Picture books are made in Chelsea: Book Illustration short course, part 2

Chelsea College of Arts

Chelsea College of Arts campus at John Islip Street, next door to the Tate Britain

Now I’ve had a bit of time to process my time in London, I thought I’d try to do some justice to the experience by writing a couple of more in-depth blog posts. Alina Kasparyants, a fellow student on the course, took lots of photos and has kindly allowed me to use some in this post. Thanks, Alina!

To recap: in April, I went on a week-long Book Illustration course at Chelsea College of Art in London. This mostly involved drawing cats with the wrong end of a paintbrush, and spending lunchtimes wandering around the Tate Britain, looking at Proper Art. But it also meant meeting a lot of really talented people (and eating a lot of deceptively unhealthy snack bars).


Sharing work (and apples!) at the end of the course.

On the first day, I met the other artists in the class. We shared examples of our work. Each person came from a different background and had brought something unique – from whimsical decorated paper plates to photos of complex, dream-like automata; from colourful, professionally printed books to intricate hand-drawn black and white artwork.

I think all of us were a bit self-conscious as the course is advertised as ‘Intermediate/Advanced’, but there’s no assessment or test of this before you book it – so how do you know if you’re ‘advanced’? Well, nobody got sent home early for not meeting the criteria! And I hope that by the end of the week, we all had a good idea of what our strengths were as illustrators, and a better idea of where to go next. That seems important.

Me, working diligently away on my 'book illustrations'. Photos by Alina Kasparyants: kasparyants.com

SERIOUS ART FACE. Me, working away on my ‘book illustrations’. Photos by Alina Kasparyants: kasparyants.com

Our tutor, Mary Kuper, talked with us about the variety of illustrated books being produced today – not just those aimed at children, but complex and beautiful stories for adults, too. Some of the most creative examples can be hard to track down. France, for example, has a more sophisticated culture of graphic novels than we have in the UK; because a market exists for the work, artists there are empowered to create it.

The impact of the market on picture book creators was something I learned a lot about during the week.

On the second day we met Carolyn Dinan, the other tutor on the course. Carolyn and Mary have taught together for many years, and both have a lot of experience in the industry as successful illustrators. They were able to offer different perspectives on our work, insightful advice and suggestions for other artists whose work we might find inspirational.

For the rest of the week, each person worked on a project drawing on their own interests and influences (mine currently include cats, and Filofaxes). Carolyn suggested I try working with ink and a dip pen, so I toddled off to the lovely on-campus art supplies shop and acquired some new tools…

bookillustration-showingworkHere are some of my doodles with the ink, using both the pen nib and a brush. They allow for a much more expressive line, which makes everything look a bit more dynamic on the page.

In the next post I’ll explain a bit more about my project, and how cats and Filofaxes can usefully be combined for dramatic effect. I also want to shout out to some of the great people I met – but this blog post has been in my Drafts folder for over a month now, so I’m just going to post it and save that for the next instalment!

ink sketch of Other Cats


Various pictures of my cat, Jake

When I was in school I was always known for being ‘the girl who draws cats’. I thought that was a bit limiting, and tried to draw other things. Recently, though, I have begun to embrace the fact that when my hand and my pencil are on autopilot, it is typically a cat who emerges onto the page, wearing an expression of feline disdain or sleepfulness. I can hardly help it, having never lived without at least one cat to call home.

My own personal cat was named Jake, and passed away in December at the age of 15. He was a large and unkempt creature, prone to bouts of nervousness, and with a penchant for lying his head on discarded shoes.

Jake, a tabby and white cat, sleeping on a garden patio