top of page

Uncovering the meaning and origin of Illustration

Illustration is an art form that has been around for centuries, and it continues to be an important aspect of visual communication today. But what exactly is illustration, and how did it come to be? In this blog post, we'll take a look at the origin and definition of illustration.

Our ancestors started painting images of their lives and dream onto cave walls more than 40,000 years ago for reasons we still do not know. However, evidence suggests that cave paintings may have been a way of transmitting knowledge.

<a href="">Image by pch.vector</a> on Freepik
Designed by pch.vector / Freepik

The earliest illuminated manuscript in existence dates from between 400 and 600 CE but such manuscripts have been used throughout history by the Catholic church notably until the introduction of the printing press in Europe in the 15th century.

Illuminarted manuscript
Illuminarted manuscript - Public rights

Fast-forward to today’s world and illustrations are just everywhere. From traffic signs to digital user interfaces or even emojis in messaging apps, images are the simplest and perhaps the most effective method to communicate.

<a href="">Image by</a> on Freepik
Image by on Freepik

In fact, the origin of the word “illustration” comes from the Latin “illustratio” which can be translated as “the act of making clear in the mind”.

That’s why Illustrations are often made to accompany a text because they provide a visual explanation but also because they can convey emotion and information that could not be transmitted otherwise.

Colours, materials, styles, and compositions are some of the main elements that an illustrator plays with to convey a specific emotion and a particular message to a certain audience.

I tried and really I could not come up with a better definition for illustration as the one from journalist Charles McRay Blow:

"An illustration is a visual editorial - it's just as nuanced.

Everything that goes into it is a call you make:

every colour, every line weight, every angle." - Charles M. Blow -

Illustration has undergone significant changes over time, from the earliest cave paintings to today's digital illustrations. While the practice of illustration has evolved, its core purpose remains the same and its importance in today's world continues to grow.


bottom of page