Very Heath Robinson – book review

June 9th, 2017 by Special Projects

Stories Of His Absurdly Ingenious World

By Adam Hart-Davis

Foreword by Philip Pullman

Sheldrake Press ISBN 978-1-873329-48-1 (special half price offer below review)


‘His humour turned on taking things to the extremes’ says author Adam Hart-Davis on his subject, humourist (and excellent draftsman) Heath Robinson, who created illustrations for magazines, books and advertising across his impressive career. This stretching things to the limit often involved Robinson drawing precarious balancing acts, intricately constructed machinery and more often than not some knotty pieces of string. The book’s foreward writer, Philip Pullman, suggests ‘Mighty Commander of the Preposterous’ as an addition to the National Treasure status that Robinson has attained over the years.

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Dance Robot. Courtesy The William Heath Robinson Trust

This well designed book groups Robinson’s output into themes, including Ideas for Domestic Bliss, Keeping up Appearances and Man and Machine which poke gentle fun at the ‘modern’ foibles of the day. Part of the delight in the images is the realisation that many issues with modern living aren’t actually modern at all – they’ve been raising complications in peoples’ lives for quite some time. And Robinson always had a solution. Fresh air was a particular concern, and often babies are precariously suspended on high in various contraptions to achieve maximum clean air. As a flat dweller myself, his slightly hair raising proposals for extending one’s space out of the high rise building bring a chuckle of sympathy for his residents’ bizarre solutions.

Cinecar. Courtesy The William Heath Robinson Trust

Cinecar. Courtesy The William Heath Robinson Trust

Incidental details in the illustrations are a joy; a living room scene depicting an afternoon family tea being delivered by a system of pulleys and bellows has portraits on the walls of the stern looking servants presumably out of a job as a result of these fantastical labour saving devices.


Along with some of Robinson’s own observations on his life, Hart-Davis expands on the social mores that he drew upon, and in discussing the drawings includes historical backgrounds on the finer points of courtship, how football and cricket developed, the origin of phrases and the history of the fork (what more could you need?), as well as elements of his own experience which relate to the subject in hand.

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Pea eating machine

Robinson reveals great affection for his characters, with expressive features and impressive physicality to his individual portrayals. Body shapes range from slim to often portly, but with the more generously endowed middle aged well up for participation in life’s game. The images of moustachioed men and swirlingly dressed women throwing dance moves are wonderful.

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Mass tennis. Courtesy of the William Heath Robinson Trust

Generally known for his black and white line work (he charged extra for colour), it’s intriguing to see Robinson’s romantic Rackmanesque illustrations for Kipling poems and fairy tales included in the book. In the same way that it’s been fascinating to discover in House of Illustration exhibitions displaying the work of E Shepard and Edward Ardizzone how they created far more than the imagery they are famous for, this side of Robison’s talent is surprising to see.

Snowy Kiss_550

Snowy Kiss

Although, curiously, Robinson wasn’t great at drawing birds – they all look like mini pterodactyls fresh out of the egg! – this is a book which warms your heart and allows you to revel in the skill and imagination of one of the great British illustrators. Fantastic stuff.

AOI has a special half price offer!

We have a special 50% discount offer on Adam Hart-Davis’s Very Heath Robinson (ISBN: 978 1 873329 48 1) Offer Code 740717

Only £20.00 (RRP £40.00), post and packing free

Buy on-line

Following Add to basket, type in the offer code into the Coupon code field and press Apply coupon.

Telephone orders can be taken via Orca Book Services on 01235 4655000. Please quote the offer code.

Offer available to 31 July


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The Best of All Possible Worlds – Quentin Blake and the Folio Society

June 8th, 2017 by Special Projects

17 June-8 October 2017

The Heong Gallery, Downing College, Cambridge, CB2 1DQ

Wednesdays 12pm-8pm; Fridays 12pm-5pm; Saturdays 10am-6pm · Sundays 12pm-5pm

The Gallery will show original drawings by Quentin Blake from four recent limited editions published by The Folio Society. Admission is free.

The Rat and the Oyster from Fifty Fables of La Fontaine. (c) Quentin Blake, 2013

The Rat and the Oyster from Fifty Fables of La Fontaine. (c) Quentin Blake, 2013

Quentin Blake (b. 1932) read English at Downing College between 1953 and 1956. His drawings first appeared in Punch when he was sixteen and he illustrated two editions of the student magazine Granta while at Cambridge University. In 1960, he illustrated A Drink of Water by John Yeoman, thereby starting a career in children’s book illustration for which he is best known, having illustrated beloved titles by Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo and others.

