Vincent Van Gogh, and the Narrative of the Struggling Artist

Van Gogh is an icon, and in contemporary popular culture he seems to be more of a fictional character than a historical figure. Despite this, it matters that we remember he was a real living being; when we strip away his humanity we also strip it away from the 1 in 4 people who will suffer with mental health problems alive today, along with other disabled people and everyone else who finds themselves categorised as a ‘tortured artist’.

The brief overview of Van Gogh’s health diagnoses is as follows. Van Gogh and his doctor, Dr Felix Ray believed that he had epilepsy. In 1947, Perry suggested that Gogh had bipolar disorder with comorbid health problems. Multiple doctors believe he had Borderline Personality Disorder. Roch Grey believed he may have suffered with heat stroke. 1979 saw the first hypothesis that Gogh suffered with Ménière's disease, which was both strongly advocated and refuted by other academics. In 1991, a doctoral thesis suggested lead poisoning, but forensic investigation of Gogh’s bones that could prove this was not undertaken. Another controversial hypothesis is that he suffered with AIP, which would appear similar to lead poisoning. He both abused substances, and used treatments for epilepsy.

His death is widely accepted as suicide.

Today, not only do I want to explain that none of this is why he made great art, but I also want to explain what did cause him to create exceptional paintings, and what this means for disabled, chronically ill and other disadvantaged artists today.

Lets walk through the basics. An artist who finds themselves with such severe mental health problems that they end up in a psychiatric ward (an example would be… Van Gogh) will find their access to art materials severely limited. Not just due to the physical geography of being in hospital and having your belongings in a separate location, but the variable contraband and restricted lists that may have to account for even biros or a foil paint tube that can be used by someone determined enough to do damage. Over 28 days an artist will produce a lot less artwork if they are sectioned under the mental health act than if they had received appropriate care at an early stage and through that been given the opportunity to avoid becoming an inpatient.

In addition to this, in the lead up and aftermath of inpatient care the artist probably won’t be in the best mind to produce artwork. There is no inherent value that going through the struggle will offer the artist, for their career or their art. This is the same as it is for mentally ill people who want to be chefs, or air hostesses. To say that bad mental health produces good art is to violate the privacy of some of the most vulnerable people in society, unless you are talking about your own work.

Medication for mental and neurological heath treatment has strange side effects, and not only are the common experiences like headache and nausea distractions from anyone’s workflow, but other side effects, such as changes to eye cones, can absolutely flatten any project that required an ounce of visual consistency.


So then, on to the second question, why did Van Gogh produce so many amazing paintings? The answer’s going to disappoint you: steady income that wasn’t from a second job. It’s well documented that his brother gave him an allowance.

This is a good point to remember that we’d have a more of Picasso’s work had he not set fire to it to stay warm and alive when he was young. Consider Van Gogh doing the same if he had not had the monetary support. Which of his artworks would you chose to destroy?

People like disability and poverty when it’s packaged in a nice clean way – because that is ultimately when profit can be made from it. In Van Gogh’s case, his art is often used in contemporary culture to sanitise and ignore the realities of his mental and neurological health problems. Phrases such as “he took a bad thing and turned it into something happy” are typical of an arts industry that overall won’t acknowledge when disabled people are actively andsystematically placed at disadvantage.

As a 22 year old in the UK, I can give more examples of careers in the arts I’ve seen trashed because of other people’s bad attitudes towards their mental health than I can people who’ve made some sort of social profit off their experience of poverty and/or disability. The official conversation around mental health at the art college I attended was so enraging all I could do was grit my teeth and not make eye contact with people whenever it came up. The constant push and shove of people demanding the mentally ill “speak up” and people policing the tone of anyone who did is still so maddening to me it’s taken me months to write and edit this paragraph.

And the discussion about poverty was equally infuriating. One student who, like many others in 2015, couldn’t get a job over the holidays to save up for a college trip found academic staff really condescending about her lack of attendance but when I raised issues with workload when college campus was closed over Christmas I was told it was a “personal issue” and I shouldn’t have brought it up. Even if the other student had had a job over the holidays, she still would’ve been tripped up by the tutors later in the semester.

