5.2 Editorial illustration


The brief was to produce an editorial illustration from a predefined list of article headlines using a process outlined in the keywords below.

The purpose of the exercise was for students to gain an understanding of the range of editorial illustrations and how they are used, and to step through a structured design process in order to produce an editorial illustration.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Buy a newspaper
  • Cut out any article that contains an illustration
  • Notice the heading for each article and read the text that the illustration refers to
  • Analyse the type of illustration
  • Provide a visual interpretation [from a predefined list of article headlines]
  • Find some text that suits [your chosen] heading
  • Your interpretation can be as personal or as open as your like
  • Identify sentences and words which you consider important
  • Sketch down ideas as you read through the article
  • Don’t draw self consciously
  • Make a list of words that describe the illustration you want to create
  • Identify what the function of your image will be
  • Be thorough within your processes of ideas generation
  • Create a line visual
  • Identify a palette and medium
  • Explore several colour variations
  • Translate your visual into artwork
  • Note down the types of editorial illustration you related to most positively
  • The early ideas you considered
  • The process by which you decided what aspects of the text you wanted to focus on

Analysis of a newspaper with supplements

Selected newspaper: Sunday Times, 18/06/17.

The Sunday Times newspaper that I analysed consisted of eight different parts. The table below is a high-level summary of what they are and how many editorial illustrations are used in each:

Title No. editorial illustrations
The Sunday Times (main newspaper) 4
Business & Money 2
Sport 0
Travel 0
Home 1
The Sunday Times Magazine 7
Style 3
Culture 2
Total: 19

I reviewed all of the illustrations in the context of the articles in which they were used, and selected the four I thought were most successful for further analysis.

Illustration 1 – Get Blunder Woman!

  • Method: Satire
  • Style: Metaphor

A brief description of the illustration

This illustration was given almost half a page space and appeared in an article that discussed the precarious position and authority of prime minister Theresa May following the disastrous, (for the Tories), election result, the negative response to her negotiations with the DUP and her wooden and incongruent response to the Grenfell fire tragedy. All this at a time when the Labour party and Jeremy Corbin’s fortunes have completely reversed at the expense of the Conservatives, and particularly as a response to the prime minister’s performance.

Sunday Times illustration02
Illustrator: Russel Herneman, ‘Get Blunder Women!’, The Sunday Times newspaper, 18/06/17

How the illustration relates to the text

The image is a visual representation of the article headline ‘Get Blunder Woman’ and uses a caricature of Theresa May dressed as the Marvel Comic character Wonder Woman. Coincidently, at the time of writing, Wonder Women the movie is topping box office receipts in the UK.

How it’s ideas relate to the meaning of the piece

The central idea of the illustration is satirical. The whole article describes the series of terrible decisions taken by Theresa May (Blunder Woman), since calling a snap election, at a point where it seemed impossible that she could lose, through to her perceived reaction and lack of empathy to the survivors of the Grenfell tower block fire tragedy.

How it extends the content of the piece

As well as being visually striking, the illustration is a perfect metaphor for the situation described in the article and provides an overarching context to the whole piece.

Illustration 2 – An inferno that shames us all

  • Method: Informational
  • Style: Diagrammatic

A brief description of the illustration

The illustration illustrates the dreadful human loss and suffering that occurred during the unfolding Grenfell tower block fire, where, at time of writing, 58 people are either confirmed dead or missing, with ten other critically ill in hospital.

It is a three-dimensional diagram of the block of flats that shows the single flight of stairs and limited fire exits. It indicates where the fire started, and most dramatically of all, uses actual quotes from either calls or texts of victims to close relatives and friends as fire enveloped the building.

The impact of the image is increased by photographs of the victims that are arranged chronologically floor-by-floor alongside the right-hand side of the illustration.

A timeline describing key points during the week since the tragedy is arranged vertically alongside the left-hand side of the illustration.

Sunday Times illustration01
‘An inferno that shames us all’, The Sunday Times newspaper, 18/06/17.

How the illustration relates to the text

The article combines stories of individual human tragedy alongside a reflection on how such an event could happen in one of the richest London Boroughs. Stories of warnings that were ignored by the authorities are starting to surface along with a more detailed technical assessment of the external cladding that seems to have been the primary reason why the fire spread so rapidly. The illustration provides the context by laying out the facts of what happened.

How it’s ideas relate to the meaning of the piece

The ideas add clarity and dramatic impact to the written article but chronologically laying out the facts and overlaying a human story on top of this.

How it extends the content of the piece

The function of the illustration is to tell the story of the event in a clear and compelling way. This allows the content of the article to focus on detailed information and comment without the need to retell the story.

Illustration 3 – East ways to disarm online jihad recruiters

  • Method: Conceptual
  • Style: Metaphor

A brief description of the illustration

The illustration shows a side view of a handgun with smoke coming out of the barrel the metaphor being ‘a smoking gun’. The trigger is in the shape of a Twitter logo which relates to the content of article. The image is rendered using a limited blue swatch and has some of the qualities of a silk screen print.

