Faculty Grant series: Prof. Robert Young presents at ICON11 national illustration conference

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Friday, August 26th, 2022

Robert Young, Chair of Illustration at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, was all set to present a paper on discussing and developing style at ICON11, a national conference for illustrators and designers, in June 2020.
Then, the Covid-19 pandemic intervened. 
Young finally had the opportunity to present the results of his experience and research this year, when ICON11 kicked off in Kansas City, Missouri. The recipient of a PCA&D Faculty Life Educator Professional Development Grant, Young spoke about the way he integrates speaking about style and voice in the classroom. 
headshot of man in beard and eyeglasses against a purple-lit interior home background

Illustration Chair Robert Young recently returned from presenting “Discussing and Developing Style” at the ICON11 conference.

“The central thesis,” Young says, “is that style is something that should be taught as an examined aspect of the student’s individual voice based on lived experience, personal identity, and taste.  (It) is informed by robust media literacy training and self-reflection.” Previous models of style development are often based in outdated teaching methods “that were more at home in the atelier or apprentice models of arts education” in which students were taught to emulate their instructor or market trends. 
In Young‘s paper, “Discussing and Developing Style,” he notes that “the preoccupation with style that an art student has is necessary. Our style or voice as an illustrator is what separates us from other illustrators, while at the same time giving ourselves agency of our work and allowing us to tell our own stories and viewpoints.” That, in turn, leads to a more fulfilling career. But the evolution of that style, Young argues, can’t only be subconscious: That’s a passive model that implies that developing a style is outside of an artist’s control. A “genius artist myth,” Young said in his presentation, “is damaging,” and places the need to develop a personal style outside the control of the artist themselves. 


“ICON is the only national event of its kind,” says Young, who was attending his second ICON conference. The event brings “thousands of illustrators, designers, art directors, agencies, and educators together to present industry-leading practices and emerging research on both the practice and education of illustrators and designers.” He adds that much of his teaching practice is based on what he learns from conference workshops and lectures, as well as professional connections he’s able to make. ICON11, he says, “was an opportunity to put PCA&D on the national stage with top-ranked Illustration programs.” That, in turn “led to many conversations and lots of interest in what we’re doing here.”
A decade ago, Young says, “the predominant model of teaching illustration was that of ‘illustator as hired hand’ – someone to interpret and visualize someone else’s voice for money. Now, a growing share of illustration pedagogy centers around illustrator-as-author.
“This shift to centering and respecting the illustrator’s voice and individuality rather than as a means to an end for a client has been the focus of the vast majority of talks, workshops, and papers published by ICON and is something that I will be referring back to often as we continue to update and improve our approach to teaching the next generation of illustrators here at PCA&D.”
Top image: Prof. Robert Young, Illustration Chair, presents at ICON11 in Kansas City, Missouri.