Rachel Lillie: the first month

Our new home takes shape – through the eyes of our first illustrator in residence

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  • Illustrator in Residence

It’s been a busy first month - transformations are happening each day within the new building. I wanted to go in head first by drawing the space and its progress as I witness it.

It’s been incredible to see how fast-paced the building works are - seeing it all unfold is a visual treat! I had no idea what to expect on my first day of drawing but I felt a great sense of immediacy as soon as I arrived, watching the builders work. Minute by minute the building is changing. A constant progression, starting in the smallest gallery at the rear of the building, where the framework for the gallery walls was being erected.

It's a small space so I wasn't able to draw in the room directly, but instead I watched the prep work being done in the main gallery. Cutting and carrying large timber beams through into the space. It was a delight to watch the rhythm of the workmen. Cutting and carrying - cutting and carrying. And of course I was completely intrigued to see what was actually happening in the room next door!

The smallest details fascinate me in this strange environment. What is everyday to the workmen - is a surprise to the outsider. The piles of timber, the grain on the wood beneath the walls, the screws and nails that scatter the work benches, the debris that lies on the floor.

I am constantly surrounded by strange sounds and smells. Drilling, banging, clattering and sawing, that lovely smell of timber, plaster and paint. Things become abstracted the more I look. Drawing through doorways and between wooden beams, looking high and looking low. I see bodies moving, cropped limbs and hidden faces. But over time, as I return to the site these faces become familiar and the workmen become friends. This is where I think the drawing becomes more sensitive and interesting. It's as much about documenting and seeing as it is about feeling.

And each time I return a great deal more has been done. New shapes, new walls, new textures, new sounds and new faces. It's been a fantastic challenge to capture all this motion. Nothing and no-one stays still, everything in a constant state of flux.

Looking at my drawings they are incredibly rough. Using only graphite to record what I see, they are situational and totally reflect this state of constant change. I can feel the confidence in my drawings increase over time as the building transforms.

As well as the building work, I've had the chance to attend and draw many live events, from family workshops to artists’ talks. What I've also found fascinating is the preparation that goes into these events: the set up and behind the scenes. One moment the gallery is a building site and the next it is full of excited guests.

I've also been able to visit the Quentin Blake archive and meet the man himself, and meet the designers at Burgess Studio both busy getting things reading for Quentin's exhibition, Inside Stories.  It's so insightful to see every side of the story.

As the building works continue, I continue with my drawing, and I begin to explore other possibilities. But I'll leave that for my next blog post...