The Exhibitionist Part Two: Yet another crack at galleries

So I was in the middle of combating my mistrust of art galleries.

I was doing it in the laziest way possible, don’t get me wrong, by only attending events of illustrative relevance, but I was still doing it.

Having spent the early afternoon in a whirlwind tour of the contemporary illustration scene, by way of the AOI World Illustration Awards at Somerset House, I decided to kick it up a notch with an exhibit that cost real life pennies. Commitment ahoy! This big spender headed to the House of Illustration.

Safe bet? Yeah definitely but whatever, I was still paying to look at walls so I consider it a victory.

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So, I am in love with the House of Illustration. Tucked behind the bustle of Kings Cross, if you can fight your way through the Potter-ites to find it, do it. Not only does it have a tiny yet really nice little shop of all things illustration, (I forget I have no use for postcards every time I enter) it also regularly holds events, talks and lectures by some of the industry’s finest. I’ve many a fond memory of various events in those walls held by editorial artists, to kids book creators, comics artists and beyond, all of which have been top quality. It’s genuinely a great place to get yo’self an education in all things drawn so if you’ve not already, do head it up.

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What made this venue a great counterpart to the AOI exhibition, is that the HOI not only champions the contemporary, but regularly pays great homage to the history of illustration. It didn’t let me down on my visit either, where, on paying my affordably £7.00 ticket price, I was treated to a charming, unexpected exhibition of Quentin Blake originals.

I suppose it’s not that surprising, given that this goliath of British children’s illustration IS the founder, but even so the short and sweet collection was a bit of a delight. Seven Kinds of Magic, is a collection of Blake pieces in which he approaches themes of surrealism and magic. In all honesty, Blake’s work doesn’t tickle my fancy on too frequent a basis, but it’s truly impossible to deny the life and charm of his scrawled characters and bonkers scenarios. I also firmly believe that any insight into the workings of a practitioner and acknowledgement of how they approach a given subject is all of great relevance. Especially when they have been rather a large part of your childhood experience of pictures. And especially when they are so joyfully mad.

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On top of this emporium of scribbled musings, another small room housed yet more Blake magic, this time in lieu of the BFG‘s contemporary comeback. Having spent many a sleepless night, terrified I would be consumed by an unfriendly giant (well, what’s any British childhood without a bit of Dahl related trauma?) this did result in a pang of nostalgic excitement. hoi_16

This small collection housed originals from the book, as well as previously unseen images that were cut from the end product. A sneak peek into the production and alternative results of something we’ve all become so familiar with. I’m not the kind of gal who is hugely fussed by the idea of seeing ‘The Original’. For me, if illustrations  were made for a book, those printed pages in their intended context ARE the real versions. Authenticity of ink on a page matters not in my eyes, BUT new images I’ve not seen before? Illustrator interpretations of scenes I was previously left to imagine myself? Well that is something worth taking a peek at.

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And it is a bit of a joy, even on a wall. It’s around until October, so if you were/are/could be a fan of the book, you really should stop in.

BUT, these surprise delights from an illustration wizard were not actually what had drawn me to the HOI that sunny, August afternoon.

Instead an exhibition of Soviet children’s books, the aptly named A New Childhood had caught my interest hook, line and sinker.

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You offer me a chance to compare story, illustration style and subject of historical children’s books to that of the contemporary, I’m there. (#booknerd) You invite me to take a look at the picture books of another culture, particularly those in a time of historical poignancy I’m THERE. You invite me to observe the impact of political unrest on the children’s book market I am ALL OVER THERE. And you appease my love of classic, European and Russian design, casually throw out names like El Lissitzky and charge me less than a tenner? My friend, you got yo’self a date.

It was one of those events that made me sad I wasn’t still in education and having to write a dissertation any time soon. I was mortified the taking of pictures was forbidden, it was a fabulous collection of incredible design work. Stylised illustration in glorious synergy with typography that screamed history.

Given it’s historical relevance, it’s not surprising that the arrangement of the exhibition felt like a classical museum format. The glass topped tables and large, formal information cards gave the collection a treasured, ‘getting cultured’ vibe that took me back to being a kid in a museum. That knowledge that you were, in NO WAY going to EVER be trusted to touch such relics. It’s so strange then, to imagine the pre and post revolution children of Russia, pouring over this very collection I stared at through four inch thick glass, in their beds and with their parents; in the same, slouched manner you see kids on beanbags in Waterstones, sinking into Charlie and Lola with the corners folded in and their imaginations racing.

