Oxford: The Ashmolean Museum

The present Ashmolean was created in 1908 by combining two ancient Oxford institutions: the University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean Museum.

The collections span the civilisations of east and west, charting the aspirations of humankind from the Neolithic era to the present day. Among its treasures are the world’s largest collection of Raphael drawings, the most important collection of pre-Dynastic Egyptian material in Europe, the only great Minoan collection in Britain, the finest Anglo-Saxon collections outside the British Museum and the foremost collection of modern Chinese art in the Western world.

The Ashmolean is also a teaching and research department of the University of Oxford, providing research and publications of the highest standard in the academic fields of art history, archaeology and history.

Refurbished in 2009, the way that the collections are displayed in the new galleries & enjoyed by the public became the driving force behind the transformation. The galleries are interlinked by one big theme, Crossing Cultures, Crossing Time. This encourages visitors to make new connections between the collections of the Ashmolean. Adding 39 new galleries to the original 1845 Cockerell Building, the Ashmolean’s new wing was designed by award-winning architect Rick Mather.

The Art class and I needed more than the few hours we had to full apriciate the vast collections. However we had a brilliant adventure exploring art history from around the world.

Millie’s flora and fauna 


Millie Marotta is a hugely popular illustrator and her idiosyncratic drawings of the world’s wonderful creatures will draw you in. Millie’s Animal Kingdom offers a range of beautiful illustration on quality paper to personalise and make your own.

The artist’s intricate style of illustration will get you itching for a pen, whether it’s to add to the fine line hatching on the birds, the flowing tendrils of a jellyfish, or the composite of flowers that make up a grizzly bear. The work will inspire you to appreciate the detail of line drawing and its huge potential.

Millie’s Moth 

My attempt…



Sketching out  the basic shapes that make the butterflies I want to draw and a couple of Millie’s  unusual trees. Then with a black biro pen working into patterns the new image.


Franziska Schenk: 

Franziska Schenk, artist in residence at the Schools of Bioscience and Physics at the University of Birmingham, is attempting to overcome this incompatibility by studying the ingenious ways in which a wide range of iridescent effects are created in the animal world. As iridescent ‘pigments’ mirror Nature’s design, biomimetics can offer vital clues on how to convert these novel materials to the painter’s palette. The current research builds on related projects, namely an Arts Council funded residency and show at the National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth (2004-5), and a recent AHRC-funded art and science project. The latter involved a residency at the Natural History Museum in London and collaboration with Professor Andrew Parker, the Museum’s leading expert on iridescence in the natural world.

Expanding on work inspired by the coelacanth, chameleon and cuttlefish, Franziska has now turned her attention to butterflies. Captivated by their ephemeral beauty, fragility and capacity for continuous change, she is developing paintings that oscillate in colour, depending on the light and movement of the viewer. Having worked on adapting colour-shift technology from its inception (circa 2000), gradual emergence and now rapid expansion, the new series marks a further stage in her quest to arrive at ‘chameleonesque’ paintings. 

About Franziska 

Franziska Schenk (BA Art Ed, BA Hons and MA Fine Art) is an artist and lecturer in Fine Art at Birmingham City University. Exhibitions with particular relevance to Interact include: ‘Vibrant 2’ (2006) which formed part of the ‘Colour and Chemistry’ project initiated by Sherborne House, ‘Mantle of Many Colours’ at the National Marine Aquarium Plymouth (2004-5) and ‘Times of Our Lives: Beginnings’ at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester (2000). Other work has been included in group shows across England and in Germany. Awards in support of this research have been received from the Arts Council of England, AHRC and BCU.

LE GUN @ Worcester University


We were so lucky to get invited to join third year illustration students at Worcester University in working on a collaborative 20ft (!) piece with artists from LE GUN.

The illustration collective LE GUN was founded by Neal Fox, Chris Bianchi, Bill Bragg, Robert Rubbish, Matthew Appleton, Alex Wright and Stephanie von Reiswitz. The graduates of Royal College of Art produce a magazine and work on commissioned projects. They recently had a hugely successful installation and prints for an exhibition opening at London’s V&A Museum.

We were guided into a new and strange world by Neal and Robert the theme was following on from their exhibition about Mexican dream creatures called Alebrije.

Neal and Rob Nealandtibias

While I worked away I was able to ask Neal Fox a couple of questions:

Q, What inspired you to become a collective?

“Well we knew we wanted to become a magazine when we saw the New York mag RAW and we were coming to the end of our studies four of us were mixing regularly with other graphics’ students and we just bound together. We came up with the long black and white collaborative when we were raising money for the Mag idea. We had these parties with the walls coved in paper that people could doddle on and say what they want. It was so popular we realised we had hit on something.”

Q, Don’t you ever fall out or struggle with seven different minds pulling a project?

He shakes his head amused at the question “No, not really, for a start we are well practiced at living with each other’s passions. Also we talk about it lots before we start. We always start with developing a story or fictional history to the exhibitions so everyone knows where the theme is going and then we trust each other. It has not failed before and we enjoy it.”

Meeting Hunt Emerson


Currently Hunt is a freelance comic book illustrator and often works for the Beano on the characters Little Plum and Ratz. He lives and works in Birmingham so he really is a local success story.