Despite his special affinity for children’s books – he was the inaugural Children’s Laureate from 1999-2001 – Quentin Blake has illustrated over 300 books for children and adults and created works of public art, most notably in healthcare settings in the UK and France. His association with The Folio Society began with the centenary edition of The Hunting of the Snark (1976) and the illustrations on display are from his four most recent collaborations; Candide (2011), Fifty Fables of La Fontaine (2013), The Golden Ass (2015) and Riddley Walker (2017). From the ribald and piquant to the serious and disturbing, these four titles showcase just a few of the genres and themes in Quentin’s formidable oeuvre.

Helios – book review

June 7th, 2017 by Special Projects

by Etienne Chaize

Published by Editions 2024, Strasbourg / 2016

Review by Peter Allen


Helios says a lot about how the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. In this example the maths involves three illustration graduates from Les Arts Décoratifs* in Strasbourg, France; Etienne Chaize – the author, and Olivier Bron and Simon Liberman – founders of independent publishers Editions 2024.

They all continue to live and work in the Alsatian capital; Etienne as a freelance illustrator developing his book projects in parallel with his commissioned work, and Olivier and Simon running Editions 2024 (set up in 2010) to create illustrated books and comic albums. Their approach is based on the importance of “accompanying the authors in their projects, and to grow with them”. Together they work out “the technical challenges which will bring us to publish beautiful books”. They use spot colours, special formats and an uncommon binding style.


Editions 2024 initially asked Etienne to come up with a story for their new collection of large format books. He was given free rein in terms of content, the only conditions set were the size and number of pages. “I knew I wanted to work on landscapes and moods and lacked experience with characters and dialogues, so I chose to keep those at a minimum to let the set pieces express what’s happening”.

Helios is Etienne’s skilful tour de force, a synthesis of the numerous techniques that he has been developing since his time at art school. “I am at a point where I’m comfortable enough with the computer tools to be able to merge all kinds of source material… I like that you can combine the leniency of the digital tools with the richness and unpredictability of the more traditional techniques”.


The collages of neo-classical imagery present in his background layers reflect the influence of artists such as Piranesi, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, Hokusai; the saturated areas of colour suggest Rothko and Turner, whereas the appearance of the central figures is more a mixture of video games, Issey Miyake’s fashion designs and animation. “I’d like to find a bridge between what’s seen as pop culture and what belongs to art history, as it can only make the first richer and reinvigorate the latter”. Or as Editions 2024 put it, “the Quattrocento offered the world Hieronymus Bosch: the 90’s and Photoshop software have delivered us Etienne Chaize”.


The only text in Helios appears in French in the introduction, a short paragraph that provides the context for the pictorial narrative:

One far off evening, the sun stopped setting.

The kingdom was sinking into an eternal twilight,

When a wayfarer promised to raise the spell.

They would go to meet the star,

They would walk to the end of the day.

Slowly, up rose the king and was followed by all,

In the hope of a new dawn.

Helios lay motionless on the horizon.

This epic tale is recounted entirely in images; 16 impressive, double pages (56cm W x 37.5cm H) across which the procession seeks to divert the forces of nature that threaten to prevent them from reaching their goal.


The scale of Etienne’s vision is matched by Edition 2024’s design, the sheer size of the book, the binding that allows the spreads to be opened up fully, the intensity of the printed colours, obtained by substituting the magenta in the CMYK mix with a fluorescent pink ink.

A new book project is currently underway with Editions 2024 that relates to Helios, set in a similar universe of mythical lost cities and mysterious cults, with probable links between the two. “In France… I think we get to see quite a lot of interesting projects. What’s lacking is the readership, which remains small. It would be nice to be able to reach to more people, let them know that independent comics can be for them too”.


Helios is published with support from the CNL (Le Centre National du Livre), the French national book centre and can be purchased from Editions 2024 website for 23€ + p&p. It will be also be on sale at ELCAF, 16-19 June, London, on Central Vapeur’s stand.

*now renamed HEAR: Haute Ecole des Arts du Rhin

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FAB Prize for BAME writers and illustrators

June 6th, 2017 by Special Projects

Faber Children’s and the Andlyn Agency are thrilled to announce the winners of the inaugural FAB Prize for BAME writers and illustrators.

The first prize winner for illustration was a collection of illustrations by Lucy Farfort. The judges said ‘we were enchanted by the richness of her jewel-like colour work and Lucy’s sumptuous reimagining of familiar traditional fairytales. With a strong eye for colour, pattern and textile, there was an ornamental beauty to Lucy’s work that excited us enormously.

