Friday, 9 October 2015

AOI World Illustration Awards, 2015 at Somerset House

 

© Phil Wheeler – Biodiverse
© Phil Wheeler – Biodiverse

Today’s visit to London’s Somerset House was essentially a day for thinking about all things Illustrative. On what had to be one of the most glorious of October days we went to the AOI World Illustration Awards 2015, previously known as ‘Images’.

The mission: We wanted to point out to our students that Illustration can be many things and that it comes in many forms. That might sound like a fairly obvious thing to say, but I am still slightly surprised by just how many people say that they can’t draw and therefore they’d be no good at illustration. There seems to be a preconceived notion that all illustration is based on being able to draw like an Old Master. Of course some form of ability to draw is useful—and it could easily be argued as being essential—and I would never play down the benefits of the ongoing practice of observed drawing, as this is a way to noticeably improve ways of seeing and recording; to develop a style of visual voice; seek visual themes of interest and discover what tools and materials you respond to and enjoy using. Even the benefits of casual doodling can lead to many a new idea. I could go on.

This year’s exhibition was a true smorgasbord of illustrative voices and we simply let the students explore the exhibition set with a task of writing their own review using some prompts for discussion. The feedback was great and it was interesting to see what styles of image making were attractive to individuals and the ensuing points of discussion.

I found the exhibits were excellent as was the variety of styles present. I was particularly taken by the illustrations of João Fazenda that were centered around Japanese folklore (immediately below). The echoing of traditional Japanese artistic simplicity came through and both the lively quirkiness of the images and the wonderfully  simple colour combinations worked so well as a striking collection.

© João Fazenda – Japanese Folktales
© João Fazenda – Japanese Folktales

I was also struck by the incredible paper constructions by both Gail Armstrong and Sam Pierpoint, that latter producing the most incredible skull of waves crowned with a ship. Entitled ‘El Jimador Skull’ this formed part of a contribution to celebrate The Day of the Dead. As well as the compositions I find the engineering simply fascinating.

Andy Ford’s ‘Cel-EGG-Rities’, painted eggs of celebrity faces were simply brilliant, as was the use of Twitter that helped to generate suggestions for them. (See John & Yoko below)

For both technique, message and depth of meaning many were drawn to the poignant works of Olivier Kugler whose illustrations drew attention to the plight of Syrian refugees and their ability to live through adversity. The simple style of drawing and colour, peppered with hand rendered typographic messages gave a sensitive and personal voice to the topic.

In short, I found the perfectly curated collection simply brilliant. The quality of work was incredible and as a means of introducing some of our students to the wider world of illustration it was great. To round the day off we issued each student—tutors too!—with a blank postcard and asked for the card to be illustrated with an image or text of their choice; simply something connected to their day in London. The cards came in and we posted them as the 9th October was World Post Day and perfectly timed with our illustratively themed day.

The exhibition ends  1 November 2015. Anyone with a passing interest in graphic arts should not miss this exhibition.

#sampierpoint #illustration #papercraft #skull #paper #design #somersethouse #worldillustrationawards

A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

#illustration #eggs #lennon #yokoono #johnlennon #somertsethouse #worldillustrationawards #andyward A photo posted by Tim Bones (@mrtimbones) on

#worldpostday #postcard #illustration #curiouseventsday #thegraphicdesignproject #westkentcollege

A photo posted by Sancha de Burca (@sanchagdp) on

Friday, 1 May 2015

Pick-me-Up 2015 at Somerset House

Pick me up 1

Once again we took our students to the current offerings of Somerset House’s Pick Me Up, Graphic Arts Festival. I really wanted to see something different, something inspiring, something to amaze me and I came away feeling mostly flat. The ‘festival’ seemed to have lost its buzz and its edgy excitement . There was little of any substance but then that’s partly what Pick Me Up seems to be about. (No, it’s not me getting old, many of my students felt the same way.) Even the exhibitors appeared to have lost their zest for the occasion, looking quite glum and crestfallen. I suspect that there were fewer exhibitors this year and that made it feel emptier.

Pick me Up is a niche happening. It’s a mixture of the zany, the quirky, the colourful and the cheerful. Typically you’ll see cartoons, surreal and abstract prints and alphabets and much of it now looks like a reproduction of each others style and a rehash of much from previous years, only now it’s looking a little like a tired clown. Pick Me Up appears to have become increasingly safe in churning out pseudo-cheerful work with little to say. Imagine a nursery school with a letterpress, good paper stock and plenty of day glo colours only far more strained in its results. Well, with the few exceptions that’s Pick Me Up 2015. There were some noticeable strong participants and their differences in both technical skills and content made them stand out. My favourites by far were the sensitive and lively drawings of Zoë Taylor and wonderful paper-crafted works of Hattie Newman. Both were a real delight to find.

Visual work aside, the range of speakers this year was good and I was lucky enough to hear Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright of ‘pioneering publishing house’ GraphicDesign&  deliver a great talk on graphic design.

In recent years I have genuinely enjoyed much of what has come out of PMU and the associated genre of art that has emerged. I particularly like the way in which many of the PMU creatives are doing things for themselves, on their own terms and in their own way, however, I can’t help yearning for something fresh or perhaps more importantly a more diverse range of styles. Contemporary graphic art is so much more than what PMU has come to represent. A little substance goes a long way.

