Friday, 12 February 2021

My A.O.I. Picture Book Review for One of A Kind by Neil Packer

Written & Illustrated by Neil Packer

ISBN: 978-1-4063-7922-8

Published by Walker Studio

Neil Packer’s Website

We live in a world where there is never enough time, where we are told we

should desire quick results. ‘One Of A Kind’ a picture book by Neil Packer is

an excellent publication that allows you to stop, be still and take the time to

think, I spent five minutes looking at the delicately described images on the

end papers alone. Inside our protagonist is a youngster called Arvo, whose

journey takes us from Linnaean nomenclature to the Dewey decimal system

by way of aspects of time and space. This large picture book from Walker

Studios is a visual encyclopaedia of classifications that will delight and satisfy in equal measure. 

When I was a boy my siblings and I would pour over illustrated science books

and watch as men orbited and then landed on the moon. We were transported

to the Cretaceous Period just as the meteor that wiped out the Dinosaurs was

about to land. This book reminds me of those times and I didn’t realise how

much I needed to see artworks that require plenty of time to enjoy and

process. The simple narrative follows the traditional structure of a main

character interacting with a string of scenarios to weave a tale and engage

the reader. Beginning with a beloved ginger cat, Malcolm and ending with a

deeper realisation.

I am new to Packer’s work but of particular note are the following spreads:

The Animal Kingdom spread has a complexity that is demanding and reveals

something novel each time I look at it. The pages illustrating the Buildings

opens up layers of meaning behind the construction techniques that make up

our architectural forms. I think this will make readers more observant of the

world around them. Why? How? and What? need to be more fashionable

questions. The Vehicles take me back to the Russian Constructivist imagery

combined with Soviet Manuals for mechanical engineers. This is what is so

magical about the artwork, it’s the contextual references and the precision that

impresses me.

The Apple market stand is striking in its forensic exploration of what it is to be

a piece of fruit. The street scene behind with the monochrome buildings is

reminiscent of the artwork of Ronald Searle for St. Trinians. Imagine finding

out just how many different types of cultivated apple that there are with

evocative names such as Pitmaston Pineapple, Newton Wonder and Knobby

Russet! The Cheese board spread is a collection of precious tasty treats for

those who have only known supermarket bulk cheddars! There is a richness

in these images that can only come from someone who is passionate about

their subject matter. Packer’s passion is everywhere in his picture book.

Are you truly one of a kind? It seems that we all are but we still need to fit into

a wider world and navigate skillfully to understand our place within it.

Ultimately, as Arvo discovers your uniqueness is most important to those who

love you and that is no bad thing.

As I finished reading the book and reflected on the contents my mind was

filled with these words; How beauteous are the works of humankind! Oh,

brave new world, that has such things in ‘t! Oh, to be Arvo’s age once more,

oh what splendid fun we’d have.

My A.O.I. Review for BENEFICIAL SHOCK! – ISSUE 5: The Secrets & Lies issue

Editor Gabriel Solomons

Published by Beneficial Shock! Ltd. ISSN: 2399-5173

“I wasn’t interested in “illustrating” them in the usual literal way, which I’ve always regarded as redundant and insulting to a viewer’s intelligence and imaginative capacities. I was more interested in the possibilities of apparently disparate juxtapositions and the new worlds that might emerge.” Russell Mills

Issue Five of the pioneering cinematic publication has arrived and it continues to build upon the campaigning strategy “to see more creative editorial expression” through the exploration of meaning within filmmaking and cinema. Early on in the magazine the publishers make statements of intent which are worth mentioning as others should note them too: 

On page 2, “We aim to retain independence in order to support creative collaboration and provide professional opportunities for young and emerging creative talent.”

On page 3, “We aim to challenge the traditional role of the visual creative from a content servicer to that of an author researcher and content ‘driver’ – adding value and responsibility as a visual communicator.”

The theme for this issue is SECRETS & LIES. The contents page has its structure divided into Covert on the left and Untruths on the right. The Features articles drill down into the conceits that are inherent in the very structure of film, and how classic and modern narratives are shaped by geo-political, cultural and societal upheavals. The writing is impeccable as all concerned are passionate about communicating ideas that are underpinned by artistic rigour. 

