Illustration is a One Man Show


Coming across the beautiful, carefully crafted drawings beside text always made me wonder, how do they come to be? What does it take to translate text into an illustration?

29792845_10215768382868334_9222578481698354510_nI sought answers from the talented illustrator Marina Muun, who has already built an impressive portfolio of inspiring illustrations. During her four-year long freelance career, she contributed to Nature, The Wall Street Journal, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and many more. During warm Friday afternoon, we met on the sunny terrace where she shared her illustration journey with me.

Wall Street Journal © Marina Muun
Wall Street Journal
© Marina Muun

“Elucidating written concepts is the biggest challenge, but also the greatest strength an illustrator can possess”, admits Marina. It is a skill which develops over time, “usually you have to come up with something interesting, witty, or poetic “. But it’s not just a pure representation of the text, the illustration also has to add to it and reveal something hidden to the reader. “That develops your conceptual thinking”, mused Marina.

With a bunch of colorful drawings spread across the table, I tried to understand the depth of the call. “You need to move within the space where you are always trying to reinvent your work, stay true to your style, otherwise, you can get bored”, continues Muun, adding that for a freelancer it is pretty hard to divide a personal and professional time.  “I don’t give myself office hours, and I love working outside.” Even though illustration can be solitary work, it is certainly never monotonous. There are always different things to explore, depending on the variety and pace of the projects. Sometimes it is an editorial or children’s book drawing, but it can also be a big commercial campaign. Marina is receptive to the wide spectrum. “There can be beauty in everything”, she adds, smiling.

© Marina Muun
© Marina Muun

In the process of developing the next illustration, it is important to focus and find a satisfying creative solution, for both the client and the illustrator. “Making the right communicative message is the goal. In personal work, it is similar. A bit more fluid, but I give myself a task, and then I try to figure it out”, explained Muun.

As we talk more about the sometimes strenuous creation process, an interesting thought comes ahead. “Creativity is trying to say something, a manifestation of person’s expression. When I look at art that I like, it is usually because it spoke to me and said something that I appreciate. It can be just the colors or the combination of the symbols. It is so subtle and abstract, hard to define.” Seeking for inspiration doesn’t seem to be an issue in a digital world, where online libraries serve the purpose. “As browse through it, sometimes I just wonder why did I ever save this weird thing”, says Marina laughingly. You never know when a certain symbol or image might come in handy.

UC Davis © Marina Muun
UC Davis
© Marina Muun

Developing a certain style is the absolute imperative in the field. Illustrators are known for their distinctive use of color, shapes and drawings, that set them apart and guarantee fitting commissions. Each illustrator crafts their own field of activity, some lean towards fine art, others into motion or murals. It depends on each person, “how they push out the walls of their bubble”, explains Marina. Ultimately, this doesn’t create competition, since each individual is hired because of their expertise. For Marina, her style, or brand came natural, not planned. “I do tend to use some colors more often, but it is a very spontaneous choice. They end up looking similar, because it is just my sensibility about the color”, says Muun.

With increasing demand for new skills, such as motion and animation, her unfulfilled dream it to team up with a motion designer and work on an interdisciplinary project. For now she wishes to work more the books.

Anja Stevic
Anja Stevic Anja is a volunteer photographer and blog contributor at Impact Hub Vienna.