Through process of elimination we discovered the only students who would be tolerated were those rich enough to support themselves through the holidays and still be able to afford to go on these trips during term time.

In the end, the class I graduated my BA with was a lot wealthier than the class I started first year with.  Three years of people leaving the course or failing and moving back a year had moved me from a class I felt comfortable in to one where I felt completely alienated and snubbed for being a problem student. 

My brief attempt to point this out through official feedback channels in my second year resulted in me getting a wave of hostility from tutors and other students on my course, and that was nothing in comparison with what I saw other students go through. No one wants to admit they got where they were based on privilege.  It was this attitude towards working class students that kept me silent about the systematic treatment of mental health issues.

The truth of the matter is, people want to romanticise illness, disability and poverty, because the reality makes them uncomfortable. No one wants to admit Van Gogh produced amazing work because his brother could afford to support him, and he would have been able to produce a lot more if he’d not had ultimately fatal mental and neurological health problems. Ultimately I have to admit to myself that a general public that barely wastes a passing thought for Picasso’s burnt works won’t ever think about artist upon artist whose work was destroyed by poverty in so much as it was never created to begin with.

Crossing Dublin, Passing Pubs

In my last post I spoke about what it was like presenting at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research. My research area was way too massive to cover in one blog post without doing it justice (whose isn't?!) so today I just want to very briefly cover the history of the illustration I spoke about.

kallwijts map from nuala husseys blog post

The meaning of Kallwejt’s illustration (above) is not “predominantly derived from the objects within the frame” as Sturken & Cartwright would put it. The concept of crossing Dublin without passing a pub is originally found in Ulysses by James Joyce.  The book has had a large role to play in the heritage of Dublin. In Literary Trails, Urban Space and the Actualization of Heritage, Saretzki explicitly mentions Dublin as a town with extensive literary repute.

Bloomsday, the celebration of “all things James Joyce” began in 1954 when a group of fans went on a journey following the events of book. The celebrations continued to be organised in spite of the establishment, as it went against the ideology of Irish society at the time – evidenced by the film adaptation receiving the longest film ban in Irish history. By the 100th anniversary of the plot in 2004, this was no longer the case, and the Irish establishment were well imbedded as marketers of the celebration, having arguably appropriated it from the original organisers and attendees.


In 2011, with the advances in software engineering in relation to cartography, Rory McCann published the first pub-free route across Dublin in time for Bloomsday. Within a few days this was picked up in both British and Irish press.

It is McCann's research & route that Kallwejt refers to in the 2014 How to Cross Dublin Without Passing a Pub illustration.

BCUR17 Presentation

Earlier on this year I presented at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research, at Bournemouth University's Talbot Campus. I was the first student from my art school to ever present at conference, so I've decided to write a bit about my experience of applying, planning for it, and presenting, for those of you thinking about giving it a go!

Application process

I had taken part most of the scholarship activities I could while I was studying my illustration degree. I signed up to the HCA scholarship email list as soon as I was aware about it and by the time I even heard about BCUR, I had already taken part in c-classes and been published by the Association of Colleges. These positive experiences gave me the confidence to apply to BCUR. I spoke with Sarah Jane Crowson, the person who does all the scholarship stuff (and who had previously been my critical studies lecturer) about my two second year essays and she helped me pick which one I would submit.

The main part of the application was to write an abstract. This is basically an overview of your research. I had never written an abstract before, which was great, because it meant that even if my application was unsuccessful I would have learnt something from the process!


The college paid for my travel, hotel, and conference ticket, and I got forwarded all the information I needed. I got the choice of

  1. Traveling into Bournmouth the day before my presentation and traveling home the afternoon I presented
  2. Travel in on the morning and go home the day after

I decided the travel the day before so I didn't have to stress about being late. It also gave me the opportunity to get readjusted to Bounrnemouth (which I haven't visited in over a decade). On the morning before I presented, I went to the presentations in the room I was schedueled to be in, so I could get used to the environment.

