There are three reasons.
The first is that I’m a not a good writer. It’s not so much conjuring the words, it’s more the process of sticking them together to create some form of load-bearing structure. Written coherence does not come easily to me – in the past, while in the midst of a CV covering letter, a 10,000-word dissertation, or a birthday card, it’s felt like I’m trying to untangle a giant knotted ball of different coloured pieces of string. Somehow, I managed to drag myself through four years of studying English literature – evidence of how much I admire the skill in other people – and still left without having any idea how to write. So, the best way to tackle this demon? Face in head on and in public.
The second reason is that I’ve just begun, what I’m grandly referring to as, ‘a new stage of my life’. This has so far involved walking away from a nice, stable job – complete with excellent benefits and supportive colleagues – in the middle of a pandemic; starting a masters’ course in illustration, in the middle of a pandemic; and attempting to make enough money as an illustrator to be able to call myself an illustrator… in the middle of a pandemic. You could be forgiven for thinking this blog may be a front row seat to a slow demise. The aim is slightly more optimistic. I’m hoping that by writing a blog I will find enough inspiration and accountability to keep going – to keep drawing and to keep trying new things. If other people read this, then it will have another purpose – to interest and engage. But for now, it’s enough that it exists in a public space.
The third is the most important reason and will be the driving force that keeps me writing: I want to know more about the history of illustration. I want to know, partly so I can draw these influences into my own practice, but mainly because I love research and I miss it. I miss learning things that aren’t just the practical everyday stuff of being an adult. I want to know about how illustration has influenced the world around us: how it’s helped us to communicate ideas and to understand them; how it changed the face of advertising, anatomy, botany and engineering; how it inspired generations of imaginations; how it created false narratives of perfection before Instagram; how it interacted with the written word - undermined it, encouraged it and brought it to life. And maybe there are other people who will want to know these things too.
Each month I’m going to focus on a particular thematic area or practitioner, finding out as much as I can within a limited time frame: one month I might focus on the art of book design, another on the work of Arthur Rackham or early animators like Ken Anderson. I’m aware that the only way to keep this blog going in the long run is if it’s something I enjoy, so I’m not going to try and create a comprehensive history of illustration (if that’s what you’re after, see The History of Illustration by Susan Doyle). Instead, I’m going to look at what I find interesting, what I love, and hopefully, someone else might agree. Through the process of researching and writing, I’ll get to work out what I think of various illustrators and genres, what I like and don’t like, who I can learn from, and what techniques, themes and frameworks I can use within my own work.
Wish me luck.