Keeping up with ever-changing current events is a challenging task for even the most established cartoonists and artists. These seven pro illustrators share their top tips for staying ahead of the illustration game.

Political cartoons have been around for centuries, and the last few years have proved that the illustrator’s pen is as powerful today as it ever was. In 2018, inspiration can be found in everything from controversial and hotly contested world leaders to pressing topics like women’s rights and climate change. Great illustrations take complex and often difficult subjects and distill them to convey a message that feels both powerful and immediate.

In the stock industry, there’s a high demand for illustrations with political weight, including artworks that address recent activist movements around the world. In fact, Shutterstock included “A Global March” in its 2018 Creative Trends Report. We asked seven talented illustrators to tell us about incorporating hot-button issues into their workflow. Below, they share the stories behind some of their creations and offer tips for any illustrator hoping to tap into current events.

1. “One of the most important things is for your work to be relevant and up-to-date.”

Gal Amar

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Stay Relevant

Image by Gal Amar

What’s the story behind this illustration?

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” This Andy Warhol quote is close to my heart. I always try to find current issues that bother me or that I want to say something about, and then express that in my works.

I think that women are strong, and I believe we can say and do anything; therefore, most of my works are based on femininity in all spheres of life. These days, the #MeToo movement, inspired by female Hollywood actors, is one of the most talked-about topics in the media, and, as a woman, I have always supported equality and rights for women. I have the desire to fight sexual harassment and sexual violence against women with my work.

I took the painful issue of violence against women and emphasized the suffering in monochromatic colors. Then I took the same subject and translated it into strong pop art colors. I tried to explain these issues and make the theme accessible and easy to understand by using the pop art “language” to show how common these cases are:

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Stay Tuned to the News Cycle

Image by Gal Amkar

Pro Tip

One of the most important things is for your work to be relevant and up-to-date. In order to express your opinion on the issues that interest you, you should always be attentive to the changing news cycle. Try to express your opinion in your own way. As Roy Lichtenstein said, “Pop Art looks out into the world. It does not look like a painting of something. It looks like the thing itself.”

2. “Keep up with the press and analyze social media.”

Nadia Snopek

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Analyze Social Media

Image by Nadia Snopek

What’s the story behind this illustration?

The LGBTQ+ theme, although it’s such an important topic for so many people, is only now gaining momentum in the microstock world. Search for “marriage,” “relationships,” “love,” “couple,” “romantic,” or “dating,” and you will find few images of same-sex couples. Type LGBT or LGBTQ, and you will see many rainbow flags but virtually no images depicting everyday life. For stock illustrators, there is still so much work to do in this area.

Pictured: [1] Nadia Snopek [2] Nadia Snopek

Pro Tip

Keep up with the press and analyze social media. This is as important for a stock illustrator as watching tutorials. If you keep seeing the same word in article headlines and posts from your friends, write it down. You will find these notes extremely useful the next time you’re thinking about what to do.

Talk to your friends from creative and marketing agencies. Pay attention to what they say about trends. Trends are always important. Even if your main theme is, say, “botanical ” images, it’s good to know that everyone was searching for “monstera” two days ago and for “succulents” yesterday. You will most likely learn about future topics from social networks.

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3. “It’s a very good idea to check if there are any major events in your country or in the world.”

Nicoleta Ionescu

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Keep an Eye on Major Events

Image by Nicoleta Ionescu

What’s the story behind this illustration?

The majority of my news story-based illustrations are cartoons and caricatures. I love this form of artistic expression, so I have pursued it as a hobby for many years. My works were even noticed and awarded in some international competitions. As I enjoyed it so much, I thought about incorporating this into my microstock strategy.

My latest series about the Earth targets some of the environmental problems of the hour that end up making front page news because of their effects—including natural disasters, such as floods and fires. Climate change and plastic pollution are crucial issues that humanity faces today.

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Embrace Your Favorite Form of Expression

Image by Nicoleta Ionescu

Pro Tip

It’s a very good idea to check if there are any major events in your country or in the world. You can go for predictable front-page headlines, such as political elections, entertainment news, or sports competitions. Always be aware of what is trending!

For example, the electoral campaign in 2016 was a very generous topic that I covered in both cartoons and caricatures. You can see some of my editorial caricatures in my portfolio. In the illustration below, I took a cartoonish approach to the battle between the parties: the elephant and the donkey are both wearing USA-themed top hats. This is an idealist view of how a political race should maintain its respectability and elegance, unlike how the actual events unfolded.

