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Article: What Is The Difference Between Illustration & Fine Art?

What Is The Difference Between Illustration & Fine Art?

Illustration and fine art are two different creative fields yet similar to one another.
Let's find out what the difference is between these two subjects!

Many people get the definition of illustration interchanged with fine art. After all, these two things are related to pictures and imageries. Some of these people believe the difference between an illustration and a fine art lies in the artists.

Some people who believe an illustration or a fine art depends on the artists often exclaimed these two subjects rely heavily on the artist's quality of work or talents. After all, artists can make money in creating both illustration and fine art. 

Some people even go further by saying that the difference between an illustration and a fine art lies in the artist's morality and intelligence. Even though both can be income sources for the artists, the four aspects - morale, intelligence, quality of work, and talents - have nothing to do with the difference between an illustration and fine art.

The question "Where the difference lies?" may pop up in your mind. So, this article exists to help you differentiate between illustration and fine art. First, we'll look at the overviews of the difference, which lie in each of the definitions.


Overviews: The Difference In The Definitions Of An Illustration And A Fine Art

People define an illustration as something that involves selling graphics and pictures. In such ways, the illustrations' values can decrease. Such things will happen if the artists set the final closing prices too cheap compared to the market prices.

On the other side, people, in general, tend to see fine art as the central idea for the illustration that the artists should bring to life. Hence, it's not a surprise if some people think illustrations are part of the fine arts.

Yet, fine art pieces are more than the grand ideas for illustrations. The same also happens for an illustration. An illustration is not all about commissions. Even fine arts count as commissions when the artists open up fine art commissions. 


The Difference On The Ways An Illustration And A Fine Art Work

The second point of difference between an illustration and a fine art lies in the working processes and the audiences these two types of "arts" serve. The difference in the work processes includes the revision (or feedback) rounds that artists should undertake.

When an artist executes an illustration, the artist will work with clients and creative directors. These two parties will give briefs to the artist on what to illustrate. 

True to their name, the illustration briefs are typically around half- to one-half-page long. Apart from having the clients' and creative directors' names, the illustration briefs will state the design purpose, the outcomes the two parties want to achieve, the rough sketches of the product, and other relevant media such as voice clips and videos to help the illustrators work.

The illustration briefs can also contain the buyer's persona. In other words, there can be specific age groups, genders, cultural differences, and more characteristics that an illustrator should pay attention to. 

Any artist doing an illustration project will focus their services on clients who fall into such buyer's persona, even though the illustration may be visible to other people.

For example, an artist should decorate a children's book or tweak the designs of a pre-launching product for babies. There can be a striking difference in the vibes when the artist designs a financial newspaper for businesspeople above 40s. 

After an artist has done the illustration projects, they will have to wait for the revision rounds. Artists usually have to undergo 2-3 minor to medium revision rounds and one major revision before they wait for the payment. This revision system means an illustrator will receive more immediate feedback than the fine artists.

A fine art project doesn't work in the ways the illustration project work. No one but the artists direct and guide the artists in a fine art project. So, it all depends on the artists' imagination if they want their fine art projects to be successful.

This work process means a fine art project requires more spontaneity in an artist. The artists can paint whatever they want on a blank canvas. All that they need to know are the exhibition places and what themes they should paint. 

There's no need for more detailed briefs like the pieces in the illustration projects, even though fine artists may need to explain their paintings in a few sentences above or below their drawings when they exhibit their artworks.

Since every artist doing fine art projects is exhibiting in one place, they can't "choose" their clients. At least, they don't need to know the buyer's persona like when they do illustration projects. Such things happen because everyone can come to the exhibition places and everyone is the judge.

There are no such things as the "revision rounds" in the fine art projects. This revision versus feedback aspect is the thing that makes a difference between the two. Instead, every fine art projects acknowledge the review and critique rounds. 

The communities often create short reviews, while the art experts critique the fine art pieces more thoroughly. The reviewing rounds can last during and after the fine art exhibitions. On the other side, artists will receive thorough critiques after the fine art exhibitions have ended. 

So, the feedback that fine artists receive comes slower than their illustrator counterparts. Yet, they get more comprehensive feedback than illustrators. The illustrators receive short feedback on what are the design elements that they have to revise.


The Narrative Versus Decorative Difference

We will be moving on to the third point stating the difference between illustration and fine art. 

The narrative is about how specific art types can describe the situations, conditions, circumstances, or anything that the other parties want the artists to illustrate. The decorative is about the aesthetical values of the paintings or artworks compared to the others. It doesn't matter what the techniques are and what types of tools the artists use.

While both illustrations and fine arts can be decorative and narrative, both types of art emphasize the narratives and decoratives in ways that show the difference. In general, the narrative is the backbone of every illustration project. Meanwhile, in fine art projects, the decorative (or aesthetic) elements are more imperative than the narratives.

Since the narrative aspect is crucial for illustrations, an illustration needs to describe thousands of words people want the artists to express. Logo design is an area that comes to mind in disclosing the example.

When an artist gives out a logo illustration, the artist doesn't only give the picture. The clients and the creative directors will not be satisfied if the logos don't have meaning. This condition is where the narrative plays. 

The artist presents the reasons behind each element of the logo. For example, an artist should be able to explain why does the logo has dominant pink colors. On other occasions, they explain why there are specific shapes around the logo and more. 

Not only an artist should explain their logo elements. The illustrator or the artist should do a presentation on what purposes do their logo serve. They should do it even before the illustrator receives an initial revision request. At some points, they may need to have separate PPT files for the presentation.

The narrative is not so crucial for fine artists compared to the decorative, even though artists who do fine art projects can present the same narrative as the ones doing the illustration. The decorative element becomes even more pivotal when the fine artists use abstract techniques for their paintings.

