For the very first time in TICE history, we have introduced Illustration to the mix of creative areas. It has always weaved into our other creative areas in the past, including Graphics and Fashion, so we felt it was about time that this diverse and fascinating sector had its own spotlight. And what better way to kickstart this new venture than to have Helen Turner pilot TICE Illustration at Jarrow School?

To kickstart a shockingly mild and sunny February morning, Helen eased students into the day ahead with some industry insight. She began by sharing her 15 years of experience thus far, from studying Graphic Design at University to illustrating over 40 children’s books (some of which she brought along to showcase), running Rosie & Radish with her good pal and lecturing at Newcastle College. She also shared the story of how her sketchbook doodles led to her first claim to fame – winning the Zizzi’s Fresh Talent Competition in 2012 and having her illustration printed on their restaurant plates. Imagine having your friends constantly text you with pictures of their meals on your plate. Goals.

Ultimately, there was a reason why Helen mentioned her claim to fame. That achievement had spiralled from her interest in communicating with her ideas and words influenced by personal experience. She saw a supermodel in a really beautiful pair of shoes and simply had to get her sketchbook out, which led to her success in the competition. Likewise, her project inspired by her dog, Ralph, has led to many clients coming her way. It just shows that these little observations in everyday life can go a long way.Anyway, it was time to look at the industry as a whole. There were six main areas: editorial, book publishing, fashion, product and packaging, advertising and moving illustration…yes, there are THAT many specialisms and by the look on student’s faces, they found it difficult to comprehend. But as Helen said, ‘once you’re aware of it, you begin to notice it everywhere you go.’ From looking at Vogue covers to hair care packaging to Pepsi cans, it was clear to see that there are so many avenues to explore and with that, comes different deadlines and costs as a freelancer.

It’s fair to say that an overwhelming majority of us follow the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Well, that’s not exactly the case for an illustrator and for the first task it was exactly what students had to do. In groups, they were each given a book title with various cover versions over the years and had to judge how appealing they were. They first had to question what makes a good book cover – examples being the colour, typography, layout and of course the ambiguity. With this in mind, they began to debate and decide their favourites. We found that the majority of groups picked those with striking colours and character. However, a particular student fell in love with the minimalism behind one of the Moby Dick covers which were black and white and had the title shaped like a whale. Although it wasn’t exactly popping with colour, it was suggested that the black cover implied the dark theme of the story and the whale was hinting at the narrative. So already, students were beginning to dig deeper and discovered the power behind subtle detail.

Then it was time to stop being the Simon Cowell of the Illustration sector and experience what it’s like to be the contestant! Students were given a choice of fairytale stories to create their own book cover, with the help of blurbs and mood boards. But they weren’t going to dive into the deep end. Instead, they had to work as a professional illustrator and start brainstorming on thumbnail templates. Students (including myself) were surprised by how challenging it was to implement all of their newly found knowledge into their designs. There was so much to think about. What is considered as too colourful? How do I hint at the story without giving too much away? How do I make use of the space? Despite this, the class did a fantastic job of ticking those boxes.

After they explored their options, it was time to refine and work to scale. Baring in mind, at this point they could only make their design black and white. Once they had drawn up their final design, Helen wanted to dig deeper into the significance of colour. They were given 3 photocopies of their final design – for one sheet they had to use only one colour, for the next they had to then use two colours and for the final sheet they could use as many as they wished. From there, they were asked to work up their final illustration using the colours, layout and media they felt was most effective. It came to no surprise that Jarrow School had created designs that looked so professional, clean and compelling. For a second, I felt like I was browsing the shelves in Waterstones!

After a very intense couple of hours working on their designs, students gathered around once again to draw the day to a close. Helen wanted to end the day by sharing some exciting emerging trends in the sector, explaining that even Illustration is constantly moulding and developing – something which designers have to keep that in mind if they want to engage and sell. She also briefly mentioned the educational progression routes in Illustration, which has flourished substantially over the years. It was pleasantly surprising to see that many North East institutions including Newcastle College, Tyne Met, New Durham College and Sunderland College offer relevant courses followed by degree opportunities at Northumbria University, Sunderland University and CCAD. Blimey, talk about plenty of options!

So, students at Jarrow School discovered the key areas of Illustration, worked on their sketching skills, experimented with colour and were given insight into the future of the sector. A huge thanks to Jarrow School for your participation. Now with Chapter 1 completed, we can’t wait to see what happens next for Explore Stage…I’m foreshadowing that TICE Illustration will have a happy ending!