I understand, and in this case totally appreciated, the serious tone of such a valuable collection being treated with this respect. I liked that I felt I was in a museum. I felt I was being taught. I felt I was really Getting History, but it was so apparent how many millions of miles away from the real world of kids books it was. I wasn’t a reader here, I was an observer.

Yeah okay, the fact I can’t read Russian probably had something to do with that too, I can’t deny it.

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And I learned a lot. Aside from the joy I found in discovering the artistic impact of the curious rules of such a strict regime; the banning of all things folklore, the mistrust of anthropomorphism and the, almost comical differences this appears to have with our contemporary, Western picture book climate, I learned facts. I followed the roots of contemporary illustration, the way style and content spread throughout nations, the impact such poignant work has on my current market. The transition of design. The movement of character. It was a delight to see and compare where things came from, to where they are. And, importantly as always; context. Society changes, and the creative output moves too.

To ban fantasy, to encourage production, function and mechanism and place importance on becoming USEFUL adults, is a far cry from the values explored in plenty of picture books today. Such a no-nonsense regime had to drill function into young minds. I suppose for many, it’s brainwashing. To remove a child’s imaginative capability by way of focusing on the reality. The list of banned, damaging or unsuitable children’s output then, seems so obscure to us now.

But that obscurity to our society, is of course where the lesson lies. Call it brainwashing if you will, but children’s books do shape minds, which, in turn, shape people.

We may not like to consider it brainwashing now, perhaps because the societal scenario is not nearly so extreme, perhaps because one political body is not perceived to be outwardly in charge of the entire output, perhaps, and most importantly, because we don’t disagree with the topics of discussion. Either way, we must always be aware that picture books are significant in shaping thoughts, societal codes and values. All works of fiction, media and art in all  their forms, impact directly on the belief system of a person.

I don’t think this is necessarily negative. This is how cultures are formed. We have to define and express shared values to an extent, in order to co-exist without pandemonium. Without getting too pretentious, children’s books, along with all other entertaining consumables, help to define the core of societies.

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A New Childhood was a brilliant collection of texts spanning across a foreign period of revolution. It, as all museums do, celebrated and examined a point in history, be it within or outside of our cultural code of conduct. It was an extreme reminder that context is everything and to always be aware of the power of judgements communicated in all media; specifically those intended for the young. First impressions, after all, can be hard to renegotiate.

The House of Illustration is a good place for picture loving yet gallery-wary people like me to explore these, white-walled environments. It takes things I love, like illustration; imagery designed for a purpose, for a brief, for a text and displays it out of it’s original context. The intent is to perhaps elevate it to something more cultured than it is? To remove the dirty, money aspect, and witness the creation as an example of higher art?  It’s a mark of true acceptance of commercial artists, once looked down on by the community of higher artists, into the realms of something greater.

I appreciate the notion, because I (obviously) appreciate the illustrator. I think they SHOULD be appreciated. I do think they should get credit for the work they do. Cover artists of novels should have their name on their work, and picture book artists should be acknowledged as co-authors. In my, humble opinion, that is.

Where I think I fall away from the idea of an exhibition space, is that I don’t view it as any more valuable. I don’t like looking at things on a wall or displayed on a grey floor. I still don’t really rate the experience, even after the array of, frankly, phenomenal collections I experienced. I suppose I personally, don’t really feel it does the illustrator that many favours.

I like to see things, not in their original state, not to appreciate solely the mark on the page or the craftmanship of the line (although there’s no doubt it can be sensationally impressive) in a blank environment where all that matters is its existence. I’m more excited by it In situ. I want to see an illustration next to the text it was made for. I want to see the design of the spread as a whole and how that designer has impacted on the illustration. I want to see the results of every stage of production working their respective magic to create the final output. Arguably of course, that’s why it’s important to see the illustration alone, in a case; to truly experience how it’s placement has changed. That’s why I’ll continue to check out places like this, to get a rounded experience of what illustration is, why it is more than simply drawing.

