Art versus illustration: Who said there’s a difference?

Say the word illustration and most people have an image in their mind of a comic book character or a pen and ink drawing in a children's book.

Say the word illustration and most people have an image in their mind of a comic book character or a pen and ink drawing in a children’s book.

“A lot of people aren’t even sure what illustration is,” said Cathleen Collins whose exhibit, Exploring Illustration, opens at the Chocolate Claim on Tuesday.

“Some people think illustration doesn’t have much merit or that it’s not as deep as art.”

When describing the distinction she shrugs and says illustration is just another genre of art.

“A lot of people have different opinions on illustration versus painting, I think one is part of the other,” she said.

Collins, who has been trained in both classical illustration and graphic design, set out to explore the varying shades of illustration in her first art exhibition.

Her work doesn’t tell a story in the same way that classical paintings do; her images are stark and literal. And because there is very little in the way of background imagery in her work, there is a greater focus on subject instead of form.

When Collins mixes traditional illustration with flat, computer-generated graphics, the result is an image that looks like it’s been cut and pasted with scissors and glue onto a brightly painted and textured background.

One painting depicts a woman walking with a dark sweater and grey rainboots. There is no sidewalk or buildings in the background, just a burnt yellow backdrop. Another painting features a pug dog in four separate positions; the curves and rolls of the dog have all been whited out creating a two-dimensional paper-cut image that is more austere than it is cute.

Borrowing from illustrators like Saul Bass, who designed title-sequences for Stanley Kubric and Alfred Hitchcock movies, and Laura Bishop, a fashion illustrator currently based out of the UK, Collins tries to carve out her own distinct style.

She also looks to vintage illustrators like Lucille Patterson Marsh and Jessie Wilcox-Smith, artists known for the pictures of “rosy-faced kids in chairs” they did in the early 1900s that appeared in children’s books and women’s home journals.

“Their work is really well done even if it is considered a little cheesy,” said Collins.

To create her paintings, Collins prefers to work from photographs rather than life.

For this particular show, she went over to friends’ houses and asked them to pose for her.

Working from a photograph means every shape is “clear” and “particular,” rather than “fast” and “loose,” as is common in still-life paintings.

It’s also easier on the models who don’t have to sit for hours waiting to be painted.

Collins, who grew up in Whitehorse, has been illustrating since she was young.

Now in her third and last year of art school at Vancouver’s Capilano College, she is happy to be completing a program that she sees as unique.

Capilano College is the only school in Canada that offers a mixed stream of graphic design and traditional illustration, a combination that Collins thinks is essential.

“I like to be able to design on a computer, but I also want to be able to bring in my own hand-drawn illustrations,” she said explaining that graphic design on its own can be limiting.

“I think you really need to know traditional illustration to do computer illustration. It gives you a more thorough understanding.”

The program also readies artists for a commercial career in art.

Having been raised in a family of artists – her mother Marlene is a local painter and sculptor and her aunts and uncles are all of the “creative-sort”- Collins hopes to pursue both the commercial and personal aspects of illustration after finishing her degree.

She is also hoping her upcoming show will help build her portfolio and better define her style.

And because it’s her first show, she’s pouring as much of herself into the exhibit as she has the energy for.

“It’s been really hard, I’ve been painting non-stop for the last couple weeks,” she said.

“But next week it all comes together.”

Cathleen Collin’s show will be on display at the Chocolate Claim Cafe from August 3 to 31. Opening Reception is Tuesday, August 4, at 7 p.m.

Contact Vivian Belik at

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