Mark Woolmer

If you’re struggling to keep text to a minimum when producing exhibitions, publications and panels, teaming up with an illustrator could be a solution.

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

That’s certainly true when you’re challenged with describing complex processes or historical activities that are now unfamiliar. Finding the perfect photograph that depicts just what you want to communicate can sometimes be impossible. A bespoke illustration may be the answer.

Of course, commissioning illustrations doesn’t come cheap, but if your message matters it may be worth the investment.

Illustrations can be used to great effect as historical reconstructions, filling the gaps and revealing how ruined buildings once looked or how people lived and worked in the past. They can put life and activity back into buildings and landscapes to great dramatic effect.

They can help people of all ages to understand mechanical processes, revealing how things work and what is hidden from view.

They can also inject a sense of humour by introducing engaging characters and amusing imagery.


Making the most of your investment

Provide a clear brief

Finding the right illustrator is crucial. Many specialise in a particular style or subject matter. Take a look at portfolios before selecting your shortlist. Provide a clear brief, detailing:

  • messages to be conveyed
  • target audiences
  • media in which the illustration will be used e.g. print or digital
  • scale at which the illustration will be reproduced
  • context in which it will appear e.g. overview of content of display or interpretation boards
  • any house-style or restrictions that may apply


Undertake your own research

Some illustrators will carry out specialist research, but many will expect the client to provide accurate reference material. For example, detail of historic costume or hairstyles, how tools or equipment were used, what landscapes looked like in the distant past. Don’t assume that other available reference illustrations are always historically or technically accurate. Check the detail with subject experts.

Allow plenty of time

Producing detailed illustrations can’t be rushed. Plan ahead and engage your illustrator early in the project. Their input in the design development stage could stimulate new ideas and approaches to presentation. Agree a programme at the outset, including the time you require to review drafts at various stages of work.

Be clear on copyright

Ensure you understand what you’re buying. Fees may differ depending on how illustrations are used. Don’t assume you have full ownership or copyright. Think about how you may want to use an illustration in the future. If this includes merchandise, the illustrator may request a different type of contract or copyright approval.


About the Author – Carol Parr

“After achieving my MA in Heritage Management, I began working as a freelance interpretation consultant. I am delighted to have worked for prestigious clients including the National Trust, various local authorities and even the Houses of Parliament where I scripted a guided tour of the Parliamentary Portrait Collection.”

Mark Woolmer

Mark Woolmer

With a strong background in art and design, Mark is passionate about the capacity for excellent design as a communication tool, leading the Fitzpatrick Woolmer company and focusing on strategy, business development and continual improvement.

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