On 26th October, Gary and I attended the Cheltenham Illustration Awards at the Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham. This is in its 5th year and entries came from all over the world. The theme for submitting work was ‘Tree Time Tales’. To accompany the awards ceremony a group of illustrators where invited to speak at the event.
First up where two representatives from Biografiktion, Till Hafenbrak and Paul Paetzel who are part of this collective along with Ana Albero. Their name comes from the merging of the two words – biography and fiction. They explore the boundaries between fiction and truth.
They met while studying at the University of Arts in Berlin. They were taught by Henning Wegenbreth (whose apartment we went to last year in Berlin!).
They recognized similarities in their work and formed a group in 2008, while the were still studying. They saw the benefits of working together as this meant, sharing the workload, sharing costs, having bigger recognition, spending more time with friends and constant motivation and critique from one another.
They produce small print runs of limited edition hand-made books: 32 – 36 pages. They use a combination of screen printing and photocopying. The use limited colour palettes to bring cohesion to their different styles.
They create publications about well-know celebrities and fictional scenarios they encounter. Issues include invented stories about Reinhold Messner, Eddie Murphy and Abba.
They also produce publications of their solo work and spoke of all the considerations they have to make before they start:
1) How will the colour screen prints and black and white pages of the book affect the story?
2) Working out the plot as a diagram
3) Should the panels be classical, free-standing, mirror or round?
4) Does the type in the speech bubble have to be the same for different characters?
5) The format, number of pages and fold out cover.
They then discussed how they go about distributing their work. They have tried a variety of ways, including selling via bookstores but they take approx 40% commission, they turned up at a comic fair without having an exhibitors stand so improvised and made their own.
They have found the most success through attending comic fairs all over the world in Strasbourg Comic Fair, The Tokyo Art Book Fair, The Fumetto International Comic Fair in Lucerne Switzerland, The Angouleme Comic Festival and The Comica Festival in London. This builds interest then they sell via word of mouth and twitter via their online shop. It was very impressive how fairly fresh out of college they are and have been so pro-active.
Next it was the turn of Anne Howeson, artist, illustrator and tutor for many years at the RCA.
She has worked commercially for many years, different types of clients the UK and USA. She is now more focused on her own subject matters and self-initiated drawing projects. She is currently working on drawings about the regeneration of Kings Cross area near to where she lives.
She strongly believes the power that drawing has to unravel ideas. Even though we may not be aware of what out personal obsessions are, if one is to look back over their work from a number of years, themes will be apparent. Her own motivations would be people and landscapes.
Her early work was mostly triggered by remembering, every tiny detail of family life. She feels this work was her way of trying to make sense of herself. She describes herself as a very curious person who notices and questions things. Her advice to students would be that they are not always good at noticing what they do best, either because what they produced they find it too easy or it is not fashionable. She advocates trying not to please the public but to stick to what feels most interesting to you. Through persistence and self-belief something good will come of it.
Her work developed to explore more risqué themes such as prostitution. She observed red light areas in Paris and combined images from memory, imagination, photographs and imagination to make pictures. Starting points for images would be the questions she asked herself: what is going on in the room up there? The answer would lie in the next drawing she did.
She encourages to steal from others’ and not be ashamed to do so as long as you are aware that you are doing it then afterwards move on. She has taken direct inspiration from Balthaus & Edward Hopper.
Her risqué work meant that she became pigeon holed by clients and worked hard to reinvent her work through returning to drawing. Gardens and the outdoors became her next subject, where she explored structure and perspective.
Her move away from commercial work to finding her own subject matters has indeed brought a new interest in her work. She has exhibited the self-initiated work of the King’s Cross drawings in collaboration with the Museum of London. These drawing explore atmosphere, in-between spaces, the past, the present and future of the King Cross landscapes. This project shows how a personal dialogue of a subject can generate interest from others because it is done with passion.
The final speaker was Paul Gravett, comic fanatic, journalist and writer. His new book is out this month and is in the series of 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. If you are a fan of Graphic Novels, Manga, British Comics, Crime & Horror Comics, then I recommend heading over to Paul’s website. He spoke with such enthusiam about the beginnings, history and current comic scene that I am now a convert. Highlights from his talk where interesting practice emerging from different cultures, women who make comics, censorship in the US post World War 2, strong issues brought to light through comics and graphic novels e.g Maus by Art Spiegelman (a survivors tale of the Holocaust) and the techniques of combining text and image to tell the story.