Preparing my presentation

After turning my essay into an abstract for my application, I now had to turn it into a presentation. The two big challenges here were

  1. My presentation had a 10 minute time limit with an extra five minutes for questions, whereas my essay was about 3000 words long
  2. My audience was going to be a wide range of undergraduates and university staff, whereas the essay had been read by people with a very specialist knowledge of my subject area

I wasn't sure where to start, so I just started deconstructing my essay and looking for the common threads that ran through it. Luckily, I hadn't thrown out my notes, so I could use these to see how I built it up in the first place.

I had a look at the images I had used inline in my essay and the arguments and analysis that directly related to them. I personally found that these images were the most useful part of my essay to carry over into my presentation, because it gave me good visual content for my slides, and therefore meant the audience was less reliant on me to narrate my research.

Where I did put verbal information on my slides, it was usually an important quote that featured in my research. By putting it on the slide I created a visual version of it I could refer to, and this helped me break it down and explain it to the audience, in the same way I did with the images.


Answering Questions

This was the bit I was most worried about, but it was actually fun and a nice way to end the whole journey! I mainly got asked broad questions about things I'd briefly referenced, which I think was the same for everyone else's presentations. It was a really friendly atmoshpere because most of us were presenting for the first time!

If you have any more questions, drop them in the comments below! My next blog post will be about the research I presented, so bare with me for now if that's what you're going to ask about!

Hand-held plasma cutting

I've been super busy lately juggling various illustration projects and my job in an arts centre, but did manage to clear a day to spend some more time at Hereford Make! I've been looking forward to getting back there to work on some marketing materials with the volunteers, and get an induction to the onsite hand-held plasma cutter.


Before I used the machinery, I had to put on some overalls, because my clothes were made of flammable manmade fibres. I also had to put on some ear defenders, and safety goggles to protect me from the intense light the plasma arc emmits. We positioned the extrator above and slightly behind the steel, to encourage the flow of air away from me as the fumes produced were extracted from the room.

pumkin spice.png

James showed me how to use the machine and gave me a couple of pieces of scrap steel to practice with. At first I pressed too hard into the steel which caused the plasma cutter to get lodged in the steel. Once I realised the trick was to not push it into the metal but instead guide it across the top, I was able to make longer lines. I was also super anxious to begin with because it was all so loud, and this showed in my mark making, because I was drawing too quickly. James told me to go slower to get the clean cut through the steel, and not only did this achieve that desired effect, but going slower also gave me more control over the lines.

I'm really happy with what I managed to produce in such a short space of time. I'm looking forward to going back and creating a bigger illustration with these new skills. What really interests me is that although I've created many continuous line illustrations in the past, these ones have to have continuous uninterupted space flowing through them to keep them structurally sound.

Wedding Signs

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll have been seeing lots of hand-lettered signs and phrases over the past week that I designed for a wedding. I have done typography projects before, most notably the signage for Longbridge Public Art Project's Unit, but this is the first wedding I worked on!

Megan gave me some phrases she wanted with example signs that she had been inspired by. She wanted them A4 size to be put in frames, and in a couple of cases she wanted particular illustrations on them. Apart from that, she gave me control over the rest of it.

This brief really called for a variety of pens, and the most irreplacable ones were the Gold Letraset Metallic Marker and my white gel pen. Most of the pens I used came from my collection of Promarkers & Aquamarkers and Faber-Castell Grip Colour Markers. I found that system3 Acyrlic Paper was great for this project, as it had the right gsm (thickness) and a nice texture that helped the signs fit with the style of the rest of the wedding.

The venue of the wedding was a cute barn on large rural grounds, and I let the research I did into the site influence my designs. I handed them back to Megan the week before the wedding and I was delighted to see them framed and presented at the wedding.

