Artistic Vision

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How to explain your artistic vision during art education assessments

Introduction

With the implementation of ‘competency assessments’ at the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA), students are faced with a new form of evaluation in which they must demonstrate within the setting of a formal portfolio, presentation and dialogue (assessment) that they have acquired specific professional competencies. One question that keeps popping up in these discussions is: ‘what is your artistic vision?’ The question itself is not new in art education; one could argue that this is the most important question you will be asked at the academy. It can be challenging, even confronting, to articulate your artistic vision in the setting of a formal assessment. The aim of this post is to contribute to a better understanding on the part of any student struggling with this question.

What is the question?

A vision is an idea or a mental image of something. A mission statement is a description of what a person or organization would like to achieve or accomplish. Artistic vision can be described as an idea or mental image of what the artist/designer would like to accomplish: in other words, the artist/designer’s basic principles. This implies that a designer always has a set of basic rules/ideas that will influence how the work will look or how the project will develop.

During an assessment, a student must be able to explain their principles, and to clarify how these are applied within their projects. Perhaps most importantly, students must also be able to critically reflect upon how these personal principles relate to the context (the world, market, society, history, competitors, etc.) of their work. In other words, students are asked to explain how they approach their projects as designers, and how they are trying to accomplish change in the world through their ideas.

Why is this important?

From a market perspective, it’s important to be able to clarify your artistic vision as an artist/designer in order to find clients. In a competitive (design) world, knowing who you are and what you have to offer to the market is an important tool for attracting the right clients. Being able to present a clear narrative about why your work matters is important, for example when you are negotiating for reasonable fees for your work.

The same principle also applies to most other professions. If you are studying to become a doctor, you have to understand the principles that you will be applying in your profession as a doctor. This is important for yourself as well as your patients. For example, you should know whether your treatment is based on Western medicine, shamanism or voodoo. If you become a voodoo doctor in a Western-medicine world, you will probably need good communication skills in order to convince your clients of your treatment.

However, if we only look at it from a market perspective, one could argue: ‘who cares about vision, as long as I can sell my product?’  Patients are not always interested in how the doctor cured them, as long as they get better. In the same way, it is possible that future clients of your designs will never ask you about your artistic vision. Clients often only want a good product. However, hoping that clients will always be able to find you, and will always be willing to pay a reasonable fee, might not be a strong strategy.

From the perspective of the academy, it’s important to clarify your artistic vision because this is the only way for you to find out how you can get better at what you do. If you want to get better at anything, you have to know in which direction you need to look. We always have to make choices within the available time. You have chosen to study at an art academy in order to expand your knowledge of art and design.

However, studying is not only about expanding your knowledge; it’s also about focus and selection. If you choose to study animation, for example, you will learn little about product design. With the introduction of the Practices at the WdKA, students can select and personalize their own educational content. You can choose any of the Practices, but you have understand how this relates to your professional development. If you don’t make conscious choices you could end up as a ‘jack of all (sorts of) trades, but a master of none’.

Why is the question so hard to answer?

Clarifying your artistic vision is difficult for many reasons. By understanding some of these reasons, it will become easier to recognize your own position. An assessment is not the same as a general project evaluation. The question about artistic vision is about your overall ambitions and aspirations as a designer or artist. The question can be regarded as a ‘wicked problem’, which implies that there are no complete solutions, no obvious or practical answers. It’s hard to focus on questions for which you will never find completely gratifying answers.

Furthermore, it often doesn’t feel nice when your ‘biggest dreams’ are being questioned. The question often exposes vulnerabilities. For example: ‘to which extent are you able to incorporate your principles in your projects?’ Realizing your own limitations can lead to fear and anxieties. As a student you might not yet feel ready to commit yourself to answering such questions. Students therefore sometimes dodge the question by saying: ‘I will figure that out after graduation’.

Last but not least: reflecting upon what you think you should do, and where you want to go, is not the same as doing it. It takes time and focus in order to achieve clarity. Thinking about your artistic vision is not as gratifying as making (and feeling good about) your work. That’s why we often tend to avoid it.

Are there any shortcuts?

There is no easy way of answering questions about your artistic vision. It can help to realize that everyone has uncertainties and anxieties when asked about their future strategies. The academy should be seen as an opportunity to research this question. Tutors and fellow students should be your critical friends and sparring partners, allowing you to develop and construct your personal narrative. Others can often see more clearly what may be too obvious for you to notice.