PMU_2015_2
Lucienne Roberts (L) & educator Rebecca Wright of GraphicDesign&
Out students taking part in using coloured scraperboard at the Blink Art stand
Our FE & HE students taking part in using coloured scraperboard at the Blink Art stand
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Workbook of Hattie Newman
Workbook of Hattie Newman
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson

Saturday, 27 September 2014

‘Time: Tattoo Art Today’ at Somerset House

2014-09-26 12.16.01

Today was the first of our annual college trips for new academic year. Time to get out of the design studios, look up from our Macs and seek inspiration from elsewhere. This time it was a visit to London’s Somerset House to see ‘Time: Tattoo Art Today’  The exhibition is unique. Some 70 tattoo artists have been commissioned to create a work of art and inlcudes work from Ed Hardy, Horiyoshi III, Rose Hardy, Chris Garver and Claudia De Sabe. What struck me immediately was just how talented these people are when not working on skin. Works included painted sculptures—two of my favourites being Chris Garver’s ‘Indigo Dragons’ and Henk ‘Hanky Panky’ Schiffmacher’s ‘ACBC’, a mesmerising and sensitive portrait of a tattooed Christ. (Directly below)

The theme of ‘time’ lead to many of the artists producing works reminiscent of medieval memento mori, clearly referring to our measured time in this world, along with the message that youthful beauty is fleeting.

The collection is incredibly diverse and is well worth the visit, but don’t expect to see tattoos, that’s not what’s on show! However, it would have been a bonus if only to have had a small image of each tattoo artists’ work, just to give the viewer a glimpse of what they create as tattooists. It is a great exhibition, and, for the most part, entirely unpredictable as you move from piece to piece.

Time: Tattoo Art Today ends October 5th.


Above: ‘Rouge’ (detail) by Rose Hardy.

 

Friday, 1 November 2013

The AOI Illustration Awards 2013 at Somerset House

johnson_pj7
Kristen Stewart © Paul X Johnson from the cover of
Little White Lies magazine

Last week I took my HND and BA Graphic Design students to the ‘AOI Illustration Awards 2013′ held at Somerset House.  Overall, I found the work of this year’s exhibitors as equally impressive as last year’s. The awards are “the only independent jury selected illustration competition in the UK…that recognises exceptional work ” and which promotes “illustration as an essential contributor to global visual culture.” The exhibits certainly were exceptional and I believe these works addressed that latter aim too.

It was a genuinely refreshing exhibition with some unexpected approaches. For me, most noticeable was the absence of some of the clichéd styles of illustration that have hung around for some while now. This was a strong and mature show. By that, I’m not just referring to the high quality of the work in terms of technique and compositional skills but also its content. The work was genuinely engaging and that’s arguably been missing from certain genres of illustration for a while. Before anyone takes umbrage to the last comment, I should couch that by acknowledging that there’s room for all types of illustration, and that illustrators often have to do whatever they can to eke a living. I simply felt that it was refreshing to see illustration with substance dominate this exhibition.

Many of the pieces were placed into context to show the illustrations functioning as intended. It is so important for students of illustration to see illustrations working as pieces of visual communication, supporting a text rather than just pieces of image making. An image is not an illustration until it illustrates something. That might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but I am surprised at how often I find myself reminding students to consider that.

Most of my favourites came from the shortlisted pool; and of particular interest were the lively and well observed sketches and drawings of commuters by Steve Wilkin, captured with great character and then set within text as drawn without apparently being tweaked. Again, it was good for students to see that illustrative solutions often reside within the sketchbook. As a process to learning illustration, there can be a stultification of the work when taken from the freedom of the sketchbook and then overworked into what the student might view as a neatly polished final. One can ‘kill’ an illustration with too much tweaking. Knowing when to leave it alone is a skill in itself.

One of my favourite works had to be Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations for the Folio Society’s ‘The Box of Delights’ by John Masefield. I found these simply engaging and intriguing. They are illustrations to be pored over which is exactly what I did, returning to look at them several times.

Also intriguing were the beautifully drawn works of Jun Cen (see below). These graphite book illustrations possessed a slightly surreal, dreamlike quality. The images gave me the sense of having stumbled into a scene whereby one has to quickly determine what’s going on. The illustrations were sensitively drawn, yet the dark graphite gave them a density and contrast that creates a powerful presence. It would have been great to have seen these set within their intended book. (Perhaps I missed this if they were.)

Some of the work reminded me of the styles that were familiar to me from being a pre-digital student of illustration—22 years ago in my case—when many of us at my college would use just gouache or acrylics to produce painstakingly detailed works. I’m thinking particularly of Simon Bartram’s incredibly detailed acrylic works for the children’s title Bob, The Man of the Moon.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and already look forward to next year’s offerings. My students on the other hand, seemed to favour the appropriately titled ‘graphic art’ of ‘Pick me up’, the annual exhibition that also takes place at Somerset House. Perhaps because it’s more trendy, for want of a better word? However, I got the impression that they felt that the standard of work produced at the AOI Awards was a product of skills unobtainable to them, but they appeared not to consider the enormous journey that each illustrator has likely taken to attain such standards. With that in mind, I think perhaps the visit was in itself a good lesson in highlighting the importance of sustained practice, particularly as we live in such a culture of immediacy.

The category winners can be seen here, and those shortlisted here.

L'abbraccioA3
L’Abbracio © Giulia Ghigini
cARDS
Jonathan Burton © 2012 from the Folio Society
edition of playing cards Odd Bodds
Nate_Kitch_Lost Mariner (Re- Oliver Sacks)
Lost Mariner © Nate Kitch
Cen
Entrance/Exit © Jun Cen
balbusso_a_and_e5
Anna and Elena Balbusso © 2012
from the Folio Society edition of Eugene
Onegin

AOI_illustration

Somerset_House