July's inspiration


June has been incredibly busy, but in the most enjoyable way.

My haul from ELCAF, UAL degree shows, and the Illustrator's Summer Fair

UAL Degree shows 2018

Mid-June was the start of the degree shows at UAL, and I had my first chance to see the Chelsea and Camberwell undergraduate shows since starting my job at UAL. The last time I went to a degree show was probably my own back in 2010. It was also the first time I saw the newly refurbished Camberwell campus.

I was very impressed by the quality of the work at both UAL colleges. Of course, seeing the Chelsea show was a nice insight into the kind of work our students create. Working in the library, I know a bit about what academic projects the students are working on, and what sort of things their researching, but I rarely have a chance to see their studio work. There were some really interesting uses of sustainable textiles and methods in the show.

I also headed over to Camberwell last Saturday for their Open Day. There were lots of family activities going on, including things like printing workshops, and it’s a great way to show the surrounding community what Camberwell does.

My first stop was the new Camberwell College library, which is now on the side of the main building, facing an internal courtyard. I had seen photos when the library was first opened, but being in the space is a lot more impressive. I love how there are areas for all different kinds of study, there’s a reading area with armchairs, study spaces along the huge windows, and the new Special Collections room that doubles as a group study space with glass storage cabinets around the perimeter.

I then headed up to the new Illustration studios, which are now where the library used to be at the front of the main building. I was so impressed at the variety and quality of the work on show. There were books, prints, drawings, paintings, ceramics, embroidery, and textiles. I felt that this year’s work was much more tuned-in to today’s political and societal issues than what my year was creating. There was work around body, gender, and gentrification, just to name a few.

East London Comics and Arts Festival 2018

I have to admit, I’m usually quite oblivious to what’s going on in the London art and design world, but I actually took time in May to put some interesting events and festivals into my calendar. I’m so happy that I managed to see a lot of the East London Comics and Arts Festival (ELCAF) last weekend. I happened to have Friday afternoon off work, so I planned to see a panel talk on Creating Your Own Success.

I was checking the programme the day before and happened to see that there were Springboard meetings happening that afternoon as well. These are 15-minute meetings with an industry expert and people and publishers, writers, illustrators, and designers all offer portfolio advice to practitioners who are just starting out. I had totally missed the announcement at the beginning of June that these were happening, but I managed to nab one of the last spots and got a meeting with artist and illustrator Dan Evans. I was a bit worried that my work was too different from what he does, but the meeting itself was so helpful. It was really nice to talk to a practicing illustrator about their work and ask their advice about your own work. I fully recommend these springboard meetings to any illustrator at the start of their career.

After the springboard meeting, I popped into the Creating Your Own Success panel discussion. One of the questions was about ‘how do you know when it’s time to give up?’. The questioner knew the obvious answer is ‘don’t’, and I hope the panel’s responses helped to back that up. The Association of Illustration’s Lou Bones said most of the illustrators she’s talked to has that ‘dark voice’ saying you should give up, but it’s about learning not to listen to that voice. There seems to be a general trend towards people talking more candidly about their internal struggles, and it was really refreshing to hear someone from a place like the AOI confirm that this is a normal part of being a creative.

As creative people, I think we all create because it’s what really makes us happy. I suppose there may be people who got into it for other reasons, and if it doesn’t actually make them happy, maybe that’s a sign they should try another creative outlet. However, for most of us, I think even if no one was buying our work, we would still do this for our own enjoyment.

One of the things I realised from my springboard meeting is that having a career change like I did isn’t a sign of failure as an illustrator. If anything, it’s now strengthened my position as an illustrator. I love my ‘day job’ as an art and design librarian and I wouldn’t want to give it up. It also means I can choose what illustration projects I want to work on, and do longer-term projects like my children’s book.

I headed back to ELCAF on Sunday with my friend and fellow illustrator Yana Elkassova. We had a look around the book fair, chatted with a few illustrators and bought some books.