But don’t expect me to be as excited. I still prefer my pictures printed in pages, tangible, touchable, smellable. Interacting with spine and paper stock and text in the musty library, in the messy play room, in the classroom that smells like pencil shavings.

This is my kind of illustration, and my kind of design. I loved my visit to the HOI, it was an enlightening and beautiful museum and I know I’ll return. Thanks for trying to appease my inner gallery lover, but if you need me, I’ll be on the floor, elbows deep in a beanbag.

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Brand Spankin’ New Comic, Unterwegs!

That means ‘on the way’ to us, not German folks.

Which is funny, as that was the name of my last short comic.

Anyhoo, I’ve been doing lots and lots of illustration things recently and a lot less comic things. And it has not gone unnoticed by the lovely, interesting people of the indie comic scene.

So, at the behest of these great people, I am now returning to the realms of comics and thing making a short NEARLY WORDLESS (oh yus) six page comic for your visual consumption.

I don’t want to say too much (I mean, it’s only 6 pages. If I sneeze I’ll have pretty much have given it away) but I thought I’d upload a few odds and ends from the story in progress to whet those appetites.

Enjoy, not long to wait. Plan is to unveil around September time.

Sit tight.

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Illustrating Science: The joy of pseudo diagrams (fig. 2)

This is Lucy.

Lucy's feedback

And this is Carl.

Carl's Brain

They like to do things. Things like moving. They’re especially good at intentional moving, unconsciously.

This was Lucy, once.

Lucy's egg legThen I got my hands on her.

And This is Proprioception.

(A project from last Christmas.)

This is Proprioception

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Inspired by the ingenuity of the pseudo-educational comedy, Look Around You, Proprioception was a mock 70’s educational manual in which I took a real life bit of, really damn interesting, biology and explained it using entirely non scientific methods. Because I am an illustrator, so cutting things up makes more sense to me than the deeply fascinating intricacies of real life biology.

FeedbackThe pseudo diagrams were designed to portray the importance of this fascinatingly vital sixth sense, so inherent in our bodies most people have never even considered a life without it (and in fact there are only 6 known cases of people having a complete lack. This is a really cool video about one man’s battle.)

The “text book” had fold out elements to reveal new tasks that got people thinking about the impact of Proprioception in their own life.

Opening page 1Opening page 2I wanted to draw people’s attention to it’s vitality to our functioning everyday and used tasks and design choices to create a style reminiscent of an 70’s school textbook/instruction manual with a playful, modern twist.

Carl dancingProprioception allows us to understand our own body’s position in relation to itself without consciously considering where each limb is. It’s why when you close your eyes, you know where both your hands are. It’s super neat and super vital and I wanted people to understand that fact using simple collage techniques and fun imagery to demonstrate the incomprehensible struggle that would be living without it.

Plus it gave me an excuse to cut up my friends faces for a few months.

Seriously, I was picking Carls head out of my carpet for weeks.

Illustrating science: The joy of pseudo diagrams (fig 1)

Hands up if you want to learn a totally amazing fact?What about something entirely controversial?

Or even just utterly trivial?

And who wants to learn them through the medium of…TYPOGRAPHY!? …no?

Well if you raised your hands to any of them you are a fool, because I can’t see you and that was very clearly a rhetorical request. So you can sit down, behave and have all three.

This was a short uni brief: 3 posters to work as a set and detail three facts that fit the above criteria.

The conception of the carbon that makes up all living things.
The atoms that form most of your body’s cells were created in the explosion of a star.
The lifespan of our cells, built from this carbon.
The maximum number of times your body’s cells can multiply and divide before they deteriorate and die.
The life form that housed the carbon is gone, yet the atoms continue.
In reality, the afterlife is nothing more than the continued existence of atoms after the death of the cell they once formed.

So here they are, three posters about the passage of time and our simple, biological place in it. An amazing beginning to the journey of carbon atoms, a trivial definition of our cells’ lifespan and the true, if not hard to swallow fact that we are nothing more beautiful than a temporary home for ongoing carbon.
Some may see this as a dark concept. I think it’s an utterly beautiful one, although the project itself is not one of my favourites.

Still, either way it’s all pretty interesting

Don’t be so Graphic…

Did you know I was actually studying a Graphics course?