Hereford Make

I spent this last Bank Holiday Monday afternoon visiting Hereford Make, which is a creative hub in the Whitecross area of Hereford for artists and makers. I'd heard a fair bit about the place, but it's only now I've finished my degree that I've had the time to go and visit.


It was great to see the kind of workshops and environment a lot of my friends work in. Although I've been in 3D, ceramic and glass workshops before, I'd not been in a forge. The studio space and communal area upstairs would feel familiar to most artists and designers, and I was intrigued to see that despite the boundaries between different craft and design disciplines, there's a lot of similarities in some of the ways we work.


After James Baker took me on a tour around the site, we had a long chat. Obviously I had tons of questions for him, but he also had some for me too! Last summer, I was a summer school student and volunteer invigilator at Longbridge Public Arts Project, and that autumn my case study about my experience there was published by the Association of Colleges. Between that and my student union work, I understood a lot of the challenges and aspirations Hereford Make has.


I also had the opportunity to see these great pieces of artwork during my visit! This is a good example of how the space is used to reach broad demographics of people. I'm looking forward to seeing some of my favourite blacksmiths return to the city and use these facilities to make some more amazing artwork over the next few months.


The only thing left to do as a student after the Summer Show and New Designers was the Class of 2017 Graduation Ceremony at Hereford Cathedral.

As HCA Student Union President this year, I was asked to make a speech during the ceremony. I have done a bit of public speaking - I presented at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research and spoke about a student campaign against climate change at the Open Student Forum at HCA. I knew I'd be fine making the speech, although I also knew it would be the most nerve-wracking one yet because the audience included so many people who were important to me, and it was such an important day to them.

The thing is with presenting and making speeches, especially in this case, is that generally everyone in the audience wants to see you do well. A fair amount of the audience were the students who'd voted me into the position, so I knew they'd be supportive. I can't overstate how kind everyone was on the run up the ceremony, and how matter of fact and insightful everyone was being when offering me encouragement.

The speech went really well. The acoustics in the cathedral meant I couldn't even hear that I was speaking through a microphone, which was a bit off-putting, but I had paid attention to how other people who'd been on before me had positioned themselves when speaking so I knew I was fine. Everyone told me I did great afterwards, both after the ceremony and on social media. Graduation is always going to be a great day for everyone, but it was amazing to finish my degree and my SU Presidency on such a high!


New Designers

After the Summer Show, about ten of us from the illustration course joined by two from graphic design took a concentrated version of our show to New Designers, a fair for arts graduates in London.

On the run up to New Designers, I wrote a guest blog for them about my creative practice. I've been published before, by the Association of Colleges and the student magazine Artboard, and I clearly write my own blog, but this was a new context for me. It was difficult trying to decide what people would actually want to know about what I do, but I think I got it right!

I also got to do the HCA @ ND Part 2 Takeover on the Hereford College of Arts Student Union Instagram account. Despite being a visual communicator by trade, the media & publicity side of the student union is the one I've had the least experience with. Incoming media officer Tori Oliver had been overseeing the various New Designers and Free Range takeovers this summer, so I had all the help I needed. It took a long time uploading the photos and videos on the wifi but it was a nice feeling knowing that I'd done my bit helping give some amazing work a bit of extra publicity.

When I finally got chance to look around the rest of New Designers, I met some really cool people at the other stalls! As with the HCA Summer Show, it was great to see how well everyone spoke about their work. I'm looking forward to having the spare time to have a closer look online at all the cool projects I saw. Finally, when I returned home to Hereford a week or so later I found an email from someone who'd been looking at my work at the stall and wanted to invite me to another exhibition, which I'm quite excited about!

My advice would be if you're thinking of going to exhibit, go as a visitor the year before (or if you couldn't do that and you're exhibiting in Part 2, visit Part 1, which is on the week before). If you know someone exhibiting there you might be able to get a discount code for your ticket off them, so it's worth asking around!

Have you been to New Desigers? Tell me about how you found it and what your advice is in the comments below!