Lucy Farfort

Lucy Farfort

Cindy Chang won second prize for illustration with her picture book Bear’s Hat, which the judges described as having ‘a gentle, magical colour palette moderated by strong, confident lines and a lovely sense of movement. Cindy’s eye for design, facial expression and humour made for a very strong 2nd prize winner. Her work stood out for its ability to tell a story. ‘

The winner of the writing prize is Rohan Agalawatta for The Monster Orphanage, described as ‘funny, atmospheric, and self-assured, with a charm all of its own. A combination of pacy storytelling, super dialogue and laconic humour made for an extremely engaging, witty text, starring a boy called Odel and a deadpan talking yeti.’

Second place went to Ramsey Hassan for Sanctuary, which the judges chose because ‘the dialogue was bursting with life and humour, and was pitch perfect. The humour, tone and voice made for a poignant but age appropriate text about the author’s own experience of coming to the UK as an asylum seeker.’

Cindy Chang

Cindy Chang

Davinia Andrew-Lynch at Andlyn, says ‘What has really stood out is the range of stories and artwork submitted: it’s proof that fantastic writing and illustration shouldn’t separate us; commonalities can be found whilst teaching us something new.’

The first prize winners will receive £500 plus a year of mentoring with Faber and Andlyn, and the second prizes will have a consultation meeting to discuss their work.

In addition, the judges have selected a list of Highly Commended and Commended entries, who will also be invited to the prize celebration at a later date, where their work will be available for press and agents to view.

Leah Thaxton, Children’s publisher, says ‘We were thrilled at the high calibre of entires we received in both categories of the prize, and would like to celebrate the best of them with the rest of the industry, in the expectation and hope that many of these brilliant writers and illustrators will find opportunities there within. Yes – we will want to run this prize again.’

The Faber Andlyn BAME (FAB) Prize is a joint initiative between Faber Children’s and the Andlyn Agency with the purpose of helping discover new writers and illustrators from BAME backgrounds, and to provide a year-long mentoring scheme for one author and one illustrator.

Illustrated 2017

June 5th, 2017 by Special Projects

9th-11th June, Truman Brewery London

ILLUSTRATED 2017 brings its illustration showcase collection to the heart of East London

UK Illus Champs 02

This year Illustrated hosts the 2017 UK Illustration Championships LIVE. Sixteen top illustrators from all over the world battle it out in 60 minute quick-fire head-to-head illustration bouts. See this year’s winner crowned the first ever UK Illustration Champion.


The Luminor Sign Co

June 5th, 2017 by Special Projects

AOI Member Ged Palmer has founded London’s only modern day sign and lettering shop: Luminor Sign Co.


Palmer’s mission is to preserve the threatened craft of sign painting while exploring the cross section of art and commerce, design and utility – and reemphasising the role of a shop in local community. Luminor will aim to be “a place were visiting sign writers from across the world may refine their skills and display their wares, where new talent is nurtured, old talent respected, where passersby may pop their head in, pick up a zine or two, admire an array of colour-drenched boards and gold-adorned mirrors, or witness the masterful painting of a perfect curve in one sweet, single stroke.”

With a background in commercial lettering and logotypes, Palmer still does commercial lettering and signage jobs for the likes of Nike, Microsoft or Philips. But it’s the smaller scale, local jobs that he’s most excited by. And since the new Luminor Sign Co opened its doors in April, it’s had commissions from neighbourhood cafes, shops and galleries, a nearby dry cleaners, the DIY shop next door.


The Luminor Sign Co is about community, and the role of the shop in that community. But it’s also about honouring analogue over digital craft, trading pixels for paintbrushes, imparting knowledge, observing rituals, respecting an ancient system of abstract shapes and lines and putting a fresh spin on it.

Find out more Luminor Sign Co here.

Brian Sanders – from film set to illustrators’ rights

June 2nd, 2017 by Special Projects

A recommended exhibition displaying the illustration work of Brian Sanders is currently open at the Lever Gallery in London. Although this show covers a limited period of Sanders’ work it’s encouraging that the careers of veteran illustrators of his standing are being celebrated in this way, adding to the history of illustration and its many developments.

Dakota Staton

Dakota Staton

We had a chat with Sanders about his illustrations (‘I’ve been working for over 50 years, and lucky to be still doing it)’ and his early involvement with the Association of Illustrators.

The exhibition covers artwork from the 1960’s through to 1970, including work for magazines and from the set of seminal sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey. A final touch is the commission from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner for the last series of the hugely popular television series.