I ask, only because you would, under no uncertain terms, be forgiven for thinking I was an illustration student. I think it’s something to do with the total lack of organisation, adoration for comics and drawing…”things” and my total inability to draw straight lines.

And The fact that I’m not sure I’ve mentioned the word “grid” once since setting this site up over a year ago.

Well I am. It’s a mixed course admittedly, and there is certainly a heavy emphasis on image making and illustration too, but I wanted to, very quickly, dispel any myths that I am no good for anything but the world of the wibbly.

The current project is all about layout. And I’m finding it a challenge and a half. Here is the, incredibly ugly, induction timetable for first years to my University.

Yes we are actually an arts and design school. The irony is not lost on me.

See, this what happens when you leave all the admin to the Humanities Campus.

But I digress, we’re currently taking part in a series of short exercises in redesigning the above ugly thing, into something considerably less ugly using a set of strict restrictions and rules (One typeface only, one colour only 3 type size only etc). Just to clarify, this is by no means a practice of making something “beautiful” in the traditional sense. This is about creating order, making structure and making use of positive and negative space, type weight, type size and a hell of a lot of Swiss inspired graphical magic.

So, so far these are  how I’ve gone about getting my Bauhaus on. Don’t worry about the text. This is about the overall effect of the page, the information itself is borderline irrelevant.

      Mmmmm…delicious, gridded neatness.

I have a whole bunch of these, with tweaks here and changes there. Things most people wouldn’t notice in the slightest. It’s got to the stage of adjusting it pixel by pixel in a worrying display of Design Induced OCD.

I wanted to chat about these, I suppose just to remind everyone that us people-creatures don’t have to be pigeon holed as much as we often are. Yes I know it’s all in the same sort of area of design and creativity, but I am just one little person who happens to define herself as an illustrator of sorts. That it what I love, how I make a little moolah, and what I devote a lot of time to. But there is always room in my little noggin for different things. Things that require me to think differently and consider how I see things differently, and I think it’s pretty cool that we have the capacity to do these different things at the same time. I think that I, like so many others, can lose sight of that when life gets busy and sink back into the comfort of what I know I can do.

But I’m really starting to get into these little layout majigs. They’re challenging for a messy art bug like me, and I’ve definitely not cracked it yet, but with every new design I make, I see new promise and get joy from the structure of it all. The Organisation is SO pleasing.

I’ve literally gone from a fanatic of this:

Dave Mckean; Wolves in the Walls. A STUNNING book.

To This:

Joseph Muller Brockmann: Swiss magic

Seriously!

THIS:

Shaun Tan. Cool guy and badass illustrator.

TO THIS!!:

Jan Tschichold

Learning is fun 🙂

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Print Workshop Three: The Letter Press Experience

So I thought I’d log the concluding stage of our printmaking workshops, seeing as I documented the other two so thoroughly. It’s a shame in a way to end on this one as, out of the three of them, it was the one I connected with the least. This is partly due to the fact I didn’t really allow myself enough time to think about my outcome as in-depth as I had for etch and lino, and partly just due to the fact that I find Letter Press just a smidgen too fiddly.

I know, I know. I’m being a bit of a hypocrite and general spoil-sport, but I just can’t really get behind the reasons to engage with letter-press. The outcomes can be truly beautiful, I admit that, but I’m just so aware how easy it would be to create such pieces in a fraction of the time via digital means. And with so much more freedom. I feel so bound by letter-press, firstly by the fact you’re so limited to what font you happen to have available in your inventory, in what specific sizes and that’s supposing that some cheeky arse hasn’t nicked one or two letters (as is usually the case when you’re using a shared press, such as that at uni). And that’s even before we factor in the other variables such as all the right leading sticks being left in the right place, there being enough clamps etc etc etc

THEN, SUPPOSING all that is, indeed in order, you have to painstakingly put the bloody thing together. Letter by letter, line by line. I truly take my hat off to all those poor folk to whom this was a career back in the days of pre digital print. They truly must have had the patience of saints.

But I digress, I don’t think it helped matters any that I’m not overly fond of my outcome. It was rushed, unplanned and generally a little dull, but it is the conclusion to my Henri de Toulouse Lautrec collection, so deserves a mention.

