A year? A year!? Seriously? An entire year since I manically managed to put together my own end of year display for the Norwich University of the Arts Degree Show and now I’m able to walk around the exhibition without worrying, without recovering from the sleep deprivation it took to create my project, and actually able to appreciate the wonderful work from this year’s NUA to-be-grads!
Felt very strange walking around the studios for the first time in so long, but a good kind of strange. It reminded me of all the hard work I put in to get my degree and to be where I am now. *well done me*. But putting aside the strangeness and blatant selfish pride, I really really enjoyed this year’s work and managed to get plenty of photos and an impressive stack of business cards.
I’m going to start off with the first thing I noticed about the BA Illustration show; The multimedia! The students from this year have definitely stepped away from 2D wall mounted work a lot more than other Illustration degree shows I’ve seen, to the extent that I’m thoroughly impressed some artists managed to get their work up the stairs and into the studios…
Some of the other multimedia work complimented 2D work and more ‘traditional’ illustration in wonderful ways, in a similar method to how I utilised 3D pieces to compliment my 2D work. I’ve always loved this approach and really enjoyed seeing more people taking this route, and successfully!
It filled the gallery spaces with so many interesting shapes and formats and really played to my love of an exhibition rather than a gallery experience. All too often 3D work will be used haphazardly to try and bring life to some relatively lifeless 2D work, but I had yet to see a case of this with the 3D work in the exhibition. When it complimented the 2D work, it did it in a way that it was a clear extension of the idea that was necessary to communicate it properly to the audience; not just a way to prove the artist can also work in 3D. When it contrasted the work it, again strengthened whatever idea was behind the work in the first place and added something significant to keep the piece and the piece’s meaning in the viewers mind.
Another thing that was super nice to see was more drawing!
Oh how I felt like such a nerd during my final year being one of very few on the course who actually valued and practiced good ol’ fashioned drawing. Granted, some of those who didn’t had amazing expertise in other skills (sculpture, graphic design, print etc.) but there really wasn’t a huge amount of us who genuinely enjoyed practicing and constantly drawing. This year’s show definitely displayed a wider range of drawing skills, some of which were seriously amazing.
One piece in particular, a page in a sketchbook, left me staring at it like a loon for quite some time…
The level of anatomical knowledge, physical skill, and creativity on this one page was insane. It reminded me of the many dozens of beautiful, old scientific illustrations I trawled through in preparation for my dissertation; the brown paper stock, the traditional graphite, the notes along the side, it was just gorgeous. I believe the work was by Johanna Tarkela, along with some more wall mounted pieces which were another breath of fresh air; well executed digital painting! That stuff is like gold dust…
Adding onto the back of this refreshing sight of scientific and anatomical draftsmanship, I also spotted a few pieces which catered to the skeletal side of scientific illustration, and in marvellous and unique ways.
The first one I spotted was this gorgeous project on badgers:
Not only is the message and purpose behind the world worthy of respect, but the skills and unique materials used to communicate this idea were amazing. They felt, and looked, as if they were cast from solid bronze (I could be entirely wrong) but whatever it was it was bloody heavy and worked perfectly.
The other skeletal based project I encountered was that of Rebecca Batterbury’s project ‘Bare Bone.’
This one, again, catered to my love for wildlife preservation and confronting the negative connotations behind certain species of animal, which immediately got my attention. But on top of that, the visuals she produced for this project were outstanding. She perfectly communicated a sense of ‘we’re all the same inside’ by positioning human skeletal studies next to that of animals, really pushing the idea that the stigma behind these animals was based on purely surface and shallow reasoning.
The scale of the studies was something else that resonated with me. By reducing the size it forces the viewer to get up close with the work, this small but significant gesture immediately sparks up levels of interest and intrigue that an otherwise static and passive stance couldn’t achieve. It’s a technique used fairly often, but I’ve yet to see it on biological models and scientific illustration and I’m so pleased it worked so well!
She also produced a couple of gorgeous zine-like books which added yet another level of interaction and active viewing to the audience’s experience. These contained illustrations with a slightly different style to those of the silhouetted framed pieces, they seemed to be far more commercially viable and more welcome in editorial and publication formats, which works perfectly with how they were both displayed; gallery and one off style illustrations in framed, commercial and editorial illustrations in books. All in all, this project was most definitely one of my favourites and I’ll be sure to keep an eye on Rebecca’s work in the future!
Of course there were many more projects that was just brilliant, these are just a selection of my personal favourites. This year’s students definitely displayed a wonderful knowledge of how to explore the many different formats and devices that are available to illustrators – commercial or otherwise – in the industry today. They ranged from the gallery end of the spectrum over to the advertising end of the spectrum with great ease and without looking out of place or incoherent.
I was also super excited to see these anatomical pieces worm their way into the exhibits, there simply isn’t enough of them floating about and it was great to finally see some. I wish every graduate the best of luck with their careers and I hope they had an awesome time setting up this wonderful show. Here’s a bunch more photos I took of pieces I particularly loved…