Once again Art Director Phil Wrigglesworth’s wraparound cover illustration is an epic scene containing visual references mined from the entire contents of the magazine. We see images from the Coen Brothers oeuvre, a recumbent Statue of Liberty with a deflated Superman and some naked figures descending into darkness. All of this detail displayed using a palette of only three colours.

I have continued to refine my own critical appreciation of film since I reviewed issue one of this magazine, so I was looking for a challenge and I was not disappointed. Notable for me are the articles ‘Not So Super After All’ by James Charisma & Jason Raish, ‘Once Upon A Dream’ by Neil Fox & Ryan Jackson, ‘The Parent Trap’ by Thomas Puhr & Ryan Snook and Jonny Hannah’s ‘Anarchy In The UK: Ealing Comedies’ a combination of energetic print techniques and droll commentary with text as image, or is that image as text?

At 80 pages the magazine has grown, but not through the addition of advertising that plagues many other periodicals. I’ve noticed that the articles advance a more polarized viewpoint that reflects the tensions between the power of old patriarchy and something that appears much freer and progressive on the surface.

The diversity of the source material drawn upon is also something I find to be very positive. Who knew that the real force behind ‘The Man With the Movie Camera’ was a woman? The editorial stance seems less shocking this time and more contemplative, which I think suits this complex theme. I’m glad that the magazine has endured as we are possibly at a crossroads that might do away with the cinema altogether. However, that said I look forward to reading issue six which takes as its theme COURAGE & STRENGTH – something that we all need right now.

This Book is Anti-Racist - 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work

Written by Tiffany Jewell Illustrated by Aurélia Durand

Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN: 978-0-7112-4520-4

“It’s not enough to be non-racist – we must be ANTI-RACIST.”

Tiffany Jewell quotes the legendary but also controversial human rights activist Angela Davies in the promotion of a book that arrives during the global struggle for equality. Her words are aided by the vivid, ‘Saved By the Bell’ 90’s style graphic illustrations of Aurélia Durand, her colour palette is warm and perfectly suited to the latitudes of the citizens of the global majority.

Jewell provides action plans and activities to help a young person to navigate towards the world as it could be. Focusing on methods to help an individual make changes in themselves first and then influence others we get to see how enlightenment can surround one in a powerful bubble of agency building the confidence to challenge hegemony.

Is this complex subject too difficult for children to grasp you might ask? The author thinks not as it is in our earliest years that prejudiced ideas form and it is at this age that they need to be understood and somehow challenged. I think there is an intention to raise awareness in parents and grandparents alike and perhaps it is they who need to engage with this book for their own benefit too. It is a cliché but they will have to ‘Unlearn what they have learned’ to get to grips with the possibilities advocated within its pages. The book also contains useful notes on the text, a glossary and selected bibliography to support further understanding.

The information is presented as New Knowledge and backed up by the author’s personal journey to raise herself to a position of useful authority. She uses step by step practices to form a better world and to help people cope with the old one so we can all be in a better place together. Though a Biblical cliché ‘the truth shall set you free’ and I certainly hope that this is the reality for the many rather than the few if we are to make any progress on justice.

The intention of the author is also to challenge performative behaviour as this is a serious subject that requires one to commit to being anti-racist and to stick to this position! To do the work. We will have to employ a new vocabulary to describe a world that is actually anti-racist. It will be hard for some to accept that the world has actually been violently shaped by racists for the benefit of racists.

I have previously reviewed a picture book called ‘Greta and the Giants’ by Zoé Tucker and Zoe Persico that focused on helping young readers to appreciate how they can play a part in the climate crisis debate, and I feel that This Book Is Anti-Racist can do the same. It will help children to help their elders to understand the inequities of racial prejudice and the work necessary to help them to ‘change their minds.’ The answers to these problems cannot be found in one publication, but Tiffany Jewell makes a great start and should be commended for taking a stand.

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.