea has to be visualised and seen to be tested to legitimise itself, it is not just an act of capturing something imagined. Many times the drawings suggest new ideas and the whole process reciprocates.

Technically my images for the Independent were produced digitally with a drawing tablet and mouse in combination. In terms of colour and overall impression of the work I aimed to produce imagery that evidences the human hand and was made in consideration of the emotive content of the text.

Comment articles tend to take part in what I call an ‘arena of debate’. Into the arena drift protagonists that ‘act’ as visual signifiers. How these signifiers interact, blend, combine and relate to each other to derive meaning, comes from the art of composition and expressive tone of voice. Bringing these elements together to form an appropriate visual companion to the theme of the editorial is, for me, the art of editorial illustration for comment and opinion writing.

A catalogued collection of this type may be of interest to students of illustration, graphic design, journalism, history, conservation, media and those concerned with the cultural impact of the relationship between word and image in news media.

Darren Diss
June 2019
LocationZibby Garnett Library
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