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Work on Your Speed

Image by Nicoleta Ionescu

After you’ve developed your technique, you will get the speed necessary to be very fast and draw the events in real time. Think about political cartoonists. They have to do this all the time! In news-related stories, time is of the essence.

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4. “…it is very important for me to stay up-to-date with current events by following news from several news sites and their social media channels.”

doddis77 (Doddy Iswahyudi)

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Follow Multiple News Sources

Image by doddis77 (Doddy Iswahyudi)

What’s the story behind this illustration?

This illustration is about the gun problem in the US. There are more public mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world. The US also has by far the highest number of privately owned guns in the world.

In 2017, the year I made this illustration, there were 154 mass shootings, 6880 gun-related deaths, and 13,504 firearm injuries, according to Gun Violence Archive. The gun control debate continues, but nothing changes, and then there’s another mass shooting. This illustration is still relevant.

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Convey Your Message

Image by doddis77 (Doddy Iswahyudi)

Pro Tip

As an editorial illustrator, it is very important for me to stay up-to-date with current events by following news from several news sites and their social media channels. That way, I can have a broader perspective on an issue. It’s also important to choose the right way to symbolize the issues that I illustrate so that the message can be conveyed well.

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5. “I’m a voracious reader and subscribe to several newspapers and magazines.”

Michele Paccione

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Read Widely

Image by Michele Paccione

What’s the story behind this illustration?

With the #MeToo movement and the Women’s Marches around the world, plus the many women running for political office in the USA, it seems the feminist movement has come roaring back to life. Women are becoming more politically involved than ever, and it’s an exciting time to be female. I’ve illustrated specific events like the Women’s March and Women’s Day, as well as more generic depictions of heroic women that can be used for a variety of events.

I was inspired by the strength and solidarity of women all over the world and came up with this depiction of a superhero woman sort of conquering the earth. She stands atop the globe at sunrise and gazes into a future where women are truly equal. Rather than giving her the bulky musculature of the typical superhero, I wanted to draw her as more of a normally proportioned person, an everywoman capable of accomplishing heroic things. By depicting her from the back in silhouette, I feel she could be any woman anywhere.

Pictured: [1] Michele Paccione [2] Michele Paccione [3] Michele Paccione

Pro Tip

I’m a voracious reader and subscribe to several newspapers and magazines. I also follow breaking news throughout the day, mostly on Facebook. Additionally, I’ve attended Women’s Marches myself, and I’ve joined local political groups and have done some pro bono illustration and design work for them.

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6. “Be optimistic. Learn new trends and fresh styles.”

Vector Brothers

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Be Optimistic

Image by Vector Brothers

What’s the story behind this illustration?

Most of my illustrations are about politics. For example, I created sets of illustrations during the Women’s Marches against Donald Trump in January 2017. I think that people needed these kinds of illustrations for their blog posts and articles, social media, etc.

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Learn New Styles

Image by Vector Brothers

Pro Tip

You have to monitor the news to be able to predict and illustrate all kinds of situations, both good and bad. Maintain neutrality. It helps you to create and sell more images. I’ve drawn illustrations for supporters and for opponents of certain events and persons. In most cases, they differ in just one word or line.

Be optimistic. Learn new trends and fresh styles. You can remake an old illustration in a fresh style and bring in new clients. Conduct research to try to find popular topics that don’t have enough illustrations yet but have the potential to grow.

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7. “I advise other illustrators not to miss international holidays, cultural events, and new trends in the community.”

Nadia Grapes

Helpful Tips For Artists Who Want to Illustrate Current Events — Give Events and Topics Your Own Spin

Image by Nadia Grapes

What’s the story behind this illustration?

In the spring of this year, I did a series of works on International Women’s Day. I did not want to go into the social problems that touched this holiday. Instead, I wanted to make illustrations with a sense of levity, joy, and humor. Here, women are having fun, dancing, enjoying the flowers, and taking pleasure in life.

Pictured: [1] Nadia Grapes [2] Nadia Grapes [3] Nadia Grapes

Pro Tip

I advise other illustrators not to miss international holidays, cultural events, and new trends in the community. These are excellent opportunities to solve an interesting creative task, improve your style, and increase sales.

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Top Image by Vector Brothers