Four questions can help get you going in the right direction:

  • What do you think needs to change in the world (of design)?
  • What is your role in this change?
  • Which qualities do you have now that will help you accomplish this goal?
  • Which qualities do you still need to develop to accomplish this goal?

The final advice is to realize that your story about your artistic vision is never static. Students should not worry about having to commit to these principles for the rest of their professional career. Statements are only relevant for any given moment. As time passes and new insights are found, principles must be reconsidered and often changed. The goal of the assessment is to find out how well a student is able to explain and defend their ideas at that specific moment.

What can Possibly go Wrong?

  • this is a rough first text on the subject of failing on personal student projects. Any feedback is welcome.

“How students can fail in personal projects at the WdKA”

Before the summer holidays it’s ‘project assessment time’. When it comes to independent student projects it can be difficult to understand for students why they failed. In this type of project students can decide their own topic, their own research method and their own type of products that they wish to deliver. With so much freedom it’s sometimes difficult for a student to understand why the project was failed.

With an overview of scenario’s in which projects can go wrong; students can try to identify their own situation and possibly learn from their mistakes. The failing of projects is often based on a combination of several of the listed scenario’s. I have divided the situations into 3 main categories: concept, process and presentation.

Concept

a. Knowing too much

Theoretical insight can make the design development more difficult. Having knowledge of all the complications of the design-topic can lead to ‘design-freeze’; not creating out of fear of making mistakes. As a result there is an over-focus on rationalizing the theory. searching new data is easier than creating design solutions.

b. Knowing too little

There is never a garantee that research questions can be answered. Sometime the research question involves topics which are not clearly defined or are not explained in relation to each other. The project then lacks focus.

c. Saying too little
Sometimes the student feels no need to make a critical statement or position the work in a defined context. As a result it raises the question how the project can be relevant. It’s not enough if the work has esthetic value or has been constructed in a skilled manner. At the academy the personal goals and ambition of the maker are always relevant.

d Urgent, but not effective
A student can be overwhelmed by the urgency of a certain theme and believe that anything that supports this cause is by definition good. The quality of a project is only measured partially by the relevance in a bigger context. The sense of urgency of the matter can also lead to feeling powerless to alter the situation with design.

Proces
a. Too little time
Research findings can lead to new insight which alter your direction and can influence the time left to develop products. With too many changes, sometimes too little time is left.

b. Too little connection
Research can be inspiring and relevant, but sometimes the connection into designing a related product can difficult. The research must have visible influence in the final product(s).

c. Too little skill
Research can lead to new inspiring design strategies. However it always takes skill and craft to realize a product. Sometimes choosing a new technique can result in less quality project, because there was too little experience in the chosen technique.

Presentation
a. Too little confrontation
A project can be developed within the context of the academy. However at the final presentation it is expected that students already have brought their work in confrontation with the outside world.

b. Unclarity of presentation.
Even good research and well developed products can be missunderstood when the end presentation does not communicate enough. The presentation is always a design-task. Being to caught up in the project, can lead to too little time to design a communicative presentation.

c. Relation to the professional practice
A personal project offers the opportunity to create anything for anyone and place in any context. However in order to evaluate its quality; there has to be sufficient context. It is the responsibility of the maker; to provide and clarify that context for any audience. Especially if the maker goes beyond the context of the traditional professional practice.

Illustration survey – interest and opportunity in Illustration

Introduction.  I’ve done a small follow-up illustration survey in class with 23 2nd year illustration students. The goal was to get some insight in student interests, ambition and their view on the field of illustration. There were 4 ‘closed’ question:

  • what are an illustrator’s best chances in today’s market?
  • what are you current interests in relation to market opportunities?
  • What is important about freelancing for students to learn at the academy.

Based on the input we can make some crude assumptions. When it comes to ‘best chances in the market’ students consider: advertising, animation, editorial, and product/fashion as their top opportunities. Historical/Nature/Documentary (one topic), science are considered as the worst opportunity to find illustration work. Gallery- and expositions also score low in the expectations of students for illustration work. When asked about the students personal interest gallery- and expositions score highest. Followed by editorial, product/fashion, and advertising. Science, Historical/Nature/Documentary score relatively low. What students want to learn about freelancing is primarily the ability to work independently and proactive and communication skills. The ability to make deadlines and to be flexible with client is considered less important to learn at the academy.

