Pop Up Creators: An International Illustration Exchange

A year-long international illustration exchange between the UK, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.


  • Emily Jost
  • Learning

Pop Up Creators is a collaboration between 150 young artists, mentored by 18 professional illustrators, from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the UK. 

The participants, all under 26 and 80% of whom have English as a second language and/or are BAME, were challenged to transform both sides of a long blank piece of paper (a ‘leporello’, or concertina frieze) into a graphic story. It could be in any style, using (or not using) any language, and with no unifying theme or aesthetic. The resulting books are being published in each of the four countries, with selected work exhibited in London from 10 April

Emily Jost, our Head of Education, tells us more...

This ambitious and exciting collaborative project was a real privilege to be involved in. I was lucky enough to witness the process of two groups of young illustrators: students from LCC who worked with Estonian mentor, Ulla Saar, at workshops we hosted here at House of Illustration, and a Latvian group who worked with UK illustrators Alexis Deacon and Hamish Steele in Riga. I saw the creative challenge being embraced by everyone with courage, skill and imagination, so when the published versions emerged I was excited to see how they had been resolved. It was, of course, a daunting undertaking for both mentors and mentees, and yet 150 storytellers emerged with 150 sparkling new stories, each of which enrich our world. 

I also had the equally daunting task of co-curating the exhibition, selecting a representative show from a few of the 150 publications – there was so much amazing illustration, we could easily have doubled or tripled the selection if only space had allowed.

The books represent whole worlds of possibility where images invoke ideas, feelings, beliefs, convictions, knowledge and stories that cannot be described in words alone. Especially interesting in the context of an international exchange, the young illustrators have shown that illustration is the most effective method of communication whether language is a barrier or not. Their visual stories speak in a powerful, universal human language.

The array of approaches to theme, narrative, imagery and form they have taken is impressive. Often personal, sometimes universal, themes span everything from mental health to mythology, from relationships – animal, human, other – to the environment. The storytelling draws on many genres including mystery, horror, folktales, classic and traditional children’s stories, science fiction and comedy.

Each participant tackled their story with techniques and media suited to their creation, many experimenting with new methods, inspired by their mentors’ guidance or independently. Playful and experimental, the young illustrators between them pushed the leporello form to its limits. Whether they created individual pages or comic frames or whole images that unfold, they have taken the physical interaction of the reader into account in a multitude of ways. Those who have used the act of turning over to provide a comic or dramatic twist are particularly fun to read.

The published leporellos are a testament to the courage of the students to rise to the brief. Having the opportunity to create published work as part of a large and international project unlocked serious potential. These publications gift the world a treasure trove celebrating the primal human urge to share stories visually.


Read more about the project in this blog by one of the mentors, Alexis Deacon, on the British Council's website.

Pop Up Creators has been co-curated by House of Illustration and Pop Up Projects, funded by Arts Council England (Ambition for Excellence award), Lithuanian Council for Culture, Latvia's International Writers and Translators House and the Ministry of Culture of Estonia, as well as a number of other partners in each country. The stories have been published by Päike Ja Pilv in Estonia, kuš! in Latvia, Vilnius Academy of Arts Press in Lithuania and Nobrow Press in the UK. They will be launched alongside an exhibition on 10 April, to coincide with The London Book Fair's 'Baltic Countries Market Focus'. See the exhibition until 20 May – find out more here.