Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Vimeo Instagram YouTube Pinterest

How working with a mentor transformed my artistic practice

By Jay Hulme

By Anne Kotecha

Before we began working on the third Pathways Literature Brief, we were assigned personal mentors for the first time in the programme. I found this to be a wonderful development. I was sure that the opportunity to discuss ideas and receive feedback from my mentor, graphic novelist Rachael Ball, would take my work forward. I was right – having a mentor has indeed been one of the most beneficial parts of Pathways for me and I’m excited to share my mentoring journey with you.  


Let’s begin with the brief…

The brief, provided by Scholastic Children’s Books, was to create a non-fiction narrative for children aged 5 to 7 to introduce them to a commonly occurring chemical phenomenon. We were provided with draft text with twelve scenes and were asked to illustrate six of them. Rather than working on a standard book format, the final piece had to be in the form of a concertina book.  


This project represented a number of firsts for us Pathways mentees. It was the first time that we got to create non-fiction illustrations. It was also our first attempt at working in a concertina format. Furthermore, the required number of final illustrations was substantially larger than what was expected of us during the previous two briefs. To top it all off, we began working on this project during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which added an additional load. I must admit, I felt pretty daunted by the task at hand.


Research and composition

To begin with, I set about researching the phenomenon presented in the text. I have scarce scientific knowledge and don’t remember learning about the phenomenon at school so I searched for useful videos from various online sources.  Following my research, I settled on an initial composition for the piece. I decided that I wanted to work with a vertical composition rather than a standard horizontal one.


My first meeting with my mentor

Armed with my initial research and composition ideas I headed to my first meeting with my mentor, Rachael Ball. This meeting was a face-to-face one, however as lockdown began a few days later, the remaining mentoring sessions for this brief were conducted online. I was grateful to have had this first session in person. As we chatted through my ideas, Rachael tried to get a good sense of my perspective on the brief and what I was trying to achieve. I described the visual effects I wanted to create and Rachael gave me some suggestions around how I could begin my initial artistic exploration of the project. 


Talking about texture

Some of my inspiration within my artistic practice comes from old-school illustrators such as John Burningham and Brian Wildsmith who created experimental textures with acrylic, spray paint, pencil and other media. I also love Jon Klassen’s textured collage work and had recently discovered Melvyn Evans linoprint work. The brief included descriptions of a number of rich environments such as underwater scenes, the open countryside and the inner workings of a car. I knew I had to create richly textured artwork for these scenes.


At that time (before lockdown) my family and I had been planning to visit our friends who lived by the seaside. Rachael suggested that I gather materials during our trip – shells, fossils, seaweed, heather. I could use this material to make textures for the underwater scenes. I was also asked to make rubbings of rocks and photograph the sea and boats to build up my own collection of textures.


Of course, lockdown intervened and this seaside trip was eventually cancelled. Thankfully, Rachael had also made other suggestions. She had asked me to try making splodges and splats with ink, prints with bubble wrap and scrunched up paper, and abstract collages made out of ripped up paper.


Working digitally

Around this time, the Pathways mentees had just begun taking the online DrawColorClick Photoshop course with Bill Wright. I was particularly pleased to do this course as it taught me how to make handmade textures – splattered ink, tea bag splats, spray paint, charcoal, to name a few –  and then incorporate them into digital work. This was something I’d been wanting to learn for a while.


Within no time I had built up the texture collection Rachel had suggested I create. I could now make my first images incorporating the textures I had collected into my artwork.

Mentor to the rescue!

By the third mentoring session, I was stuck. I had gone overboard with the experiments and was finding it difficult to move from my initial compositions to using my experiments in a simple but clear way. I felt that my working process was a little chaotic – drawing by hand, then drawing on an ipad, then scanning in heaps of textures to photoshop, but not arriving at any completed illustrations.


Fortunately, Rachael came to the rescue. She suggested I take a step back and strip my work down to the simplest shapes possible. This was an absolute breakthrough for me. By taking her advice and creating a simple composition with shapes cut out from tissue paper, I arrived at a cohesive composition and importantly, got out of my rut.

With my composition established, and Rachael advising me on which of my textures and techniques were successful, I was on a fairly clear path to finishing the images. Subsequent sessions with Rachel and then two extremely useful feedback critique sessions with Scholastic led me to the final images. I finished in good time and was very happy with what I achieved. The outcome was a huge step up for me from the first two Pathways Literature Briefs. My progress through this brief has taught me one vital lesson – a great mentor is a true asset.

Sign Up for our Newsletter Button

You may also like:

Why the 10 stories to make a difference campaign is important to me by Jacinta Read    7 things I would have told my younger self about working as a freelance illustrator by Hannah Jayne Lewin

Back to Forum