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  • Tom Hadfield

Toolbox Talks - The beauty of Illustration

I was lucky enough this month to be asked to participate in a charity evening of talks hosted in aid of the 'Arts Emergency' - an organisation put together to help young people overcome barriers on their way to success in higher education and the arts. In early March, myself and a collection of other 'creatives' in London talked to a crowd about our fields of interest - aiming to hopefully inspire them to engage in the creative scene across London.


As mentioned, this was all in aid of Arts Emergency who continue to do fantastic work in our local communities - if you'd like more info on why they're so great, please click on this link and check them out yourselves: https://arts-emergency.org/


The event was the inaugural 'Toolbox Talks' event hosted by a former work colleague of mine. It was a fabulous event and I'm pretty sure there are more in the pipeline. So as you're here, please check out her Instagram page for the event and give it a follow!


https://www.instagram.com/toolboxtalksldn/


Anyway, seeing as I prepared a speech, I thought it'd be worth sharing. It's effectively a little run down of why I love Illustration and hopefully might inspire you to pick up a pencil sometime too! Here's the transcript below, enjoy!


I’m going to start with the truth, because honesty is the best policy, you can all draw. Everyone can draw, it’s just there comes a point in our lives where we all for some reason decide we can’t – normally when we’re teenagers. It’s perfectly normal that many of us lose our creative hobbies as we progress through life, whatever the reason, we all do it.


But, when people say they can’t draw, it reminds me a lot of when people say they can’t sing. Granted, you’re maybe not going to be selling records or performing at Glastonbury, but it doesn’t stop you from belting out ballads in the shower, or whilst you cook the dinner. So why should drawing be any different? It’s all about perspective.


I’m sure there are a lot of you who had pictures stuck up on the fridge at home when you were growing up, masterpieces with funny animals, your family and your dream house or holiday. The point is, nobody told you you couldn’t draw – and you let your mind run and it didn’t matter if your horse doesn’t quite resemble a real horse. The key was it was fun, and that’s what I want to get across to you today. Whether you doodle for 5 minutes or decide you want to create a comic strip in your spare time, if fun is at the essence of what you do, why would you not at least try it.


Drawing doesn’t have to be something you share with people, it can be something you do on your own, to kill time at a coffee shop, to find peace of mind, or just to explore your inner creativity. And unlike picking up an instrument, it requires only a tiny amount of investment. A simple pen or pencil will suffice. Your canvas can be anything and any size you want it to be.


This is one of the reasons I love illustration, it’s so accessible. You don’t need to be an artist or have a degree in art history. Illustration can be anything you want it to be. It can be a beautiful work of detail, it can be something funny, it can be a comment on modern society, it can be emotive, or it can be a way to communicate something to someone. Illustration is a language, a visual language that you didn’t even know you could read.


Your mind is fantastic at putting together visual information and taking something from that. The job of a lot of illustrators today is to allow the reader to make the leap, have that eureka moment where they realise the point of the drawing. The subtly of illustration is actually everywhere you look today – it’s down to you whether you notice it or not.


Now I want to go back to illustration as a form of communication. A language as such. You could look at the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs as an example of visual communication, through symbols and drawings. A language of the gods. Now I’m going to jump forward 4 and half thousand years to when I was 7 and at school. Growing up in the 90s and early noughties, I used to play football on the street, walk to school and once I’d done my homework, I’d draw pictures with my mum. Engaging in drawing at a young age enabled me to be where I am today, and I am so thankful for that. This was before PlayStation’s were readily available, there was no Netflix and Facebook only existed in an American college. You may be wondering right now where I’m going with this tangent, well here you go.


I was bullied at school, for a short time, maybe a few months. And naturally this made me upset, it was just one bigger lad at school who would pick on me. No one else was ever aware of it. Now I said that I used to draw a lot with my mum when I got home from school. As a mother, obviously she could tell I was upset and asked me what was happening. Needless to say, I found it very difficult to admit that I was being picked on by this kid in my class and couldn’t bring myself to say it. So, she turned to me one evening and said, ‘why don’t you draw it for me’… and left the room.


At a young age, using drawing as a way to communicate, I was able to tell my parents about what was happening to me at school. Once this understanding was made, something was done about it. Imagery and symbolism are incredible ways to express emotion and feeling. It allows you to say so much, without actually saying anything at all.


So, this leads me quite nicely into what I do for a living. I work as an architectural illustrator. My job is to visually communicate to a client how a space is going to look and feel, how people are going to use it. I give them the visual tools to interpret a space and they decide whether or not they like it. We work within the hospitality sector, selling customer experiences as well as working in retail and housing. So, there is a great flexibility and project diversity that I work within. The main thing though is that I get to draw every day, I love doing what I do.


The reason I chose architecture was because I didn’t think doing art or illustration as a career was an option. Now I look back on that and think it’s kinda stupid. One of the best things I’ve discovered about illustration since moving to London, is there are so many people out there doing what I’m doing, making a living from drawing.


Don’t get me wrong, I love designing things, but for me, the real world of architecture didn’t live up to what I had imagined. So, I began working in my spare time on private work, starting with small doodles of things that I enjoyed drawing. And eventually that grew into a body of work, then a few years later I was able to change to a job that I was more suited to and fundamentally happier doing.


It’s often said about how it’s very important nowadays to find something that feels like an escape. Something that breaks up the monotony of life. Drawing was that for me and this is where it’s taken me. It was about finding something that I’d always loved doing and utilising it to make myself feel better about myself again. That’s the thing with all the creative arts speakers you’ll listen to this evening, whether it be music, writing, drawing or whatever, having something as a hobby can really help in giving your mind a break from everything happening around you. Creativity is like that escape.


Now predominantly I’ve talked to you about how doodling and sketching can help loosen your creative mind and the benefits of that. And that’s a great starting point if illustration is something you’re keen to try out. But I know it’s very daunting to look at some of the final images I’ve shown you tonight and wonder how they got there. The thing is, we all start in the same boat, it just depends at what time in our lives we decide to set sail.


That’s why something like the Arts Emergency is so important. It provides an opportunity for young people to engage in the creative arts, without the burden of money or resources. Every person has the right to a voice, and the potential for people to use their voice to inspire others through music, art, theatre, written word is something that I think we should all be getting behind. I said earlier that to start out in illustration you only need a pen or a pencil, and sometimes that is enough. But arguably we are finding brand new ways to draw – that the possibilities and starting points are endless.


My love for illustration stems from being creative and expressing myself. But one of the greatest things is the diversity of talent, variety of skills and techniques and full spectrum of work on show in a city like London. It’s such a fun place to be at the moment, with so many events to go to and exhibitions to see. And the more we make these skills accessible to a wider group of people, it can only get better.


Illustration, through visual communication, can spark debates, conversations and most importantly friendships across a city that over the past few years has seemed more and more hostile. It has a great power, as with music and speech to galvanise people and bring people together. There are so many positives we can bring to the world through illustration. Sometimes we need a visual reminder of some of the things that are ongoing in our country and the wider world. An image can be a spark for inspiration or change.


The point I’m trying to make here, is that illustration is a form of expression. And whether you want to share that expression with the world is completely and utterly down to you. You can start with a pen and napkin, or a funky app on your smartphone. But ultimately, it's free to try, it’s good for the mind, and you never know, it might become your job 5 years down the line.


Thank you ever so much.

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