It’s a mad, mad, mad clip art world

07Dec10

Clip art. Versatile, reusable, recyclable art. Easy to find, easy to use. Cheap and oftentimes free.

They have been around since the first time graphic artists learned to preserve their drawings for future use. The drawings could be parts of a larger drawing project, a full-blown illustration or an information graphic. They could be bits and pieces of art that can be used again in another project, either as is or with slight modifications to suit the purpose.

Above are samples of clip art images from drawings and graphics I have done over the years as a visual storyteller. Many of them have appeared in the various graphics and interactives I have posted in this blog.
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When the personal computer and the Mac arrived in the early 1980s, the creation of ready-made art by graphic artists went into full gear. Whereas artists were limited before by the crude technology of ink on paper, the Mac made it possible to create art as an electronic file that can be saved and reused. As the larger desktop publishing trend took hold in the visual communication industry, artists said goodbye to ready-made Letraset and Mecanorma transfer art which, while they served a purpose, were never as versatile as drawings that an artist can produce in his own unique style.

Goodbye to the lowly line art produced with the Staedtler or Rotring pen, blood, sweat and tears. Goodbye to the horizontal camera that captured the image and spit out camera-ready art in the form of photo-mechanical transfers. Goodbye to slow, messy and time-consuming paste up work.

Hello to unlimited possibilities.

New era in clip art-making

Armed with the new tools of the trade — a computer designed around the concept of graphical user interface, plus newly launched drawing programs such as Illustrator, MacDraw and Freehand — the graphic artist of the 1980s discovered a host of new opportunities for drawing style, color, tone and texture in crafting what used to be flat, two-dimensional images. Specially so because most of these drawing programs are designed for object-oriented vector drawing which is quick to make and very adaptable for future repurposing.

And then the World Wide Web came in the early ’90s and the clip art engine went into overdrive.

And the rest is clip art history.

INFOGRAPHIC: THE MONTREAL ICE STORM OF 1998

Today, it is not uncommon to open a Web site and be jolted by images — yes, clip art — of cars falling from the sky or hurtling across the page. Or reindeer merrily pulling a sleigh across the top of the pag, big retailers’ way of ushering in the start of the holiday season.

In schools, students enthusiastically put together on the computer monitor visual concepts and electronic mock-ups for a poster using ready-made clip art. Or images to go with text in the school newsletter.

It’s a visual world, so anybody who is creating something for the Web needs splashy art to go with the cool design.

In the board room, executives run Powerpoint presentations or slide shows that are heavy on icons, symbols and other visual vignettes — all of them ready-made clip art.

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INTERACTIVE: BIRTHPLACE OF THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER

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In fact, the democratization of easy access to ready-made art has spawned an industry where creators, producers and vendors now distribute pre-made images in electronic format over the Internet. As the industry grew bigger, the widespread, indiscriminate use of pirated images and copyrighted art has become rampant. So now, more than ever, copyright protection has become very important in this wild, wild west of a clip art world.

For graphic artists who makes a living by creating images that help tell a story — whether or not they make money out of it — there has never been a more exciting time.

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Also in this blog
Chemo’s effects on the brain
Not a time for dictators
What animals mean when they ‘talk’
Pacquiao vs. Margarito: Slugger vs. brawler
Shaping the Amazon

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