It was just three of us in the end, but that was three more illustrators than had ever managed to get together in Edinburgh before. The idea of an illustrators-only critique group was intriguing. Bringing illustrations along to a Picture Book group, as I have done previously, is a lovely way to get people smiling but you aren't guaranteed the same level of comb-through as the writing is subject to. We had the best seats in the house too. Waterstone's cafe on Princes St in Edinburgh, with its castle backdrop, feels as special as a throne room.
|Catherine Lindow and Jeanne Dron|
From the outset, we were aware of the feeling of 'difference' from a writerly critique group. Maybe it's true, or maybe it isn't, that looking at artwork is even more subjective than reading text. It feels to me that there are certain agreed things that bind readers together whereas the illustrative landscape can be a bit more self-aware. For instance, what would be the equivalent of a raw, scratchy style in writing? Are there fewer rules in illustration? Are we more driven by emotion, love of rule-breaking or awareness of style? Oh dear.
None of this really chewed us up, but we agreed that it did feel rather different, and to keep our critiques fair, we agreed to discuss the intention behind the work as well as the look of it, and for each illustrator to lead with any specific questions we had for viewers of our work.
I don't think we needed to be so careful in the end. The three of us - Elizabeth Dulemba, Jeanne Dron and myself, despite coming from different places in our working lives, share some ground – all of us work with traditional media and tend towards a pretty straightforward depiction of the world. None of us is particularly graphic or technology-driven. We all slipped easily into discussing the relative success of line, colour and texture in one another's work. It felt perfectly natural to suggest that each of us might experiment with a little bit more or less of this or that - and it felt easy to agree. Also useful to discuss how technology did or didn't help us along (all of us use Photoshop to some degree or other).
Elizabeth gave us a good sense of how the US market compared to the UK, and we talked over the relative merits and demerits of sending things to publishers and agents. The conversation was wide-ranging but chimed the Yes! bell again and again for relevance and usefulness. Ding! Ding! Ding!
|Illustrators at large: L-R Catherine Lindow, Elizabeth Dulemba, Jeanne Dron|
So it turned out to be as useful as I'd hoped it would be in terms of 'actionable' feedback but what surprised me more was how easy it felt. It would be interesting if next time there was a broader range of work to see how this tested the limits of what we might offer to one another.
We were overlooked by a mezzanine where a number of fellow cafe-users had a great view of our table, so when we asked someone if she'd mind taking a photo of our meeting we shouldn't have been surprised when she admitted she'd been 'eaveswatching' us. Were we illustrators? 'That's so cool!' Yep, we agreed smugly to ourselves – pretty cool (though she was an oncologist!) but even cooler if we can help one another to whup our work into shape through dialogue and sharing – not always an easy thing for illustrators to access.
If you're an illustrator member and in the area, get in touch to find out when the next crit-meet is!