If we went back in time 23 years, you would find a situation very similar to now. I would more than likely be surrounded by paper, pen in hand. I have always drawn. Drawing what I see, drawing what I feel. Drawing in the car and on the train. Drawing on the beach and in the garden. Making up stories, characters and worlds. Almost always making a mess.
As time went on, the natural progression took hold. GCSE Art followed by A Level, and then before I knew it I was graduating with a degree in Illustration. Then it hit me, I can draw, so what?! I have done a degree in Illustration, BIG DEAL! The real challenge was yet to come.
Through my first professional illustration projects, I realised that I am passionate about documenting individual stories and experiences. From these moments I developed a strong interest in the inclusive nature of illustration and the ability to inspire people of different ages and backgrounds. Throughout these first projects I found myself creating action and drama to accompany these interactions, paying special attention to crafting something memorable and accessible. Seeing children engaged and involved in this way encouraged me to investigate the world of education, most notably teaching dance and drama.
Turning up for my first FACE co-creation workshop, I wasn’t sure exactly what it would entail. All I knew was that it was an opportunity to draw and bring ideas to life.
As I sat, fresh felt tips in hand, it turned out that my past experience had equipped me well. The inclusive nature of previous illustration work saw me comfortable to spread out my paper right amongst the participants, tuning into lots of voices discussing multiple opinions. Working with children enabled me to think on my feet. I flourished in a situation where my intuitive nature to create and capture was in its element. I was very pleased and thankful that this illustration opportunity existed, and from that moment on I decided that I would do everything in my power to record the content of the workshops in the most vibrant and exciting way possible.
There are many different styles of illustration, but I like to produce it in its purest form: something visual that explains an idea, captures a moment or documents a thought. When I illustrate it is important that my drawings can be interpreted by lots of different people and appreciated for what it communicates not just how it looks. That said, I have developed a certain aesthetic that I hope accompanies the meaning well.
In this fast-moving world, the ability to record in this way is still relevant. Illustrations can be used as inspiration. They prompt idea generation, acting as a visual reminder of concepts and discussions as well as recording the world around us.
Visual communication has been around since the dawn of time. From cave drawings that depict the priorities of early human life to the decorative yet informative aboriginal art, which maps out the location to the watering hole and all the myths and stories in the landscape. From this to the Bayeux Tapestry that acted as the social commentary of the day – they all demonstrate the human desire to mark make and express ourselves, to record and explain the world around us. We’re still doing the same today.
When planning a co-creation workshop it is important that there is a plentiful supply of paper and lots of felt tips for the illustrators. My brand of choice is Sharpies as you can create a clear bold line with a good range of colours. There is nothing worse than a dodgy set of half-run-out pens to disrupt the flow of consciousness. We have been known to get through quite a few packs due to the quantity of outputs and the pace at which they are drawn.
There are many good illustrators out there, but not all have the attributes that make great co-creation illustrators. The main skill needed is the ability to avoid getting intimidated by the fast paced nature of the workshop. In these situations you don’t have the luxury of time to create perfect or ornate illustrations – instead you have to be fast, vibrant and expressive to get your points across. There also needs to be a certain amount of clarity to your work, so maintaining a crispness of line combined with communicating the details is a fine balancing act.
At FACE I have helped recruit illustrators through a combination of viewing online portfolios and personal recommendations. Primarily we look for good use of colour and bold confident lines. Having a variety of styles implies adaptability, but it’s also important they maintain their own visual identity. Personality and humour should feature strongly in their work as this makes it not only appealing to the consumers and clients alike, but also lasting and memorable. It’s great when the illustrators have raw talent, but it is also important that I brief them well beforehand. They should be completely aware of our expectations before they start illustrating at the workshop.
The illustrators are encouraged to start drawing right at the beginning of the workshop. This enables them to warm up, get fluidity within their wrists and start absorbing what’s being discussed. If they sit waiting to be instructed, the illustrations will be disjointed and lack energy. Supplying the illustrators with felt tips helps maintain the bold style and they are advised to fill all of the paper. A full page, bursting with colour has a lot more impact than a tiny pencil Illustration hiding in the corner. The use of text to accompany the Illustrations is also advised, but should only be used in an imaginative and creative way. An ideal co-creation illustrator should be extremely enthusiastic, enjoy employing a fast drawing style and should feel confident expressing their abilities in front of a group.
A couple of years down the line I still can’t believe the experience I have gained. The prospect of a workshop continues to be very exciting. Whilst listening carefully is a priority, it’s also important not to over-think the situation. If you worry about how to capture everything with the time constraints, you will be pre-occupied by this challenge and it will become an impossible task. It’s definitely better to keep your head clear and imagine it more like a vessel, allowing the words to flow through your mind only partly consciously. You are the one in control of simplifying the moment.
When it comes to what I physically draw on the page, in a way it’s actually quite hard to distinguish what it is I physically do, as illustration has become like second nature to me. That said I am able to identify a few illustrative traits I have developed as time has gone by.
The illustrations I complete often fall into two categories. One is a more intuitive depiction of what the participants are saying, documenting their thoughts and feelings. These are usually drawn earlier on in the day allowing an emotional response to be captured. As the workshop continues there is more of an opportunity to create new ranges of products or solutions, to the problems they wanted to resolve. In these cases I employ a slightly more graphic feel to my Illustrations clearly displaying a curve of a lid or how the mechanics of a pump may work.
I will often place the theme in the centre, using speech bubbles and arrows to document initial thoughts. I tend to place borders round my drawings as it brings it all together, as well as emphasizing the fullness of the page. I am a fan of mini comic strips, usually combined with silhouettes and shapes, but I really enjoy using a variety of techniques to express the ideas.
Then, as the illustrations are completed, it is very helpful to place them on the wall there and then. Firstly it shows the narrative of the workshop in real time, as well as enthusing and inspiring the participants with the ideas that have already been generated.
The illustrative outputs from the workshops are scanned and turned into individual jpeg images. These images often accompany a debrief that explains what the research has uncovered. They can be used in the product development phase along with triggering memories and reminding the clients what was discussed.
Since my first workshop my role within Face has definitely evolved. I combine my Freelance work alongside being the, in-house creative. I work closely with all areas of the business, creating artwork for presentations, proposals and debriefs. I have produced illustrations for clients ranging from technology to iced tea, from O2 to Coke & Unilever. I was especially pleased to work closely with animators to produce both the “About Us” and “Manifesto” animations on the FACE website, and to spend two weeks with Sennep (The designers behind our Pulsar website) to refine my Adobe Illustrator skills.
So as I continue to surround myself with paper and pens, I reflect on how lucky I am to be doing something I love. I realize how much I can continue to extend my skills being in this ever-changing and exciting environment. If you would like me to work with you in this way please get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you!