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Illuminating the message


In praise of illustration

According to our go-to guy, our trusted fount of all knowledge, Mr W K Pedia, the word ‘illustration’ comes from the latin word ‘illustra’tio’ or ‘illu’stro’ meaning ‘enlighten’ or ‘irradiate’‘irradiate’ meaning ‘illuminate (something) by or as if by shining light on it’. (Thought so).


As interpretation designers we commission illustration often. A large part of our remit is to bring stories to life – to enlighten; to shine a light on them. To fulfil our calling. As the godfather of our discipline, Freeman Tilden, put it,‘[to] make the remote, coherent’. To un-muddle. To make clear. To illuminate.

Maybe it’s hard to get excited about illustration. It’s not exactly VR is it? It’s not AR. It’s not exactly cutting edge.

No, it’s not cutting edge. It’s better than that. It’s timeless. It’s slow. For the viewer, like a great painting in a gallery, a good illustrations demands time. A good illustration stimulates the imagination. It awakens the mind.

What a pleasure it is to commission illustration and what a joy it is to see the work of amazingly talented artists. With illustration we can visualise the impossible to see; the legends and ‘maybe-truths’. The romantic ‘I-hope-it-happeneds’ or the horrific ‘how-awful-that-must-have-beens’.

With illustration we can capture not just scenes beyond our time and vision but emotions! We can fulfil a primary directive of interpretation, to paraphrase that man again, we can, 'relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor'.


We can compress and combine ideas – illustration is an extremely pliable tool. Illustrators can add more than just their ability to render a scene in a technically acceptable way – they can do it with style…with their own style.

The illustrations shown here are by Sam Hunter, many for our outdoor interpretation along the Wild Atlantic Way. They bring local legends and heritage stories to life.

One shows how children used to stilt-walk across a shallow causeway to school everyday; another is about an evil, poison-spined wart hog that, it is said, would emerge from the sea with murderous intent; another depicts a town's worst fishing disaster, which happened when a storm was summoned by a rather unneighbourly sorceress.


With great panache (with such ‘flamboyant confidence of style or manner’, seeing as we’re using definitions a bit here) the illustrator builds an image, from strange squiggles and strokes, that captures the essence of that thing that we cannot see: that evil hog; that horrendous event; that daring journey to school.

Illustration may be one of the simplest tools in our interpretation toolkit – the discipline is, after all, 'an art which combines many arts' – but it's one of the most accessible and perhaps, most powerful.

Richard Weston