How Illustrated Impact uses compassion as a vehicle for change

In a world full of injustice, attractive images can be more than just a break from reality; they can be a call to action.

“Beautiful illustrations can be a doorway for people to connect with topics that they hadn’t thoroughly explored in the past,” said Susanne Lamb, one of the creators of Illustrated Impact, an online platform that draws attention to causes and charities through illustrations.

Illustrated Impact began with a one-month campaign last winter. After Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, Lamb wanted a to use her artistic skills to counter feelings of division and fear. Working with her friends Lorraine Nam and Laura Korzon, she curated a list of 21 charities that serve people targeted by Trump’s “damaging rhetoric and proposed policy shifts.” The three Rhode Island School of Design grads then asked other illustrators to contribute pieces that promoted those causes throughout December.

“It ended up being a ton of work to put together, but was a great sort of boot camp for what Illustrated Impact would become,” Lamb said in an interview with ivoh.

Now the Illustrated Impact trio picks a single monthly theme and shares related interviews and illustrations through the website, social media and a biweekly newsletter. Earth month in April, for example, featured images of marine life and urban gardens, an interview with falconer and conservationist Jack Hubley and an illustrated beet burger recipe. Black History Month in February highlighted remarkable historical figures, such as politician Shirley Chisholm, Arctic explorer Matthew Henson and singer Etta James.

Libby VanderPloeg created this animation to inspire support for She Should Run, an organization that encourages women to run for political offices. Courtesy of Illustrated Impact.

Illustrators contribute their artwork free-of-charge to the project, either after being sought out directly by Lamb and her partners or by submitting an idea independently. Regarding style guidelines, Lamb said they try to strike a balance between keeping the aesthetics cohesive and fresh.

“We really are so grateful that people want to be involved in our community and have been blown away by the beautiful work that’s been produced,” she said.

Among her favorites so far were four pieces created by illustrator Juana Medina for Pride month. They accompanied an interview with blogger Brent Almond, who described taking his son out of school to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage. One of Medina’s images features a black-and-white line drawing of a man and a child doing can-can kicks on the courthouse steps with a soft rainbow trailing out behind them.

An illustration created by Juana Medina to accompany an interview Designer Daddy blogger Brent Almond during Pride month. Courtesy of Illustrated Impact.

“The story is so sweet and the illustration could not be more joyful,” said Lamb. “Marriage equality is one of the more recent success stories that demonstrates change is possible, and though it takes too long sometimes, compassion eventually triumphs, through a great deal of conversation, hard work and engagement.”

Illustrated Impact aims to help foster the kind of conversation and engagement that leads to such changes. Most posts are accompanied by donation links for relevant advocacy or social service groups.

Elizabeth De Jure Wood’s illustration that accompanied an interview with an official from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network during Earth month. Courtesy of Illustrated Impact.

But Lamb also said they try not go overboard on calls to action. “Not everyone is going to immediately fork over cash after seeing a nice picture, but my hope is that our work will familiarize or reinforce a concept, so when the opportunity to donate comes up, they have some good information and will be in the right mindset.”

Bri Piccari, a designer who follows Illustrated Impact on social media, said the project is an exciting example of a wider push in the design and illustration communities to create work with social impact. Piccari said the “design for good” ethos can manifest in a variety of ways, from providing pro bono services to community organizations to producing work that aims at solve social problems. Last year, for instance, AIGA — a national design association for which Piccari is a chapter president — worked with the League of Women Voters to produce 727 original designs for posters encouraging citizens to vote.

Molly Egan‘s illustration accompanied a post about Common Cause, an organization fighting to take money out of politics and promote equal rights. Courtesy of Illustrated Impact.

The design for good concept predates the 2016 election, but Lamb isn’t the only artist who has become more socially engaged since November. “Lots of people really feel the need to step up now, across all fields,” she said. “In my mind, illustrators are truly the best suited for spreading this kind of information, as we are trained to convey information in an immediate, clear, striking way that people can connect with.”

In addition to increasing awareness and action, Lamb said she loves the way Illustrated Impact has brought different people together. “When the subject of a story and an artist strike up any sort of relationship, it is just so lovely. Many have reached out to buy prints from the illustrators. Connecting with people, and connecting people who would never have met, is a real joy.”

Emily Isabella‘s illustration of Sojourner Truth was featured during black history month. Courtesy of Illustrated Impact.

The time involved in running Illustrated Impact is the biggest hurdle. “I’m hoping we make it look effortless, but we would love to have some extra hands around,” Lamb said. “More people from all different backgrounds would definitely lead to a more dynamic selection of stories.”

Illustrated Impact also plans to sell products incorporating the illustrations in the future, as a way to cover operating costs and drive more donations to organizations.

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