'Keep drawing, folks!' Ed Vere signs off as BookTrust Illustrator in Residence
Published on: 08 September 2020 Author: Ed Vere
Ed Vere joined us as Illustrator in Residence at the beginning of March - just before the country went into lockdown. As he signs off from the role, he reflects on the past few months...
Hello readers and drawers, teachers, librarians, parents! How are you?
What an intense six months. I've moved three times, I've been Booktrust's Illustrator in Residence, and we've been in the thick of a global pandemic. The world seems to have tilted on its axis and we've all had to tilt with it (there's been a bit too much of that in the last few years).
When, nine months ago, in an age of carefree innocence, the amazing call came from BookTrust asking if I'd like to take on the job ('Yes please!'), the question that came with it was 'What would you like to talk about?'
'What about drawing?'
'Well – I think it's good for us in so many ways and should be featured much more visibly on the school curriculum. Nearly all children seem to draw up to a certain age, and then they stop. Could we go into schools and do something about it?'
'Yes, why not. Let's see what we can do.'
And that's when everything shifted - and so did our plans. No visits to schools; no film crews coming to the studio to film me drawing. What were we going to do?
Celebrating the power of drawing
One of the reasons I wanted to champion drawing is because I've always found it cathartic. It can be a way of taking our mind off things that are worrying us, or a way of working out what we're thinking.
When I draw, I stop overthinking and something else that I can't describe in words takes over - it's liberating. Like freedom.
I wish it was taken seriously in schools. Nearly all of us loved drawing when we were young. What happened to that? Really... what happened to that!? We lost an amazingly valuable way of expressing our emotional selves. Perhaps it would be a useful thing for children (and adults) to have at their disposal during these uncertain times?
I decided that getting people drawing at home was what I should be aiming for. So, I began (cringe) self-filming a series of 'how to draw' videos (you have no idea how much I dislike filming myself and having to watch it back). Maybe it could be a way of bringing people together and giving parents a break while schools were closed. I hoped too that it would be a springboard, giving children the confidence to go on and draw by themselves.
Many illustrators were thinking the same thing. Suddenly we were all teaching young children to draw or reading our stories to them online - even freely publishing entire books full of hopes, to give comfort in these uncertain times. It was truly a heartening moment, and why I feel lucky to be part of the children's book world... a world of generous, kind, thoughtful people, happy to give their time.
Also, in a time of isolation, it was a lovely unexpected moment of connection between readers and the illustrators and writers of those stories. I'm sure you saw some of the amazing things happening: drawing with and hearing stories from Cressida Cowell, Rob Biddulph, Jim Field, Lydia Monks, Benji Davies, Chris Haughton, Oliver Jeffers, Marta Altes, Steve Antony, Steven Lenton, Katherine Rundell, Clara Vulliamy, Emily Gravett, James Mayhew, Jonny Duddle, Rebecca Cobb and so many others. Most of it still online for people to dip into whenever they want.
Some of the Draw with Ed Vere pictures
A child holding up a lion drawing
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A child's drawing of Max the Brave
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A child's drawing of Grumpy Frog
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A child's drawing of Max the Brave
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A child's drawing of Leonard the lion
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A child holding up their drawing of a monster
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A child holding up their drawing of a monster
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Bringing Leonard the lion to Rotherham
At the end of last year, I found myself painting Leonard (from my book How to be a Lion) on a big wall in a school in Brazil. This large, yellow, friendly lion felt so overwhelmingly positive, I thought if we can find a big wall in a public place, I'd love to make a large mural that transmits that same feeling of positivity and warmth here.
With the endless help of Anna McKerrow at BookTrust and the wonderful Grimm & Co apothecary up in Rotherham, we eventually found the perfect wall at Clifton Park Museum. By the way, Grimm & Co is a wonderful writing centre for under-resourced 7 to 18-year-olds in Yorkshire. You should check them out if you're anywhere nearby. I'm hoping we can work together more once normal order resumes. And it will surely resume!
Anyway, a week of painting later and Leonard is now up on the wall of the Garden Building, proudly looking over Clifton Park in Rotherham and, I hope, using the power of art to beam out his happy friendliness for years to come. Let me know if you see him. I'll be doing some events up there soon – check out the Clifton Park Museum website if you're local and want to drop in.
Celebrating the Power of Pictures
Part of 'talking about drawing' during my residency has been enthusiastically pointing to the amazing work done by CLPE, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. A few years ago, we worked together to create 'Power of Pictures', a visual literacy course for primary teachers which champions the use of drawing in literacy projects and teaches a fuller understanding of how pictures work when we read picture-books.
In slowing down and 'reading' the pictures, we show the rich worlds within, which children nearly always see but adults often skip over. We teach how words and pictures work together to tell the story, and how teachers can use pictures to uncover rich seams of interpretation with children.
As we developed the course, I realised how many writers I know don't start a book in a 'conventional' way - in a way that would be taught in schools. A lot of us prefer to use drawing to explore our ideas before we start writing. If we allow children to use drawing to jump-start their own creative writing, we stop excluding many children who are equally bright but think less academically. Anyway, it's a course that I love to talk about whenever I get the chance. If you're a primary school teacher, or interested in how creativity can transform educational outcomes, you can find out more here.
We also ran a national competition which asked children to imagine what was meant by a 'drawing diary'. We were happy to see so much creativity happening over the lockdown and we really hope it continues. Big congrats to Lottie and her wonderful painted stones project. I loved how she shared her work with her local community, and her paintings of wild animals!
... And finding time to draw myself!
Have I practised what I preached? Well, while we had to move a couple of times during lockdown, we spent four months up in the Peak District, in the middle of beautiful hills and dales. I found myself settling in the middle of fields trying to draw a neighbouring farmer's beautiful but wary Welsh Balwen sheep. Away they'd run as soon as I sat down. But if I was still for long enough their fear would go and curiosity would get the better of them. I found my toes being nibbled on more than one occasion.
I also found all angst caused by over-consumption of news departing, too. Despite talking about it, I can often forget how cathartic drawing is for me, especially drawing in nature. And then I find myself doing it and it really helps. Everything slows down a bit, your mind becomes focussed on the moment, you stop thinking and find yourself just drawing, trying to describe what's in front of you. My mood has lifted several notches by the time I've finished.
I'm converted. I hope some of that power of drawing will find its way to children and help them too. If you learn to not stop drawing when you're young, it stays with you all your life, and does remarkably good things for you.
This is the thank you bit! Firstly, a huge thank you to all the thousands of you who have drawn with me over the last six months. I'll be making more videos from time to time, so look out for those - I'll probably mention them on my Twitter or Instagram accounts.
A really enormous thank you to everyone at BookTrust for asking me to be their Illustrator in Residence, and for the unstinting help and support they've given me while I've been here messing up the place. Particularly to Anna and Emily – thank you! We are so lucky to have BookTrust; they are consistently doing amazing and inspiring work to get children reading. And getting children reading is one of the surest ways of giving them a strong foundation to build on for the whole of their lives. Thank you, BookTrust... you're the best!
Lastly, farewell! I've had a wonderful time at BookTrust Towers. Whoever is in residence next, the keys are under the mat and I hope you have as much fun as I've had!
And, finally, finally... here's a gallery of sheep. Drawing them has helped keep me more or less sane – thank you, sheep of Derbyshire!
Keep drawing folks!
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