Posted by: davidbowerkingwood | June 8, 2013

Artist or Illustrator

Am I An Artist or Just an Illustrator?

Guest Writer, Adele Bower

Three drawings 6-8-13

Art by Adele Bower

For several years I worked as a staff artist in a studio that produced advertising art and design and later as a freelance artist in my own studio. During all that time I was referred to as an “artist”.

One day as a freelancer I presented my portfolio to the top man at a prestigious advertising agency in town. I went away excited because of one small thing he said to me: “You are an illustrator.” For the first time in my career I had been called an illustrator. I’m not sure why that made me so happy, but it did. Did it for some reason sound more glamorous, more successful, more active, than “artist”?

Anyone who has been around the art world as an artist, a collector of art, or an art lover, has heard it said about some very famous and successful artists, that “he is just an illustrator.”  I always wondered why the word “just” was in that sentence, as if an illustrator was a lower form of a real artist. I don’t know. Considering some of the truly great art produced by these illustrators I disregarded the criticism.

My old Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1975) has a few things to say about the word “illustrate”: Verb. To purify, make bright, enlighten, to light up, to make illustrious, to provide with visual features intended to explain or decorate such as a book, to show clearly.

Therefore, an illustrator is a person who produces work that is pure, bright, enlightened with visual features intended to explain or decorate. That sounds good to me. The famous and very talented illustrator, Brad Holland wrote:

“Everybody is an artist these days.

Rock and Roll singers are artists.

So are movie directors, performance artists

make-up artists, tattoo artists,

con artists and rap artists.

Madona is an artist because she explores her own sexuality.

Snoop Doggy Dogg is an artist because he explores other people’s sexuality.

Victims who express their pain are artists.

So are guys in prison who express themselves on shirt cardboard.

Even consumers are artists when they express themselves

in their selection of commodities.

The only people left who seem not to be artists are illustrators.”

What Flowers 

“What Flowers” Acrylic on canvas by Adele Bower

The distinction between art and illustration is not in the medium used because each has the same freedom of selection. Illustrators and artists can select to use any medium: air brush, computer programs, oil or acrylic, watercolor or pen and ink, charcoal or pastels, pencil, and others. I once used a stick from my back yard dipping it in black ink. It gave a nice, loose effect!

Nor can the distinction between art and illustration be found in the style used because each is free to use the style of their selection; sketchy and loose, tight and detailed, impressionistic or cubistic, expressionistic or photo realistic. One cannot honestly say that words incorporated into a painting make it an illustration and not fine art, unless they are ready to call Toulouse Lautrec “just an illustrator.”

Ranch Road Near Bandera Texas

“Ranch Road Near Bandera, Texas” Acrylic on canvas by Adele Bower

Hibiscus Motif

“Hibiscus Motif” Acrylic on canvas by Adele Bower

After all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter what I’m called, but I still like the title of illustrator best…..for some reason.

Adele Bower,



  1. Loved this “comparison” article… quite clever and true, but either way your “paintings” radiate light and color and happiness and joy, so that is the wonderful thing about your work…. I enjoy your “illustrations” and also David’s postings…… Thank you for sharing, and i will have to thank Kirsten for introducing me to your works (and your delightful fur persons )….. Virginia


    • Hi Virginia,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my very first blog. Of course, it is posted as a guest writer, but I’m working on setting up my own blog. I had a nice dinner evening with Kirsten before she moved back and really miss her. We are good friends and I can see why you are so proud of her. She’s special.



  2. Bravo Adele! It is wonderful to read some thoughts from you. I will be happy to call you an illustrator. Your art work is beautiful and some I have seen throughout the years is fun. What I know for sure is that you are a very gifted lady…and that includes being a writer! Thank you! Elaine


    • Thanks, Elaine. I appreciate your kind words. Best wishes to you and your family.



  3. “Visual features intended to explain or decorate”
    That is the perfect explanation for “What Flowers”. It illustrates exactly a memory I have of a dearly beloved kitty that has now gone to kitty heaven.
    But just let me say that you also illustrate a love for the Lord that has enlightened me. You have definitely enlightened my life through your friendship, your Bible Studies and your wonderful personality (and of course, your art). You Rock! P. Sims


    • Wowee, Paula. Your compliments just made my day, my week, my everyday! Thanks so much. I’m happy that you understand and appreciate my art, also. Your opinion is important to me. I had so much fun writing that blog, I may finish setting up my own blog. I’ve worked on it a little, but it hasn’t been an easy program to figure out, since I want it customized. Ever onward.

      Blessings to you and your family,



  4. Loved reading this, Adele. As you and I’ve discussed, some of the most famous artists in the world have been referred to as “just illustrators.” I love Mr. Holland’s comment pointing out the misuse of the descriptive “artist” in today’s bizarre society! Many folks’ talents are highly overrated in our culture, but your talent is undeniable. You have it all~talent as an artist, a writer, and an illustrator.


    • Thanks, Becky. As you know I enjoy several different mediums and art styles, but there are still experts in the art world who say that is not good. I would not want to pick just one medium and just one style. Maybe that’s part of my Sanguine personality….easily bored and very impatient.



  5. This is an interesting piece, Adele. Great art! I’m reminded of being in London, England over a particular weekend, back in ’93. Being close to Trafalgar Square, I visited a national art museum. As I recall this place had at least three stories, perhaps 100 rooms of paintings. I spent several hours there, one could not really see everything even if there the entire day. However, I noticed one painting by Rembrandt. This painting was of an individual, sitting and looking right at the viewer. I could not believe it’s realism. I could not get this painting out of my mind. After moving on, I came back two more times to view this painting, even though I had gone on to another floor. How Rembrandt could have captured such detail, the lighting, etc., is beyond me, and this was done in the early 1600’s. A photo would not have been as realistic. Thanks for sharing. Dick


    • Thanks for the compliment, Dick. Yes, Rembrandt’s work is truly amazing. I saw several of his paintings in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Our generation has an artist considered a modern-day Rembrandt. His name is David Leffel. Look him up on the Internet. Believe it or not, I was privileged to attend a week-long workshop taught by David Leffel; an amazing opportunity.


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