HCA Summer Show 2017

The Hereford College of Arts Summer Show is an exhibition for everyone graduating that year from the art school. The summer show means different things to each student, but to me it was one of the final steps on a long fast paced and non-stop journey through arts education, since I started my GCSEs at 14. At this point anything I was getting assessed for had already been handed in, so although it was the beginning of an extremely busy couple of months it very much felt like I was winding down.

The set up of the show was very easy from a technical point of view. Everything we had to do, most of us had done before. In second year we had set up an exhibition as a class at De Koffie Pot, and I've framed and hung a fair amount of my own work for other exhibitions. That said, it was emotionally difficult. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for a fair few people in our group, and honestly I'm amazed that everyone got through it and felt up for exhibiting their work. 

On the opening night, both of my parents and my boyfriend attended, and I was really impressed with how eloquent students were being about their work when explaining it to my family. I had more friends and family visit on other days, and I enjoyed showing them around. I was really lucky to meet Celia Birtwell - who liked my hair, and Lucy Jones, who was made a fellow of the college at the 2017 graduation ceromony.

Over the course of the exhibition, I got a lot of interest from the general public and I completely underestimated the amount of business cards I would need! I like the way business cards give people like school children the opportunity to own a tiny bit of nicely printed and legitimately published art. We also had a pop up shop, and I sold a few postcards, stickers and other stuff, but maybe that's for another post!

Travel Journal Map Illustration

I had a bit of a play while I figured out how I was actually going to do the illustration. I learnt that I needed to be on the ball and plan it well from the start because any mistake I made early on would be magnified as the project went on.

The area crosses two maps and I defined what I was going to cover in the illustration. I magnified the maps 200% when tracing the contour lines. For each A3 sheet I traced the 50m/100m/150m lines first and went over them in pen, filling in the rest of them with pencil afterwards. This helped make it more manageable and meant I could keep track of what their values were quite late into the project. The lines were easier to trace through rural areas than built up areas.

I didn't actually trace them all before I started painting. I was finding it really difficult to keep track of the lines, especially through built up areas. I started painting to turn the all the lines into shapes instead, because the shapes work a lot differently and behave differently with each other, so it was easier to see what was going on and make them more difficult connections.

I learnt a lot about mixing paint precisely while doing this illustration - I only used lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine (blue) and I might have used a bit of crimson red? To get the rest of the colours. I learnt a lot about how the amount of layers alter the colour, and how many layers are needed to completely hide what lies underneath! Consistency in my approach was really important for this illustration, so when I bought more paint and the woman in the shop told me about the extra thick super pigment whatever version of the paint I was currently using, it sounded interesting for future reference but I didn't want to confuse myself by applying it halfway through this illustration.

It's done what I wanted it to do for now, but I'd like to do a lot more work to it. It's very time consuming because of the size. I'm torn between cutting it up into smaller squares or finishing it as one massive painting.


Travel Journal Map Illustration Rationale

As this is my last project for my degree I really wanted to push myself. I've learnt a lot painting for the travel journal but I was worried I was going to get stuck repeating the same processes over and over throughout the module, so I decided that for at least one illustration, I was going to do something different.

The aspect of increasing urbanisation along the journey from Hinckley to Erdington is explored quite openly in chapter one, but a secondary story I wanted to tell the audience is about the geographical landscape.

I moved to Hinckley last summer, at the end of the academic year. We crashed the car. A perfect composition with the sunset in the background, the curvature of the motorway, the battery dangling out the front of the crushed bonnet, the tyres bent at 45 degree angles. I stared at it from behind the barrier for a good 40 minutes until the ambulance turned up.

3am the next morning, and we were in the taxi back to Hinckley from Cov Uni hospital. The driver took us speeding through the same junction we crashed on. Too exhausted to care, I saw the sunrise on the horizon and noticed how damn flat this part of the world was. This is why we stick to the A-Roads and take the routes we do.

Welshness Influence on Landscape Painting

Chapter two of my travel journal is set in the Black Mountains, so when Peter Wakelin came in to give a lecture on Welsh influence in landscape painting, I was well excited!

