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Yesterday, October 9th, was World Post Day and Curious Events Day – a combination not to be missed. So on a trip to London’s Somerset House, my colleague, Tim Bones, and I asked our University of Kent Graphic Design students to not only review the fantastic World Illustration Awards, but to make a personal response on a postcard. From the point of view of creativity, especially for students starting new courses, this is a really useful exercise as it is all too easy to forget what you see and think, and so by sketching, making notes or making any other personal response on the postcard the things seen and noted can be more readily fixed into the long term memory. Here they’ll be ready to be recalled by connecting neurons later to make brand new ideas. “Throw away” activities also help to overcome the very real fear of failure or of performing “badly”. Anyway, even without the worthiness, making a postcard is just fun!

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Most of our students made their postcards at Somerset House and we gathered them up to post down the road in a magnificent old postbox by Charing Cross Station. You can see the old Cross itself in the background – what curious events it must have seen in the many centuries of history passing by in front of it!

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The Association of Illustrator’s annual exhibition of the best illustrations from the year is always informative and entertaining. It also makes you want to dash off and illustrate books, record sleeves, posters and anything else you could draw on. And the rooms in which Somerset House stages this are magnificent and calming, making an atmosphere very suitable to scrutinize the often small detail in the images. Larger illustrations adorn the walls while the published version, books, magazines and so on, are displayed in cases. This is a useful feature, showing students and anyone else how an illustration is scaled for publication. Tim and I look every year to assess the proportion of hand rendered to digitally originated pieces and this year some of our B.A. student dissertations might also be exploring this topic, and the value of each method.

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I was most inspired by a series of drawings by Olivier Kugler for New York’s Harpers Magazine about Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. Not only was the topic very much in the spotlight at the moment, but the handling of the subject matter was careful to instil dignity to the people shown and to forefront their professions, even if the illustrations lament the subjects’ challenging struggles to maintain a semblance of their lives before removal to a new country. Kugler’s illustrations fascinated me because of the manner in which he had highlighted the centre of each image in water colour, leaving the edges of the images to become more and more subtle in colour until there remained just line work. But the best detail, for me, was the inclusion of notes within the actual images. Some were hand-written paragraphs beneath the illustration while others were quick notes with arrows within the image itself. One told us that Muhamed stands on broken cinder blocks at his hot drink cart to keep his feet out of the mud. Another just said “taxi” and pointed to a small car. Because the  notes had not been removed at realisation stage they gave the works a sense of immediacy and urgency; an Impressionistic feel of a snapshot or journalistic noticing. This pointing out of detail made me feel a connection with the moment captured but also a lively connection to the artist himself and his processes. You can see Kugler’s refugees in detail at his portfolio website here.

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So in making my five-minute postcard I tried to make a link to the style of Kugler, both by working my little illustration in pencil first and highlighting some parts in fine liner pen. And also by borrowing Kugler’s speech balloon motif to create a thought bubble for my subject – me making my postcard and being inspired by the day’s events and sights. My thought bubble showed a vegetarian recipe book that I picked up the cafe and I am shown wondering if it is for sale as it has a price in it. (Aubergine loaf, appearing soon at a dinner near me!). I included a reference to the Syrian refugees works and to my ever-present notebook which is brimful of a project the Graphic Design Project is preparing about interactive calendars for kids. I showed my T-shirt which advertises Sean de Burca’s Mechanism C.D. as I was actually wearing this but also because I wanted to emphasise in each element in the small image that I am surrounded by creative people – family, colleagues, exhibitors and, of course, students – and that thinking about inspiration and ideas is what keeps me happy! I don’t mind if the ideas are about dinner or education or design projects. I would have included the armful of publications about artists’ books and nature that I picked up in the book sale if that did not happen after the card was done…but you can see me clutching this bundle of inspiring books as I post some of the cards and Tim also has a batch of book inspiration too.

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Now we just sit back and wait for the ideas to flow and the postcards to arrive.

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Images from top to bottom:

Sancha posts the cards at Charing Cross

Students and Sancha making postcards at Somerset House and Tim posting cards at Charing Cross

Batch of World Post Day cards responding to World Illustration Day

World Illustration Awards (Association of Illustrators) rooms at Somerset House with Tim and graphics students

Selection of illustration details: – Rebecca Hendin, Eye Spy; Charlotte Orr, Oxford Castle and the Enchanted Forest; Phil Wheeler, Biodiverse; Studio Muti, Jules Verne – Voyages Extraordinaires, digital

Olivier Kugler, Syrian Refugees (details and sketched plans)

Postcard for World Post Day by Sancha de Burca

Postscript: Marc Quinn, Frozen Wave series