Brian Sanders Portrait_550

Brian Sanders and the Mad Men artwork

The exhibition was intended to have a wider time scope, says Sanders, but it make more thematic sense to limit the timescale for the period when he was working in the ‘bubble and streak’ style which was created with acrylic paint. This style has a delightfully period look to it now, and Sanders’ strength with composition and figures is strongly to the fore.

His work from the early 1960’s on grew out doing drawing from life around places such as Elephant and Castle in London (he was born in Southwark). Joy Haddington of Homes and Gardens magazine commissioned him based on this new work, and when the newspaper colour supplements began to be published, the Sunday Times Magazine gave him a perfect show window for his artwork. Nova magazine commissioned a series of monochrome portraits of notable figures, including politicians and film stars, which are an intriguing contrast in the exhibition to the more lush images created for short stories of romance for other magazines.

1405_Ho Chi Min_Sunday Times Cover_jpg_550

Ho Chi Min Sunday Times Cover

Sanders points out that this way of working changed over time as ‘I’d have been out of work if I stayed doing the same stuff I was doing in the 1960’s’.

In 1965 Stanley Kubrick called him onto the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey. ‘It was a wonderful brief from Kubrick – to do whatever I wanted to do. The only stipulation was that it could not be shown to anyone’. An ape head prop had been stolen from the set and that, along with other concerns, had made Kubrick cautious of people recording what he was doing. He took photographs himself, but didn’t like other cameras on the set.


Moonpit - 2001: Space Odyssey set

Sanders would spend two days per week in the film studio amongst the huge sets, and then go back to his own studio to construct the artworks. These images are very powerful and Sanders’ use of collage is especially effective on images of the suited spacemen with their suits created in tin foil. Unfortunately this work was not published, although Sanders has transparencies of the artwork (which was how artwork was reproduced in pre digital days), but only 26 out of the larger number of pieces ultimately produced. Kubrick had a barn full of work on his estate and Sanders believes that they may all be stored there.


Astronaut costumes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1965

Conscious of the need for the lot illustrators to be improved, Sanders became involved with the Association of Illustrators initially to ensure that original artworks were returned to the artists once reproduced, ‘we wanted to make things better for us all’. As an AOI Committee Member he went on to represent the organisation in negotiations with the T.U.C., The Whitford Committee on Copyright, The Publishers Association, The Incorporated Practitioners in Advertising and The Board of Trade.

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Noel Coward Nova magazine 1970

Still working today (‘If I’d been given access to a computer, that’s where I’d be’), recent commissions include painting interiors of people’s homes and a projected trilogy about his early life, including his return to London after the war.

For more on Brian Sanders go here

BRIAN SANDERS: SELECTED WORKS: From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Mad Men runs until 29 July 2017

Lever Gallery 153 -157 Goswell Road, London, EC1V 7HD

Prize for Illustration 2017 – Sounds of the City – all shortlisted works

May 31st, 2017 by Special Projects

Congratulations to the creators of the 100 selected artworks to feature at the London Transport Museum in the Prize for Illustration – Sounds of the City exhibition from 24 May until 3 September 2017.

Please note the name of the artist can be seen when you hover over each image and in the info window in the browser address bar when you click on each image.

More information here:

Virginia Wolf – book review

May 31st, 2017 by Special Projects

Written by Kyo Maclear Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Published by Book Island ISBN: 978-1-911496-038

Review by Rachel Morris


The roots of this story sit loosely in the relationship between Virginia Woolf, 20th century Author and central figure in the Bloomsbury group, and her sister, the Artist Vanessa Bell.

Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault delve back into an imagined childhood as Vanessa struggles with her sister’s “Wolfish mood” – a reference to the real Virginia Woolf’s life long battle with depression. It’s a beautifully illustrated and sensitive, dreamlike story about what it could be like for a child to see a loved one suffering. While it doesn’t go deeply into the complexities and tragedy associated with mental illness, what it does do is lend a light touch and fairytale quality to those themes. For older readers, it opens up those ideas for deeper thought.


Isabelle Arsenault’s muted colour palette takes us straight into the pervasively dark mood of Vanessa’s sister. Pencil marks are used to lay the drawing process bare, with the blemishes left by erased and re-drawn lines making up an important and beautiful part of the over all texture of the illustration.


As the book progresses we see Vanessa’s glorious imagined world of “Bloomsberry” unfold. She literally and figuratively draws her sister out of her “wolfish mood” by drawing, painting and making a beautiful, imaginary place. The contrast between the grey and muted reality for the sisters and the colour bursting from their imagination heightens the difference as Virginia’s mood begins to change.