Interpretation Based on these outcomes I have the following impression; the majority of the students have an interest in gallery-work and expositions, but it might give limited chances for work. When it comes to editorial illustration, I understand the students interest in this area, but I don’t share the idea that there is a lot of job opportunities in this area. Further more I think we (as a department) can improve by showing students the possibilities that the field of science-, documentary-, nature-, and documentary illustration can offer. I do believe that the field of information, and data design offers new opportunities for illustrators.

Regarding freelance work; it’s interesting that students show such an interest in learning how to work independently and proactive. Stimulating self-motivation, and independent learning is often a challenging topic for tutors to teach students. It’s also interesting that the results show that students are less interested in learning how to be flexible with clients.  I think the academy is a place where students can learn what it implies to be flexible in a safe and playful context. Staying loyal to artistic principals in an applied, and commercial context is often difficult.

 

 

 

 

Will Instagram Render the Art Academy Obsolete?

INstagrm

I have some rough thoughts about this question. The question belongs to one of my illustration students. I think it’s a relevant question because many illustrators promote the use of Instagram. I hope to further elaborate on my thoughts later.

Instagram is a social networking application.  It allows you to share photos or videos within a community. It is similar to facebook and twitter. Illustrators post their work on instagram where clients can find it, which can lead to commissions. I understand it can give illustration students the impression of a short-cut to ‘illustration-paradise’. Why bother with; academic theory classes, complicated conceptual issues, or vague hypothetical questions about artistic vision? Why bother with any academic content at all when all you need to do to become a ‘successful illustrator’ is post online and get noticed? As course leader of Illustration at the WdKA I feel I must reply.

My reasons why I consider studying at an art academy is more meaningful compared to posting your work on Instagram.

Passion.  The art academy encourages students to discover their individual qualities. It’s important to learn about yourself in order to understand how you can develop your creative abilities. It is not easy to find your passion as an illustrator. We often don’t find them unless we are willing to try and experiment. The academy serves as a place in which students are more likely to experiment. One of the roles of teachers to push and shove students (at times). A personal passion is not easily discovered.

Part by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on wasted potential […]

FOMO […]

You can look at other illustrator’s work on Instagram; but looking at images alone, will not increase your understanding. My colleague explained; the term ‘theory’ originates from the Greek; it implies ‘to look at’. Not just to ‘notice things’ but to acquire insight. We don’t study theory at the academy in order to gain ‘cold knowledge’, but to find a better understanding of ourselves.

The ‘applied arts dilemma’. How to stay with your artistic vision in a client-orientated market. […]

Market. The second reason is to learn about the ‘illustration-market’. This reason is complicated, and often misunderstood by students. By understanding the market; I don’t mean that students have to understand the client. Of course in some degree they must, but it is much more important to understand the: questions, principals and challenges of today’s illustration market. We should not teach students how to comply to clients. In stead we should talk on how the market should change. Instagram might be a market-influencer for illustrators, but who is reflecting upon this influence? There will not be any easy answers, but the academy is the place in which this should be addressed.

[platform-economy] – What is the bargaining power of todays freelance illustrator? What is the risk of an unprotected and open market principal for illustrators […]

Synergy. The last topic is about what can be achieved when a student can connect the three topics. It will give them a deep awareness of their individual role and possibilities as an illustrator. This is not a guarantee for economic success, but it implies that the student has discovered how to make a personal meaningful contribution to the world […]

Instagram can be an effective tool to acquire economic success for illustrators, but I hope our students will be the ones to contribute to the development of the new Economy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing an independent illustration proposal for a client

Illustrators do not always have to wait for clients for work. A good entrepreneur looks for his/her own opportunities in the market. At the WdKA we encourage our students to learn to iniate personal projects for clients they would like to work for. Creating your own proposal does not imply that you’re a fine artist. You can approach commercial clients with practical ‘applied’ solutions as well. Writing an applied-art proposal can be challenging. Mark Schotman is tutor in the WdKA business station, and co-author of the publication (http://creativebusinessmap.com). He suggests to focus on 6 points: personal information, approach, value, fee, you’re your conditions, and 6 the client confirmation.

