Crazy horses

Horses? The trend for 2006? Rubbish, says Jason Arber. You're better off sticking to something original.

Pity the poor columnist or underpaid hack, scraping a living stringing words together, who gets lobbed a googly from left field, to mix sporting metaphors, when he or she least expects it. Take this column, for example, as I discussed with the Computer Arts senior editor what I should be writing about this issue. Something probing and insightful about Japanese design, or comparing and contrasting the various attributes of the interfaces of Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom, perhaps?

"Horses," he said. Excuse me? "It has been suggested that horses might be a popular illustrative theme in 2006, so your take on this might be interesting." Okay, horses it is.

I must confess to being slightly perplexed, but stranger still was the notion that horses might be a popular motif for illustrators. Trends such as this - if it does turn out to be a trend - can be a dangerous thing, especially for less creative illustrators as they sense a new inclination in the air and begin shoehorning horses into their work at every possible opportunity.

Imagine the exchange. Commissioning editor: "I say, Jenkins, why is there a horse in this image purporting to demonstrate the power large supermarket chains wield over traditional corner shops?" Jenkins: "I'm not entirely sure, sir, but if you notice he does seem to be pushing a supermarket trolley with his nose." Commissioning editor: "And why exactly is he wearing a kilt?" Jenkins: "I heard a rumour that tartan was going to be very big this year."

Be brave, be original
When a trend is, say, for blue, or a preference for vector images over raster ones, or images created by a 3D application, I can understand it. Trends such as these ebb and flow through design all the time, and help us place artwork to a specific decade or era.

But a horse is very specific and reminds me of the plague of logos that sprang up like a cancer, all featuring stylistic eagle silhouettes that recalled early German flags. After a while, these things gather a momentum and people start fretting that if they don't incorporate an eagle into their design they are going to be left in the wake of those designers and illustrators that have the current zeitgeist sown into their logos.

I'm not suggesting that horses shouldn't feature in illustrations full stop, but a knee-jerk reaction to include a horse just because it may or may not be the flavour of the month indicates a paucity of original thought. Be brave, be original and stick a cow or a chicken in there! There's a whole farmyard of animals to choose from.

Still, I was curious to know more about this horse illustration scoop and chatted to some illustrator friends who have their ear to the ground. The combination of derisive snorts, muffled laughter and sad shakes of the head convinced me that either this trend had yet to catch on, or the editorial staff at Computer Arts were having a laugh at my expense. I have made a mental note, however, of all those illustrators who guffawed the loudest to see if they jump on the bandwagon should a tidal wave of horsiness hurtle through the design world.

The final word, however, should go to one unnamed illustrator who replied, "So how do they hold the mouse then?"