Peter used the example of Tintern Abbey to show how classical art had turned into romanticism over time. He explained that these two things existed on a spectrum, rather than being a binary either or. This made a lot of sense to and has completely changed how I think about the two art movements, and others too.

I think art theory and academic language can be really off-putting to the uninitiated, but Peter made it really accessible. It was comforting to hear that actually it can be difficult putting a label on certain pieces, and it was super interesting to hear why too.

My favourite thing from the whole presentation was the idea of "striking the emotions but delighting the eye". It sort of captures the two main aims of an illustrator, to convey a narrative but in a way that looks nice.

Travel Journal: Journey on Foot

Last November HCA Hiking Society walked from Hay on Wye to Abergavenny via Hay Bluff and the most easterly ridge of the Black Mountains.

The first chapter of my travel journal focused on a car journey that I would have been able to repeat if I needed to collect more source material. Having completed that chapter I was more confident in assessing whether I had enough to complete the narrative with.

I went back through my own photos of the hike, and the ones others had taken. Assessing them all as one I felt there were a couple of missing links, but not ones that would jepordise the whole chapter. Furthermore, they were mainly from the last few miles of the hike, which occurred in the valley leading into Abergavenny, in areas accessible by car. I would be able to go back and fill in the gaps if I had to.

When we were in first year, as part of our written module we were asked to review Frank Quitely's episode of What Do Artists Do All Day?. Frank specialises in graphic novels, and he showed the difference in the layouts of pages between stories in rural and urban areas. Urban based stories include lots of high rise buildings and vertical structures and journeys, whereas rural stories tend to be more horizontal. The shapes of the overall illustrations reflect this. I am aware of this in my own work, as I present chapter 1 - the car journey -  in a landscape format and this chapter in a portrait format.

Travel Journal: Testing, testing...

I gave myself a soft landing into my project, and to the outside world I may have looked disorganised, but there was a pattern in the chaos.

As soon as I got over handing in my dissertation, I started painting. I already had an idea about what my project would look like, and thought about themes, but I didn’t feel very confident about it. I wanted to do a travel journal, but I was concerned there would be a lack of narrative and it would feel a bit flat. I didn’t want to give a specific number of how many illustrations I would be producing, as it would either restrict the quantity if I chose too low a number or the quality if the number was too high.

I’m really glad I started painting early because it gave my tutors an opportunity to give me feedback before I was committed to a particular way of going about it for this project.  It was really motivating to very quickly have techniques at my disposal I’d not used before.

While I was at this initial stage, I did some tests on how to go about recording a journey. I had a day trip by car between Hereford and Worcester using a viewfinder to illustrate what I saw, and this was great for capturing the slower moving parts of the day, eg when we were sat down drinking coffee, but not so great at 60mph. I didn’t finish the day with enough to work with for my project.

My second test was going through various memory cards and seeing if I’d ever accidentally recorded enough of a single journey while trying to get photos of something else. The answer was… kind of? I had a lot of images from a specific 6 mile stretch of the A38 one evening – not quite reaching far enough into central Birmingham that most people familiar with the route would consider it the complete journey.

I had hoped I had a lot of images of the coach ride from Digbeth (Birmingham) to Dublin, a journey I’d taken a few times overnight that is well known to many Irish immigrant families in Birmingham and London. I just about had enough, but was pushing it a bit, and with no opportunity to fill in the blanks I decided not to risk it at this stage of the project.

My third test was to record a day out on the weekend. My housemate Gail wanted to go exploring local quarries for her own project, so I recorded that trip with my camera. Although it was a day of exploring and learning, the narrative throughout it all was a bit too weak and messy to fit with what I’m trying to achieve.

Through all of this I’d managed to pick out what was important (the journey and the act of moving forward) and what the likely pitfalls were (not enough source imagery, lack of chance to collect extra imagery if I’m missing something).

