Thursday, 6 August 2020

Ways of Drawing Artist's Perspectives and Practices

Edited by Julian Bell, Julia Balchin & Claudia Tobin


ISBN: 978-0-500-02190-3


Published by Thames and Hudson


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publishers website




From the first moment that humans discovered that they could express ideas through mark making we haven’t been able to stop. Though we have yet to completely exploit the creative potential of ‘dirtying the paper’ who better to discuss the practice of drawing than the practitioners themselves. There is also the need to ensure that the power of drawing is promoted to wider-audiences. If you can engage people with this topic, you might also be able to encourage participation. The excellent introductions by Julian Bell that lead us into each chapter are thought provoking and connect the distinct elements.


This book is divided into three main sections: Studio Space (where we go to find a place to make things happen and to work in private meditation), Open Space (Go outside start drawing and count how many people interact with you and mention their own lapsed drawing practice) and Inner Space (where influences that run deep into the sub-conscious are able to surface and startle the artist!). We are able to glimpse the personal, reflective and in some cases passionate evocation of the compulsion to make sense of the world through mark-making.


Some of the contributors to this book wish to educate while others simply celebrate the act of drawing, caring less about whether this is a worthy practice or not. The amateur and the professional, the academic and the unconscious doodler all have their part to play in the debate. The range of essays on offer are from artists who know how to capture the essence and inner truth of the subject. By resolving ideas through the distillation of feeling and emotions that are elicited from reading our external world.


In the essays the artists attempt to discover the secrets of this skill and explain that preparation is everything. Through the history and evolution of the subject we see that drawing as an essential part of our visual culture. This book features incredible drawings and a multitude of approaches. It is important to read the images first and then the text, however some of the drawings hold one’s attention so well that you forget to continue to read the text. It also explores the meaning of image-making through the use of historical and contemporary examples. Drawing is an enterprise that has remained relevant and important despite the invention of photography and cinematography and our changing social interactions. Some artists make clear the strong case for when observed drawing is superior to all other forms of expression.


Good drawing is hard to achieve and even harder to share one’s output with others. When I think about drawing I am filled with a sense of dread and I know that this anxiety stems from one thing and one thing only. There is a level of competency a ‘standard’ if you will that is set within us during foundation studies that is clear. We want to produce good drawings not dross. We are very ashamed of the dross. Ways of Drawing goes some distance to unpack the meaning and reasons behind this ‘standard’ and debunks a few myths too.


25 April 2020

Portrait of An Artist Vincent Van Gogh

Written by Lucy Brownridge


Illustrated by Édith Carron


ISBN: 978-1-78603-645-2


Published by Wide Eyed Editions


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publishers website


Édith Carron’s website



A cultural titan who still influences the art world more than 100 years after his death. He is a man who is so well known and loved as a result of his tragic suffering, the letters to and from his brother Theo and his peerless artworks. If you publish a book about Vincent Van Gogh it is bound to succeed.


A famous face stares out at us from the cover of this hardback book. Vincent Van Gogh is surrounded by the subjects of his trade; sunflowers, cypress trees and a swirling combination of clouds and sky. A palette that is evocative of a sun blasted summer’s day. This is a portrait of an artist who was unlike any other in the history of western art. Wide Eye Editions have published an enjoyable addition to their series that features great artists and their lives.


Édith Carron has done a remarkable job considering that she is competing with examples of Van Gogh’s own works. Her bright unfussy colours and delicate pencil work are combined to create the tableaux of his life and times on double page spreads. With a few well-placed marks Carron is able to suggest fine detail but without over-working her drawings.


This painful tale is handled with sensitivity and restraint by Lucy Brownridge. She allows us to see all the key moments from Vincent’s short life. If a young reader wants to know more about the history behind the paintings then this can be found on the last three pages of the book. This compliments the story and adds some important details about his more famous paintings.


This is the story of a man who lost his life as lovers often do in fables of long ago. There was possibly no other artist of this period capable of creating a work like The Starry Night – sublime. This is a simple but effective addition to the many books on this subject. Why would you want another book about Van Gogh I hear you say? I say, you would want this one!



17 October 2019

The Garden of Inside-Outside

Written by Chiara Mezzalama


Illustrated by Régis Lejonc


ISBN 978-1-911496-16-8


Published by Book Island


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publisher’s website


Illustrator’s website




This is a story that sets out its context carefully as the events that surround and impact upon our young protagonist Chiara requires sensitive handling. A memoir framed against a turbulent period in the history of the middle east evokes the author’s remembrances of things past.


With similarities to a propaganda poster the cover of this graphic novel shows two children linking hands in a beautiful garden. Above their heads and outside the inside is the image of the Ayatollah Khamenei in ominous red and black. The paper stock also adds to this quality. On some pages there is not the conventual linear story but instead images that could be self-contained and work in their own right.


