Mon 06 Feb 2012 by Jo_Moore
With supreme confidence and assurance (he has given a talk or two in his time) Chris Riddell took us through a whistle-stop tour of his prolific work. To begin; slide after slide of sketchbook drawings. Chris uses his sketchbook for his many ideas and projects-that-might-be; 'Memoirs of a Mouse', 'Vlad the Tickler', 'A Walk in the City' to name only three. Hundreds of ideas, some to be developed others to remain solely as ideas. He describes his sketching as acting like "piano exercises", a way of keeping his hand and eye in. Well, from the slides he showed there did not appear to be one bum note - no scribbling out, no hastily pasted over pages. He seems incapable of making an ugly mark on paper. Each page revealed a profusion of vividly rendered characters from hideous trolls to the fairest of whispy maidens. He clear loves drawing facial hair…and noses! For Chris the sketchbook allows "freedom" away from a brief. It's reassuring (and slightly depressing too) to hear that even he gets the run-around from clients who want to work with him because they "love his humour" and then proceed to stifle and squash any creativity out of a project.
He then answered the standard question "why did you become and illustrator?". Through a series of charming drawings depicting the young Master Riddell, he told the tale of spending many hours sitting in a pew while his vicar father gave the Sunday service. Given a pencil and paper to keep him occupied he would draw his favourite things (knights and castles mainly) and at the end of the service a kindly, elderly lady would give him Wine Gums and he, in turn, would give her his drawings. It was then he decided that he wanted to draw pictures and be given Wine Gums!
His political cartoons echo the strong tradition of British satire exhibited in Gilray and Rowlandson; biting wit and forensic insight all beautifully rendered. The skill of the political cartoonist is being able to come up with the goods week after week and to be able to "tell a story" in a succinct and direct manner. He succeeds at both admirably. He talked about the practical issues that dogged early colour cartoons in the newspaper and says now that "everything is in colour" being able to draw in black and white is sometimes a pleasant relief.
The final section of the slideshow was showcasing his latest book project Alienography. Based on an idea he's had since 1985, but somehow never taken up by a publisher, it's a totally personal project written and illustrated by Chris. The book's premise is 'how to spot an alien invasion' and allows Chris free reign to draw all the weird and wonderful aliens and creatures he can imagine. The all-singing project features foil, flaps and even a card game (like rubbish alien Top Trumps) and is clearly a project fired by passion.
After a short break, in which Chris spent the entire time signing books and talking to 'fans', we resumed with a Q&A session. We learned that Chris used to least like drawing "bicycles coming towards you" (now solved), that he loves Google images, that through his drawing he is "in search of perfected eccentricity". He gave some great advice about the current climate for illustrators. That the growth in digital media and platforms is a "golden age of accessibility" and "not to wait for commissions" but to develop your own projects and personality through your work. He stressed that though this route you can be employed for being you.
To use a word that is bandied around rather freely, the evening was truly inspirational. We'd like to thank Chris for taking the time to come along and share his amazing work with us. To find out more about Chris's work with Paul Stewart go to http://www.stewartandriddell.co.uk/
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