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An Adventure in Cambridge: Teaching at the Pathways Winter Residential

By Pathways

Illustration of Rachael Ball and Anne Kotecha by Jorge García Redondo

I was chuffed beyond measure to be asked to teach the first residential for the Pathways project with Yasmeen Ismail at Anglia Ruskin University

After lots of pre-workshop pacing, hand wringing, Skype sessions and discussions, our program plans turned into the real thing.

As I stepped into Monday and met Yasmeen and all the students, I knew it was all going to be fabulous. I kicked off the first session with a character design workshop – a kind of whistle-stop drawing tour to get the room warmed up. Next, Bloomsbury and Yas led a fascinating Q&A session on the artist/publisher working relationship. And then came the moment we had all been waiting for – Bloomsbury pulled three sparkly boxes out of their sleeves and deep within each one, was a brief for every student. 

We all GASPED!!

Special briefs in hand, the students got scribbling like their lives depended on it. All our planning was coming together! Everything was going really well! Really, really well. 

Almost too well…

Illustration from Shadows © Rachael Ball

I realised something wasn’t quite right on Tuesday. Yas and I were running a life drawing session and were taking turns to act our pants off whilst the students sketched us. I was posing as a grumpy child. It was proving oddly uncomfortable, but not because I had to act in front of a room full of people.

A few hours later back at the Travel Lodge and five projectile vomits later, I realised what that something was. Was I allergic to Cambridge? It was my first visit after all. After twelve hours of sleep, I staggered back into the classroom clutching a bag of oatcakes and a box of ginger tea.

‘You’re hard!’ you say. I won’t argue with you, but I wouldn’t have missed a day of the residency for anything. Every one of the students was funny and brilliant. It was a privilege to go on creative journeys with each of them and watch them get inspired while wrestling with problems and possibilities, having epiphanies and overcoming obstacles. I am filled with admiration for how they managed the pressure of that first brief. To be landed in a classroom packed with talent, working against the clock and knowing they would be judged by a publisher at the end of the week is a tough task indeed. But they all got there and at the end of the week, one by one they were ushered into a private office for a wise word or two from a publisher.

Then all of a sudden the days had run out and our work was done. I was sad I wouldn’t teach them again. Other lucky tutors would. But that’s what’s great about this course. It is a whirlwind of change and challenge – A challenge all of the students had proven themselves well up to. 

I can’t wait to see their work at the end of the 2 years and I’m really looking forward to holding the brilliant books they will produce in the future.

Rachael Ball is an educator and a celebrated graphic novelist, credited with titles like British Book Design Awards-nominated ‘The Inflatable Woman’ (Bloomsbury) and ‘Wolf’ (Selfmadehero). 

The Pathways Winter Residential was conducted at Cambridge School of Art , Anglia Ruskin University. It marked the start of the Pathways programme and acted as an introduction to the field of children’s illustration. It was conducted by Yasmeen Ismail (illustrator); Rachael Ball (graphic novelist); Shelley Jackson & Viola Wang (Anglia Ruskin); Emma Blackburn, Strawberrie Donnelly & Rachel McNally (Bloomsbury).