Sunday Times illustration04
‘Easy ways to disarm online jihad recruiters’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 18/06/17.

How the illustration relates to the text

The content of the article discusses regulation of cyber space in light of the London Bridge terrorist attack where it was established that the terrorists were radicalised using the internet and social media. There is a particular mention of Twitter that currently has a user policy that has nothing specific to specifically prevent terrorist material.

How it’s ideas relate to the meaning of the piece

The illustration is a thoughtful comment on this, where a smoking gun (a tool used by terrorists), and the Twitter logo are incorporated quite subtly together. The ideas in the illustration directly relate to the content, although the meaning is not apparent to the reader until they’ve read the article.

How it extends the content of the piece

The illustration doesn’t really extend the content of the piece, but is does reinforce the central argument.

Illustration 4 – India Knight

Subtitle: Our obsession with ‘beach-ready’ bodies is sucking the joy out of summer. It’s far more attractive just to enjoy yourself.

  • Method: Decorative
  • Style: Representational

A brief description of the illustration

The illustration is a colourful portrayal of all the lotions, potions and accessories that a woman might take on a beach holiday. It uses a ‘summer’ colour palette, visual distortion and a simple and clear visual style.

Sunday Times illustration03
India Knight, an article in The Sunday Times Magazine, 18/06/17

How the illustration relates to the text

The article describes how, alongside the anticipation and excitement of a forthcoming holiday, for many women there is a parallel narrative which is ‘to get your body beach ready before it can be judged fit for holiday purpose’. It also poses a challenge to this thinking.

The illustration directly relates to this parallel narrative.

How it’s ideas relate to the meaning of the piece

The image illustrates what ‘getting beach ready’ means. It includes images of razors, wax, scissors, a mirror and various other bottles and creams. There is something humorous about the image but it also emphasises the burden of this way of thinking and therefore strengthens the conclusion of the piece which is that there is a ‘body positive’ alternative view.

How it extends the content of the piece

It extends the content by creating a visual representation of the pressures that advertisers and the media place on women in the form of a range of typical products that a woman might use to prepare for the beach.

A visual interpretation


The headline I selected was How green is your food?.

I found an article titled Eat Green: Our everyday food choices affect global warming and the environment, that fits the given headline and provided me with additional reference to work from.

The article asks us to think about the environmental impacts of our food.

I started by going through the article highlighting words and sentences that I considered significant or important to the meaning of the article.

I then re-read the article and freely sketched any thoughts or ideas that came to mind.

I made a list of words in my sketchbook that describe the illustration that I wanted to create and its function.


Ideas generation

Based on the initial sketches I thought there were two viable ideas:

  1. From Farm to Fork – a diagrammatic informational image showing all the various environmental impacts that food can inherit as it moves from the source of production through to a customer’s plate.
  2. Carbon footprint – a conceptual and more abstract representation of the same ideas.

I chose to develop the Carbon footprint idea because I thought it would make a more interesting and engaging image.


The concept for the illustration was simple with only a small number of elements. The challenge, from a composition perspective, was to fit the elements into the prescribed landscape format.

The primary function of the thumbnails was to help resolve this challenge.


Media and approach

I thought the key to making this a successful illustration would be my selection of media, colour and texture.

I did a small mind map to generate ideas.


I took a couple of different approaches to creating the carbon footprint element.

  1. Foot printing using black acrylic paint
  2. Photocopying and then re-photocopying my foot

I wanted to try and get the carbon copy type texture into the image. In the end, I blended the two approaches together.

The other element that I explored was typography. I was clear that I wanted the text to work with the photocopy/carbon copy texture.  There is a well-established aesthetic of collaging and compositing found text and images together using a photocopier. This method has been used extensively in fanzines.

Punk fanzine
Guilty of what, UK punk / post-punk fanzines 1980-1986, http://www.wussu.com/zines/punk.htm

My exploration used this as a starting point.

Final artwork

The final artwork was composited together in Photoshop.

I was making design decisions throughout the compositing process and I saved out various stages:

There are two versions of the final artwork each using a different colour swatch. Both are included because I’m not sure which one I prefer.


What I learned from the exercise

What went well

  • The analysis of the Sunday Times’ use of editorial illustration was instructive and gave me an insight into how the illustrator approached the communication challenge. I was not expecting both lead articles in the paper to make such heavy use of illustration to extend the editorial written content.
  • I was surprised at how subtle ‘the smoking gun’ metaphor was. The incorporation of the Twitter logo was not apparent to me immediately.
  • The process of breaking down a story and then using visual brainstorm to develop concepts worked well for me in generating new ideas and connections.

What I could have done differently/better

  • I tested my final artwork on someone to see if it made sense. They preferred my other more obvious option. If I was doing this for real I would have worked up both approaches and solicited feedback to see which one was most successful.
  • I’m trying to consciously include all of my workings and process in my learning log, although there were stages, where for example I was experimenting with different typefaces, that I didn’t keep.


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