Throughout the story at the top of the pages we see either the word OUTSIDE in red to indicate danger or INSIDE in green for the more peaceful moments. Towards the end both OUTSIDE and INSIDE are shown together once another child Massoud enters the garden. Through their interactions the children process the realities of the world outside. They shape their fears into adventures and shared values into friendship.


The illustrations in this book remind me of linocuts or wood block printing. The limited palette of green, blue, red, yellow with black outlines helps to reinforce this impression. From arches to decorative tile work, from illustrated carpets to lush vegetation gone wild the line work is fluid and flows well. The drawing style is a combination of the powerful details found in David B.’s work and the graphic boldness of Marjane Satrapi’s illustrations.


This is a delightful story about friendship in unusual circumstances. Based on the biographical events of the author’s life and set during a time of revolution and war, it is the precious moments that cement our personalities and create the myths of our early years. At the end of this story there is a moment that reminds me of a line from A. E. Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad.’


That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.”


This graphic novel is proof that it is necessary to relive your past and to share this with others.


9th March 2020

The Golden Cage

Written by Anna Castagnoli


Illustrated by Carll Cneut


ISBN 978-1-911496-14-4


Published by Book Island


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publisher’s website


Illustrator’s website





The title of this oversized picture book is worth remembering as you read through the sumptuous illustrations and sensitively delivered text. The golden cover is composed of birds of every exotic variety with a conscious nod by the artist to the bird illustrations of Edward Lear, John James Audubon and the legendary Brian Wildsmith. The Emperor’s sullen daughter is the only sour note within this image. She is a great foil to the avian magnificence surrounding her.


The Emperor’s daughter referred to here as the Bloody Princess demonstrates how she got this moniker every chance that she gets. She is an obsessive brooding child who know no boundaries. Her lurid dreams lead her to demand that her servants bring her extraordinary bird after extraordinary bird! Her servants dare not disappoint her and sometimes they don’t return at all. For a book aimed at children aged 6 plus the story is firmly in the mold of a dark European fairytale.


Carll Cneut is an artist who possesses a masterful range in his painting and drawing approaches. He has designed each spread with the precision of a graphic designer (the typography also works as image in some cases) and the bravura of an expressionist painter. In addition to the cover his notable spreads include the pin board of birds that contain one of ‘Big Bird’ from the TV show Sesame Street, the one with the 101 numerals in yellow positioned across the pages, the red flower image where the skulls begin to appear for the first time, the final servant surrounded by the empty bird cages and the green page where the final servant finally delivers the talking bird to the Princess.


This tale of the Bloody Princess leaves us wondering what will happen next as the imagery gives way to written pages that raise more questions than they answer. This is a complex picture book that will draw out the curiosity of children and adults too as the illustration and the writing work on multiple levels. There is enough here to have one return to its pages time after time.


7th March 2020

The Graphic Design Reader

Edited by Teal Triggs & Leslie Atzmon


ISBN: HB: 978-1-4725-3620-4

            PB: 978-1-4725-2647-2


Published by Bloomsbury


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publishers website


Editors’ websites

Teal Triggs


Leslie Atzmon



This scholarly and engaging collection of key readings provides an excellent body of work for those who wish to understand how the subject of graphic design is moving from a field towards a discipline. You will learn that graphic design is everywhere, even when it’s invisible!





Asking a designer to ‘rewire’ their thinking and notions of the ego

When I trained as a graphic designer more than 30 years ago my main concern was how to make the best work and how these efforts would help me to pay my bills. I had no notion of how my work would be appreciated beyond the D&AD and British and European illustration award systems. I seldom attempted to go beneath the surface of the subject but instead I praised the surface. Things have changed a great deal since then and it’s important to see that there is a complimentary area of study that all graphic designers need to reflect upon. If the subject is to have continued relevance in a world that’s facing multiple challenges we need to be ready for change.


Chapter headings, including the currency of education, the profession, type and typography and political and social change place this publication firmly in the worlds of professional making and knowledge dissemination. There is certainty about where graphic design might be heading. This book is an archive of the best in writing on the subject from the last 140 years beginning with William Morris and the Kelmscott Press (1888). It will be of interest to students of design, academics and other scholars. The Essays that range over seven chapters are drawn from those who have worked in the creative industries, educational and philosophical arenas.


The contributors to The Graphic Design Reader are impressive. Anil Aykan Barnbrook, Peter Bil’ak, Joanna Choukeir, Ken Garland, Anna Gerber, Jessica Helfand, Steven Heller, Ellen Lupton and William Morris to name but a few covering history, innovations, pedagogy and philosophy as well as the practical applications of this complex way of being. The editors have taken the time to find sources that will surely encourage further comment.


