Behind the Scenes: Illustrating People

We chatted to illustration tutor Sion Ap Tomos ahead of his Illustrating People summer school.


  • Education

Eek, illustrating people’s a big subject! Where do you start?

It is indeed – a large and fundamental subject within the medium of illustration. Illustrating People is definitely the most ambitious course I’ve ever devised!

I’d been teaching illustration for over 15 years before developing this course specifically for House of Illustration so in many ways it’s the distillation of all my many experiences and explorations in figure drawing.

What can I expect from the course?

In a nutshell: a range of practical, accessible and useful ways to approach the subject.

You won’t learn one specific way of depicting people. Instead, you’ll work through a series of activities designed to enhance your knowledge and experience of the subject – while always allowing for your own individual interpretation.

Can you give me an example?

So, an early session covers eyes, exploring their structure in order to understand why and how they are depicted by illustrators in so many richly varied ways.

This session combines a technical lecture, an analysis of illustration examples, and practical exercises designed to help you make conscious choices about how you would like to depict eyes (and ultimately faces).

The whole course works in this way: talking, looking and, importantly, doing.

How do you break it down?

We start by exploring the face, then the head as a whole, the figure, and the figure within an environment.

Within this journey there are explorations of materials, methods and styles.

For instance, a session is dedicated to caricature with an analysis of examples and practical advice on how to approach this style of depiction.

Let’s talk materials and methods.

We’ll explore materials and methods in a practical way, to enhance overall knowledge as well as get to grips with specific techniques.

For example, we’ll do a session on stencilling not just because it’s a satisfying technique but because creating stencil images of the whole figure is a useful way of breaking down and understanding the fundamental structure of the body.

We’ll explore working with different sources: photographic reference, real people in a live situation and the imagination.

What will I take away from the course?

You’ll walk away with practical tools and experiences to use to explore the subject further – whether personally or professionally.

Who’s the course for?

Everyone! You may be an illustrator wishing to develop the depiction of people in your work, a recent graduate wishing to build on your practical knowledge, or someone working in a related field looking to learn new skills.

Just as importantly you may be someone doing it for fun, wishing to engage or re-engage with drawing and illustration.

The varied intentions and experiences of students on the short courses I deliver have always added a richness to the sharing. Not everyone is the same and neither are they seeking the exact same thing – but they do share a curiosity and enthusiasm to discover more about the subject.

What’s special about doing this course at House of Illustration?

Sharing to me is the primary purpose of a place like House of Illustration: sharing knowledge, ideas, opinions and experiences.

It’s a terrific boost to have this hub for the medium, a place to share and spread our passion for it as far and wide as possible.

It’s the ideal home for a course like this, plus we’re able to take advantage of the exhibitions programme to add to the experience.

I very much look forward to delivering the course again soon!

Sion Ap Tomos’ Illustrating People summer school takes place Monday 10 – Friday 14 August 2020 – book your place now.