Let's draw together

Published on: 26 March 2017

The immensely talented and down right wonderful illustrator Sarah McIntyre, who's work includes Jampires and There's a Shark in the Park, became our fifteenth Writer in Residence back in 2017. In this blog Sarah talks about ways you can find and be part of a drawing community.

People say illustrating is a solitary profession. But I don't do well being alone for too long.

I worked from home for the first five years of my job and I almost went doolally; things on the internet seemed WAY more important than they really were, my daily interaction with the local coffee barista meant too much to me.

How I got out of my slump:

* Getting involved with SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

I met lots of other like-minded people who loved to draw and were trying to help each other wiggle our way forward in the same profession.

* Starting a blog

When I began posting artwork on LiveJournal, it was just me putting up images, but as I explored what other people on the internet were doing and commented, and they commented on my work, it built up a sort of community. 

LiveJournal is kind of passé now (although I still love and use it) but Twitter is where I find most of the illustrators I admire these days. People say Twitter is a dangerous place, but I find the illustrator community very positive and welcoming. People love to discover new art and share it. When I started writing reviews and posting photos of book-related events on my blog, people started inviting me to more events, so I got to meet loads of different illustrators, writers and people in publishing.

Three tips for blogging about events:

  1. If you're a bit nervous, don't be fashionably late because you'll enter the room to a scary wall of people. Arrive right when it starts, or even a few minutes before, and the few publicists and early people scattered around the room will be looking for people to talk with, and not seem so unapproachable.
  2. Try to see other illustrators as inspiration, not competition. Giving in to jealousy kills community, but when we big each other up, we all benefit.
  3. Credit other people's artwork everywhere you post it, so you can help the artist advance in their career. (And if we create that sort of culture, hopefully other people will remember to credit your work!)

* Setting up a studio

When two other illustrators and I were moaning about our isolation on Twitter, we got the idea to find a space to rent together. People in our group have come and gone - Gary NorthfieldViviane SchwarzLauren O'FarrellEllen Lindner - but I'm currently working in a space with illustrator Elissa Elwick. I love how we can make each other hot drinks, and often it's very useful to have a second pair of eyes around when we're struggling with a picture or story and need some help.

(Here are Gary and Elissa at their desks.)

Not everyone can afford the time or money to set up an actual separate studio space. But we can create a sort of studio online. (See the next point.)

* Taking part in online drawing challenges

There's no better way to discover other people's work than by diving into a drawing challenge. The first one I ever did was called 'Draw yourself as a teenager', and over 500 people jumped in. 

Sometimes these are completely spontaneous - someone just gets a fun idea and creates a Twitter hashtag - and others are more regular, including one of my favourites, #ColourCollective, a weekly challenge where everyone makes a picture based on a single colour.

A while back, I realised lots of people wanted to be part of a studio but didn't necessarily have time or finances to do so, and I tried to create a sort of 'virtual studio' on Twitter, @StudioTeaBreak. I set out some tips about this virtual studio, which is open to people of all ages and drawing abilities.

People can knock off a drawing in 30 seconds on a post-it note or spend hours painting their picture, without needing to explain or apologise. I love it when whole families take part, or people use the challenges in schools where they teach, or with kids they babysit. The schedule changes over time, but recently we've been doing #MythicalMashup on Mondays (a mythical creature paired with something random):

Thursday (my favourite) is #PortraitChallenge, riffing on portraits old enough to be out of copyright. There's no right or wrong way to do it, you can copy the portrait closely and learn from the artist's technique, or you can use it as a jumping-off point to create something quite different!

And finally, Friday to Sunday is kind of open to whoever wants to jump in and suggest something. (Often someone will post another #ShapeChallenge shape.)

Do have a browse of what's happening on @StudioTeaBreak and I hope you can join us!

Meet our latest Writer in Residence

Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books. Our current Writer in Residence is Rashmi Sirdeshpande.

Find out more