Conceptual Illustrations: Solving Problems with Storytelling

If you're looking to create dynamic content with a visual narrative, conceptual illustration could be the style you're looking for.

Jay Perlman

It takes a talented illustrator to create an image based on a single topic. It takes an extraordinary one to make an illustration that threads multiple complex themes together and encourages viewers to find the deeper meaning inside the illustration.

In a media-obsessed world, magazines, newspapers, tech companies, and major brands alike are scrambling to hire people capable of doing that: conceptual illustration.

Conceptual illustration is used in a variety of ways, and while you've likely seen countless examples of it, you may still be wondering what exactly is conceptual illustration, and who are the artists making a name for themselves with this style.

We'll cover some of the foundational principles and highlight artists who are carving out their place in this field.

The Basics of Conceptual Illustrations

Conceptual illustration is a way of visually communicating an idea in a concise but thought-provoking way. Additionally, these types of illustrations often tackle complex topics that are difficult to convey in a way that is both clever and delightful.

Another hallmark of conceptual illustration is the idea of combining multiple topics into a coherent artistic concept.

The end result of a quality conceptual illustration is an image that encourages the user to find a deeper meaning. Take this example below:

Editorial illustration of woman grocery shopping online
Online shopping concept by Davide Bonazzi

It's easy to understand this illustration tells the story of grocery shopping online, which is a relatively modern concept that speaks of an evolving society.

Conceptual illustration also will often target hot-button topics and plays on the emotional triggers of the audience, making this artistic style so intriguing. It's why conceptual illustrators are being sought after by some of the biggest companies across multiple industries.

The Process of Conceptual Illustration

The general method of creating conceptual illustrations is a pretty simple process. These are the boiled down steps that many designers use:

  • Brainstorm words and concepts
  • Make connections between the words
  • Solidify overlapping themes between the words
  • Begin sketching out the conceptual illustration

While this process seems simple,  it takes a skilled illustrator to actually bring these complex ideas to life in a way that is understandable and relatable.

Conceptual Illustrators You Should Know

To get an idea of what it takes to be one of the best conceptual illustrators, we spotlighted several noteworthy artists who are quickly gaining global recognition.

These creators are producing work for some of the most recognized brands and businesses in the world. Each has their own unique style, but all of them are professional storytellers of the highest caliber.

Sofia Salazar

Sofia Salazar is the exceptional creator behind the Blush collection Città, but she is also a conceptual illustrator who has been hired to produce stunning illustrations for multinational businesses.

Illustrations from the collection Citta
Conceptual illustration with Città

Brands like Fast Company, Avocode, Renault, and Awesome Inc. have all hired her for her skills at creating brilliant imagery with a narrative.

Sofia has a knack for connecting ideas in ways that others can't, and she does so with vivid colors and vibrant elements. She's also able to inject her personality into different parts of her design, which brings a personal touch to her work that is distinguishable from the rest of her artistic peers.

Conceptual artwork by Sofia Salazar
Editorial illustration by Sofia Salazar

Davide Bonazzi

The strength of Davide Bonazzi's list of clients is all you need to understand the level of skill David is working with. The New York Times, Nike, Gatorade, Wired, and GQ are just a few of the brands that featured David's stylistically retro illustrations.

Editorial illustration touching on the topic of global warming
Save the Arctic - Greenpeace. By Davide Bonazzi

What makes Davide's work so fascinating is his ability to take some of the most controversial and pressing topics in the world, and turn them into genuine works of art. He has a distinct way of creating a profound narrative through simple form and texture, something that only a handful of artists are capable of achieving.

Hello goodbye by Davide Bonazzi
Hello, goodbye by Davide Bonazzi

Perhaps even more impressive is Davide's ability to evoke emotional responses with his illustrations. The beauty he creates is much deeper than surface level, which is why everyone should expect to see more of his illustrations featured by prominent companies and brands.

Kotryna Zukauskaite

"Clever" is a weak adjective to describe the wittiness that Kotryna can inject into her creative work. Her style holds nothing back but instead dives headfirst into the complexities that society often shies away from.

Editorial illustration for the Washington Post by Kotryna Zukauskaite
Editorial illustration for the Washington Post

It's no mystery why companies like Variety, Cosmopolitan, Stanford Medicine, and Money magazine are eager to have Kotryna twist metaphors and ideas into comprehensive imagery.

Conceptual illustration for the Smithsonian Magazine
Featured work for the Smithsonian Magazine

Another trait that makes Kotryna a special type of creator is her effortless ability to bring humor out of topics that are normally too heavy to laugh at.

This uncommon skillset has already put her in an exclusive group of illustrators, so keep an eye out for her work to be featured by your favorite magazine or brand.

Malika Favre

If your work is consistently featured on the front page of The New Yorker, it's a safe bet that you've made a name for yourself. This is the case for Malika Favre; her minimal yet eye-popping style has helped her earn her place as one of the premier illustrators in Europe.

Cover of The New Yorker by Malika Favre
Cover illustrations of The New Yorker by Malika Favre

Her command of strong colors and bold shapes is part of what makes her conceptual illustrations striking, but while her work is undeniably beautiful, it is also mentally intriguing in a way that hooks the viewer's attention.

Cover for book Impossible Light for Penguin Books
Impossible Light for Penguin Books by Malika Favre

As a world-class artist,  Malika's dynamic conceptual interpretations help shed light on topics that touch all of humanity. It's nothing short of a treat to uncover the different meanings behind her artwork.

Demand for Conceptual Illustrators

It's not just major publications like The New York Times or major brands like Nike seeking out skilled creators in this field. On the contrary, companies from nearly every sector are eager to add conceptual illustrators to their workforce. As the client list of many of these illustrators will show you, there is a wide range of sectors that demand this skill:

  • Healthcare
  • Business
  • Educational Institutions
  • Banking
  • Technology

The tech world in particular is searching for this type of design.

Conceptual illustration on Shopify's blog

Slack, Intercom, and Shopify are few examples of tech companies who are using conceptual illustrations on their blogs and across their product. It has proven to be an excellent way of delivering a powerful and stylish brand message to their users.

Editorial illustration for Picturedesk
Editorial illustration from Picture Desk's blog

There's no question that conceptual illustrations and editorial illustrations will play a pivotal role for companies of all different types. Now, in a day and age where there are multiple layers to almost every story, basic drawings that lack depth will be replaced by illustrations that inspire viewers to dig into the complexities of life.

What's Your Take on Conceptual Illustration?

We're always curious to learn about the artists that inspire you and the rest of the Blush community. Share your favorite conceptual illustrators by dropping us a line on our social!

Or, even better, if you're a conceptual illustrator using Blush doodles, tag your creations with #madewithblush to be featured on our page.

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