Travel Journal: Inspiring Artists

David Gentleman’s Britain was my starting point when I went looking for illustrators who’d done stuff I wanted to learn from. I think I’d researched him in 1st year, so it was a familiar starting point. I don’t use watercolours, but I was interested in his composition, the layout of the book, and where the narratives were.

When I opened the book, being a Brummie I skipped straight to the Midlands. Having strong family links with Ireland, I then turned to that section. After that I had a look at the Wales chapter, because I live near Wales at the moment. Then East Anglia, because I went on holiday there as a kid. I suspect that people rarely read it in order from first page to last.

This is great in a book that covers so much ground, but what implications does it have for me? I should probably make sure I’m not excluding people who don’t live in the areas I’m illustrating. I think I want to focus on the types of journey rather than the places that are travelled through. The places should still be recognisable, but it shouldn’t be necessary for the reader to have been there before. The text in David Gentleman’s Britain is aimed at someone who hasn’t been to these places before.

When focusing on painters rather than how an illustrator uses narrative I originally looked at William Scott and Turner. I like Turner, so I just needed to be a bit more specific about what it was I liked. At the time, I noticed the colours, but now I can also see his use of aerial perspective. However, I wanted to think more about composition, so I looked at William Scott’s work in the context of me using a viewfinder to break out of the landscape formula I found myself stuck in.

Although I’m being a bit less formulaic with my composition, I’m stuck back in A3 landscape mode, which was something I’ve been trying to stop but is one of the most difficult habits to kick. Emily Sutton is a good example of an illustrator who doesn’t use A sizes, and she’s another good example of an illustrator who uses aerial perspective too!

Travel Journal: Journey by Car

For the first chapter of my travel journal, I’m illustrating a car journey between a rural commuter town into the UK’s second largest city. Hinckley is positioned within easy travel distance of Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham, along with the other smaller towns such as Nuneaton and Tamworth.  

One change through the journey is the hilliness of the terrain. Hinckley and the surrounding area is quite flat, but as we travel along the A5 towards Tamworth it gets increasingly hilly. This is comforting to both of us in the car.

Growing up in Erdington I did feel more like I was part of the Sutton Coldfield community than the larger Birmingham community. When we moved from primary to secondary school, a lot of my classmates gained entry into schools in Sutton Coldfield. I personally started at grammar school in Handsworth across the city, but still most of the local school bus routes through Erdington ended up in Sutton.

Sutton Coldfield is not just another Birmingham suburb. It’s a large town in its own right, with its own suburbs, which is sort of attached onto the north of ‘proper’ Birmingham. In some places, the borders can seem as vague as any suburb, but Chester Road, which separates Erdington and Sutton Coldfield is a particularly defined line in the sand.

When I was little, Erdington hosted its own St Patrick’s Day parade on the high street, historically has a large Catholic community and now, a growing Polish community. On the approach to Erdington High Street from the north, the view ahead is dominated by the old Blockbuster building, currently a gym. Arguably symbolic of arriving in Erdington; it’s also in view when approaching on foot from the train station.

In Cold Blood book cover designs

Mark Rothco’s paintings have a subtle but extremely important influence on one of my In Cold Blood designs.

Rothco wanted viewers of his late period paintings – the ones I am interested in for the sake of my own design – to feel “enveloped” in them. I feel strikes a chord with In Cold Blood which pushed the boundary of what a non-fiction book could be, as Capote employed literary devices typical of the fiction genre.  For Rothco, it was about being intimate and human, in the same way Truman Capote cut through so much noise of human emotion to get to the core of the story, so we can want to understand it 50 years later.

Another artist that greatly influenced one of my book cover designs was Edward Ardizzone.

On the London trip back in November we visited a retrospective exhibition of his work at the House of Illustration. I was particularly drawn to his illustrations that use a low tonal range to dramatize the scene. The study of the way light falls in art is called chiaroscuro, and it is easier to see how skilled he is in using this technique in these illustrations in comparison with some of his other coloured illustrations. This was convenient for me as I did want to do book cover with these types of colours, as in contemporary culture we often think in monotone when we think back to the early 60s due to the photography and print technologies that were in use at the time.

