I’ll be back in St Albans as artist in residence at the new museum St Albans Museums from 21 – 23 august. More giant pop-up cardboard frameworks which will be used to create three collaborative works with families exploring the lives of local women through the ages – the fierce and revolutionary queen Boudicca, noblewoman and shrewd business woman, Sarah Churchill, and local Suffragette, Constance Lytton.
Artist in residence for week two (28 – 30 aug) is the wonderful textile artist Felicity Cooke Flea Cooke Art. Image shows my pop-up roman kitchen workshop at St Albans Verulamium Museum in 2017.
I was asked to deliver a session on multitasking to a group of illustrators at the SCBWI conference in Winchester last week-end. Jack-of- all-Trades: How to Have Multiple Careers as an Illustrator looked at choosing the right activities to complement and benefit your core practice as an illustrator of children’s picture books, getting the balance right and recognizing the boundaries? I also ran a hands-on activity where illustrators flexed their creative muscles in a mini workshop combining pop-up design and illustration.
I think multitasking is inevitable when you’re a self-employed creative, especially when dealing with the day-to-day running of your business. However, is it a good idea to diversify creatively, to expand your activities in different directions or even to add to your skill set. It does encourage thinking outside the box, leads to cross pollination of ideas over different disciplines and helps create new income streams. However, does diversifying stretch you too thin and can the problems outweigh the benefits?
For me, what started out as a plan to be an illustrator, turned into an ambition to illustrate and write books. This was followed by the desire to add paper engineering to the mix as well author visits and family workshops.
Something that was quite simple to begin with, turned into a practice that has encompassed schools visits, talks and workshops on how to create your own pop-up books, editorial illustration, card design, pop-up picture books, public art trails and other collaborations with artists, not to mention co-creating a number of children’s theatre productions. This is further complicated by the fact that it’s all done as a joint business with an artist wife with a great deal of crossover between both practices.
I think problems arise when one strand takes over and dominates to the detriment of everything else. It can be very easy to lose sight of your initial goals and to forget what’s really important. It’s also possible to become so immersed in a project that you fail to measure what you’re actually getting out of it – it’s not always a good thing to let your passion get the better of you.
I think it’s always helpful to have an idea of what you hope achieve from your activities and what proportion of your time you want to spend on each thing. If one area becomes neglected, it’s time to address that. Always place your projects in order of priority and importance. With each one, you need to balance the equation: does the time, work and money spent equal the income received plus other benefits. Think about soft benefits – recognition, exposure, does it lead to other opportunities, are you gaining valuable experience?
With collaborations, sometimes you need to tread carefully. Before you start illustrating (or writing) your best friend’s story, think about whether a publisher is likely to accept the whole package. If not, would you be happy with that and is it worth losing a friendship over? With any collaboration, be clear what it is you want from it and what should happen in any given scenario – then get it all down in writing and signed by all concerned.
In my opinion most long-term collaborations have a finite lifespan; the key is to know when it’s time to stop. The ones that continue past their sell-by-date risk creating negativity and spoiling any residual benefit that continued contact and friendship generate.
Dream collaborations do happen – those rare situations where two or more people speak more highly of each other than they do of themselves in an atmosphere of mutual respect, loyalty and transparency. Egos and glory-hunting take a back seat in an arrangement where no one’s bigger that the whole picture. These are the ones you should definitely embrace.
For those who missed my workshop at the Geffrye Museum last week, fear not, here’s the tutorial. Learn two mechanisms and create a chick that flies out of an egg, before coming up with some designs of your own.
The workshop was organized by Hackney Arts as part of their Kids Who Can – Easter Arts Club. Check out some of the creations from the day at the bottom of the post, including a few alternative designs.
Back from Budapest where I spent time working with the kids and staff at the British International School. I was helped by the school’s wonderful librarian who acted as my wing-woman for the entire 3 days and made sure everything ran to schedule.
After my initial school talk, I ran a series of workshops with all classes where I showed the children how to make their own pop-up books.
A pattern for the sessions emerged fairly early on when I matched each class to a mechanism, guiding them through the process so they all had a completed pop-up framework ready to go. Following a discussion about their storyboard ideas – the blank storyboards were sent ahead of my arrival – I used some of their material to demonstrate how to convert mechanism into fully illustrated 3D scene. Some of the images show these, others show the children’s work-in-progress.
