MGI Exhibition

Making Great Illustration
Monday 10 September – Saturday 20 October
The Peninsula Arts Gallery
Plymouth University
, Roland Levinsky Building
, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA

Making Great Illustration
is a unique opportunity to see an amazingly high caliber of illustrators’ work all in one exhibition. Featuring artwork by some of the world’s best illustrators, including; Quentin Blake, Kitty Crowther, Marian Bantjes, Ralph Steadman, Rob Ryan, Laura Carlin and Ronald Searle, covering both superior young talent and the influential older generation.

Catalina Estrada - scarf for solidarity

The whole range of illustration is represented from typographic work, reportage, editorial to children’s books. Including Oliver Jeffers’ picture book sketchbook, Catalina Estrada’s jewel-like scarves, vinyl toys from Pete Fowler, an Afghanistan sketchbook drawn by Matthew Cook whilst on a tour of duty and images for Waitrose packaging from Emma Dibben. Photographic portraits and studio shots providing unique insights into the illustrators’ environment will feature alongside the artwork.

Oliver Jeffers sketchbook is on display


Ralph Steadman - original artwork for Will Self's Psychogeography column


Pete Fowler - TRWG, vinyl figure

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‘Ambitious’ MGI

‘Making Great Illustration is an ambitious bid to give more substance to the literature, and it presents a convincing list, almost a canon, of 30 illustrators from several generations.’

Great review in Eye – the international review of graphic design

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Kitty Crowther

 Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About

My young daughter asked me to bring her back a bag of sprouts from Brussels, instead I brought her a book from the extraordinary illustrator Kitty Crowther. What’s amazing about Kitty is that most of us here in the UK have never heard of her, nor seen her work. That’s amazing because she is a hugely talented writer and illustrator celebrated the world over, but not published in the UK.

I travel on Eurostar and stay in the centre in a swish hotel. I’ve not been to Brussells for years and have an explore in the last of the evening sun. It’s not very sophisticated but I can’t resist having a huge ice cream from an up market chocolate shop. There’s not a sprout in sight.

I know that reaching the village where Kitty lives could be a faff; I have to get a metro, and two trains. This is one of the last interviews and I don’t want any thing to go wrong so I am up at the crack of dawn and feel a bit frazzled.


When I arrive in the little village where she lives it is still early and Kitty is eating grapefruit in her warm kitchen. She too is warm and makes me feel very at home. We both drink tea in big cups and Kitty talks about her recent prize (the Astrid Lindgren Memorial award 2010) I know it’s not polite to ask about money, but I can’t help myself from wondering about what it’s like to be given almost half a million pounds. She is very humble about it and says that it will give her some freedom and the chance to buy a house of her own. She tells me a story about one of her sons inventing other prizes that she thinks she should be awarded and although I can’t remember the details the jist of it is that she realises it’s not an excuse to get a big ego.

What is most memorable is the way that Kitty giggles as she speaks, whilst rolling up her own cigarettes. We sit in her big loft studio with the roof windows open and the sound of the birds outside is quite astounding.

It may sound condescending or corny to say that Kitty is charming but really she is. I find her quite magical. When she talks about her visits to Norway during her childhood and her interest in folklore it is easy to imagine her in some mystical landscape, it seems to be where she belongs with her cast of creatures. I’m not surprised when she muses about using some of her prize money for that same purpose. No sprouts there either but more chance of encountering the witches and other ethereal beings in which she believes.

Jo Davies

Photography by Paul Duerinckx

Kitty Crowther publisher site

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Emmanuel Guibert and Antoine+Manuel

Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About

I travel on Eurostar with my good friend Edith to Paris, and the book I’m reading, The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, one if the artists I’m going to interview, draws the attention of a passenger sitting opposite. She’s going for an interview with Medecins Sans Frontiers and has been involved as a helicopter pilot in the troubled Afghanistan area. Her insights into working in war torn and troubled regions around the world are fascinating and she is equally interested in the graphic novel which I show her. Her reaction is a reminder of the power of illustration to communicate – she finds it compelling.