  1. Personal information

With any document you send to a client it should be clear who is sending it.Start with your contact information; how can this client reach you? What is your website and what is your; company/business about? It’s very basic information, but make sure it can be easily found in your document.

  1. Approach

One of the key aspects in a written client-proposal is a clear description of what you are offering the client. Be clear about what you are going to be do for the client, and describe the products that they can expect. An important aspect of your approach is your ‘tone of voice’. It’s difficult to learn; because each client may have its own preferences. It is good to write with confidence; show the client you know what you have to offer, and clarify to them why your product will be beneficial to them.

  1. Value

Every illustrator/designer is responsible for defining the ‘value’ of their work. The job of an illustrator is (unfortuanately) ‘unprotected’, this means anybody without any training can offer illustration work. There are different approaches in how to establish your value:

  • Based on a formula (see: Price- and fee brochure for designers by BNO (Union of Dutch Designer)
  • Based on what the client is willing to offer
  • Based on what the illustrator feel he is worth
  • Based on the time you are willing to spend

Clients often like to bargain and negotiate on fees in the illustration market. In the negotiation with clients we recommend illustrators to use personal principals. For example only accept a lower offer if:

  • It will help you getting other work
  • You love working for this client for personal reasons
  • You’re interested in the experience when working for this client.
  • The client is willing to promote your work through their channels

These principals don’t mean you have to except a lower fee. We recommend to specify your principals and place them in your written agreement of the project. Personal intentions by clients are often easy forgotten once the project is finished. By clarifying in your principals in the written proposal you bring more clarity to the client of your fee.

  1. Fee

Be clear towards the client what your expectations are related in the fee of your project.There are different ways; hour rate/lump sum or anything in between. We recommend illustrators to use different rates for different tasks. For example;

  • Concept fee = highest per hour (40,- p/h)
  • Design fee = little lower (30,- p/h)
  • Correction fee = lowest (20,- ph.)

You can also use a ‘fixed price’. This implies you don’t calculate hours. It is often easier for clients like this; but we recommend only to use this for small projects that you’ve done before.

We recommend not to add VAT (21%) in your project-calculation of the fee, because VAT is not paid for by the client. A financial offer is often described as: VAT excl (excluded). The reason not to add VAT in de proposal is because it gives the client an impression of high costs.

  1. Conditions

It is important to keep in mind that every project can lead to new opportunities. By clarifying the conditions in which you want to work you can prevent future confrontations with your client. By law you the ownership (copyright & user right) are always yours.  If a client asks you to ‘give up’ your rights of your work, you have a risk of missing out on  future possibilities of making money with your work. Clients sometimes ask illustrator’s to give up the right; because they don’t want to pay again, when they wish to use your work again. It’s important to think ahead, and how you feel about the ‘re-use’ of your work. Some famous designers never earned a lot of money because they did not protect the rights of their work.

  1. Confirmation

Make sure to have your client sign, or give a written confirmation on your written proposal. By doing so you have created a written agreement between you and your client. During the project you can always refer back to this document. It takes time and effort to write a good written proposal, but once you have your clients confirmation on it, it will be very useful during the project.

Illustration Student Survey

Introduction. yesterday I’ve done a small illustration survey in class with 25 students. The goal was to get some insight in student interests, ambition and their view on the field of illustration. There were 6 multiple choice questions and 1 open question.

Outcome. Based on the input we can make some assumptions. There was a lot of variety in the results which implies we have a group of students with diverse interests within illustration. This diversity creates a rich learning opportunity, from which new innovative insights can emerge. The complexity of this diversity is that it is difficult to cater to the individual need of these students.

Many of the students are interested in ‘lifestyle-related’ or ‘unique’ products. Consultancy, service-, information- design are less appealing to them. From a technical point of view the interest are very diverse. Students have an interest from low-tech, medium-tech, to high-tech, as well as innovative skills. Most of the students wish to work freelance in the future, represented by an agent, or small multidisciplinary companies. To work in a large company only appeals to one.

When asked about why clients would hire them; most of the student prefer to poses strong conceptual abilities as a designer. They also have an interest in being able to clarify complex problems for clients. The qualities that most of the students wish to have are; being ‘commercial’, being an ‘expert’ and being ‘innovative’.