The way in which Virginia is drawn also changes. She becomes more human, with the wolfish characteristics we’ve seen when she’s drawn in silhouette and shadow melting away. Those pointy ears are, in fact, the loops of a bow in her hair: Another lovely, visual tool to link the “wolfish” Virginia with the girl emerging from the “doldrums”.

In essence, this is a sensitive story about overcoming darkness with creativity, time, love and empathy.


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Pictoplasma Festival 2017 – A Report

May 26th, 2017 by Special Projects
Fruit fruit, by Peter Millard


by Marianna Madriz, Illustrator and AOI Membership Assistant

This spring, Berlin was the proud host of an eclectic and unique arrangement of characters: from creatures coming together and parading down into the sea, to monks assembling to chant and praise their god, to a girl suffering from growing hot dog hands… literally. Characters in all shapes, sizes, styles and mediums converged once more in Pictoplasma 2017 to become an intense explosion of inspiration

Babylon Theatre

From its inception as an online encyclopaedia of contemporary character design in 1999, Pictoplasma has now grown into a world-renowned hub dedicated to bring emerging and established international artists into the public eye through conferences, workshops, screenings, publications and exhibitions (and parties). Organisers Peter Thaler and Lars Denicke are some of the main masterminds responsible for inviting outstanding Illustrators, Animators and Game Designers from all over the globe year after year, and this edition was no exception: Miss Lotion (aka Louise Rosenkrands), Jack SachsPooya Abbasian, Nathan Jurevicius and Eran Hilleli graced the stage and also filled the city with their unique works as part of the festival’s traditional Character Walk.

One of the most outstanding (and spooky) exhibition spaces was AG Cemetery Museum, which included speakers Peter Millard (displayed above) and most notably Pooya Abbasian, who exhibited a collection varying ink drawings inspired on superstition which fitted perfectly in the burial site.

Talisman, by Pooya Abbasian,

Talisman, by Pooya Abbasian

The 13th edition this year was all about ‘Character Upload’, a great name as projects become ever more detached from their creators once released onto the worldwide web. Relevantly, Ton Mak reflected on her own experiences with her Flabjacks work being plagiarised, and Sean Charmatz and Kirsten Lepore shared on their reactions when their respective creations ‘The Secret World of Stuff” and “Hi Stranger” suddenly encountered global viral stardom. In both cases all creators highlighted how difficult it is to tackle something that is beyond your control (a theme which resonated with all creative attendees in the audience), but they also emphasised how you can protect yourself from the beginning and learn from these happenings.

Virtual Reality was also more present in this year’s festival, featuring exclusive opportunities for attendees to experience new projects by the speakers. Examples included the absurdist puzzle exploration game Pikuniku and “Little Earth” by children’s book Illustrator Chris HaugtonAs much as we were sucked in, wowed and/or frightened by the digital world though, we also found comfort and appeal in handmade forms. Haugton’s fair trade rugs, Nathalie Choux’s ceramic creatures and DXTR’s tapestries were certainly big highlights in this matter.

The 25th Hour, by DXTR

The 25th Hour, by DXTR

Of course, the festival was all about play too. Attendees had the chance to get involved in workshops where they could try bringing their characters to life via live drawing, story boarding and/or animation; and after all note-taking and creative exercises were done, there was plenty of opportunity to relax, drink and further socialise in any of the many gatherings and parties organised. A great highlight of these parties was a hilarious live performance by John Daker, a new musical project by speaker Sophie Koko Gate; and with no intention of sounding too provoking, you kind of needed to be there. Everyone had a good boogie.

John Daker gig, live at ACHUD

John Daker gig, live at ACUD

As previously mentioned in my 2015 report, Pictoplasma isn’t only a fantastic festival to discover new work, but also to meet new people from all over the world and to re-encounter old friends from previous years. Even a few AOI friends and members were there, between them Rob Barrett (from Yo Illo), John Bond, Jenni Saarenkyla and Massimo Fenati (who was the lucky winner of our Pictoplasma ticket giveaway).

I went to Pictoplasma prepared to learn from artists, watch fantastic animations, meet excellent creative people and have fun, and once again I was not disappointed. It was intense, but it was incredibly worth it! I would encourage everyone to get involved with Pictoplasma in one way of another. They are currently taking applications for their Pictoplasma Academies both in Mexico and Berlin, so if you are interested in Character Design take advantage of this opportunity and find out more.

It was incredible to be able to share this experience with everyone. Hopefully we’ll be able to repeat it next year!

Ton Mak

Flabjacks bean bag, by Ton Mak

For more information about Pictoplasma International Conference and Festival of Contemporary Character Design and Art, visit their website.

Pictoplasma 2015 Report
Pictoplasma NY 2016 by Yinfan Huang