"As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the UK in summer 2020 and many of us found solace in digital communication with loved ones, the St Helens Library Service team recognised that there would be a compounded sense of isolation for people unable to engage with others online. Our Correspondence was imagined as a project that would centre non-digital forms of connection at a time when many felt disconnected." Dr James Valentine-Burrows - Arts in Libraries Officer, St Helens Borough Council
2020 was a very confusing year! It was different for each of us but we are all able to share similar experiences and recall the new emotions and knowledge that came with that precarious time!
Emma Graney offered the users of the St Helens Home Delivery Library Service (which is invaluable to those who use it) to take part in the 'Our Correspondence' project, to write back to Emma with stories, memories, remedies, joys and concerns they felt they would like to share. More information can be found in the St Helens Star article.
Myself and two other artists were commissioned by the St Helens Arts in Libraries programme to create work to reflect something from these letters and now to mark the project that started two years ago, the work is available to view at the St Helens Library (in the World of Glass) from the 3rd May until the 31st May 2022.
Memories. Connection. Hope. (2022)
Triptych in ink on canvas board
These three images are an interpretation of Emma Graney's letter responses from users of the Home Delivery Library Service written during lockdown.
I started making the work by writing down snippets of script drawn from the delightful stories that the correspondents remembered and the similarities of the housebound restrictions they all faced during this time. The text was arranged until three common themes emerged: Memories. Connection. Hope.
I decided to translate these themes into line-art illustrations that combine scenes and stories from across the collection of letters. The final artworks were done using ink and a a glass quill, a medium that provided crisp lines and pattern details in the subjects.
My hope is that original correspondents will be able to identify themselves in the cartoon-like scenes and know that their story fits in with others and that together they produce our experience of a community. I also hope that the public will find something in the scenes relatable to their own journey through this precarious time, or perhaps recognise people close to them as we all continue to search for the identity that shapes us (in memories), a sense of belonging (through connection) and the wishes for better days to come (with hope).
I’ve always had a personal interest in illustration, when emotion is visualised in a few short lines. A love of Graphic Design has always encouraged a need to find visual ways to convey a message and the wondrous aspect of this project was that I was able to push the boundaries of the imagination, of taking many stories and references and visually represent them in a series of 3 scenes using a cartoon-like style to bring life to the story boards.
After the main themes recognised from the letters, the cartooning commenced (!) with a drafted layout of the backgrounds drawn (considering perspective in different landmarks and scenery), then filled in with characters and details that fit in the scenes.
After transferring the designs to board, the final artworks were done using calligraphy ink using a glass quill in many therapeutic hours of fine line work.
I will admit that I've wanted to be a cartoonist since I was single digits old. I never pursued this road as the pressure was too high on something so precious. If anything this project has allowed me to challenge myself and see it through each stage not allowing the doubt of my task to win (it didn't have a chance) and I'm so grateful that I was able to accomplish three FULL scenes of lines PACKED with life and energy!
When the 31st May has been and gone, I will post the digital versions here to view and zoom in but I hope you will be able to visit the exhibit as Emmer Winder and Jake Liken (the other two artists) have made interactive pieces which creates another depth and experience.
St Helens Library, The World of Glass, Chalon Way E, Saint Helens WA10 1BX
Emmer Winder (https://www.emmerwinder.co.uk/)
Jake Liken (www.communityobjectives.com)