A Q&A with School Illustrator in Residence Natasha Natarajan

Natasha tells us how she turned Year 3 students into comic artists over a 10 week residency, despite the pandemic.

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  • Learning

What did you do on the residency?

I had a lot of fun doing a 10 week Comic Book Project with two Year 3 classes. It was split into 3 parts: Designing Characters, Telling Stories and Making Books.

Because of lockdown, we took a blended learning approach to the residency. I delivered the first 7 weeks online in collaboration with the teachers, where each week I made 10-15 minute videos to demonstrate the activities and PDF resources teachers could print out and use in the classroom. Then I went into the school for the last 3 weeks for some painting and book making.

How did the students react?

They were very enthusiastic about illustration, drawing and making comics. They had a lot of questions for me when we did a live video call and when I finally went into the school they were so excited. They made me feel like a celebrity and on the last day they handed me a really sweet card.

I was lucky that the teachers took photographs of student work week by week so I could see how they were progressing and handling the lessons. I was able to integrate feedback into my videos each week and make little animations and graphics out of their artwork – they really loved those.

What were the biggest challenges?

Trying to make accessible activities was challenging. I could see that there were varying degrees of literacy in the classroom, especially because education has been totally disrupted by the pandemic over the past 2 school years. I really noticed it when I went into the school. I could see that students with weaker literacy, some who weren’t yet fluent in English, really hadn't been able to engage with parts of the project.

I also found it quite hard to manage classroom dynamics. One of the classes was much more energetic than the other. I have a lot more respect for primary school educators now! I was pretty zonked by the end of those in-person workshops.

What do you think the impact was on the students, the teachers and you?

In general I think the residency created more awareness around illustration as a career option. The students came away with a lot of excitement about illustration, drawing and comics.

The little graphics and animations I made really helped them see a lot more potential in their drawings – they wanted to make more comics and do more art.

We did a lot of work around emotions and friendship and I was really moved by some of the stories they shared. I'd like to think that they learnt something about using comic art as a way to express your feelings.

The teachers seemed proud of what the students achieved and just generally happy that they had a creative project to engage with – something fun and expressive to do. I don’t think students have had a chance to do much art at school recently. One of the teachers mentioned that the project has inspired her to introduce more painting activities in the classroom. I also feel like they themselves were impressed and excited by some of the comic materials I shared.

As for me, I gained a lot of really valuable experience in designing lessons, making online resources, and working in a classroom setting.  I also benefitted from having a really wonderful mentor, Toya Walker who is a frequent House of Illustration collaborator.

I learnt so much over the course of the residency and I can see really tangible ways in which it’s benefited my career as an arts educator. I definitely feel excited and more confident about working in education.

Thank you to Natasha Natarajan and all the students and staff at Bell Lane Primary School for their collaboration and input. Our School Illustrator in Residence programme was made possible through the generous support of John Lyon's Charity.