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Interpretation event – who said what

The Interpretation symposium was held 18-19 September 2014, Arts University Bournemouth, Bournemouth. We present a short report on the content of the event:

Interpretation was the theme of September 2014’s VaroomLab symposium on illustration, held in partnership with Arts University Bournemouth (AUB). Illustrators, students and academics all attended the event, which explored ways in which illustrators interpret, re-interpret and misinterpret information through illustration practice.

Subjects included gender representation in illustration, creating ‘artefacts’ to illustrate The Prisoner of Zenda, interpretations of Error, an exploration of how visual storytelling is vital in how we engage with the world and the role of exchange between artist and scientist in natural history illustration.

Speakers include Chris Campe, Dr Andrew Howells, Joel Lardner & Paul Roberts, Paul Burgess, Mireille Fauchon & Four Corners books, Andrew Kulman, Gary Embury and Thomas Barwick. Guest speakers were animator, Cyriak and illustrators James Jarvis and Marcus Oakley.

All papers and presentations will be available in the third issue of the upcoming digital VaroomLab Journal, published early 2015. An edited versions of Chris Campe’s and Thomas Barwick’s presented papers are published in Varoom 27.

Lisa Richardson, Course Leader BA Illustration at AUB,  welcomed the delegates and introduced the symposium, then passed on to AUB Principle, Professor Stuart Bartholomew, who talked about the universities achievements and how pleased he was that Bournemouth was now part of the VaroomLab coastal tour (following Plymouth and Swansea). Derek Brazell, of VaroomLab and the Assocation of Illustrators, gave an introduction to the VaroomLab network and described the peer review process which papers being presented at the symposium had undertaken.

Marcus Oakely, photograph by Elliott Trent

Keynote speaker, Marcus Oakley then opened discussing where illustration fits in with art and design and how they interact with each other, showing a variety of the artwork work that he finds stimulating, “I like how art can be an object on a table.” He’d asked a selection of working illustrators if they considered their work ‘art’ and showed their (varied) responses.

The first paper presented was from Chris Campe, Girls Go First? Negotiating Gender Representation in Contemporary Illustration, who took three examples of artwork adapted according to the clients concerns about the depiction of gender in various roles. ‘Whose perspective does it represent?’ asked Campe, whilst investigating an animated project and illustrations for editorial and corporate clients.

Chris Campe, photograph by Elliott Trent

What men and women look like and what they do in an illustration is not always addressed up front in a briefing, but may become an issue once the client sees the illustrator’s first sketches and asks for edits. Based on the understanding that images do not only just depict reality but also have a part in creating it, Campe used three real life examples of commissioned work (editorial, animation and corporate) to examine how illustrators and clients negotiate the appearance and gendered roles of male and female characters between the initial sketches and the final illustrations.

James Jarvis followed as the next keynote speaker, discussing his early drawings of the concrete skateboard park in London’s Southbank Centre, in the context of reviewing his body of work. He showed early digital artwork which he felt subsequently lost its ‘freshness’, commenting on the ‘stages’ of this work, and how he grew to ‘abstracting’ the world rather than representing it. After 10 years of creating work for his toy company, Amos, he believed he was no longer learning something new and decided to go back to the more ‘handmade’. Now he believes he is commissioned so that clients are associated with his vision, rather than solely an image. Therefore he’s able to include his philosophy in commercial work.

Jarvis also discussed his Spherical Dialogues, where he was using drawing to ‘understand things’ (whilst also being pretty funny). He likes ‘trails’, where there are ghosts of pop-culture references in his current artwork. He’s now back to observational drawing – ‘these are my experiences of being in that place’ – and is using the process he used for the early skateboard park drawings, still finding it potent and vital.

He ended by discussing his audience and how Instagram has allowed him to share drawings to this followers, ‘but the pictures are not a commodity’, and how it almost becomes self publishing.

The next section of the symposium was under the sub-heading of Error, with four presentations around this theme.

Speakers, Thomas Barwick and Joel Lardner, photograph by Elliott Trent

The Interpretation of error: Glitsch, craft and illustration paper was written and presented by Joel Lardner & Paul Roberts from Arts University Bournemouth. They set out to examine glitch, and the glitch-like, making reference to the resurgence of craft within contemporary culture, and making comparisons between these seemingly opposed practices and looked to locate glitchcraft within Illustration.

Drawing upon the concept of the ‘glitch-like’ as a frequent description of the illustrator’s relationship to the error, they argued that the professional illustrator is frequently constrained in their use of pure glitches within their working process due to a number of factors; and instead utilise the error initially through experimental appropriation, and then through normalisation, and finally incorporation into the toolbox of the artist. Lardner and Roberts also recognised the increasing prevalence and (literal) encoding of glitch-like readymades within modern software and associated artistic tools.

The second presentation in the Error strand was Make Room for Error by Paul Burgess of Brighton University, covering the use of error and mistakes as strategies for the creative process within illustration and graphic design. Burgess looked at several prominent practitioners, including David Foldvari and his animation work, and how they all embrace ‘the mistake’ within their work. ‘It’s OK to mess up occasionally’.

She’s Lost Control paper from Thomas Barwick of Plymouth University followed. Barwick’s talk was practice based, demonstrating ways he uses error to uncover the material qualities of software, and explaining how that practice has led to a fresh understanding of software as a material. This technical research was connected to an ethnographic approach to arts practice, that sees the artist who uses ‘error’ in their practice to uncover a truer sense of the materials, as a valuable source of strategies and approaches that can unpick software in different ways and become useful for himself and for other illustrators.

