Graphic Narratives: bring drawing and text together
The graphic novel and the comic book hold a unique position in the art world, straddling the boundaries between image and text. The School runs a number of studio-based and online courses that explore the mediums, suitable for everyone from the complete beginner to the more experienced artist. Hear from tutor, Dr Sarah Lightman, and three of her students...
Sarah Lightman, tutor
There are a number of phrases I hear from students on my Graphic Narratives courses: " I don't think my story is interesting", "I don't think I can share such a personal story", "I don't think anyone will care about it - it is self-indulgent", "I can't draw the story", "I can't draw comics", "I'll never finish it" and “No-one will publish it or read it".
When I hear these comments I think of a trial in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989) entitled "The Leap of Faith" where Indy (Harrison Ford) must cross a chasm without a bridge. There is plenty of tension leading up to his step into the unknown but in believing he can pass across, the framework for his safe arrival is assured.
I think all original creativity is a leap of faith, especially any that has a very personal source. You have an idea, you want to make it real, to share it on a page or in some other form, but can you really do it? My job as a teacher is to make that leap of faith as comfortable as possible, a little bit like Indy's father, holding a metaphorical hand out ("You must believe" gasps Connery), as my students attempt what they think of as impossible - telling a story, their story, their way.
I have developed ways to support my students on their graphic narrative journeys including introducing them to the work of other comics artists who have addressed comparable themes or who use similar styles. Another approach is to encourage everyone in the class to share their work with the group and participate in class discussions. Receiving positive feedback is hugely encouraging and enabling, and my classes have been exquisitely supportive of each other, during the courses themselves, and afterwards. Finally, I encourage my students to work together and self-publish their work as a zine once the course has finished. There is nothing quite like seeing your own work in print, out there in the world. It is very empowering to publish yourself.
I started drawing pages from own graphic novel The Book of Sarah in 1995, and my book was only published by Myriad Editions in 2019. There were plenty of rejections and dead ends along the way but I supported myself with communities of like-minded creators and self -made opportunities. These nourishing aspects of my life made that long leap of faith a whole lot easier to endure.
Vanessa Lawrence, student
As the pandemic unfolded and lockdown descended I was delighted to see the Royal Drawing School shift their studio-based classes online. My graphic narrative work had just been nominated for The Comedy Women In Print Prize 2020 and I was looking to develop my drawing practice. Sarah Lightman’s course was perfectly timed to explore my work, offering insights in how to build narrative and explore methods of working. The course shone a spotlight on the wealth of different voices in the graphic narrative world, resulting in a strong sense of my own story telling identity. Working predominantly in pastels, charcoal and gouache, the scale, sequencing and poetic narrative construction in my work has felt stronger and braver with each new work.
Beyond the course, the class was inspired to keep creating and formed Distant Connections art collective. Together we produced a full colour zine called The Lockdown Lowdown: Graphic Narratives for Viral Times. Sarah’s advice enabled us to collaborate, create and distribute our zine. We have now produced 3 editions, have spoken at the Graphic Medicine Unconvention 2021, and have had our work included in Hackney Comic & Zine Fair 2021.
Our 3rd edition, Women & Covid: A Gendered Pandemic, includes contributions from our open call for artists, launched on International Women’s Day, as well as emerging and established talent from Laydeez Do Comics and the international graphic medicine community. It has gained also the support of Oxford University having been included on the student reading list.
I feel that Sarah’s inspirational course and ability to bond our cohort has led to some incredible outcomes. If you are interested in exploring your drawing and wish to see your stories unfold, I highly recommend joining online.
I am currently exploring my drawing practice with the Royal Drawing School Online Drawing Development Year. My recent pastel and charcoal drawings have been FIDA nominated and selected for the VIA Arts Prize Special Edition.
Mick Paulusma, student
I come from a filmmaking background but I rediscovered the power of graphic novels when I was 40 and really wanted to use the form for a new story of mine. I booked the Drawing Graphic Narratives course for a number of reasons: firstly, I had studied Drawing the Graphic Novel at the Royal Drawing School previously and absolutely loved the quality of teaching and the environment (both the physical location and the safe space created in which to work). Also, coming from filmmaking, the School's courses were key in helping me move out of my comfort zone in terms of narrative work and - especially in Sarah Lightman’s course - form. And finally, the people! I love the personal projects of the tutors and the other students are diverse, open and supportive.
I have lived with depression for most of my adult life and the isolation as a result of the pandemic would have been much harder to deal with if it were not for the opportunity the course gave me to meet new people and focus my creativity. Doing this course during the pandemic also gave me more time that usual to reflect on what makes me happy - making art and telling stories - this, in part, led to my decision to apply for a Masters programme in Fine Art.
I had come to the course with fixed ideas about what was expected of one’s practice in drawing narratives so it helped me incorporate other ways of working and of making. Also, it gave me the confidence to be more brave about showing early work for feedback - I now realise how important this is.
This course was the first proper online course I have taken and, honestly, it had some real merits over in-person instruction. People attended from all over world (our cohort lived in Scotland, the South and West of England, the US, France and Spain! Also showing work online and taking part in online life drawing (for one of the classes) gave us - as artists - a new way of observing.
If anyone is considering taking this course in the Autumn Term, I'd say - just do it! And, if you do, be an active part of the in-class discussion. We cartoonists may be a shy bunch but I really believe comics and sequential art provide a perfect medium for self expression and if you can open up in class it might encourage you to open up on paper (or whatever material you use!). The cohort from the class remains close and we are working on a zine together- an Exquisite Corpse type project! It's been wonderful to draw in this collaborative way.
I have recently been accepted into the Master Fine Art programme at Anglia Ruskin’s School of Art. The work (and learning) from the Royal Drawing School courses was included in my application’s portfolio and I know it was one of the reasons my application was successful.
Becky Whitehead, student
I booked the course as I had experimented a little with telling stories in a graphic format during my undergraduate degree, and wanted to push this further. I am training to (eventually) become an architect but have spent the last year exploring my other creative interests such as illustration and making clothes.
I started crocheting last year while on an internship in Amsterdam; I was alone in a new country during lockdown and decided to learn a new craft. I find that, in making clothes, I feel able to explore colour and abstraction in a way I cannot through illustration. My drawing style is quite technical and tends to be architectural, whereas the clothes I make are colourful, conceptual and fun. This has brought a new confidence into my creative practise.
Sarah encouraged me to work with a written piece I had, helping to bring me out of my comfort zone and allowing me the freedom to explore more personal and difficult themes. The course revealed to me that much of what I viewed as weakness in my practise came from a lack of confidence, and I quickly found myself working with media and techniques I had not tried before. After a year of lockdowns and isolation the experience of being in a studio and engaging with other artists' practise was incredibly affirming.
After the course I stayed in touch with the other participants and together we produced a zine; we challenged ourselves to each create a graphic narrative which we compiled together in a book to shared on social media and in local comic shops.