We attended Luke Healy’s talk on books as a ‘medium’, which was a well-researched history of comics and artists’ books. Any talk that brings up Johannes Gutenberg is going to be interesting to me. It helped to bridge a gap between my librarian work, which involves working with Chelsea College of Arts artists’ books collection, and my own illustration work. I had never considered how the work of Edward Ruscha and Fluxus could translate in to innovations in comics, which came out of a much different artistic background.

The second talk we attended was Charlotte Dumortier’s Powerful First Lines. Dumortier is currently ELCAF’s Artist in Residence, and created the illustrations for all the fair’s promotional materials this year. She talked about her inspiration, how she structures her day, and her different processes. A lot of her drawing and printing techniques were about relinquishing control and keeping hold of the spontaneity and playfulness of her first sketch. Her techniques are shaped by her editorial work, which means she sometimes has to work to deadlines of just a few hours to get an illustration in a newspaper.

This was especially interesting because I work so differently. I was never one for showing off my sketches, and there’s a lot of editing of lines that happens before I get my finished design. I suppose a good comparison would be working on a short story or a novel, rather than improvising a poem or rapping. Of course, improvisation and experimentation help to build confidence in your instincts, which is a really useful skill for any creative person. Her talk made me think about ways that I could build confidence in my own drawing.

Unfortunately, Yana had to head home after that talk, but I stayed and saw Daniel Locke talk about his newest graphic novel, Out of Nothing. Any talk that starts with ghosts and ends with discussions about moth/human hybrids and goat-spiders is going to be great. Coming from a family of engineers, I love work that combines art and science. Locke’s graphic novels make scientific concepts so lively and immediate. Imagine being there at the beginning of the universe, when the first known piece of art was created, or when Rosalind Franklin first photographed DNA! Locke is a very enthusiastic, knowledgable, and fun speaker, and his art highlights a lot of interesting scientific work like re-wilding and gene ‘re-mixing’. Of course, I headed straight to the Nobrow table to get a signed copy of Out of Nothing, and read most of it on the overground train ride home.

Illustrators’ Summer Fair at the House of Illustration

This weekend, I headed up to King’s Cross for the Illustrator’s Summer Fair. Friend and fellow illustrator Wiggy Cheung and I shared a table at the winter fair in December last year (much nicer to spend 8 hours outside at this time of year!), and I was keen to see what was on offer this time around.

I had a nice little chat with Linda Fährlin of Atlantic Art Studios, about her children’s book Murphy the Seal, and how she set herself the task to complete the book in three months. I regret not buying a copy right away (and asking her to sign it), but I’m going to order it online. I also got a lovely little London postcard design, which is now hanging in my entryway.

I also bought a lovely summery cycling print from Beatriz Lostalé, which is now framed and up in my flat. I bought a few of her postcards at the winter fair, and I had her Christmas-themed cards hanging in my flat over winter. I just love the fluidity of her lines and her use of colour. I saw that she won the 2017 V&A Student Illustrator of the Year Award, and she’s certainly someone to keep an eye out for.

Photosynthesising and resilience

In Daniel Locke’s talk, he mentioned that the U.S. military has been researching how soldiers could supplement their field rations with energy from photosynthesis (which immediately makes one think of some terrifying sci-fi, plant/human hybrids). I have a theory that maybe I’m already doing this, because all this summer sun has made me totally hyperactive. I’m awake and chugging away from sunrise to sunset everyday (which in London is about a 16-hour day, so I don’t know if that’s so healthy for me). The flip side is that I seem to hibernate from December to April, so I feel like I’m catching up on lost time. I think nature has been feeling the same way this year, after the harsh winter we had, with periodic snow in London until mid-March, everything has sprung back to life. I’ve been trying to take lessons in resilience from nature. As Michael Crichton said, ’nature will find a way’, and so the velociraptor of my creativity will have free reign over this island (or some other better metaphor).

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