Open questions. When asked about what they see as future options in the illustration market, they gave the following answers.

  • Theirs is a demand for original ideas because companies always want better, funnier and more creative.
  • Illustrators can visualize new developments or technologies.
  • Illustrators can be very flexible and work on all locations.
  • Illustrators can design identities for festivals and use concepts of branding
  • Illustrators can visualize interviews
  • Illustrators can design new products to communicate with
  • Illustrators can connect the real world with the virtual world.
  • Illustrators can design ‘person-based’ products
  • There are new opportunities in medical- an educational illustration
  • There is a need for environmental friendly design
  • There are new opportunities for a virtual exposition (using 3D or Tiltbrush)
  • There are new opportunities for interior or fashion products

Next step. Based on these results it following topics might be interesting to continue with.

  • Instead of asking what appeals to students; we can ask where they see their best chances in the illustration market for themselves.
  • Find out what they consider to be; unique or lifestyle/design illustration products, or what they consider to be innovative.
  • Find out; what these students know about the complexities of working as a freelancer.
  • Find out which illustrators these students look up to that have; strong conceptual skills and who can clarify complex problems for clients.

I’m looking forward to take this survey to the next step.

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Expo Review: “A Visual Celebration without Justification”

Review of the third year illustration WdKA exposition:

“Untitled-JPG”

PDF: UntitledExpo-Review-DFjJan2017

Introduction. Last Friday 20th of January 2017 the opening took place of the exposition: “Untitled-JPG” at the SLASH gallery in Rotterdam. The exposition of 3rd year illustration students from the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. More than 30 students presented works based on their independent research project. They had the opportunity to develop a personal illustration research project within 8 weeks. The exposition was accompanied by a website where more information about their projects can be found (www.untitled-jpg.nl). The project is the final phase of the major illustration bachelor program. In the next phase of their studies these students will start their internship at design-, animation-, games-, or other illustration-related companies. Next year they will have their minor-program and complete their studies with an independent graduation project.

General Impression. At first hand the exposition gives the impression that illustration at the WdKA is a colourful, hectic, and personal orientated course in which the students are stimulated to challenge the status quo. The exposition shows a wide diversity in subject matters, visual styles and products. There are; 3D objects, video installations, comics, publications, drawings, paintings, photographs, and lasercut-drawings. The exposition shows that many of these students are brave enough to go beyond the obvious, to discard the well-known and seek originality instead of portraying themselves as traditional illustrators.

Untitled.JPG. The ambition of the students to seek new opportunities could explain why the name of the exposition and website doesn’t seem related to the practice of illustration. There is little information about the exposition on the website. Some of the works offer no information about the project at all. There’s an interesting subtext on the facebook-event page which explains: “In a society where we feel there’s a need to justify everything, some things are just better left untitled.jpg”. It leaves the impression that the students are willing to show the tip of their iceberg, but they are not interested in clarifying the details of their process with the audience.

 Critical Reflection. From an academic point of view it’s an interesting development when students critically reflect and question the identity of their own discipline. Many students have presented personal related visual experiments in which they did not make a clear connection to the (commercial) practice of illustration. Many paintings for example seem presented as fine-art objects. Not many of the works can easily be placed in an applied context, with the exception of a few illustrated publications.

Themes. If the chosen themes of the projects says something about what these students are feeling; the overall impression is that their times are not easy. Themes like: anxieties, fear, pain, conflict, and heartbreak are reoccurring in the exposition. It is surprising that little of the works are related to todays means of communication or technology. Only a few works are related to modern technology such as; the laser-cut illustrations and a short film about mind-control technology. Also not many students take on critical themes of society. There’s a series of visualisations about a future world scenario and two projects take a somewhat critical approach towards the fashion industry. However the majority of the works are about personal experiences. Works that stand out due to their fresh, positive and humorous approach are; a comic about every day life confrontations, illustrated songs (funky taste), 9 bright and colourful illustrations about relations, and clayaew sculptured female figures.

