I, generally speaking, shouldn’t be allowed in Shoreditch. There are a handful of reasons why I tend to visit London and rarely do they involve being anywhere near East London. I get unspeakably disorientated each time I step off the overground and I swear every time I do, every other building has decided to transform into something else. It’s the land that can’t sit still where every business and every building is aspiring to be the wandering shop from Disc World.
And true, unfamiliarity is, of course, only conquered by more frequent visitation. But the REAL reason I should not be allowed in Shoreditch, is that quite simply I am not trendy enough. Everyone is cool. Everyone wears hats. Every business is some rule breaking, frontier breaching venture and I feel like the ultimate hip black hole every time I turn a corner, catch my shoes out of the corner of my eye and realise I forgot to commit to being stylish when I dressed myself that day. Or any day.
But I digress. Sometimes there are good reasons why I should risk the danger of polluting the exceptionally well maintained stylish status quo and venture. This Monday was a prime example.
I found myself in a pub so cool it had light bulbs for a ceiling (not all functioning, of course, more like the interior design equivalent of ready-ripped jeans) for the an event hosted by the independent children’s publisher, Nosy Crow. An Illustrator Salon, with the ever-charming Sarah Warburton.
Gloriously casual, the talk was a delight. Sarah Warburton, illustrator of the fabulously sassy ‘Princess and the…’ series (written by Caryl Hart- who unbeknownst to me I was sat next to-the SHAME) was as bubbly as they come, nattering through the progression of her work from the early days to it’s modern success. I was enchanted by her sketchbook snapshots and delighted to hear it’s not unheard of to role the eyes at the thought of drafting a scene separately. Kate Wilson, NC managing director’s, questions successfully drew an in depth and raw insight into the gritty of Warburton’s process and its development over the years. From the organic changes of her personal artistic ‘style’ to the influence of technology and visual movement of the British illustration market over her 22 year career span (I couldn’t believe it either.)
Having begun in traditional methods, I was glad to see that her passage into the digital age had brought with it the energy and life of her watercolour beginnings, but now using the computer as an extension of her pencil case. Even these days, too frequently you hear of the traditionalists, or certainly the stubborn amongst them, spitting the words ‘Digital’ with a sneer, as though – Warburton asserted – the magic of creation was lost to string of binary that popped out an image at the end. Not so, having a plethora of her works (as well as innumerable others) happily sat on my bookshelf, I can assure said critics that the magic is ever present – perhaps even more so in this digital age where minor colour corrections and post production can draw a viewer from part way to fully invested in a scene.
Warburton actually sits in the same camp as I do when it comes to technological intervention, I discovered. We both begin old school, with real life drawings from real life hands that are then scanned and altered digitally as appropriate. We both have struggled, so far, with the full plunge into drawing on screen, sticking instead with the tips and tricks we’ve picked up en route and failing miserably to invest too much further once a happy plateau has been found. While I I question her assertion that she is “rubbish at Photoshop” on looking at her high quality illustrations of quirk and fun in front of me (arguably tweaked by talented designers too of course) I do recognise with a touch of shameful embarrassment, the threat of an technical-artistic rut of sorts, in which you sit, comfortable on your plateau until a problem arises that FORCES you to invest in learning a new skill to add to the bank.
It was reassuring, as it always is when I listen to admired practitioners, to draw similarities between our working processes. I felt, as she walked us through her career that I could peg myself onto a similar string behind her, acknowledging each of her early struggles and achievements in my own path. Even more so in a chat afterwards when she, somewhat apologetically, assured me that the insecurities of an illustrator are suffered regardless of your successes. And I certainly wasn’t alone, noting all the times myself and the rest of the audience nodded enthusiastically along to her experiences, like an enlightened audition line up for the Churchill ad. It’s essential, when your work is based outside of a collaborative office space, that events like this that link you back into a shared world. It can assure you that you’re treading correctly, or even make you reassess your current position. Either way, the outcome is similar; a development towards better, more informed working practice.
I left Shoreditch still entirely uncool. I was and still am little more than a children’s book nerd, no matter how many light bulbs I stand under. But I was also inspired, assured and had a brand new, signed book under my arm. Events like this by companies like Nosy Crow are a little lifeboat of sanity and vital to the development and improvement of the world of books.
While still comparatively small, Nosy Crow have been climbing the ranks at a rate of knots in their five years of life and I think events like this are seemingly a testament to everything they stand for. Routinely holding events in which their nurtured artists take the floor to share their inner workings, their commitment to fostering talent, sparking and engaging in public discussions about the current and future role of the picture book has signified a real love and involvement in the industry that has not gone unnoticed. With awards coming out of their ears, and numerous professionals working wit them again and again, the quality of Nosy Crow’s output is climbing from strength to strength, and for picture book enthusiasts like me, accessible and invested publishers like this are a real gem.
So, HUGE thank you to NC for setting it up and an enormous cheers to Sarah Warburton for sharing her own behind the scenes. Inspirational and charming, I only hope one day I too can be such an expert I do not need to pull the faces when I draw them. Even if I am still pants at Photoshop.