VISUAL METAPHORS AND COMMUNICATING IDEAS
WATERMARK CREATIVE ILLUSTRATOR SIMON SHAW SHARES HIS LOVE OF THE CONCEPT OF THE VISUAL NARRATIVE AND PROMPTS US TO THINK ABOUT ITS PROBLEM SOLVING POWER.
Visual storytelling is deeply embedded in modern culture. Today, it plays a lead role in institutional and professional frameworks of all kinds. It targets consumerism, relationships, politics, history, sexuality, food, fashion, recreational pursuits, nature, medicine and finance. It then boldly traverses the spectrum of humanity’s emotional states of being. Pictures can muster up all of this and more.
The use of visual metaphors intends to alter perspectives and ultimately change behaviours for the greater good. Conceptually driven images are a powerful tool to do this because they demand that we question our position on a certain theme or subject. For brand marketers, this is particularly useful and is a style that resonates strongly in the corporate, consulting and education sectors where brands are strategically aligned with ideas, disruption and innovation.
“As visual storytellers we get to take the viewer to a place and change the way they look at something,” says commercial illustrator Simon Shaw backed by 27 years in the industry. “And, if all that works, maybe just maybe, we can shift people’s thinking and alter behaviour in a way that will positively affect a greater cause.”
Shaw’s love of his craft is found in its poignancy and power to problem solve. It was early in his career when he happened across an image created by American artist Brad Holland accompanying an article addressing inspection of nuclear facilities in the US. “Holland depicted a large face in profile with two cooling towers turned 90 degrees,” desribed Shaw. “These were placed over the eyes like binoculars. I always thought how beautifully elegant and simple this was. It was this visual narrative that changed the way I looked at visual idea creation and what was possible.”
“When images tell stories and use metaphors to create the ah ha moment, visual narrative is at its best”, says Shaw. The allure of a great idea in its visual form can be artistic genius by virtue of its ability to communicate (perhaps provocatively) – parody, irony, satire and comedy, with fine-tuned precision.
But Shaw is quick to remind us not to be fooled by the split second ah ha moment. This doesn’t come without close scrutiny of the written brief. His 5-step strategic approach involving close analysis and extraction of meaning, articulation of essence and narrative complete with pitch lines and multiple rounds of refinements reads more like a lab experiment than it does the daily workings of an illustrator.
“I’ve always liked the nuances in simple visual language,” Shaw continues. “I guess that’s why I love what I do and why it’s such a privilege to be an illustrator.”