Emmanuel Guibert from Alan's War graphic novel

We’ve managed to arrange a two-day trip with both interviews on the same day with Antoine and Manuel in the morning followed by Emmanuel Guibert in the afternoon. Emmanuel is leaving dead on 5 o’clock, for his 2 months summer break in the north of France and he is giving us an hour of his time in between packing his belongings away. We know that we will have to be prompt, the only problem we have is that we don’t know where he is – we don’t have an address for him. Bit of a challenge, that.

The Professor's Daughter

It’s very hot when we arrive in Paris and it’s teatime. We leave messages on Emmanuel’s answer machine, check with Derek in the UK to see if Emmanuel has been in touch and then make contact with Paul the photographer, who is staying in an upmarket hotel up the road. We troup off excitedly for our supper feeling decidedly in a holiday mood. The trips where there’s company for mealtimes and time to explore with are definitely the best. An extra perk (as if meeting your hero illustrators isn’t enough of a perk already).

Antoine+Manuel Olympus poster

It’s a warm evening so we go to Montmartre, as all tourists do. Typically it’s packed so we find somewhere at the bottom of the hill and order our kir. Paul stops on the way to photograph a pair of shoes left abandoned on the pavement. We wonder if it’s a case of spontaneous combustion.

We are quite merry when we get back to the hotel but there’s still no message from Emmanuel. I do manage to speak to Antoine to confirm that all’s fine for the next day. He is very warm and friendly so I begin to look forward to interview – I’ve read that Antoine and Manuel only do interviews in disguise and I’ve been nervous about it, but the brief telephone conversation is very easy. I wasn’t speaking French of course, and Antoine is charming. Before going to bed I do a last minute check of recorder batteries and memory.


Antoine and Manuel work in a vast studio in the Marais district in Paris. It’s a very upmarket and trendy area and a sign of their commercial success. The space inside is incredible. Many rooms, some papered with their distinctive imagery and featuring their unique furniture and installations. Antoine is wearing shorts and there is no sign of a mask. He is most charming and welcoming and apologetic because Manuel is running late. We try to be relaxed but with no word yet from Emmanuel we know that we can’t afford to get behind on our schedule.

Antoine+Manuel for Nike

When Manuel arrives we can see that he is ill. He doesn’t want to let us down because of the effort we have made and we really appreciate that and he also doesn’t want to put his make up on. That means that Paul may be taking the only recognisable portraits of the duo. A coup!

Antoine is less talkative during the interview and Manuel dominates the responses to my questions. There are times when things get a bit lost in translation and answers are given to questions I don’t ask but I’m beginning to develop a sense during interviews of the amount and quality of information I’m getting and the potential to draw usable quotes. I feel that overall it’s been ok, and am conscious of the time- we’ve been talking for an hour and a half. I can see that Paul is itching to get started on the more formal portrait and studio shots.

I notice Paul getting interested in a splatter of pink paint on a wall and decide to sneak off and do a bit more chatting with Antoine independently, as I suspect he is happy to add to the material I have recorded (successfully!) during the interview.

At this point in the book I’m wishing I could have a big dinner party and invite some of my favourite interviewees around for ongoing good-humoured chat as some kind of experiment. Antoine would be near the top of my list and I’d sit him next to Kitty Crowther, both of them warm and engaging. 

Gods Series - Graphic Design Museum at Breda

The photos of Antoine and Manuel in the red installation in their studio are quite remarkable. I feel quite humbled to be alongside such a great photographer.

It’s hot when we leave the studio to meet Edith for lunch. It’s already 2 o’clock and the phone rings – it’s Derek, with Emmanuel’s contact details. We gallop our baguettes down and head for the nearest metro- we are working against the clock and our own inclination is to sit down and enjoy a cool drink and confer on and digest our last experience with Antoine and Manuel.

Paul rings one of his ex-photography students, a native Parisienne and she meets us outside Emmanuel’s house. He seems doubly important now he has his own assistant, French speaking too. I’m jealous. Emmanuel waves down at us enthusiastically from the balcony, he’s about 5 floors up in a vintage typically Parisian fin-de-siècle building.  We gather our wits for another interview and another set of questions and observations. It’s an effort to appear fresh on such a hot and challenging day.

