Sion Ap Tomos: Creating the 'Illustrating People' course

Illustrator and tutor Sion Ap Tomos on what to expect from his upcoming short illustration course


  • Sion Ap Tomos
  • Education

Last autumn, I had the opportunity to deliver Illustrating People, a short illustration course at House of Illustration. Running for ten weeks, it covered various aspects of what is a large and fundamental subject within the medium of illustration. I’m pleased to say that the course will run again this summer term, beginning in mid April.

The idea for the Illustrating People course had been germinating for some time when House of Illustration approached me to develop a course. I have been teaching illustration and drawing for over fifteen years. I have been devising and delivering short courses for ten of those and I think this is the most ambitious course I have been involved in. Let’s face it, it’s a BIG subject. Where to start? What to say?

In many ways I feel this course is the culmination of those years of teaching. The figure is important to my own illustration practice and has been a key subject in much of my teaching. The truth is I have been teaching this course for years but in fragments – a workshop here, a lecture there, in tutorials and as parts of other courses.

Illustrating People is a distillation of all those experiences and explorations. To cover a subject of this nature in a practical, accessible and useful way required time to understand what is most important to say – and to discover the best way of sharing it.

In describing what to expect of Illustrating People I think it useful to say what it isn’t. It isn’t a course that will show you one specific way of depicting people. Instead it is a series of activities designed to enhance people’s knowledge and experience of the subject – while always allowing for individual interpretation.

For example an early session covers eyes, exploring their structure in order to understand why and how they are depicted by illustrators in so many richly varied ways. This session combines a technical lecture, an analysis of illustration examples, and practical exercises designed to help students make conscious choices about how THEY would like to depict eyes (and ultimately faces).

The whole course works in this way: talking, looking and, importantly, DOING. It breaks the subject down firstly to explore the face, then the head as a whole, the figure, and the figure within an environment. Within this journey there are explorations of materials, methods and styles. For instance, a session is dedicated to caricature with an analysis of examples and practical advice on how to approach this style of depiction.

Materials and methods are explored in a practical way with the intention of enhancing overall knowledge as well as getting to grips with specific techniques. For example a session on stenciling is used not only because I think it’s a satisfying technique but because creating stencil images of the whole figure is a useful way of breaking down and understanding the fundamental structure of the body.

Within this structure there is also continuous exploration of key ways of working such as creating imagery from photographic reference, from your imagination and depicting people in a live situation.

The ultimate intention of the course is to provide each participant with practical tools and experiences that they can then use to explore the subject further whether for professional or personal ends. You may be an illustrator wishing to develop the depiction of people in your work, a recent graduate wishing to build on your practical knowledge, or someone working in a related field looking to learn new skills. Just as importantly you may be someone doing it for fun, wishing to engage or re-engage with drawing and illustration.

The varied intentions and experiences of students on the short courses I deliver have always added a richness to the sharing. Not everyone is the same and neither are they seeking the exact same thing – but they do share a curiosity and enthusiasm to discover more about the subject.

Sharing to me is the primary purpose of a place like House of Illustration: sharing knowledge, ideas, opinions and experiences. It’s a terrific boost to have this hub for the medium, a place to share and spread our passion for it as far and wide as possible. It’s the ideal home for a course like this, as we are able to take advantage of the exhibitions programme to add to the experience. I very much look forward to delivering the course again soon.

Sion Ap Tomos
Course leader

Sion's next short illustration course runs 17 April to 26 June 2016. Find out more and download the course outline here.