Illustration Future. The critical approach towards the practice of illustration can give these students a competitive advantage and make them stand out in an overcrowded illustration-market. However it might also lead to confrontations, when it leaves them unable to connect with today’s market demands. The exposition raises the question if these students are conscious enough about these demands. The projects are all authentic, and outspoken on a personal level. However their focus is mainly inward. I believe the world is waiting for new authentic and eager illustrators. But they have to be willing to connect and contribute to others. I hope in the remaining duration of their studies these students will further develop themselves and learn to better define the context for their work. The upcoming internship period will be a great opportunity.

Illustrative Teamwork

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Today I worked together with students of the masterstudies: Organisation, Culture and Management of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. During the class we talked, wrote, drew and made inkt paintings about 4 different topics.

I found it relevant to work with non-art academy students to show our department and explain about the profession of todays illustrators. I hope all students got a sense of the complexities, challenges and fun of the illustrators job. The results of class will be bundled into a small booklet later this year.

Presentation: OMC-Class-IllustrationTeamwork

Client-based Education

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Just a quick mental note for myself.

Yesterday I participated in the annual Rotterdam ‘Educational Parade’ . A meeting for ‘educators’ to participate in workshops that are related to education. I participated in the workshop: The Ideal Teacher; which was part of the 2-year HR teacher training program for professionals who start teaching.

Collaborative learning and inclusiveness were elements of the workshop. All members gave their ideas regarding the ‘ideal teachers’. The ideas were written down and placed on the table. Through dialogue we discussed what each topic implied and how it would relate to the other words. We also tried to connect ‘related topics’ to bigger concepts. Afterwards we compared these ideas with the curriculum program of the teacher training program.

My reflection: The program seems ‘student/client’-orientated. The goal is fixed, but the student can find his/her own means to achieve that goal. This always sounds appealing for the student, which is why I associate it with a ‘client’ (service design) type of education. What I found lacking was a strong personal proposition, and practical examples of best practices.

I am in favour of the ambition to make education more personal, with more freedom for each student. Let’s all look for individual talents. However this should not result in a ‘laissez faire’ mentality in which the goals are static terms.

I think an educational philosophy should be reflected by the leading team of tutors.

 

Class review: Ethics for Illustrators

Ethics

Illustration by Floor Steinz (c) 2016

I started my first class last week about ‘ethics’, in the context of Illustration. Eventhough the topic is broad and complex, I find it a very relevant topic. Ethics are strongly related with passion, and the things that drive us. Finding a personal ‘cause’ can be a powerful motivator for students to generate work. I introduced students to the concepts of Michael Welsh; from knowledgeable to knowledge-Able (2010, Tedtalk). He promotes the idea that students need be aware that they can have a major influence in shaping the future, and media-tools can play be a powerful tool for them. From this perspective I believe the topic of ethics should be part of any educational program.

During my presentation I introduced the following samples of controversial topics for illustrators: public morale (Nijn Eleven), politics (cartoons), scienticif falsification (infographics), sexual morality (children’s books), nudity (Facebook, Manara Spiderman), gender (children toys), racial stereotypes, violence (Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Combat), addiction/gambling (Candy Crush).

Afterwards we discussed specific topics that students are passionate about in groups. Every group got a 1 minute pitch to clarify the importance of their cause. We concluded with a voting. The outcome of this years ‘ethic-topic-selection’ was:

  1. stereotype representations in media (11 votes)
  2. (online) shaming (4 votes)
  3. cultural diverse super heroes (4 votes)
  4. gender representation (4 votes)
  5. body representations
  6. vandalism in public space (1 vote)
  7. animal cruelty (0 votes)

I  also asked what students are individually passionate about which led to the following topics: anti-semitism, black super heroes, stereotyping, hating trough social media, shaming, female representation in games, stereotype female characters in storytelling, metal health issues, hyper positive society, realism of sex in media, balans between supernatural and our environment, social housing, anonymity, pshycology, perfect beauty ideas, gender, plagiarism, high expectations in happiness and perfection, the existence of different truths.

I hope  our dialogue gave students an awareness of the ethical dimension of their (future) practice. When it comes to ethics I often hear illustrators mention their ideas about plagiarism and the lack of recognition in fee for their work. These are relevant topics, but I think illustrators should also take responsibility in how they represent the world in their illustrations; the type of assignments they take on, whom illustrators decide to work for, and what message they send into the world with their work. I understand the complexities of these questions; but if we don’t address this during their education; then when?