The use of illustration to visualise complex issues, themes or critical ideas. Rather than meticulously reproducing exact passages from a text in precise physical detail and a highly-rendered realist aesthetic, conceptual illustration uses colour and form expressively to establish moods and explore concepts. Strategies include the use of visual metaphor, symbolism, visual puns, automatism, and allusion.

Conceptual illustration demands visual thinking, critical acuity, innovation and authorship on the part of the illustrator, but also results in images that, like abstract art, invite the viewer to engage in a process of interpretation and demand imaginative engagement.

‘Illustrators were encouraged to reflect upon the “essence” or underlying concept of a text rather than literal passages. They were hired as translators of verbal ideas into visual ones and therefore became virtual “co-authors” as integral to the page as the writers.’

Steven Heller (2003) ‘The End of Illustration’ [Online]Illustrator’s Partnership of America. Available at: (Accessed 25 November 2013)

A type of ‘visual stylisation’ that ‘started to evolve during the 1950s in the United States when issues and themes, as publicised in magazines,were becoming more critical and complex. There seemed a need to present the viewer with much more enigmatic and ambiguous images…Photography replaced much of the figurative realism used in advertising…this has presented illustrators with a much more challenging role; to be both interpretative and to convey the ‘texture’ of a topic or idea rather than, like photography, present just the ‘veneer’ or ‘surface’ of the subject’.

Alan Male (2007) Illustration: A Theoretical and Contextual Perspective. Lausanne: AVA Publishing. p.54

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