A Christmas Workshop: RIN/House of Illustration Partnership

Anna Glendenning is a PhD candidate from Roehampton’s Centre for Research in Romanticism, who works on caricature. She reports here on the Romantic Illustration Network’s collaboration with the House of Illustration on a workshop for Y8 pupils, supported by the University of Roehampton.

On Thursday 3rd December, the House of Illustration in King’s Cross London was home to an exciting day of collaboration between local schoolchildren, RIN member Dr. Mary L. Shannon from the University of Roehampton, and professional illustrator Merlin Evans.

A group of thirty girls aged 12-13 (from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington) braved a suitably chilly winter’s morning to visit the House of Illustration, where they immersed themselves in a special workshop on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol .  I also got to help out: it was hugely enjoyable to be part of such an inspiring day of interdisciplinary fun. For the full photostory, see http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/Courses/English-and-Creative-Writing/News/There-s-no-Bah-Humbug-this-Christmas-for-pupils-at-illustration-workshop/.

Dickens’ text has long been a favourite in English classrooms, but it was the aim of this collaboration to give the girls a unique opportunity to explore the crucial role of illustrations – both conceptually and creatively – with two experts.

The HOI’s learning programme, with Head of Education Emily Jost at its helm, is dedicated to bringing illustrations into the limelight. Its core aim is to enhance knowledge of and confidence in visual communication for all. The Romantic Illustration Network (RIN) shares this enthusiasm. RIN’s project to restore the importance of visual culture in the Romantic period involves a commitment to sharing and to promoting access to the research it undertakes.

Mary Shannon, who specializes in Victorian print culture and is a Dickens expert, led a lively session. By contrasting different illustrations of Scrooge with Dickens’s narrative, trying out their own sketches, and learning from Shannon about Victorian Christmas traditions, the girls contributed lots of compelling thoughts and critiques, expanding their understanding of the relationship between illustrations and Dickens’s text.

After taking a look at the House of Illustration’s current exhibition, the girls returned to the studio for a special session with Merlin Evans. Evans brought in tools from her trade and shared some different techniques of collage-making and line work to help the girls to get to grips with the material qualities of producing images. The girls rummaged through photocopies of Victorian illustrations and had the chance to try out the new drawing methods Evans had demonstrated. The results were exquisite. The girls were able to compare their work with the earlier sketches they had made – a great way to show how their understanding of Scrooge’s character had developed over the course of the workshop, and, hopefully, to boost their illustration skills and confidence into the future.

Future collaborative workshops involving RIN’s Professor Ian Haywood (Roehampton) and Dr Susan Matthews (Roehampton) are in the pipeline, so watch this space in the New Year!

Anna Glendenning

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