The Daily Heller: Illustration Personified in 33 Issues

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In this, the 20th year of publishing 3×3—the beautifully designed and printed magazine devoted to profiling contemporary illustrators—founder and publisher Charles Hively is revved up to hit the 100 illustrator profile mark with his next issue. Today, though, we preview the latest issue, No. 33, which has numerical significance given the magazine’s enigmatic title. I too am excited, less about the magic number than the fact that 3×3 is publishing a printed edition again. I wanted to congratulate Hively on his dedication to art and tactility, so I turned the applause into an interview.

3×3 is now 20 years old, and 99 illustrators have been profiled on your pages. What keeps you going?
The short answer is I’m constantly seeing artists that I want to promote. Not only the three profiles but also the 18 we spotlight in our Seen & Noted section in each issue. It’s so much fun finding artists that I don’t know and others I do who are doing such great work. If I didn’t have 3×3 I believe I’d be frustrated that there wasn’t an outlet to share what I found. And then there’s the joy of selecting the images, the design of the spreads—finding images that complement each other in color and then looking at the following spread to make sure they’re compatible—working with great art is so much fun.

You’ve brought out the magazine in print, and are continuing in digital. What have been the highs and lows of keeping 3×3 going?
Yes, we went on hiatus with the magazine for a few years and came back 10 issues ago. We started to see a decline in interest in the magazine when social media started to play a bigger role in showcasing illustrators. Founding a brand-new magazine in 2003 was a challenge but I received such support from illustrators and am forever grateful to those first supporters who bought ads in our gallery section when there wasn’t a published magazine yet. They showed great faith in me to deliver—that was the first definite high.

The response to the publication was great, though even today, it’s never been a money-maker. It costs so much to put a magazine on the newsstand with so little return that it barely covered the cost of printing and shipping. Today our magazine is subscription-based with limited newsstand presence overseas. And then our wonderful U.S. Postal Service threw a real kink in by increasing postage costs for shipping overseas. And it remains a challenge. For instance, it costs as much to ship a magazine as the cover price, which prices it out of the market; thankfully, our affordable digital issues do allow wider foreign distribution. The postage obstacle also affects sales of our 3×3 International Illustration Annual, but again there’s a digital option.

A major high was when 3×3 was selected to be in included in your 2014 book 100 Classic Graphic Design Journals—a highlight for 3×3 and a huge highlight for me personally. And I still get a high in working on each issue of the magazine, but there’s always a low when I find even a tiny mistake. A low continues to be the lack of interest in magazines and the focus on social media. I have a hard time seeing how in 10, 20, 30, 50 years, social media will be able to identify what happened in the illustration field in 2023. Magazines and books were the bulk of my education as an illustrator, as a graphic designer, as an ad agency art director. Graphis magazine was a huge expense for me, but it and the other magazines like PRINT and Art Direction were worth it. I have a library of nearly 1,000 books on design, illustration, photography, advertising that has nurtured my development. (I can remember taking the Art Directors Annual, blowing up an ad, researching the typeface used, the size, the leading, the column width, size of the logo and headline, just to see what made it something I gravitated towards.) When I’m looking at any fine artist’s studio on YouTube, I see books all over the place, but I don’t always see that when looking inside an illustrator’s studio. Artforum and similar art publications are ones that artists want to be featured in; and the public, the collectors, the galleries and the editorial all supports it. I’m still perplexed why illustration is not more sought after, promoted and supported—it’s an artform, for god’s sake.

In your current issue you have a wonderful story on Bob Grossman, who passed away four years ago. Also in the same issue is a memorial to Bruce McCall. Do you feel there are more illustrators of their caliber coming up, or is the golden age gone?
I remain excited about the illustration field, but I understand it’s much tougher today to gain the reputation Bob and Bruce had. I’m enjoying our new feature where we promote the illustrators I grew up with, including many—including Bob—that I had the pleasure of working with. We’ve profiled Jean-Michel Folon and Roland Topor, both of whom I’ve worked with, both on advertising campaigns; in fact, Topor’s original art is hanging behind me in the studio. Others have included Pierre Le-Tan and someone I wasn’t familiar with, Ferenc Pinter. And one of my idols, Bernie Fuchs. All were highly original and famous in the public sense. It’s harder to be famous now. There are so many bright faces out there creating truly original art, it’s just amazing to me. You have illustrators like Jon Han, Keith Negley, Johanna Goodman, Miriam Martincic, Haley Wall, and someone I just discovered, Oyow, pushing the envelope and creating art that’s fresh and new.

Where do you situate 3×3 in the continuum of illustration?
The biggest disappointment with the field of illustration is the lack of other publications that promote what’s going on today. When you compare the number of magazines on the newsstand for photography and fine art, there should be an equal number on illustration. And now without UK’s Varoom, 3×3 is alone in promoting contemporary illustration worldwide.

