From February to May 2021 I was the School Illustrator in Residence for the House of Illustration. I delivered a 10-week comic book project with 2 year 3 student classes at Bell Lane Primary School in North London.
Below you will find an interview I did with House of Illustration about the project.
What did you do on the residency?
I had a lot of fun doing a 10 week Comic Book Project with two Year 3 classes. It was split into 3 parts: Designing Characters, Telling Stories and Making Books.
Because of lockdown, we took a blended learning approach to the residency. I delivered the first 7 weeks online in collaboration with the teachers, where each week I made 10-15 minute videos to demonstrate the activities and PDF resources teachers could print out and use in the classroom. Then I went into the school for the last 3 weeks for some painting and book making.
How did the students react?
They were very enthusiastic about illustration, drawing and making comics. They had a lot of questions for me when we did a live video call and when I finally went into the school they were so excited. They made me feel like a celebrity and on the last day they handed me a really sweet card.
I was lucky that the teachers took photographs of student work week by week so I could see how they were progressing and handling the lessons. I was able to integrate feedback into my videos each week and make little animations and graphics out of their artwork – they really loved those.
What were the biggest challenges?
Trying to make accessible activities was challenging. I could see that there were varying degrees of literacy in the classroom, especially because education has been totally disrupted by the pandemic over the past 2 school years. I really noticed it when I went into the school. I could see that students with weaker literacy, some who weren’t yet fluent in English, really hadn’t been able to engage with parts of the project.
I also found it quite hard to manage classroom dynamics. One of the classes was much more energetic than the other. I have a lot more respect for primary school educators now! I was pretty zonked by the end of those in-person workshops.
What do you think the impact was on the students, the teachers and you?
In general I think the residency created more awareness around illustration as a career option. The students came away with a lot of excitement about illustration, drawing and comics.
The little graphics and animations I made really helped them see a lot more potential in their drawings – they wanted to make more comics and do more art.
We did a lot of work around emotions and friendship and I was really moved by some of the stories they shared. I’d like to think that they learnt something about using comic art as a way to express your feelings.
The teachers seemed proud of what the students achieved and just generally happy that they had a creative project to engage with – something fun and expressive to do. I don’t think students have had a chance to do much art at school recently. One of the teachers mentioned that the project has inspired her to introduce more painting activities in the classroom. I also feel like they themselves were impressed and excited by some of the comic materials I shared.
As for me, I gained a lot of really valuable experience in designing lessons, making online resources, and working in a classroom setting. I also benefitted from having a really wonderful mentor, Toya Walker who is a frequent House of Illustration collaborator.
I learnt so much over the course of the residency and I can see really tangible ways in which it’s benefited my career as an arts educator. I definitely feel excited and more confident about working in education.