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.


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

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

A Brief Hiatus

Following a brief hiatus I will now be updating this blog on a weekly basis. Content will include more recent excursions into print and drawing with an emphasis on Illustration. I am now teaching across Fine Art and Visual Communication and hope to showcase work from these two areas. I will be highlighting work produced in the print rooms of Birmingham Institute of Art and Design and this will feature work for the forthcoming ‘The Last Picture Show’ which will be the final non student exhibition in the Visual Communication Gallery in the BIAD campus at Gosta Green, Birmingham. This will be a two man exhibition featuring new work by Andrew Kulman  and Justin Sanders, Master Printer.