Emmanuel Guibert

Emmanuel is a delight. He laughs as I put my 3 recorders in front of him on the table; I’m taking no chances and say that it’s a sign of his importance. He asks if I’ve mistaken him for Sarkosy.

He is vibrant and fascinating. He talks with enthusiasm and joy about his work and the pleasure he has had in meeting people through it. I nod in agreement. He is surrounded by packing cases, the Normandy coast beckoning him for his 3-month break but he is really attentive and our hour-long interview becomes a 2-hour visit, with photos on the balcony and him enjoying French friendly banter with the photographic assistant.

There’s a fly by of vintage military planes outside, a vapour trail scarring the blue sky. Emmanuel graciously signs a print for each of us and wishes us bonnes vacances. It’s a memorable end to a memorable day… not quite. We owe ourselves a glass of kir… and our return train is the next day, so the night is but young.

Jo Davies

Studio and portrait photographs by Paul Dureinckx

Emmanuel Guibert


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 Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About

One of the joys of visiting illustrators around the world is the travel, and Copenhagen is a beautiful city to visit – its canals and a fairy tale buildings lending an air of enchantment. I’m going to visit the Danish collective Hvass&Hannibal whose work seems to reflect this culture.

When we get up for breakfast me and my travel companion Edith get a sense that we are somewhere truly foreign. That’s partly due to the strange array of fish delicacies that are on offer and largely because of the Christmas carols that are piped into the lift and hotel lobby. Our companion diners are wearing their Christmas sweaters. It’s April.

Apart from a Peruvian pipe band the streets are oddly deserted and it’s cold, bitingly cold. Hvass&Hannibal work in a trendy area of town where second hand retro shops sit next to interesting coffee shops. Their studio is in a basement; a warm haven and the illustrators too offer warm greetings and tea.

Sofie reveals that on this day Jesus is going back to heaven, that it’s a holiday. The illustrators work for clients all around the world (and are visited by writers from the UK) so they don’t always observe local holidays.

Interviewing a collective is a tricky business but Sofie and Nan seem well accustomed to answering each other’s questions and contradicting each other’s replies. I get a sense that there are no egos just searching minds. I’m especially interested in their working relationship, which in many ways parallels that of Derek’s and mine. They are individuals working closely together in no need of individual ownership. They are strong and creative and their work seems to be a genuine extension and expression of who they are as Scandinavian artists working with curiosity about what may be around the corner.

They are an interesting duo and I’m lucky to see so much of their work in the flesh on the studio walls- delicately coloured sculptural pieces, patches of intertwined fabrics, Alexander Calder-like constructions.

I head off after an inspiring couple of hours to find Edith in the quiet centre of town and find a café serving the hottest soup I have ever eaten.

Jo Davies

Studio and Portrait photographs by Andrea Liggins

Hvass&Hannibal site

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Brad Holland

Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About

I interviewed Brad Holland for Varoom magazine a few years ago. I remember that at the time the prospect of meeting this giant of American illustration, a hero filled me with both excitement and intrepidation. At the end of that long interview on a rainy December evening he saw me down from his loft apartment to the street below, offering to walk me to the metro so that I could avoid getting wet. I was so buzzing with the thrill of having seen so much of his work and spending so much time listening to his stories about his life and career that I don’t think I would have noticed if it was raining real cats and dogs. That memory really set the tone and having had so much correspondence since that time I feel that I am visiting a friend. New York at any time of year is a thrill to me so that’s a bonus.

Brad lives and works in a iron frame building in downtown Manhattan and as I walk through Soho on a December afternoon, the pavements piled high with yesterday’s snow the air fresh and heavy with a sense of seasonal joviality, I think about the questions I’m going to ask and begin to mentally psyche myself up.

Brad’s artwork looks down onto the apartment, a wonderful large canvas of three greyhounds something to dream of owning. As well as his obvious status as an artist Brad is known for his tireless campaigning for the rights of illustrators and it is this work that has somewhat become a preoccupation seeming to exert unwelcome demands upon his time and pressures upon his life.

