I was a pretty engaged regular at the House of Illustration before joining as Schools and Families Producer, but I was unaware of the vast breadth and reach of its work in education.
Behind the scenes a dedicated team of professional illustrators delivering curriculum-supporting school workshops, family-centred weekend days, adult masterclasses, short courses, CPD teacher training, high education talks and workshops plus a number of community outreach programmes. There’s a lot going on, which means in a short time I’ve already seen how crucial the education programmes are to sharing and celebrating illustration as an art form.
When I started at House of Illustration, Head of Education Emily Jost talked me through her amazing team of freelance illustrators, and told me that it was a rare occasion that they were in the same space at the same time. As they share so much common ground, often teaching similar topics or working with similar groups, we decided that it would be great to get them together for a day of practice sharing and reflection. The aim of the Sharing Day was to explore workshop successes and failures, learn some new techniques and observe a variety of teaching styles to enhance what we all have to offer in our own workshops.
The group consisted of nine team members including some just starting out, along with me and Emily. We kicked off the day with presentations from some really experienced members of the team, Toya Walker, Sion Ap Tomos, Merlin Evans and Julie Vermeille. Although they had very different presentation and teaching styles, they all discussed the tension between giving structure and allowing freedom in the workshop space. They showed examples of how a lack of structure may leave participants at sea, while too much instruction supposed an outcome that the participant perhaps didn’t want. The workshop leaders also took us through examples of positive results in which pupils had responded to instructions really well, or had enough space to experiment and feel comfortable to create illustrations they were proud of.
After taking as many notes as possible, I had a chance to get stuck into the practical work. The first workshop was run by Merlin, who got back to basics and taught us all how to use a pencil! With brilliantly sharp pencils we practiced making very light to dark shades, drawing shapes and holding the pencil comfortably - actions that sound simple but are often really tricky for primary students. Merlin informed us that the pencil workshop has already made great impact in schools - and I can definitely see why. By getting into the mind-set of a school student, I became aware of how a simple tool can actually be a hindrance if not used to its best ability. I finished the exercise determined to use basic art materials in more interesting ways and provide the best experience for students with what is available in the classroom.
Next, Sion demonstrated how shadow and movement can be injected into character design. He gave us the great advice of painting three characters from photos on the same piece of paper to take the pressure off a single ‘masterpiece’, and how lighter ink shades can give the illusion of something is further away. It was really satisfying to get away from outline drawing and to use the paintbrush as the main drawing tool.
Toya’s workshop was a great lesson in illustration as a method of communication. Working in pairs we selected an object from the box (a potato...a butterfly…a dinosaur) and used collaging techniques to produce a life cycle diagram to show to the rest of the class. I discovered quite quickly that I knew hardly anything about potato plants (a bit embarrassing as the daughter of a gardener), but all was saved when I chatted to the others on my table. Working in a group with a strong focus on image functionality freed us from worrying about aesthetic perfection and really made us consider the viewer’s experience. We had to think quite carefully about the most important aspects of the diagram and how to represent them with collage.
Julie finished the day with an amazing workshop, which focussed on designing and mocking up a book cover. When I put my design onto the book I had bound and made up, I could imagine it in a professional space and take it a bit more seriously than just a sketch. It also allowed me figure out what was working and what wasn’t quite quickly. The session was quite technical so we all came away with some solid skills that will be super useful for our own workshops in the future.
I came away from the Sharing Day a more thoughtful and prepared educator. I had the whole day to focus on and discuss what really works in the education space and get advice from experienced people in the same boat! Here is what some of the other illustrator/educators had to say about the Sharing Day:
“It was a fantastic, informative and very inspiring.” – Montana Forbes
“Many thanks for a fabulous sharing day. Very inspiring and so useful for development of skills and ensuring we are always delivering fresh, high quality content in our workshops. I thoroughly enjoyed myself!” – Merlin Evans
“Thanks so much for letting me be part of the sharing day - it was incredibly informative, and it was nice to get to talk to the longer standing illustrators on your team.” – Mehnaz Mia
“Thank you very much for organising the gathering yesterday. It was really nice to see everyone, share experiences and skills. We should definitely do it more often.” – Juilie Vermielle
Click here for more information on Education at House of Illustration.