Luckily for me, small animals, and in particular, cats, feature in some of his illustrations. I love the way these animals, often a small details in the entire scene, still have their own personality and often, their own little narrative.

Ciara Cagney / Designer Maker

Ciara Cagney is a first year CDC student. She wanted some illustrations that she could use when she is ready to create a professional persona for herself – for example, as icons/logos online or on business cards. The brief was an odd one – not only was it vague, but it was intentionally vague, in the sense that the illustrations had to be vague in order to not become quickly redundant as her creative practice and professional persona develops.

As a personal friend of Ciara’s, I was in a good position, as I could reflects aspects of her as a person rather than rely on thelimited information I have about her practice. Ciara’s quite a solid person – she seems to know who she is, and what her personal values are, and is able to both defend and develop these over time. Although I understand that’s someone’s personal values went always be the same as a professional values, it is extremely difficult to completely divorce an artist from their work, so I felt comfortable reflecting these subjective aspects through my use of bold colours across a coherent pallet.

I did a photoshoot of Ciara’s workspace, and the shapes she had been making were really fun to convert into illustrations. I did a small version, both for my own sake to experiment and also so I could show her my trail of thought, and went on to produce three final illustrations.

Yoga Illustrations

While we had meetings with Pete and Corri about the Wye Valley yoga project, they would quite often bring up illustrations done by their colleagues in the yoga community.  Yoga teaching is a very visual practice, and it makes me happy that teachers feel confident using their own illustrations to visually communicate and that they understand and eloquently talk about the illustrations of other practitioners. For example, here is the range of illustration – through from pure diagram to a more aesthetically lead design – that can be found over at the wyevalleyyoga Instagram account.

Bobby Clenell was an illustration student who went on to be a professional animator, before he discovered yoga in 1973. What he learnt through yoga influenced his animation as he transitioned over to teaching at the Iyengar institute. After this ‘transition’, his drawing influenced his teaching style and the way he communicates with his students/audience. I find this multi-disciplinary approach across industries really interesting, because there can be a tension between how we perceive an ‘artist’ in comparison with other small business people, despite the similarities.

What I have picked up is that in the yoga community, the model for the illustration is important. Most illustrations are recognizable as the people they are of. When I asked Corri and Pete about their poses from the photos, they said it was more important to be true to how they actually looked than it was to be purist about what they were supposed to look like.


Bobby’s illustrations are very clear and easy to understand in the context of contemporary culture. He achieves depth despite the lack of tonal range. Foreshortening is a challenge with illustrating yoga poses, and overcoming this was what attracted me to the brief. I did experiment with just using block tone, but I felt like this held back my personal illustration style.

Here, Bobby uses arrows to signify movement on a static image. However, what interests me is the detail in the feet. This attention to detail is important in yoga practice, but I found it difficult to emphasise when illustrating full poses, not only the importance of it but also the specificities of what’s going on.

Printmaking Short Course / Birds

My bird printmaking designs were done as part of my assisting on the print making short course at Hereford College of arts. As an assistant my role mainly meant doing a lot of technical stuff like helping students use printmaking machinery that they weren’t confident using.

Because of this I needed to be flexible throughout the evening and the designs I was making had to allow for this. Also, it seemed more helpful for my prints to be of different nature to the ones the students were creating, as they were often creating quite detailed and precise designs and I felt that with my illustration style I was in a position to show them that it was okay to play a bit and make mistakes.

For example with dry point prints, traditionally you etch into your plate, apply the ink and then wipe it off the surface. However I decided to experiment with leaving different amounts of ink on the surface, as this added variety to the different types of prints in the room during the evening. If a student asked “what happens if I don’t rub the ink off” I could show them rather than describing it to them.

The effect these dry point prints have, where there is a line illustration on top of colour that has a tonal range, influenced my work later on in the module, particularly my library brochure wraparound, and arguably my three designs for the Adobe brief.