Brad seems tired but still enthusiastic to talk about his work and his latest clients with his cat climbing around, purring into the voice recorder. He shows me examples of a commission he is working on for a casino where he is working with the theme of Fish.

It’s a treat to see the pile of visuals that won’t be painted, to see the journey of the ideas and to witness the workings of a keen brain. The paintings are more vibrant in the flesh than they appear on the printed page. Seeing them is a real reminder of the value of the craft of painting using pigment – they are paintings which will be printed.

By the time I have to leave it is freezing and dark and I head back uptown the image of the greyhounds fixed in my brain.

Jo Davies

Photography by Andrea Liggins

Brad Holland Site

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Naja Conrad-Hansen

Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About

By mid- afternoon the city of Copenhagen is thawed and the sun has melted the mist away to reveal the cities famous Tivoli gardens where the locals are enjoying its dizzying rides.
Sedately, I take a bus from the city centre to the leafy suburbs where Naja Conrad-Hansen lives and works. I must stop complaining about the weather but one of the first things Naja does is apologise for the cold: she is a native but yearns for warmer climes. Her apartment is a hybrid studio and the famous gilded faces of her artwork look down upon us as we speak.

She is a fashion illustrator whose work is about more than frocks and handbags- there is an aesthetic disquiet in many of her pieces a sense of the decadent and potentially deviant in her characters. Naja too could have been a model, striking with her white hair and long figure; she is strong and talks of a life that has had a share of drama. There are also paintings. Large canvases, explosive with areas of pattern and colour, bold and striking and smaller drawings with delicate considered mark making.

Naja shows me a film poster drawn by her grandfather a masterly piece of graphic imagery, and an intriguing painting by her Mother. She talks of her resistance to becoming an artist herself and she laughs about the irony of it. She laughs a lot!

At the end of the interview Naja brings out two cakes that she has made especially for my visit. She is pleased that we have invited her to be one of our illustrators, but it is me who feels both humble and honoured to be sitting with her in her white studio eating a huge chunk of an apple cake smothered with whipped cream.

Jo Davies

Photography by Andrea Liggins

Naja Conrad Hansen site

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Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About

It’s Norway, summer 2010, and Bergen’s new tram system is just two weeks old, and I’m on my way to the Grandpeople collective’s studio. Impressively, there’s an employee on the street handily explaining how to buy tickets (though he’s struggling a bit himself). The gleaming tram takes me smoothly from the old centre of the town with its wooden houses and cobbled streets over a wide bridge to the start of the suburbs where concrete and graffiti make the surroundings appear more typically Euro-town like.

Street to the Grandpeople studio. Photo by Derek

The tram leaves me on the side of a four lane highway, and I wander around trying to find Grandpeople’s road. It’s a light industrial area, but curiously there’s a somewhat out of place shop selling traditional Norwegian dress just off the road. I’ve not seen anyone wearing this so far. Bit disappointingly, now I know there’s a special shop.

Sketches for Carls Cars magazine typeface

Grandpeople’s studio is based in a large building along from some car garages, and is a light, spacious area divided by a wall of chests-of-drawers (for filing – ‘We’re bored of it now’ says Magnus) separating the work space from their recreational area (with table tennis – the guys are in a business table tennis league. ‘We want to win,’ smiles Christian).

At the table. Photograph by Paul Duerinckx

We talk in an area recently turned into a wall sized blackboard used in a commission, discussing the handiness of having a printer next door and why illustration needs a critical eye assessing it.

I meet the whole Grandpeople team, but talk to original members, Magnus and Christian, who clearly both think carefully about context and background in terms of their work and the wider design world. We end up talking for ages about the illustration world before I leave them to find the tram stop back to the centre.

These guys have been my final interview for Making Great Illustration, but there’s still the transcribing of the interview and writing the piece on them ahead. Then reading all the texts with Jo, and editing, further editing, caption texts, proof reading … but it’s all pretty exciting.