The school places huge importance on reading and runs several initiatives to encourage the love of books. At a certain point each day, everyone drops everything to read for five minutes. The doors were also being decorated as book covers while I was there – check out the Detective Paws ‘door cover’.
If you like beards and pop-up books and have young children, then this is the workshop for you.
Make your own beard-themed pop-up creation in my next hands-on, half-term workshop at the Florence Nightingale Museum. For my return visit to this lovely venue located within St Thomas‘ Hospital, I’m taking my inspiration from ‘The Age of the Beard’ exhibition currently on show there to deliver three 1-hour family sessions encompassing 3D paper skills, design and illustration.
Learn how to make pop-ups with moving parts and how to assemble a finished book.
The workshops are suitable for 5+ with parents and carers. Adults will be encouraged to take part but don’t worry, no experience necessary and results are guaranteed. Materials will be provided, you just bring the creativity!
The workshops are free but normal entry fee to the museum applies. Booking is recommended.
For those who couldn’t make it to my recent workshop at Imagine Festival of the Arts in Sutton, here’s a video tutorial for the pop-up time machine. It comes in two parts: how to draw the time machine and how to make the pop-up.
The theme of the festival was HG Wells – he lived in Sutton at one stage – and I based the time machine on the one in the 1960 film. I did take a few liberties: the time machine in the film doesn’t actually move location but instead the surroundings change as the date changes. I designed the pop-up to make the time machine look like it’s moving through time and space to give a more dramatic effect.
The basic abstract design is nice in itself and can be used to create all sorts of designs.
I’m very pleased that Sutton Council was prepared to book individual practitioners and not just groups and organizations for their ‘Imagine Festival of the Arts’ this month. Yesterday, we ran two 2 full family workshops and an evening session with a smaller, but perfectly-formed, group of adults.
As always, one of the exciting aspects of the workshops was the mix of people who attended. I like to think that the activities I offer work regardless of background and highlight the similar ways we all approach visual 3D problem solving. The workshops also work well for those who speak very little English, offering a means of communicating through the making and designing process.
I was back in Stopsley Primary last Friday to see Y4’s finished pop-up books and to talk to the parents about the 2 day project. After learning a number of basic techniques on day 1 and sharing them between classes, the children went on to develop these in their own individual ways to produce books combining text, images and pop-ups.
I felt they had achieved a fantastic result and there were plenty of examples of where the children had experimented, come up with original ideas and managed to figure things out for themselves.
One girl inverted the large V fold to create a parallel plane on which to stick a palm tree – hard to explain but it makes sense if you look at the picture (last one) – and I’m not quite sure how she figured this out. One boy created an arch based on the vertical V fold which probably would have been too complicated to teach to that age group in the first place. Unfortunately, no picture for that one but the point is they were able to come up with their own designs and techniques using what they’d been shown on the first day – very impressive!
Also worthwhile mentioning the wonderful teachers who took part in this, in particular, Jason Sutch who co-ordinated the project.
I was back at Britannia Village Primary School last Monday for Day 2 of our paper (cardboard) engineering project. As Year 6 set off for France with their giant pop-up constructions, Year 5s (3 classes) stepped up to the plate to start work on a pop-up reinterpretation of Alice in Wonderland set in London.
I was impressed by the way they took inspiration from Boxpark in Shoreditch, the surrounding streets and graffiti they photographed. I gave them guidance with the construction of the main framework and worked with a small team to get it in place and glued, while the rest of the children got to work on the other smaller components. They were given broad instructions for the painting of the structures but apart than that they were completely free to bring their own ideas to the final surface decoration.
Also very gratifying to see how all the teachers had used what they learnt in the initial inset session to help their pupils create small-scale pop-up pieces before my arrival.
Back-to-back schools last week for the week of World Book Day. A lot of advance planning is always required for these but the enthusiasm of the kids and their eagerness to dive in and get creative always make it all worthwhile. This year’s schools were St. Pauls in Friern Barnet, All Saints in Fulham, Coppermill Primary in Walthamstow and St. Pauls and All Hallows in Tottenham. Here’s the montage: