Divertissements from the MA, to-date, and more…


I’ve never had anything ‘bound’ before… It remains to be seen whether these 5,978 words were worth such treatment…!

Well… It’s been a long ol’ hiatus, but I’m back! A rather more intense experience than I had anticipated (perhaps rather foolishly…), the Diploma stage of the MA in Children’s Book Illustration (led by the fearsomely eyebrow-ed, but amazing, Martin Salisbury) at Anglia Ruskin University has just come to a close – culminating in a cathartic ‘hand-in’ last Friday of Semester 2 artwork, essay and ‘dissertation’ (for those of you whom have also completed degrees/post-graduate qualifications, I suspect my triumphant brandishing of a comb-bound, 6,000-word exhalation of thoughts on an artistic theme would elicit a mere snort of derision – however, it was pretty painfully wrought and entailed all [well, some…] sorts of practitioner interviews and journal consultations, so I’m going to risk – nay, invite – such ridicule and declare that it qualifies in my estimation…).

In the 8-month(!!!), post-free vacuum this site has suffered, many a pencil has been sharpened to expiry; myriad new (to me…) materials and media have been purchased, tested, and either clutched with a feverish joy to my ‘bosom’ *ahem*, or relegated to the shady recesses of my materials cupboard with the suggestion of ‘maybe someday I’ll forgive you and entertain the possibility of proffering a second chance to co-operate with my hand…’ [naming no names, PRO MARKERS! Gah!); and adventures in the art of image sequencing have been embarked upon, wept over and wrestled to resolution. There have been life drawing classes, coffee-shop-ninja sketching outings, days spent crouched in an awkward huddle beside some display cabinet in an assortment of Cambridge museums – sketching both exhibits and passers by, and a wonderful afternoon spent ogling the work of giants of the illustration world, courtesy of the lovely people at Seven Stories (the National Centre for Children’s Books, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne) whom brought a sample of their vast collection on the road for our benefit!  There have been days amidst the tins of tarry relief-printing inks and ancient presses of the Cambridge School of Art print room (I can still detect a white-spirity tang in the nasal passages…), daubing old lithography plates (aluminium sheets) and perspex with oil-thinned ink and attempting to absorb some of the dexterity, graphic brilliance and innovative genius of the seasoned printers whom are as much a part of that place as the Swarfega-spattered sinks and drying racks. The consumption of countless packets of biscuits and bottles of wine has also featured heavily (as, correspondingly, will the buying of new, more capacious clothes in the next few weeks)…

You will be heartily relieved to hear that it is not my intention to recount every moment of the experience thus far here, but I thought I’d offer a smattering of pages from my sketchbooks by way of illustration (absolutely intentional deployment of pun…), and just say what an incredible journey it is turning out to be: the tutors are, without exception, awesome individuals, while the array of part-time/contributing lecturers – including Marta Altés, Alexis Deacon, Paula Metcalf, James Mayhew and David Hughes – is wonderfully eclectic and endlessly inspiring. The accompanying lecture series, delivered by both tutors and visiting lecturers, has spanned topics as diverse as Ladybird books and Noel Carrington; the bizarre and engaging work of Edward Gorey; (relatively) new publishers, Nobrow, and their children’s book imprint, Flying Eye; the art and mechanics of comic/picturebook ‘crossovers’; and picturebooks as related to the progressive cinematic tradition (amongst very many others). There were also workshops with local primary schools, organised by the unparalleled Pam Smy; charity auctions to raise funds for the annual School representation at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair; and many ‘extra-curricular’ book-shop-centric events (many, being launches of recent alumni’s debut picture books – inspirational and intimidating in equal measure…!). The 2014 graduates’ show – this year transferred from Foyles to the Candid Gallery (to accommodate its swollen proportions [!] and where our show, next February, will more than likely be staged) – coruscated with displays of both technical prowess and conceptual inventiveness, paving the proverbial way for the 2013/2014 cohort’s endeavours and spurring us on to increasingly experimental methodologies through which to frame our illustrative visions.

Of absolutely equal importance, though, have been my fellow students on the course, whose creative brilliance I have had the privilege of bathing in merely by virtue of sharing the same studio space – although I would like to confirm that I do talk to people (the Romantic-recluse persona really does not suit…), and that they are all, pretty much without exception, entirely lovely and wonderful people. The life of an illustrator (especially the freelance breed) can be a rather isolated, lonely one, so the opportunity to live and work in an environment populated by individuals negotiating very similar challenges (creative and existential!) – many of whom are developing/have developed ‘coping’ strategies, and whose illustrative ‘signature’ is similarly undergoing something of a metamorphosis in response to the course teaching (a rather unsettling sensation, after years of careful crafting of a ‘visual language’ that, however, is [largely] still permeated by the modes of expression we are exposed to throughout our perceptual lives. Well certainly in my case…) – is an emphatically invaluable one.

There are, roughly speaking (a student body is always a slightly mutable creature…), about 40 of us on the 2013-2015 (it’s an 18-month thing, y’know) full-time MA and, at risk of missing off a few important people (eek! They’ll doubtless follow in the next [few] posts), there follows a roll-call of people whose work I think you should most definitely check out (although I suspect some of them, like me, may not have updated their sites in a little while: a cursory glance suggests that their new work [from the course] does not yet feature so prominently as it definitely should – there have been some incredible projects [I think Facebook may be the place to go…] – although seeing some of their previous work does demonstrate the multiplicity of creative/other backgrounds from which the course attracts ‘talent’!):

In no particular order: Ellie Snowdon (beeeeautiful etchings), Dan UngureanuTereza ŠediváMegan Wall, Alina SurnaiteMargarita Surnaite (yes, they are related. Twins, in fact…), Danni Gowdy, Siri Vinter Pedersen, Heloise O’Donoghue, Lauren Clemmet, Katie Harnett, and Anna Chernyshova to name but a few…!

And, as for what I’ve been up to… Well, I thought I’d paste in a few scraps from my sketchbooks (the ones that I’ve had the presence of mind to scan before committing to the Hand-In-destined portfolio bundle…), and a couple of pieces from my most recent project by way of a re-introduction (although I may have to split these into instalments… Please bear with me):

I’ll start from the beginning, shall I…? Module 1 – Observational drawing: ‘Go out and draw stuff!’

(FYI: Yes, I will definitely have to create further instalments – WordPress seems to undergone some pretty major changes re. image editing and general formatting since my last post and attempts to make sense of the new system thus far have been frustratingly under-productive… Apologies.)

Fellow students

Initially, I only had the courage to ‘operate’ around the university (drawing from life, i.e. ‘live’ subjects, without attracting their – or anyone else’s attention is a tricky business, and fraught with potential embarrassments…!)

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About illustratedbyamanda

Illustrator and time-fritterer extraordinaire
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