Derek Brazell

Grandpeople site

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Paul Davis

Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About
Paul is a long term resident of the Big Orange studio in Shoreditch, East London, sharing space with other illustrators and designers (and also the Association of Illustrators office). He’s not adverse to a bit of exclaiming and cursing, with brief rants about the absurdity of what is going on around him reaching the Association’s end of the space.

Much of his unique artwork is inspired by his reactions to the frustrating and frankly bonkers world we all have to inhabit (‘You can be very similar to someone in Arkansaw and  get on like a house on fire, and then you get back to London and your next door neighbour is a pain in the arse.’), and he’s an entertaining presence for us.

In common with several of the Big Orange illustrators, Paul paints or draws much of his work before it’s scanned in to work on digitally, and it’s great to occasionally see multiple sheets of paper spread across the studio’s central desk covered in works in progress. Passers by are encouraged to critique.

Paul had two new books published in summer 2010, and his extensive output is impressive. He’s a forthright interviewee, passionately expansive on why he has to create every day. He mentions his heroes, ‘There are two people who are so important to me. Saul Steinberg, and Mark E Smith from The Fall. In an interview in the Culture Show he was defiant, and I respect that. Trying to make ends meet and understand what the hell is going on, and he does it really well.’

Paul and Derek in the Big Orange studio (note natural pose). Photograph by Paul Ryding

His representation of the world and its inhabitants is caustic, but humour creeps in all around catching the viewer off guard, offering an intriguing viewpoint.

Recent work for Byron burgers. Photo by Derek

Derek Brazell

Paul Davis site

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Ronald Searle

Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About

It’s a location that would be the envy of many – a medieval hilltop village with beautiful hazy blue views over Southern France. We’re driving up from the coast with photographer Andrea’s husband at the wheel, off the motorway onto the  winding pine tracked roads up into Provence highlands. Ronald’s hand drawn map comes in handy.

Ethnic Cleansing for Le Monde

I’m amazed to have got here at all given the crack of dawn start from Nice interrupted by a French rail strike chucking me off in the middle of nowhere, followed by frantic phone calls to Andrea trying to tell her where I was. Ou? Je ne sais pas! So much for French A level popping back into your head when you need it…

Nice. 6.30am. Where's le train? Photo by Derek

Luckily we’re on time in the end. Ronald and his wife, Monica, meet us at a swanky local restaurant and generously treat us to a sophisticated meal which happily includes his famous ‘engine oil’, pink champagne (oh, go on, just one more glass then). Ronald and I have a good chat about the Association of Illustrators, of which he is a patron, and Varoom magazine which he likes.

Ronald portait by Andrea Liggins

In Style for Le Monde

He’s just celebrated his 90th birthday (this is in 2010) and has been pleasantly surprised by the interest generated in the UK (Two exhibitions, plus another in Germany, plus a fair amount of press). He thought we’d forgotten about him. As if.


Back at the Searles’ multi level house in the village we are shown around and see a book lined room where Ronald stores many of his reference books and videos, back down in the in the living room we do our interview. He’s still taking on commissions, though there is not a lot of artwork around as he has bequeathed all his sketchbooks and artworks to the Wilhelm-Busch museum in Hanover, Germany.

Studio photograph by Andrea Liggins

Ronald is fascinating to talk to – he’s seen so much and lived through many changes, and this has given him a unique way of visually interpreting our world. Amazing drawing coupled with strong ideas and powerful and often humourous assessments of the human character.

Morocco sketchbook. Photo by Matt Jones

We all take the many staircases up to the roof, via several small terraces, and Monica reveals that they don’t come up here much anymore as it’s too strenuous. She is a jewellery artist, and her studio is right at the top looking out over the hills.

Mr Harris Horse sale

It’s a beautiful afternoon, and I would have happily stayed longer sipping pink champagne and talking to one of my illustration heroes, but it’s a long drive back to the seaside, so we reluctantly take our leave. One of my most memorable days.

Andrea, Ronald, Monica and Derek on the terrace

Derek Brazell

Ronald Searle blog Perpetua by Matt Jones

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