4 on-trend illustration styles for your next project

New illustration and design trends can spread globally almost overnight. But any creative worth their salt will look to forge their own path and solve a brief in their own way, even if influenced by a larger movement. It's about driving the discipline forward, not blindly following the crowd.

At the start of 2018, we identified a list of major illustration trends, as well as three broader visual movements that capture modern life, as identified by the team at Getty Images. 

Here, we explore how leading practitioners have evolved some of them over the past six months. Read on to discover four on-trend illustrators who could be perfect for your next design project...

01. Unexpected colour palettes: Cristina Daura

Illustration by Cristina Daura

One of the key trends we identified earlier in the year across both illustration and design is an increasing use of brave, bold and unexpected colour palettes – as encapsulated by the high-profile rebrand of Dropbox, for instance.

Barcelona-based creative Cristina Daura is a leading exponent of this approach. Her influences are diverse, and include Matisse and the wider Fauvism movement, architect Ricardo Bofill, illustration duo Icinori, and comic artists such as Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware and Olivier Schrauwen.

"I think colour is my main defining mark, that and the composition of my illustrations," explains the illustrator, who strives to "bend reality" using bold colours and playful forms.

"I’m very fond of primary colours: red, blue and yellow mainly, but also green and pink. I try to work with a very limited colour palette to express my story, and provoke attention and visual pleasure – at least for me," she grins.

Daura has witnessed a growing number of clients seeking bold colour palettes in their commissions. "Although I hope it doesn’t go too far or we'll get sick of it too fast," she warns. "If a client asks me for a specific palette just because it’s what people want now, that doesn’t work for me."

02. Softer take on masculinity: Tianju Duan

Illustration by Tianju Duan

In the wake of the #MeToo crisis, the notion of toxic masculinity has gone hand in hand with the rise of female empowerment and the wider equality movement.

Conversely, the reaction to this has also included a trend for a more emotionally nuanced, less toxic and stereotypical portrayal: masculinity undone

Illustrator Tianju Duan is at the forefront of this movement, through his recent project, Boy Power! "I came across young queer artists posing on social media some time ago, many of whom don’t represent mainstream male beauty, but they are all so comfortable in their own skin," he recalls. "I was drawn to their confidence, and decided to draw them." 

Illustration by Tianju Duan

Boy Power! celebrates the non-stereotypical qualities of masculinity, depicting "sensitive, sensual, vulnerable or flamboyant" subjects, as Duan puts it.

"There's a wide LGBTQ+ rights movement in recent years. As a queer artist myself, I feel uplifted by this trend," he adds. "Even though the movement hasn’t brought positive changes in every corner of the world, I have good hopes that it will."

03. Rebirth of surrealism: Andrey Kasay

Illustration by Andrey Kasay

These are strange, turbulent times we live in, and another significant recent trend in illustration has been the rebirth of surrealist, absurd styles and subject matters.

Illustrator Andrey Kasay originally hails from the far-east of Russia where, as he puts it, "my neighbours were the Amur tiger and the Dingo dog, who taught me to draw and make animated videos" – which sets the scene nicely for his surreal work.

While the rising trend for conceptual realism in photography gives surreal and abstract subjects a grittier, more 'real' aesthetic, illustration can more comfortably straddle the line between realistic and fantastical.

Illustration by Andrey Kasay

"I want to surprise others, and myself," shrugs Kasay. "My work is mostly done intuitively, when I’m in a flow." And while surrealism is on the rise in general, its various proponents all have a uniquely bizarre twist on the movement.

"I feel alone in my world - in a good way," Kasay adds. "Walk alone. Look around, notice things and do works – all alone. It’s good to be somewhere in between, and not part of a system."

04. Retro 1990s aesthetic: Xaviera Altena

Illustration by Xaviera Altena

For the last few years, the 1980s have reigned supreme when it comes to retro aesthetics in design and illustration, as well as pop culture output such as Stranger Things and Thor: Ragnarok.

Rotterdam-based illustrator Xaviera Altena, however, is part of a growing trend for reawakening the 1990s aesthetic, and brings pop culture references from the decade to life with bold, simple linework and bright, poppy colours.

"Bold colours, loud noises, and bold statements were a common thing on television, posters and T-shirts," recalls the illustrator, who was born in the mid-'90s. "Nowadays everything is black and 'simple'. We've lost all the happiness that was so alive in the '90s."

Illustration by Xaviera Altena

For subject matter, Altena lists "ballsy ladies, big sunglasses, big boots, crazy hairstyles, patterns and feminism – all with a big splash of pop thrown over it." 

Her influences include Laura Callaghan, Hattie Stewart, Sara Andreasson and Celia Jacobs: similarly-aged, female creatives with an occasional political edge.

While Altena isn't convinced that the '90s aesthetic has replaced the '80s obsession - she's currently working on an '80s-inspired brief herself – she believes it's the edgy attitude that's most in-vogue. "I draw fierce and bold women, and that ties into the whole new-feminism wave that is happening right now," she adds.

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.