The status quo is not an option

They attempt to put a marker down for future scholars of the subject. Graphic Design has found a way to remain relevant and integrated into the everyday experiences of people’s lives globally. The discovery of how ideas were explored by embracing this multi-dimensional medium will help designers to embrace the analysis of their own work. The philosophical and psychological impact of graphic designer on its creators and readers is also covered in great detail.


When a scholar exposes the cultural, political and economic context of a dynamic industry might there still be room for the subjective? The Reader explores how we can use personal agency to help us to pursue answers to the complex problems facing designers today. This book forensically covers the alternatives to the status quo, suggesting that the theoretical must become an integral part of their personal and professional approach to graphic design and all future activities.


In conclusion

This Graphic Design Reader is a great introduction for design students covering as it does the arguments and philosophies surrounding this subject and its future directions. The essays and manifestos support the challenge of spreading understanding to an audience. We all need to be better equipped to take the subject forward into a discipline.

This book can be used to guide post-graduate design students through the arguments, practices and concepts from the world of communication design. It will also help them to understand what is happening out in industry and provide them with inspiration for further reading and research. It encourages us to be bold - so let’s see what’s out there.

The Bird Within Me

Written and Illustrated by Sara Lundberg


ISBN 978-1-911496-15-1


Published by Book Island


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publisher’s website


Sara Lundberg’s website




Who gets to decide the fate of a young girl in a pale blue dress with a pale blue clay bird model in her hands?


This hardback book cover shows a figure sitting in a tree in full leaf. The colours are burnished in saturated greens with a pop of pale blue. This pale blue is Berta’s dress and this colour is central to the narrative. Berta is day dreaming the dream of someone afflicted by creativity. The image is expressively handled in a lose but generous painting style.


Writer and Artist Sara Lundberg’s story takes place on a farm in the spare landscape of rural Sweden in the 1920’s and is inspired by the paintings, letters and diaries of the artist Berta Hansson. It begins when Berta is young and standing at a crossroads in her life. Our hero has to decide whether to stay or go. This is a tale about family loyalties and the conflicts inherent in the inevitable break with tradition when we wish to assert our independence.


Berta forms birds from pale blue clay that she finds in a gully near her home. This pale blue clay and the gallery of works in her mother’s bedroom are laden with symbolism. The whole story is subtle and beautiful with formal compositions and controlled brushstrokes. Trees are sensitively handled they are like the chorus watching over the events and vital spaces where Berta finds the room “to be” and for creativity to find her. Lundberg paintings are imbued with a rich melancholy that evokes a time that is frozen in aspic and reminds me of the monumental work of my former tutors, Alan Young and Charles Shearer. It’s as if she has seen their work and created a fabulous hybrid. There is also a quietude in some of the the scenes that are reminiscent of the more pared back paintings by Leonora Carrington.


It is often said that an artist begins their journey to maturity when they have to deal with loss and personal trauma, Berta’s Mother’s illness is the catalyst here. In addition, the vision seen through the doctor’s window (if you can see it, you can be it) and the doctor’s advice (someone has to give you permission to try) are pivotal in the future direction of Berta’s life.


There is an Afterword by Alexandra Sundqvist the cultural journalist that delves into the real-life biography of the artist Berta Hansson. This was good to see as it features photographs and examples of her artworks which adds more validity to the story. Reflecting on this further I was left haunted by an old popular song:


Que sera sera
Whatever will be will be
The future's not ours to see
Que sera sera
What will be will be
Que sera sera


7th July 2020

The Bird King, An Artist’s Sketchbook

Written & Illustrated by Shaun Tan


ISBN: 978-1-4063-8924-1


Published by Walker Studio


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publishers website


Shaun Tan’s Website



This is a visual dairy of the influences that drive Shaun Tan to be a creator. Whether that be from direct observation or his imagination he is able to conjure up compelling images that keeps one asking questions. As a master draftsman his work commands respect and thoughtful consideration. This comprehensive and thoughtful tome from Walker Studios contains much fun, wit and wisdom.



All artists have an inner kingdom and internal energies that drive us to make artefacts. There are several ways to communicate this to the outer world but none are as intriguing as the artist sketchbook. Visual language can be heavily influenced by commercial concerns but we also need to find ways to express our richer personal drives. Shaun Tan writes about this process with ease and great depth of feeling. Embodied at the heart of this enterprise is his assertion that it’s important to keep things fresh.


Sketchbooks are used to help you work out what you want to say and what you wish to keep personal. Your ideas live behind closed pages. That is why artist’s sketchbooks interest the public so much. It’s the chance to discover secrets or hidden passions that others may have missed in the more visible works.


