Illustration & Writing Symsposium

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Earlier this month I head up to Manchester for the second international symposium organised by Illustration Research; Illustration and Writing: Visual Languages. Unfortunately I had to miss out on the first day of the event due to work commitments which is a shame as there were apparently some very heated debates about ‘style’.

Symposium Doodle by Martin Salisbury

Friday’s session was opened with presentations by James Walker and Clinton Cahill. Walker focussed upon the archival impulse and palimpsests; that is a document or manuscript from which the text has been erased to enable reuse of the parchment or paper. Walker was particularly interested in the obscure traces left behind by the process of erasing or deleting content on the surface of these documents.

Cahill’s area of focus and inspiration was Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. He gave an interesting introduction to the text which makes me think that I should definitely attempt to read it in the not too distant future. However, the thing that interested me most about hi presentation was the nature of his practice. Cahill never once referred to himself directly as an illustrator (maybe it was to be readily assumed at an illustration conference), but he did suggest that he did not consider his work to be a Fine Art practice.

The reason this interested me was because everything about his work and his practice would have suggested that he was a Fine Art practitioner to me otherwise. The drawings were fairly abstract and there was an obsessive dedication to the one text which I felt were more akin to a Fine Art practice rather than Illustration.

It certainly raised some interesting questions such as; What is illustration? How do we define Illustration? and ultimately are illustration and Fine Art mutually exclusive; can a work be both an illustrative work and a work of Fine Art? Discussion I had with others over coffee during the mid-morning break suggested that perhaps they had been a little apprehensive to raise these questions following the heated discussions about style during the first day which was something of a shame.

Yallery Brown from Mick Gowar on Vimeo.

The morning was concluded with lots of informal discussion around a display of academic posters one of which, by Mick Gowar, provided information about the European Storytelling Archive. The idea is to record storytellers. The aim of the project is to create a digital archive of oral storytelling drawn from a wide range of traditions and cultures – and to include new, emerging and ‘hybridised’ traditions.

Potentially this project, which is very much in its infancy, looks like it could extremely interesting. Mick was on hand to talk to us about the project and was extremely enthusiastic. I hope he gets the support and fundiunig he needs to really take this project forward. You can find out more at

The afternoon session was opened with an interesting presentation from Hena Ali about Lollywood advertising: hat is Pakistani film industry posters and hoardings in Lahore. Nanette Hoogslaag followed this up with a presentation about editorial illustration and Adrian Holme raised issues relating to hybridity in this digital age.

The three speakers formed a panel to facilitate a discussion to close this session which was dominated by a discussion about the impact of technology and new media upon illustration. It was interesting to listen in on the questions and concerns and questions raised by the delegates. For the most part, those who spoke up were educators and, as far as I could tell, a few years older than myself; by which I mean to suggest that they are of a generation that hasn’t grown up using new computing technologies in the same way that I have. The reason I mention this is because all of those who had something to say seemed to exude a fear of new technology. I’m not suggesting that new technologies should be embraced without question but the sense of fear that came across seemed to be born out of a lack of knowledge about such things.

There was quite a out of discussion about craft in relation to this discussion about new media. A number of educators talked of the ways in which their students are embracing crafts within their illustration practices and suggested that this returning to making was a result of stresses caused by new technology. There seemed to be no acknowledgement from the delegates that crafts are old technologies and that as a result of technological advancements students simply have more tools and methods of making available to them; new media won’t ever replace crafts because the two areas are mutually exclusive.

The day was rounded off with a keynote lecture from Polish artist and academic Ewa Satalecka on the role of typography in illustration. As someone on the outside of the fields of illustration and design I found this presentation fascinating. Satalecka was keen to encourage illustrators to acquire an understanding of the history of type from its beginnings in Hieratic systems of writing. She argued that illustrators need to understand the rules by which typography is bound in order to be able to break them.

All in all it was a great day out. I was disappointed to have not been able to make it to the first day of the symposium as it sounds like I missed out on some wonderful discussions. That said, there was plenty of interesting subjects put forward for discussion during my flying visit. You can view some doodles and sketches that were completed by delegates during the course of the symposium on the Illustration Research website here.

Interesting links:
Illustration Research:
Writing Pad Network:
The European Storytelling Archive:
Visual Correspondents: