Friday, 23 March 2012

A Career in Children's Illustration - Helen Papworth

Helen Papworth is an ex-student from about 6 years. Helen has always loved bright and vivid illustrations, in books that were small enough you could fit them in your hand. She became a teacher and taught art in Yorkshire in 1987. In 2003, Helen decided she wanted to work overseas and became a VSO volunteer in Ethiopia.

After spending 10 weeks in Rwanda, Helen came to Glyndwr, and started the Illustration for Children's Publishing course in November 2006. Her reasons for choosing this course were: she loved books, loved writing, loved drawing, wanted to be flexible, wanted to work from home, didn't have another job, and she had enough money to pay the course fees. Her influences were Arthur Rackham, whose illustrations she described as "magical," and just lately Shaun Tan. I completely agree with how she described Arthur Rackham's illustrations, because they are so enchanting, and out of this world. A lot of her influences also come from sketching from life (or using TV and Media, if not available). Helen was encouraged to do one sketch a day, which she felt was a  great learning/exploration process. Her number one tip for anyone in the illustration industry is to try to capture anything you can; get your sketchbook out whenever you can! A great place to do this is Illustration Friday. I think that this is a great way of drawing for just the sake of drawing, and for people to see your work. This is something I will definitely start soon, when I suddenly feel inspired by a topic.

Helen is influenced a lot from her African experiences; she visited Ethiopia for 2 years (2004-2006) and spent a couple of months in Rwanda (2006). So much so, she started work on her thesis at the end of her second year, which was a study of the influences on Ethiopian illustrators/illustrations. Helen returned to Ethiopia in June 2008, where she was asked to design books for primary and secondary schools and teacher guides to go with them. There is now at least one of these books in every school in the country. This is how she gains satisfaction; the fact that every child in Ethiopia will be learning from her books/illustrations. It was refreshing to meet a illustrator who works mainly for the satisfaction of children learning from her illustrations, rather than just for the money. I'm sure that every illustrator works partly for the satisfaction, but there is always the big factor of money. Helen made it clear that she is in a situation where she is comfortable for money, so doesn't need to work for it. I'm also pretty sure that every young illustrator sets off into the industry saying that they don't care about the money side so much, they just want the satisfaction of knowing people are creating that personal relationship with their work, however, after a few months of trying to break into the industry, and struggling, they soon realise that this 'dream' is not the reality.

Helen was worked for several publisher in Ethiopia, including Shama Books, who are publishing a no-words picture book entitled "Ten Donkeys", and Hable Books, who published a introduction to Amharic which is designed for people adopting Ethiopian children, called "Amharic with Amen". The biggest issue facing Ethiopian publishing industry is how to improve it; the artwork is lost when printed, as the ink runs over detailed pieces of the illustration.

Helen firmly believes that if you're illustrating for a foreign country, you can do it if you study the country enough, and embrace the culture. This is something that I agree with to a certain extent. I think it is very brave to start illustrating for a audience who's needs you are not used to, and respect Helen for this. However, I believe the same as Helen, that if you are passionate about it, and are willing to learn and experience a new culture, then you should be fine.

This session was quite interesting in the fact that Helen illustrates for an entirely different market, and it was good to see a different insight into how you could work in the future. Although Helen's work didn't exactly connect with me, I can appreciate the fact that she has so much passion about her job, and really just does it for job satisfaction, rather than the money. Helen was a refreshing insight into the industry in the sense that she recognises her limitations, and boldly says so. She also knows that she is still learning, and knows she doesn't know it all. Any person who can accept this and admit it is at the top of their game in my opinion; you (well, I personally) don't want to get to the point in my career where you think you know everything there is to know, and so start being arrogant or cocky, and start not enjoying your work, it becomes more of a chore then rather than a passion, and you may start loosing loyal followers. This is the point where I would hope someone would come up to me, and say I need to step back, and take a look at the bigger picture.

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