Tan’s drawings are delicate in tone, shade and line work. He is able to infuse his work with bold and dynamic areas of intense colour. There is a palpable impression that we are being invited into a private space that is only meant for the initiated. The printing on some pages evokes in facsimile his real notebook pages that reminds me of artist James Jean’s Process Recess books. This texture adds to the authenticity.


In his work there is for me a strong connection to the landscape similar to that of the artist Sidney Nolan and the hallucinatory scenes from Peter Weir’s ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (1975). These landscapes frame something that is just out of sight that will amaze us if we dare to focus our gaze upon them. He also renders grainy, colourful, shocking and eerie townscapes that contrast perfectly with the more open spaces. Tan’s expert handling of scale and perspective is used to create worlds that are unexpected but also deeply satisfying.


The creative process is key to the formation of measurable outputs and helps one to maintain and sustain one’s ability to stay current and to produce work of relevance to oneself and a wider audience. This book will inspire students and young people who need to be encouraged to find a place to store their own visual insights and secure their inner kingdom.


08 October 2019

Small In The City

Written & Illustrated by Sydney Smith


ISBN: 978-1-4063-8840-4


Published by Walker Books


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publishers website


Sydney Smith


This is something special. Sydney Smith’s narrative power is his ability to immerse the reader into the world and concerns of a small child. His spare economical prose and exquisite artwork propels you towards a startling destination. This is an honest and credible story that after drawing you in leaves you satisfied, perhaps with one or two tears in your eyes.



In this hard cover picture book there are some lovely observations visual and textual. The initial four panels with the silhouettes and blurred streets convey the sense of unease. A child roams around the city encountering a range of scenarios and offers advice that may or may not be of comfort to a stranger.


Sydney Smith’s carefully constructed pages are a mixture of full spreads and panels. Of note is the double page spread when the child leaves the bus and makes their way into the throng of the crowds. In addition, the words “I know what it’s like to be small in the city” or “The streets are always busy. It can make your brain feel like there’s too much stuff in it.” I particularly enjoyed “Alleys can be good shortcuts. But don’t go down this alley it’s too dark.” We are completely involved with the concerns of our young protagonist.


The grid lines of buildings, walk ways and street furniture create a web suggesting a trap for the uninitiated. There is a stunning picture of the child’s reflection fractured by the arrangements of the mirror tiles on a building façade. We soon realise that this advice is not aimed at the reader but at something far more important. The revelation at the end of the picture book came as a surprise for me but I did start to get an inkling of what was to come.


Sydney Smith has created a classic that will make a big impression on readers with a story that though simple is imbued with a graphic fluidity combined with a visual dexterity that few can match. This for me is reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats’ atmospheric The Snowy Day when I read it for the first time. The artwork nods in a knowing direction towards Dave McKean’s ‘Cages’ and ‘The Savage.’ The use of a subtle and sophisticated palette suffused with interpretive impressionistic inky marks and charcoal lines is thrilling.


If this picture book and his 2017 Kate Greenaway Medal winning collaboration ‘Town Is by the Sea’ written by Joanne Schwartz is anything to go by Sydney Smith is on his way to great significance. When you are small in the city you can still have the biggest heart of all.


08 October 2019

Otto Blotter Bird Spotter

Written & Illustrated by Graham Carter


ISBN: 978 178344 745 9


Published by Anderson Press


Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Publishers website


Graham Carter Website


Graham Carter’s Agent’s Website



Otto Blotter is a fearless explorer whose curiosity takes him far and wide. As for his family they are obsessed with bird watching and rarely leave their house that has been converted into an enormous Hide. They haven’t much time for our hero not when there are beautiful birds that need spotting. One day while out adventuring Otto makes a discovery that changes his life forever.



Otto goes on an adventure that ranges across a fully formed environment habituated in places by mostly passive human characters, he is the exception. This highly detailed illustrated book alive with textures and vibrant imagery is from the hand of artist and printmaker Graham Carter. The main excitement comes from his spectacular bird illustrations. The vivid colour and dynamic shapes helps to drive the narrative and grabs our attention.


Otto discovers and ‘rescues’ a tiny bird that he secretly feeds and comforts. A bond builds between them but as time goes by the bird becomes enormous. Just when Otto thinks his secret is about to be revealed the bird decides to display its unusual and delightful powers.


The energy in this book shines out from the artwork as Carter uses every square centimetre of the pages to reveal new surprises and give the story depth. The digital paintings are quite dark with the colours being very sophisticated for the intended age group however the palette selection comes into its own once the bird’s final special power is on display.


The cover of this hardback book uses varnish and embossing to make a tactile statement. The bird at the centre of the cover is subtle and stylized into the shape of an arched window. A window that leads to indigo end papers that give us some clues as to what the story is about. The narrative gives me the sense that this is only the beginning. I would really like to see a series about the Blotter family and their unusual location.

19 August 2019