What determines what you’ll feature and what you will not?
We try to get a good mix of illustration work, but in each issue we always feature someone from outside the U.S., a female illustrator … and a U.S. illustrator. In the latest issue we featured all illustrators outside the U.S. apart from Giselle Potter, our issue’s Icon, and of course the late Robert Grossman. We select our issue’s Icon as one who has had an impact on the illustration field, [whose] personal voice has remained constant throughout their career. Our Legend is someone who made an indelible impact in the ’60s and ’70s. There are so many choices for all parts of the magazine; focusing on nine profiled illustrators (3×3=9) leaves a lot out and there will never be a dearth of Icons to feature. I also like to look at the broad field of illustration, so we’ve recently featured Stuart Bradford and Javier, whose approach to illustration is more photographic. As long as there is something distinctive about their work, I want to feature it. I do avoid illustrators who haven’t quite found their way because I want the art director who sees an article to click on their website and see more of the same. Unfortunately, there’s a trend lately where there is no consistent style, and that will confuse art directors.

You’re obviously determined to champion the art of illustration. Do you believe that in the next few years, with AI in the mix, there will be an art to champion?
Of course. I have mixed views on AI illustration, and have done two research studies of leading editorial art directors about their views. Most worry about the copyright issue, and very few have tried it. However, what we saw is that designers seem more drawn to AI as a resource, and they have tried it and for the most part like it. As an art director I’ve never asked an illustrator how they created an illustration; that was not my concern. My concern was whether the illustration solved the visual problem I had. I’ve seen a lot of AI art; too much of it is generic with limited application. Like anything else, you’re seeing good and bad AI art out there. There’s the argument about entering a phrase and an illustration pops out; I think that’s an overly simplistic way of looking it. First, in some respects it’s no different from a creative brief provided an illustrator—they’re given words to illustrate. And secondly, from what little I’ve investigated, for good AI art to be created, it’s a process and not something that happens in a flash. Looking on Instagram, illustrator/designer Q. Cassetti is doing some marvelous illustrations in a multitude of styles, which in a way is exciting to see. Artists like Cindy Sherman are experimenting with it, as is the designer/illustrator Marian Bantjes. And yes, I believe the process of scraping the web for content is not kosher. (As an aside, reading your article on Otto Bettman, I doubt he had the copyright on any of the trunk-full of clippings and negatives he brought over from Leipzig. The Archive was always a good resource.)

You could make the argument that AI is just a tool, or source for inspiration, that with any illustrator there are influences they’ve found that help create their distinctive art. And the argument could be made that you can’t copyright a style, and from what I understand very few, if any, illustrators have copyrighted their images. As I say in the current issue: “Will AI compete with artists? Yes, but it won’t replace artists. In fact, in some cases it may help solve problems faster or take care of menial tasks or help with more complex visual solutions, allowing illustrators the luxury of time to develop the ever-important concept or storyline.” The absolute wonder I see with original art is the diversity of personal voices, the multitude of different treatments of art. That’s not going to change.

What’s next for you and 3×3?
Let’s start with 3×3. I’d like to continue doing the magazine and to continue supporting the illustration community. Other than the magazine and juried international annual, we hold webinars for new grads, we have a biannual webinar on how to approach art directors, we have a new YouTube channel that I’d like to use as a Q&A vehicle for young illustrators, as it’s so rare to hear from an art director’s perspective, and I’m rethinking our 3×3 Illustration Directory that’s sent to U.S. art directors. The pandemic meant we didn’t print our directory in 2021; instead, we chose an online gallery, returning to the printed directory in 2022. This year we’ve conducted two research studies and found that the majority of art directors like to be reached by email, not mailers. Being on the receiving end of emails, the emails from illustrators are always plain-text emails, whereas artist reps, photographers, designers all use HTML emails, so we’re looking at a plan to do that this year in developing individualized emails using a curated list to pinpoint art directors who might be interested in a particular illustrator’s work.

As for me, my partner in life and work would prefer that I drop the magazine and just enjoy life. Being in my golden years, I understand that there’s only so much time left, and I must decide how to spend it wisely. With my free time I do dabble in photography and enjoy the results. I’ve completed a book on my travels to London, Random London, and one after a trip to Vienna to speak to DesignAustria, Wiener Secessionsgebäude. I am currently working on a photobook, ME, about my travels in Maine. I’m also entering photography shows and have been featured in a number of exhibits with my series of torn advertising posters found in the New York subway system. I have a site where you can buy my prints, but don’t really promote it. And a final short answer, as long as I can get up in the morning and still want to come into the office, I’ll continue to love what I’m doing and doing what I love.