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;


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.


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.

The Fine Art of Conversation 2

In an ongoing discussion I am looking at how conversation has become an intrinsic part of our teaching strategy in the School of Visual Communication at BCU. Every year we get a growing number of overseas students arriving from an increasing range of countries, China, India, Korea, Japan, Thailand to name just some from the Far East. These alongside European nations and those from North and South America make up a considerable part of our annual student cohort.

With this in mind its important to understand the benefits of clear communication and ways in which we can all deal with complex pedagogic debate. Staff in the School of Viscom have become particularly adept at recognising the benefits of clear visual language as a means to express ideas and thought processes. The development and use of the RVJ, the reflective visual journal has become an indispensable tool to follow and record ideas, often leading to fruitful and engaging conversation. The difficulties of communication can hinder academic development and whilst there are support services available, staff in Viscom have discovered that visual aides such as the RVJ have led to a faster and more ideally suited approach.

Learning and teaching ideas are developing all the time in the School and staff are actively engaged in more and more direct ways of dealing with visual teaching, The fine art of conversation continues unabated as we extend our means and methods to deal with language barriers.

Andrew Kulman looking at an RVJ

Andrew Kulman looking at an RVJ

The Fine Art of Conversation

The first print I ever saw that I really thought was extra special was ‘The Fine Art of Conversation’ by Paolo di Paolo, it was on the wall of Floor 7 H Block, Leeds Polytechnic. This was back in 1982, it made me think how much conversation I’ve had as a result of this wonderful medium.

Now. when I produce work and demonstrate techniques with students I value the engagement of discourse and fruitful conversation. In many ways this can be when the best communication of ideas takes place..’how did you do that?’…’why does this happen?’..

Education is a conversation, we give knowledge through talking, we explain, we critique and we counsel…this is where we need to appreciate the nuances of language. Its part of what my tutor on the PGCE course refers to as Teaching with Emotional Inteligence.

Andrew Kulman's Studio Workshop

Andrew Kulman’s Studio Workshop

VaroomLab Illustration Symposium Day 1 Arts University Bournemouth

Interpretation Conference day 1

The venue was described by the Vice Chancellor  of AUB as a soubriquet of a seaside town and reputedly known as housing the  studio of  the late Anthony Caro as wells being the town where Disraeli repaired his gout and proud to have only  recently got rid of Max Bygraves…  to Australia…Welcome to Bournemouth also I should add a  very burgeoning area of creative industries.

Here we were, Day one of a two day Illustration symposium, hosted by the Arts University Bournemouth and part of VaroomLab, the research arm of the Association of Illustrators. Previously held in Plymouth and then Swansea this is the third event in what is likely to become a highlight on the illustration world’s calendar.The list of speakers was impressive in so much as they were all talking about or interpreting the theme of Interpretation. This was to include Re-interpretation and Miss-interpretation

Marcus Oakley

Marcus was the first keynote speaker. he asked the question of how Art and illustration could be compared and went on to show a large number of visual examples of what he thought art might be? its an age old conversation and this was never going to be the platform to get serious answers. Marcus treated it all in a casual and accessible way. The most interesting section of his presentation was a lightening tour of his Pinterest site…I could say more but I won’t..I would like to raise my doubts over whether the Cerne Abbas Giant ( easy laughs) was pre 1600?..I thought it was!

Chris Campe

Illustration manipulates how people see the world; see women and their role in society and how they behave. A conscious decision must be made to show women and men in an equal and competent light. Chris who is from Germany gave us some well considered case studies and a valuable treatise as to whether the client who commissions work has an agenda to manipulate our interpretations of gender.

James Jarvis

Talked about how the themes affected his work, a personal journey from airbrush drawings of skateboard ramps to slam city skates to Silas toys which he now ‘disowns’? He talked about the empowerment of setting up a company. His Modernist ape toy, King Ken came from AMOS with a partner …. a real art toy … others utilised obscure pop culture references. Clients he said  commission him for a look, selling his work to associate themselves with the  James Jarvis brand.

Joe Lardner took us into the territory of Glitch Art. Glitch is that new (isn) phenomena of the accidental and sometimes intentional occurrence of digital errors..the sudden abstract smear of corrupted pixels, it has now coined new terms  data joshing, data bending, data mashing

Glitch as a visual never make advances without a catastrophe

Raw material bursting out onto the screen

The discussion centre red around The Glitch Momentum and the new aesthetic this is derived from Rosa Menkman’s glitch momen(tum)

They broke Glitch down into a number of separate categories

*Pure glitch accidental unexpected

artist intervenes data joshing, databending

*Instigated glitch cultural absorption and becomes commodified

*Commodified glitch

They discussed Noise and illustration looking at printmaking and Kate Gibb who utilises noise and feedback. also referring to Kustaa saksi hypnopompic

I enjoyed David lewandowski’s “late for meeting’

Paul Burgess

Make room for error featuring David Foldavari’s animation and Mark Prenderghast’s after school club haushka

Thomas Barwick

His talk features in Varoom 27 due out soon.

Andrew Kulman


“The real world is not what you think, but simply an interpretation of the world from your own personal point of view. Everyone’s reality however will be different “

A more detailed account will be posted in a separate blog.

Andrew Kulman preparing

Andrew Kulman preparing

Why Study Visual Communication?

Will Lanham

Will Lanham

will Harris

Will Harris

A degree in Visual Communication is the first step to becoming a qualified Designer, Illustrator, Animator, Photographer or Film Maker but it’s also far more than that. The degree itself allows students to experience first hand the incredible breadth of topics covered in Visual Communication. Arguably no other University subject has the curriculum span of Visual Communication which includes art, design, history and theory, entrepreneurial and presentation skills, professional engagement and research. Utilising both traditional and new technology, it’s clear to see from this how a Visual Communication degree can be a springboard for a multitude of careers as well as providing essential transferable skills.

Like many subjects, graduates can move into teaching but they can also focus on other areas of art and design such as curation, marketing, publishing, studio practice, film production, writing and promotion or work as studio/design assistants. Graduates with a Visual Communication background are also known to go into other areas such design management, work in design collectives and become freelance artists/photographers. Sometimes careers can be less obvious such as one of our students who became a major VJ and ran successful music events. Visual Communication has many important supporters, such as Brian Griffin ( photographer), Trevor Beattie (TBWA), Dave McKean (Mirrormask), Vaughan Oliver (4AD) and Ian Eames (Pink Floyd) all of whom have sponsored our annual student Awards programme.