The final Error talk was Erodite from Andrew Kulman of Birmingham City University, whose presentation looked at error in writing and imagery, from Philip K Dick to George Hardie.

The day’s speakers then collected for a panel discussion based on the topics covered in their presentations.

The speaker panel taking questions

Symposium attendees then visited the AUB gallery to see the exhibition of student and alumni work on display.

The first presentation of the second day of Interpretation was Looking Towards Interpretive Illustration Narratives from Roderick Mills who explored how narratives or visual storytelling are significant/vital in how we understand and engage in the world today. From picture book apps that extend the realm of a story, to how narratives allow audiences to interact with iconic brands, to digital stories that may help communities understand everyday life, it is through interpretation that Illustration mediates these narratives.

Mills drew upon examples from both academic research and commercial references to identify how Illustrators are at the centre of new forms of storytelling. He emphasised how context of, and how we frame our work is essential.

A parallel event ran at the same time – Hayley Potter’s Giant Consequences live drawing event. This workshop used the game Exquisite Corpse (otherwise commonly known as consequences) as its inspiration. Surrealist artists once played this collaborative, chance based game where each participant would draw an image, or on some occasions collage an image on a sheet of paper.

Large 3D cubes were available in the studio to draw on and move within the space, and the participants in the workshop responded to the visual inspiration wall and materials available in order to create a section of a new character.

Giant Consequences, photograph by AUB

The next presentation was Re-imagining a re-imagined Europe: illustrating the Prisoner of Zenda. Illustrator and visiting tutor, Mireille Fauchon and Richard Embray of Four Corners Books presented how Mireille had interpreted the text for her commission of The Prisoner of Zenda. The novel is part of the Familiars Series, which features artists’ responses to classic short stories and literature.

Mireille Fauchon and Richard Embray of Four Corners Books

Embray talked about how the format of their books is an area the illustrator is asked to address, and showed examples of Four Corners Books’ publications.

Fauchon explained that Four Corners had issue a call for submissions to illustrate The Prisoner of Zenda, and as she’d loved the book as an adolescent, she entered. The story is set in a fictional central European country, and Fauchon thought that approaching the book less from the perspective of plot and more from it’s environment would be good – and interesting to present images as artefacts from this country. Embray confirmed that images in their books don’t have to be ‘in-line’ with the text.

Fauchon interpreted the book’s images as ‘found objects’, and learnt a number of new skills to (such a making a fish plate) to achieve her interpretation of the book’s text.

The next paper presented to have peer reviewed through VaroomLab was ‘How does cross disciplinary exchange influence interpretation of the Natural History illustrator?’  by Dr Andrew Howell, who had travelled from Australia to present his paper.

He explained that as a Natural History Illustrator his role through practice is to translate natural world subjects, themes or events into accurate representational imagery. Cross-disciplinary exchange was discussed in the context of collaboration between an artist and a scientist. “I’m exploring the role of working collaboratively with people and how that influences how you practise and how you interpret a subject,” he said.

Dr Andrew Howells

His project explored the Elephant and it’s body health as a subject for artwork/illustration and showed the application of a resulting body of work to scientific research, including animated work.

Cross-disciplinary exchanges in Howell’s research were both remote and in situ. It was the discussions around the broader research project, the science behind their approach to assessing Elephants’ body condition, and the capacity to observe keepers and researchers working with Elephants that provided both explicit and experiential knowledge.

The next presentation ‘The Topolski Studio Residency Programme 2013, came from Gary Embury of University of the West of England who discussed reportage illustration and the different approaches artists take to record the same location and subject, also how documentary drawing and reportage can be used by artists to clarify and focus on issues through journalistic enquiry, the use of selection, editing on the spot, and area of focus including conversations evidenced through the use of annotated text to anchor meaning and add content.

Gary Embury with Topolski film

During 2013 Embury and theTopolski Studio hosted a pilot four-month residency reportage drawing programme for six young artists not in employment, education or training. The Residency offered the opportunity to work together, making documentary and reportage drawing from a wide range of locations and subjects, as diverse as the Fracking protests at Balcombe, London Markets, Heygate Estate, Consumerism at Oxford Circus, the Royal courts of Justice and Parliament amongst others.

Final keynote Speaker was animator Cyriak, who besides creating complex personal pieces, has worked on a wide range of commercial projects from TV advertising to music videos.

Cyriak, photograph by Freddie Harrison

His talk was entitled, Making It Up I Go Along. He talked about what he does, and the journey he’s been on to get where he is now. Cyriak also covered his creative process, breaking down the way he creates his – often looped – animations, saying he didn’t have the energy to do all the drawing for an animation by hand, whereas this way is like cutting out and sticking with glue.

“I guess it’s important to absorb the best of culture and utilize it for your own creations, but it’s also important to build on it, to look at what’s out there and see what is missing.” He talked about having to research photos and video footage to use as a medium, “and while it is usually a basic hunt for a particular object or scenery, I often get new ideas or inspiration from the stock materials I find.”

Cyriak, photograph by Freddie Harrison

He covered ‘interpreting’ music into a visual experience when he makes music videos, and ‘interpreting’ found video footage into something that subverts its original purpose. “It’s all about taking something that exists and turning it into something new, which is the raw essence of what I do. One of the most important things to learn about that is to make sure whatever material you are ‘interpreting’ is legally available for use, if you are planning to reap any commercial benefits from it.”

The symposium was very well received by attendees, who responded positively to the event and the opportunity to discuss illustration with their peers whilst being presented with talks on illustration and peer reviewed papers with many difference facets.

For more background and images go to the AUB website

Photos by Derek Brazell unless otherwise indicated 





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