A Q&A with Illustration Tutor Siôn Ap Tomos

From being inspired by the funny comics to teaching from observation and imagination.


  • Learning

We talk to the illustrator, educator and creator of our Illustrating People course. Check our What's on page, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @illustrationHQ to find out when Siôn is next teaching at House of Illustration.

What got you started illustrating people?

As a child I was influenced by two things. Firstly my father who had a large collection of art books and who was especially keen on portraiture. Secondly my weekly funny comic which I was obsessed with, copied from and which inspired me to do my own characters and stories.

Tell us about how you illustrate people professionally in your practice.

My work reflects those influences I described above. It’s quite varied and includes portraiture and depictions of known people (both contemporary and historical), humorous editorial illustrations and family-oriented characters.

What are some of the most satisfying projects you have worked on?

I created display illustrations for the Science Museum London that included several historical figures using scientific equipment, including George III using one of his telescopes. While there was historical documentation to work from, the scenes themselves had to be pieced together. This felt like the perfect job for me in many ways as I was depicting real people, which I’m very experienced at, while also getting to construct the scenes from imagination.

I recently worked for another museum creating a character guide for several family activity trails as well as illustrating the activities themselves and that was an enormous amount of fun. The process of developing the character idea from scratch with the client from a very loose starting point to then bringing it to life through giving it a visual personality was a very satisfying experience.

How does your practice affect your teaching?

They are both bound up together and always have been, constantly feeding into one another. My approach to teaching consistently reflects what I have done and do in my practice as well as what I observe in creative education and the illustration world. Things that I experience in my illustration life, whether they be visual ideas, newfound knowledge, process experiences and so on will flow into my teaching. It’s always been like that.

Why did you create the Illustrating People course?

I felt there was an opportunity to cover this huge subject in a varied and useful way. It involved bringing together the various aspects of depicting people that I’d worked on over the years, including life drawing, working from photography, character design and sequential narrative.

What makes this course different from other courses?

Illustrating People is unique because it dares to cover a subject as big as this and does it in a varied way to reflect the different approaches one might take to the subject as an illustrator. You will get the opportunity to draw live subjects in one session and in another be guided to spontaneously create characters from your imagination.

What can students expect from the online course?

Pretty much everything is done live online, including illustrated presentations and practical demos. There are occasional pre-recorded videos within the content, though most of these will include live commentary by me. In all the sessions during the week, everything I discuss will also be explored practically, so there will be a constant flow of activities and exercises to get stuck into.

One of the benefits of the online version of the course is that all the presentations and demos are recorded and made available to re-watch for two weeks after the course so you can revisit the material in your own time.

What materials and methods do you like most?

Lots of drawing with pencil and pen and lots of use of wet materials such as watercolour, ink and gouache paint with a brush.

Why should I book a place on Illustrating People?

If you want to demystify the subject; if you want to gain confidence in it; if you want practical hints and tips on ways of depicting hands, eyes, hair and so on; if you want to create characters and give them different emotions and expressions; and If you want to depict people in different positions and from different angles and move them around, then this is the course for you!

Check out previous students' work from our Illustration People course.

Check our What's on page, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @illustrationHQ to find out when Siôn is next teaching at House of Illustration.