If there are any narrative parts of the fine art projects, that would only cover the whole theme. For example, if you observe the artwork patterns, you'll see the difference between fine arts during Renaissance eras and the ones from Homer. 

The difference is that the Renaissance fine art projects emphasize portraying people who have the spirits of individualism. Homer's paintings, which were around the 18th century, emphasize water and sea life.

Not many narratives in the paintings if we look at both of the examples. However, the fine artists aim for the decorative element. Still, they don't create for the sake of beauty, but they use their imagination to craft pieces according to the central theme that they want to make. So, this is where the difference comes.


The Difference Based On The Placement, Purposes, And The Commission Systems

The commission systems in the illustration and fine art categories are the areas where artists often complain. Before we describe further the difference in commission between the two, we'll recap the placement and purpose overviews of an illustration and fine art.

An illustration is a picture or an image for illustrating concepts, stories, or ideas. Such illustrating methods are relevant to advertising purposes. Indeed, many illustrations are for helping sales representatives to sell the products. Packaging illustrations are some examples.

Since many artists have marketed their illustrations for commercial purposes, there seem to be no places for fine artists to make money for their artworks. This situation primarily happens because the available markets for fine artists are wherever today's kings, priests, pharaohs, and popes gather.

Museums, art galleries, and exhibitions are three places where fine artists can get their commissions. Since those two places only display the end products without permitting the artists to revise their artworks after the displays, the commissions may come slower than when artists do commissions on illustrations.

Illustrators gain commissions right after their commissions are approved and published. Typically, such waiting times will last around a few weeks to a few months. In contrast, fine artists can wait for a few months to even a few years to receive the commissions for their fine art pieces.

When doing an illustration job, artists can collect more money as they render more illustrations. Conversely, when artists work on their fine art projects, they earn a large sum of money for one "giant-sized" project.

There is no difference in who's making more money than the others. Still, there is a difference in how the commission system works between an illustration and a fine art project. The difference is in the ways the artists gain commissions.


The Media Difference In The Illustration And The Fine Art Projects

Here, we disclose the fifth point of difference that the illustration and the fine art projects have. The fourth difference point lies in the media the artists use for their illustration and fine art projects.

The media types that become the points of difference between the illustration and the fine art projects aren't the only difference. Instead, the difference is also all about the production and reproduction volumes to the whole people.

Pictures in magazines, journals, books, movie posters, and newspapers are parts of an illustration project. Even if the illustrators can make an illustration on a blank canvas, those illustration projects are mainly for online purposes. 

Online illustrations are not always all about the illustrators' portfolios. Many online marketplaces these days display illustration works on a blank software-made canvas. At some points, we can download the illustration works when we have paid the artists. If the artists permit us, we can reproduce or resell the illustration works.

The same also applies to offline purposes. For example, artists can resell or reproduce their illustrations for printed media if no one accepts their illustration pieces. Hence, if any procedures relate to the reselling and reproducing of an illustration, the rules are not so complex compared to fine art projects.

Fine art projects usually have larger-sized and more rigid canvases. The classic blank white canvases are the fine artists' favorites until these days. We can trace some of the perfect examples of the media fine artists use to realize the fine art projects back to the first 30,000 years of art.

At that time, temple walls and public spaces are the canvases for fine artists. Artists who paint the Sistine Chapel's ceilings and the Great Temple walls at Karnak are yet other examples of fine art canvases.

Given the gigantic size and sturdy surfaces the fine art canvases have, it is impossible to think that fine artists can make multiple copies of their fine art projects. Here, we see quite a significant difference from the illustration. Consequently, the abilities fine artists have to sell their artworks to people can be limited.

Perhaps they got to exhibit their fine art projects in museums and many art exhibition places. However, once the exhibition is over, there are no other ways to sell fine art pieces except for waiting for other art exhibitions in the future.

Since museums and art exhibitions tend to be "official" places, they tend to have more lengthy procedures for every fine art project. We can observe the rules starting from the entry requirements. The reselling and reproducing regulations often take even more time than the first time the artists have to wait for their fine art projects to enter.


People And Histories Behind The Illustration And Fine Art Projects Make A Difference

We may be thinking about the difference in the histories by now. The history aspect comes when trying to differentiate between an illustration and a fine art project. Generally, fine art projects have more lengthy histories compared to illustration projects.

Some people believe the illustrations' histories began when the kings and popes were gone. The kings and popes are among two high-class members of societies in ancient eras that commission fine artists. Capitalism was born when the two financial contributors for fine artists were gone.

The capitalist era was the pioneer of corporation invention. In such times, people started to understand the importance of an illustration. Yet, some artists chose to stick with the older fine arts. The more than 30,000-year fine art changed in terms of the quality works, sponsors, and subject matters.

No histories will be present in people's lives if there are no famous people in them. The well-known artists are yet other different aspects that an illustration and a fine art project have. 

If you have difficulties in differentiating between an illustration and a fine art project based on the methods the artists execute them, continue reading this part.

Michelangelo and Donatello are some of the most famous fine artists in the Renaissance eras. Michelangelo painted Battle of Cascina, ceilings on the Sistina Chapel, Separation Light From Darkness, and more. On the other hand, St. George and the Dragon and Assumption of the Virgin belong to Donatello's pieces.

Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, and J.C. Leyendecker are the people that come to mind when thinking about famous illustrators. These three people are great magazine illustrators in their era. Illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post and Lady Ursula Kneeling before Pompdebile are a few of their most known artworks.



Given that there are differences between an illustration and a fine art project, it's time for us to decide which one is best for us. If we want to earn as much money as possible, choose illustrations because there are more opportunities beyond. If we prefer creativity and imagination, choose fine arts. After all, the different aspects are there to help us consider the aspects.

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