6 hot illustration trends of 2016

When it comes to illustration, everyone has their own personal style. And across your career, developing that style and making it more representative of your own ‘inner voice’ should of course be your main priority, rather than slavishly following trends.

But that said, it’s still fascinating to see what’s happening in the wider world of illustration, and what kind of work is actually getting commissioned. So in this post, we round up 6 hot trends in illustration we’ve noticed spring up over the last 12 months.

If there’s a trend you think we’ve missed, though, please let us know in the comments below!

01. VR

Simon Silsbury finds out what new technology can do for illustrators

Simon Silsbury finds out what new technology can do for illustrators

2016 has truly been the year of VR, and even illustrators have got in on the game, with the likes of Simon Silsbury (opens in new tab)sketching on a wall and then hopping straight into a HTC Vive headset to recreate the same live illustration (see the results in this video (opens in new tab)). We also saw Christoph Nieman transformed his cover illustration for The New Yorker magazine into a 360 degree VR animation (opens in new tab), while new software such as Quill (opens in new tab) for the Oculus Rift provided a way for digital illustrators everywhere to conjure up new worlds by drawing and painting in mid-air.

02. Abstract

Chris Harman’s illustration for Hamburg design studio Hort

Chris Harman’s illustration for Hamburg design studio Hort

In many ways, the world of 2016 felt a little darker and disjointed, and this was reflected in a clear trend towards abstraction, subtraction and the surreal in the cutting edge corners of the illustration world. Examples of the trend can be seen in the weirdly disjointed and freeform work of Chris Harman (opens in new tab) (above); the blocky, lopsided cartoon characters of Joel Plosz (opens in new tab); the ink and watercolour-based soft forms of Eleni Kalorkoti (opens in new tab), and the beautifully trashy abstractions of Anna Beil (opens in new tab).

03. Lo-fi

Working predominantly as a fashion illustrator, Zoë Taylor’s first book Joyride was published in 2016

Working predominantly as a fashion illustrator, Zoë Taylor’s first book Joyride was published in 2016

Another way to view abstraction is to take a deliberately lo-fi approach to your illustration. And we’ve seen a fair bit of that about this year, from Zoë Taylor’s book Joyride (opens in new tab), published by Breakdown Press (above) to Paula Bulling’s gloriously childlike colour-pencil drawings for Leibniz Magazine (opens in new tab), the moody monoprints of Yann Kebbi (opens in new tab) and Marcus Oakley’s illustrated Instagram experiments (opens in new tab).

04. Political

Mark Leibovich’s celebrated illustration for the New York Times Magazine

Mark Leibovich’s celebrated illustration for the New York Times Magazine

2016 has been a year dominated by political upheaval, and illustrators have responded in full voice. Mark Leibovich’s illustration for the New York Times Magazine feature "Will Trump Swallow the G.O.P Whole (opens in new tab)?" was among those getting the most attention (you can read more about how that was put together here (opens in new tab)). 

But there were countless others, with Bob Staake’s brick wall illustration (opens in new tab) for The New Yorker following Trump’s victory; an anti-Brexit poster campaign (opens in new tab) from a range of top illustrators, Eva Bee’s evocative illustrations (opens in new tab) for The Guardian, and Oliver Kugler’s heartbreaking illustrated tales of Syrian refugees (opens in new tab) leading the way.

05. Collage

Taku Bannai’s collages are constructed with beautiful simplicity

Taku Bannai’s collages are constructed with beautiful simplicity

Inventive and eye-catching collages seem to be proving an increasingly popular way for illustrators to raise attention for themselves on Instagram. We’ve particularly enjoyed the simple but artful work of Taku Bannai (opens in new tab) (above); the collage comics of Samplerman (opens in new tab), the lo-fi creations of Jean Philippe Calver (opens in new tab), and the gorgeously handcrafted work of Carlin Diaz (opens in new tab).

06. Naughtiness

Brooklyn illustrator Cute Brute’s rude illustrations have garnered him a cult following

Brooklyn illustrator Cute Brute’s rude illustrations have garnered him a cult following

A new generation is emerging for whom hardcore porn and obscene pics on social media are more likely to evoke a shrug than shock. So it’s not surprising that illustration that veers towards to the saucy and scatalogical is abounding. Examples of the trend can be seen in the work of Brooklyn illustrator Cute Brute (opens in new tab) (above), Joe Schlaud’s (opens in new tab) seedy Karma Sutra gifs, Teresa Orazio’s Moonmambo (opens in new tab) series, Jade Shulz’s collection of Video Vixen drop caps (opens in new tab) and Josh McKenna’s global warming campaign (opens in new tab) for Mother London.

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Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity (opens in new tab), published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.