Thought Bubble 2018 runs 17th – 23rd September!

Tom Humberstone – Artist Residency 2012 Part 1 by thoughtbubblefestival

Hello. My name’s Tom Humberstone. I’m a comic artist for the New Statesman, the creator of my own self-published comic Ellipsis, and the editor of the UK comic anthology Solipsistic Pop. But, more importantly, and more relevant to this blog, I’m also this year’s Thought Bubble Artist in Residence.

This year’s residency is a little different to last year. The idea is that I run four weekly workshop sessions at the Bradford Action for Refugee centre with children and adults of all ages. The aim of these workshops is to introduce the comic art-form to people who may not have been exposed to it before and encourage them to get involved, while sharing a few skills and techniques along the way. After the final session, I’ll be based in Leeds during the Thought Bubble festival week, compiling my thoughts on the sessions and on asylum seeking experiences, resulting in a comic which will be part of next year’s Thought Bubble anthology.

And so, with Thought Bubble project co-ordinator Martha, we headed to BAfR last week to meet Chris and the volunteers who ran the centre and who would be helping us meet and work with the families during these sessions.

We decided to build the first session as a relaxed, informal introductory drawing workshop. Something that gave everyone a chance to get to know me and what I do, while giving me the opportunity to meet everyone and get a feel for what people enjoyed drawing. It was an overwhelming experience with over twenty children (and their families) attending.

The session was planned with an informal structure in mind as we had no idea how many people or what age groups to expect. Without a specific lesson plan in place the workshop was chaotic and exhausting. But a hell of a lot of fun. Everyone’s drawings were superb and it was an exhilarating experience trying to keep up with the kids as they worked diligently away with whatever materials were within grabbing distance.

It was a success but we also came away aware that we needed a slightly tighter structure for the following week.

A little further forethought and planning – now knowing more about the people attending the workshops – worked a treat! Our second session introduced the comics angle in a more focused way. Younger kids who were less interested in drawing were given their own space in the centre to play with toys while the ones who wanted to draw remained on the desks provided. This allowed me to get in front of the class and teach a few comic basics up on the whiteboard. I started off with some simple tips and tricks for drawing faces, expressions and a little about economy of line. We later touched upon some of the visual language of comic art such as wavy lines to signify smells, or expressive dashes being used to denote speed.

In this new, slightly more controlled, although still informal, environment – we got to work creating comics in some specially prepared booklets with fixed panel layouts. This is the part of teaching comics that always blows me away. Kids don’t need you to tell them much at this point. They know instinctively what to do. The mixture of words and pictures is innately obvious to them. They may not know something is called a caption or speech balloon, but the concept is already lodged in their brain as a standard way to communicate a story. I don’t know whether this is because comics tap into some instinctual way in which we all want to tell stories, or if children are exposed to this medium from an early age, but it almost always surprises me how quickly kids take to the form.

The level of creativity and imagination the children displayed when drawing their comics was a delight. Some children took some paper away with them after the first session and came back with fully coloured, completed comics for me to read when they arrived and the things they did with panel layouts was wonderfully formalist. It made me slightly regret adding fixed panels to the booklets I’d brought with me but I think that having a bit of structure was the right choice as too many options can be off-putting to some of the kids and can be a bit intimidating.

We all came away from the second session with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement for the next one. I’m looking forward to introducing the children to some new comic and storytelling ideas next week as I think they’ve already nailed these early introductory sessions.

I’m also starting to remember names, faces, and develop a rapport with the kids now which was, I’ll admit, something I was concerned about as most of my experience with teaching has been one-off workshops and lessons. Nothing which has involved working with the same people over the course of a few weeks. For someone who spends most of their time working in a studio on their own, it’s a remarkably rewarding experience.

One I’d recommend all artists do at some point. I’ll be checking back in with some more thoughts after our third and fourth sessions.

Thanks for reading and see you at Thought Bubble!

– Tom


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[…] at our convention for people with anxiety issues and autism, and work with local groups like the Bradford Action for Refugees centre and Leeds Specialist Autism […]

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