Dreaming Spires

ARU studio

ARU studio in Cambridge

On arriving at Cambridge and departing the station you’re faced with a large collection of bicycles all locked and secured to trees or themselves…it’s such a collective and collegiate statement. Then if you’re walking make sure you’re not run over by the fast cyclists, if you’re driving don’t knock them down. I’m sure there’s an unspoken rule that this is a city of two wheels, not four! This time I’m down among the dreaming spires to examine a Practice Based PHD, it’s one of a number coming out of Cambridge School of Art’s centre of excellence, the Centre for Children’s Book Research. Under the leadership of Professor Martin Salisbury,  postgraduate and Higher research has really developed over the last 10 years, the postgrad course has produced successful graduates who on graduating are often met with a publishing contract or two, indeed it’s not uncommon to find students half way through the course working on a book deal of one kind or another. Dare we bring up the Macmillan Prize?, the annual student award for children’s books, it’s becoming par for the course for students studying to win the award, but to also take all the runners up prizes as well, leaving other colleges in their wake. Why is this the case I’ve often been asked? and perhaps as a past examiner on their Postgrad course I’m in a better position than most to offer up comment. Well the first thing I’ve observed is the location, cozy and literary at the same time, the perfect combination for anyone embarking on a career in children’s publishing. Secondly the teaching staff are extremely well versed with all the aspects of children’s literacy as well as being adept illustrators/artists themselves, plus the range of top drawer visiting tutors, many from the capital. Then the students themselves, often having come from a range of different disciplines or being mature students re-entering education from time in industry and with clear ideas of what they want to produce. If that was not enough, the drawing studios are inspiring, large yucca plants wind their way over mezzanines and the natural light makes you think at once of Kettle’s Yard, the Jim Ede residence across town or St Ives itself or even for that matter Antibes.

This occasion will be a somber examination but on the back of my mind will be how I can take some of this inspiration back to Birmingham and use it to create our own centre of excellence.

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50 Years of Illustration: Review

50 years of Illustration cover

50 years of Illustration cover

50 Years of illustration (..is it really?)

I remember back in 2010 when the author, Lawrence Zeegen mentioned in passing that he had been in discussion with a publisher about a project covering illustration over the last half century. I must confess I was jealous, how wonderful to be able to have an excuse to catalogue all the great names and to re-evaluate who belonged in which era or grouping.

Fast forward to 2014 and several weeks ago the book itself hit the shelves, as they say in Publishing parlance and after several fruitless searches I came across a copy. In all fairness I had seen the publisher’s web page which allows you a brief dip in, so I knew the cover and several spreads, but I still wanted to see who had made the final selection. It had been made clear to me that the book was to have a global reach, so countries such as France, Japan and Germany would, alongside the US have representative inclusions. This makes complete sense given the global need for foreign co editions.

I could second guess who would have to be in the final selection. We knew Gerald Scarf would be there but why isn’t Ralph Steadman? Why for that matter isn’t Shirley Hughes, Posy Simmons, Peter Brookes or indeed David Gentleman, surely not careless omissions? There has to be a judicious and sometimes ruthless editing process and after all this is the author’s choice and selection.

Ok give me a go and who would I have liked to have seen included and who weren’t? I could say but I won’t, who I would like to see removed, lets just say some are very lucky to be there at all.

My choice, well Charles Keeping for one, perhaps George Adamson, Judith Kerr deserves her place and other renowned children’s illustrators. In some ways Childens Book illustrators get a raw deal, yes theres Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs and Michael Foreman deservedly making it in but why no Janet Alberg or John Burningham or even Axel Schefler? It may just be possible to have a complete volume of artists who were never selected, like that alternative venture by frustrated artists the RA turned down, ‘Not the Royal Academy Show’?

Well that’s now said and done so lets talk about the book itself, I’ve tried as hard as I might but I still don’t like the cover, an illustration using a typographical image/pattern by Jeff Fisher, lets face it he’s done far better pieces and it’s a shame that this one looks so unremarkable. Again for a cover its difficult to choose one image and which illustrator could you justifiably elevate to that honour, you certainly wouldn’t want a collage of pictures nor a single iconic image such as Milton Glaser’s Bob Dylan? I would have liked to have seen the author himself design the cover, after all though he’s an illustrator and he’s not featured in the book but he still ought to merit a presence.

It’s interesting to see a range of comic artists included but if you’re going to show Crumb then Leo Baxendale should be in there, I’d also include Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, they had a profound influence on modern culture.

The book offers a historical snapshot of the intervening decades and is very much an honest if in parts a questionable selection, Zeegen doesn’t flinch from including artists I would have avoided on aesthetic grounds and it would be hard not to argue with the first three decades covered. Its later on I have problems with the choice and order of the selection. Why does Joost Swarte appear in the nineties when his decade was surely the eighties? It’s certainly easier to cherry pick those from the past who are well established rather than try to select out of the more recent past, those who may merit a place.

I would recommend this book, its well documented and researched. The range of reproduced images in one volume is impressive but just don’t try and digest them all in one sitting.

6 Reasons to Study Visual Communication

Vis Comm student

Vis Comm Student

Six reasons we would recommend Visual Communication as the ideal course to study;

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1. Visual Communication offers the widest choice of specialist subjects under one collective course; Film and Animation, Graphic Communication, Illustration and Photography.

2. The current undergraduate course team is made up of specialist tutors and visiting professionals from Industry, meaning students are exposed to both well established pedagogic practice and industry up to date knowledge.

3. Every year students from all four specialist subjects are presented with Industry sponsored awards. Past sponsors include Trevor Beattie, Dave McKean and Vaughan Oliver.

4. The resources are first class and the Visual Communication course is now situated in a state of the art building. Within this new space are excellent Printmaking studios, Photographic darkrooms and spacious communal studios.

5. Students are well equipped and prepared for entering the ‘market place’. There are modules that are specially designed to allow breadth of knowledge and experience.

6. Visual Communication promotes inter-disciplinary practice, this means students are encouraged to work across the specialist areas so photographers collaborate with Graphic Designers, Illustrators with animators. Its the way forward and its already happening on the course.

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There are many destinations for graduating students, Publishing, Design groups, Photographic studios and Web Companies to name just a few areas of employment.

Review of Essentials of Visual Communication by Bo Bergstöm

image     A review of Essentials of Visual Communication by Bo Bergström published by Laurence King. This book is the Level 4 core reader for 2014/15 and as such needs to provide a well rounded overview of something that’s constantly in flux.  One of the requirements for core readers is that it provides, indepth critical writing  alongside accessible examples of practice and is suitably pitched at the appropriate level of learning. With all this in mind we chose Bergström”s book because it covered many of the topics we address in our curriculum but it also has the depth of subject and longevity to make it  reference throughout the course. The material covers areas from Graphic Design, Viscom’s mainstay, as well as illustration, photography, advertising, semiotics, publishing, animation the list goes on. It also provides cleat examples of what it refers to throughout, this is often the springboard for students to then seek out further references. As part of the  publisher’s key books for education it’s going to appear on bookshelves across the art school sector but it deserves wider recognition as a book that manages to address  some of the pressing issues of our information saturated world. There has to be a point where so much surplus communication simply starts to have an adverse effect on its viewers. With this in mind we can see how Bergström steers clear of advocating more of the same but  pauses to reflect on why it’s happening and looks at alternative ways of managing the volume of information we are currently digesting. We recommend this book to our students as something that will cover much of the course requirements for critical engagement and will be a suitable springboard to more focused reading.