As my lino had gone down so well, I decided to theme the letter-press along a similar bent. For my lino, I’d focused on Lautrec’s alcoholism and fondness for absinthe, and it was through the research for this that I’d stumbled upon the recipe for his famed cocktail. Well, I say cocktail. I think what I actually mean is lethal concoction. One part Absinthe to one part Cognac. That’s it. A 50/50 blend of undiluted spirit, shaken together into a glorious, liver-failure inducing solution that Lautrec refered to as Le Tremblement De Terre: Earthquake to you and me. So called as it was (understandably) assured to shake you up and make you fall over.

So, with this new information to hand, I decided to describe Lautrec, via the press, as Monsieur Tremblement De Terre. See, see what I did there. I put “mister”  in front of it. In French. Like a clever person.

It’s hard being this cultured, it really is.

But this is where I met my downfall. Drunk on my own genius, I decided to attempt to echo the effect of the beverage within the type. This started with the typeface itself, where I set ‘Monsieur’  in one font, all one size (I can’t even remember which font that was now, sorry that’s awful) but then jiggled the rest of it about a bit with different letter sizes. The concept here was to create a contrast within the sentence that alluded to Lautrec’s lifestyle change of aristocratic upbringing, to the bohemian life he led within the Moulin Rouge. (Something I then reinforced with the colours: black fading to absinthe green.)

As if this wasn’t a pain in the arse enough (because where’s the fun in making things easy for yourself?) I then decided the piece just didn’t say “off your tits on potentially lethal levels of alcohol” enough, so sought to reconstruct this by setting the letters at different levels and generally making a mess.

Experimenting with layering the print over itself

So really, it’s my own fault I had such a nightmare with letter-press. This kind of mindless artistic-ness is easy enough on photoshop, but let’s stop to consider what letter-press was actually invented for, for a minute. Had I done that at the time, I probably would have realised how difficult I was about to make things for myself. Letter press once served a very legitimate purpose. To print multiple copies of multiple straight lines of legible text.

Everything about my print is fighting that purpose, and as a result it just doesn’t work. I’ll admit that, I learnt a very valuable lesson. I guess that’s what I find frustrating to an extend. I do not like being restricted, to any degree on any topic. If I want to make something messy and complex, I want the freedom to be able to fulfil that purpose, not be restricted by the natural boundaries of a process.

I mean, true, I did actually get around it. But I know the piece would have been stronger had I conceded and worked with the limitations of the press, not against it.

But I guess though that is part of the charm to old print processes. They could be considered, by and large, redundant, but it’s the level of skill and patience required to master them that has kept them alive. People are desperate to prove their worth in a world where everyone has the potential to be an “artist”, and for many that is done simply by showing that their ability would have been acknowledged to just the same extent in a time where creativity was just that little bit pickier.

Had I paused for a minute to think, I hope I would have come to a conclusion that lead to a different outcome. But my stubborn nature coupled with a shortage of time has led to my discovering something quite different. I don’t enjoy letter-press particularly, but I feel that I’ve learned the secret to any form of print making is an element of forward planning. Concept can get you far under ordinary circumstances, but when relying on processes of the past you must use your head and prepare. Mistakes and accidents can be beautiful, but they are not talent nor skill. If you are to become a craftsman at printmaking, then you must respect the process for the process and work with it.

And at a time when artists like Tracey Emin are being officially titled “Professor of Drawing”, I feel like any process that makes you use a bit of the old brain capacity can’t really be a bad thing.

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Caterpaulted out of the Comfort Zone!

Okay, so today I’ve taken a break from the robots and boxing animals that is preparation for Comiket to work on something that is SO, TOTALLY different I think I might have a stroke. Basically I’ve been working with Lucy and Carrie of fashion blogging fame to help them with some bits and pieces for their new publication, WishWishWish.

That’s right. Fashion. I did a fashion thing.

I know it’s not my usual area of expertise (I’ll get back to you when I work out what IS) but it’s good to broaden your horizons I reckon.

Here are a few of the spot illustrations I’ve been working on for a piece on freelancing within the industry. Hopefully the girls are happy with them. And if not we can just blame it on the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing eh? Win Win situation.

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