Education Week has always relied on strong visuals to accompany the stories we report. But with most of the country under stay-at-home orders, and students and teachers learning from home, the visuals team has had to get more creative in how we conceptualize those stories. That’s led to Zoom videos, submitted photos from the subjects themselves, and, most strikingly, illustrations from a talented team of artists. Taylor Callery illustrated our most recent cover, showing the implications of the pandemic on school finances in a visually compelling way. Here he explains his process and how he came to the illustration that ultimately landed on our front page.
In Taylor’s Words – The Process
This particular project started out with the general idea of a recession and its impact on schools. The team at Education Week decided to dig deeper into this story. And as the story changed, so did our conceptual thinking around the subject itself.
I first read the story to gather a complete understanding of the topic. I boiled down the information so I could begin to wrap my thoughts around concepts that spoke to the core of the story itself. I’ve found that writing helps me organize my ideas around a certain topic, so I began by compiling a list of keywords, phrases, examples of mood, and the general tone of the article. Organizing the information in this way allowed me to start breaking down certain imagery that I could link to the visual narrative.
In this case, I started to think about the idea of subtraction, and how it would impact those who are described in the story. This created a path for me to follow. I asked myself, how can I apply these elements in a meaningful way to best describe the message of this piece? With my list of keywords and phrases, I began to gather visual information that connected directly to the most important elements of the story.
At this point, I began to sketch out ideas around these elements. I usually do a number of sketches that take a few different approaches. Sometimes the idea in my mind doesn’t translate as well as I would like as a visual, so it’s important to experiment and self-curate the concept along the way. We had a couple of rounds of sketches in this process as the story morphed into what it is today.
The sketch phase really helps me understand visually what elements are most important. For this story, those elements included – minority students (those who would be most affected by budget cuts), money, environment (urban public schools), and the overall tone.
With the idea of subtraction in mind, I immediately thought of a young student disappearing or dissolving away from their current environment. The idea of subtraction also made me think of isolation or emptiness. These are the two main elements I was chasing in representing the students and the environment for this piece. Creating a barren landscape helped isolate the main figure and enhance the mood or overall tone.
The last element to bring this image together was incorporating a more literal sense of funding, hence the $100 bill the student finds himself on. The $100 bill alone didn’t hold much weight with this topic, but by applying cracks to this element, I added a sense of fragility or instability.
With all of these elements, it was essential to organize them in a composition that was visually pleasing, but that also created a hierarchy of information. In this case, I tried to design a composition that worked well with the story, while also creating available space for the text and headlines found in the final design.
It’s always a team effort, especially for assignments like this one. It’s what I enjoy most about my “job” – collaborating and problem-solving with a community of talented writers, art directors, designers, and editors.
I’m very proud to have contributed to such a meaningful topic that will help shed light on those who most need the attention, now more than ever in these uncertain times.
A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.