Issue 215
Winter 2020/2021

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Apr 14, 2021

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ArtWork Newspaper Issue 215
Winter 2020/2021 (6.82MB)

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Would-be illustrators urged to 'bask in their weirdness'

"I'D GET AWAY from this right and wrong thing. Creativity can, and should be messy! It's safe to make ugly work that you don't like. School trains us to be totally risk-averse and scared of mistakes."

As Katie Chappell says, finding your inner artist is hard in a society that does its best to squash all creativity out of children before they leave school. Annoyingly for policy makers, economists and dictators, the best laid plans don't always work out: there are always some tiresome, rebellious types who break the mould.

Characters like Katie Chappell, Tania Willis, and Helen Stephens – three artists who found each other in Berwick-on-Tweed and now work together to share and teach their skills in illustration.

'The Good Ship Illustration' was launched in summer 2020, on to the great ocean of the internet. Now she is taking people on a voyage of discovery and creativity that is proving a lifeline in this time of lockdown. They are in good hands. That's because Katie, Tania and Helen know where they are going. They all had to find their authentic creative voice and artistic identity the hard way – rejecting what didn't feel right for them.

Publishers told Helen Stephens that children only liked bright, primary colours, happy stories, and generic places, not real ones. To achieve maximum sales worldwide, you see. She jumped off the treadmill and hung around Battersea Dogs Home, getting to know and love one particular canine especially well – Fleabag, the subject of an early success 'in her own write'.

She realised that some publishers forget that children are naturally curious and adventurous. Worse, they love otherness, excitement and frightening bedtime stories. So she started bringing in darkness, emotions, a scary lion and, oh dear, a real place. Berwick-on-Tweed!

How to Hide a Lion was an immediate, runaway success. Meantime Tania, after teaching at Glasgow School of Art, was in Hong Kong, working as a freelance illustrator for magazines. Good training for honing the visual and conceptual thinking skills.

Tania, like a lot of illustrators, cut her teeth with commissions from smaller publications, before getting breaks on the bigger titles like Elle, Condé Nast Travel and The Guardian. A long way from illustrating Yeats's poetry for her MA at the Royal College of Art.

After college, she took on a studio in Shoreditch but, like Helen, found London too proscriptive, competitive, and in its own bubble. Hong Kong, and now Berwick, provided the space and freedom to be herself, authentic and original. Clients like Hong Kong trams and Cathay Pacific loved her work; as did the hospital commissioning murals to create a therapeutic environment.

Back in the north-east, Katie, sacked from the old-school advertising agency that hired her after leaving college in Sunderland, had had enough of being patronised, and got work as a nanny. Not just any nanny. A nanny in Florence, with a family who gave her time off to look about, and who loved her drawings. They even encouraged her. How irresponsible is that? Worse, she went to Germany with them, and met creative Berliners. Next, Edinburgh College of Art, finding her voice as a great observer and communicator. Payback for people-watching in café s in Florence and Berlin perhaps!?

She specialises in scribing, graphic recording and illustration. It's out there pronto, edgy, no hiding, no second chances. Corporate meetings transformed. Goodbye boring old minutes, clunky Powerpoint images. Much more interesting, accurate and human when Katie turns all that into something unique, understandable, amusing... and human. Dross to gold. Pure alchemy. No wonder Google snapped her up. No suits either!

All three emphasize the importance of taking time to live a little and be sure that you really, really want to be a professional illustrator. It's demanding, risky, with no guarantee of regular work. Important, too, not to undervalue yourself, and to be businesslike. Above all, realise that being a bit wacky and original is much more than OK, it's exactly what publishers, PR and advertising agencies love. So, if you're thinking of getting career advice from H M Government's online app, illustration may not be for you!

And so to the Good Ship Illustration. The three started planning the course last year, not anticipating that it would be a life-saver for many stuck at home, from all over the world too.

People who have not been to art school, professional illustrators, picture-book makers, painters, some who have taken time out to have children and are looking for a way back into their creative practice, others looking to break old habits and develop new ways of working, or to kick start their career.

Some five hundred people go on-line every Friday for the week's 'Art Club'. It's a lovely mix of care, professional advice, encouragement, humour, and fun – like "portraits, and drawing on your head, but, don't worry, no headstands!".

The three share the tuition, and it's the chemistry between them as much as the subject that makes these sessions special.

The blurb for 'Find Your Creative Course', starting in November, hints at the style: "Bask in your weirdness and follow your creative dreams. Want to be part of an online community, full of fellow creatives? Build your illustration career and make your best creative work ever? It's time to discover how good it feels to truly be yourself in your work!"



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