He has been acclaimed as one of the 75 European Masters of Cartooning of the 20th Century by the Centre Nationale de la Bande Dessinee et de l’Image, and has won many other international awards.

The Emerson graphic novels Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Casanova’s Last Stand and other adaptations of classic novels and tales have been successfully sold in numerous countries, and translated into several different languages.

Hunt Emerson’s strips and illustrations are regularly seen in the pages of Fortean Times, a magazine of occult and unexplained phenomena. Also his pornographically humorous Firkin The Cat (written by Tym Manley) has appeared in hundreds of Fiesta magazines.

Hunt was inspired to become a cartoonist by seeing the comics arriving from Chicago, “they were sort of Hippy comics, but I loved the stories and character” (Emerson, 2015) Hunt practised and practices drawing and developing bio’s for characters. He came to Birmingham as a fine art student and found work at Birmingham Arts Lab and Polytechnic running a small printing machine.  “In printing I saw a way that I could link earning a living with doing what I wanted to do; draw comics.  I spent six years working at the Birmingham Arts Lab, with the printing press there, doing design, layout, darkroom, and machine operating on a shoestring in hair-raising circumstances. It taught me a lot about production deadlines and the need to make quick design decisions.”(From Emerson’s web site: http://largecow.com/)

This lead to his first book ,Thunderdogs which had a unique twist at the time because it included 2D and 3D drawings. Followed by Calculus Cat and then City Mouth.

We asked Hunt for his top piece of advice for us about to start illustration at university. He smiles and says the key to being a comic book illustrator is to keep working. Take as many of the freelance job you can manage but don’t forget to develop your own style and work.

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Hereford College of Art.


The College Road campus is truly the jewel in their crown. The open day was lively and interactive which is a great start no matter what course you are applying for . As you know I’m searching the my perfect illustration BA hons.

That in mind I was hunting down the course tutor Neil Hadfield like a bloodhound. he was happy to talk with me and show me around. (good start) Neil gave me great advice about what they were looking for in student applications and kept no secrets about the questions they might ask in the interview. Hereford interview most of the applicants who apply to the degree courses. I believe this is a particularly great thing as we find only in meeting a creative person can you truly know the level of their passion for Art. furthermore he gave good advice about portfolio expectations and how to apply for funding. What a nice man.

Hereford does not disappoint. There was a wealth of Art course merging in one beautiful place. From the well known arts to the more specialist quest. A creative individual would be sure to find a happy home here.
BA Hon included: Artist Blacksmithing (wow), illustration, animation, jewellery design, fine art, popular music, contemporary design craft, textile and photography, film and photography, commercial photography, and more.
All the degrees are validated by Wales Trinity Saint David’s university.

On the subjects of home this has been the best institute thus far to have given out housing information. The staff did more than just say “we have student housing” The housing team introduced them selves, explained how to contact them and gave clear instruction on how and importantly when you should apply regardless of what university you are attending. Although I am not in need myself. I felt reassured and cared about by their openness. If I had been a young applicant or a parent of a student this would have been a welcome relief.

Tutors were keen to mention how all areas are available to all students whichever course they are on. Integration and collaboration is a big part of Hereford students life. What a refreshing and exciting testament to have. There was lots of evidence to support this around the building on the blogs and more importantly when talking to already attending students.

For me the only down side was the remoteness of the location. Because I can’t be in residence due to family commitments. The town has old market qualities that are full of rural charm. If your a city fan or want big nightlife this is not the place for you. If you love people and nature and want to be inspired by the handcrafted Hereford is the best place on earth for you.

Axel Scheffler @ the Hive Worcester


An open day at university leads to an awesome moment in my life. A tutor from Worcester University had chatted with me and we had laughed at my eagerness but lack of portfolio. He later called me to see if I wanted to join the class in meeting Axel Scheffler at the Hive later on in the week.  At first I did that classic, but very common “you don’t mean the Gruffalo guy, right?” Yes, (more laughing at me.) And yes that is just one of his famous illustrations but my no means is it all he has done.

Axel Scheffler started by fondly telling us about his move to England in 1982 to study Visual Communication at the Bath Academy of Art. How meeting others with creative and open minds can really get you going. Axel had a tone of honest reality as he relayed the accounts of taking his portfolio around to different publishers and magazines. He recommended always taking your current sketch book with you. “Often people like the more free and flowing look of a sketch book” Alex spoke about sending images off in the post and hearing nothing back for ages if at all. Then he got his first commission. Faber commissioned him to illustrate The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell . In 1989, Walker Books from London asked Axel to illustrate a text by Jon Blake; You’re a Hero, Daley B.

The successful collaboration of Alex Scheffler and Julia Donaldson happened in 1991. “Julia had been writing songs for the BBC when a friend told her they would make great children’s books” Alex told us “when Macmillan Children’s books took her up, they introduced us to each other.”


Q: When did you know the Gruffalo was going to look like he does?

A: Lots of sketching based on Julia’s description in her text was the basic starting point. I had done him with clothes; in fact I had done all the animals with clothes. But Julia looked them over and just did not like it.

Q: How does the text come to you?

A: Sometimes it is just emailed and you decide the layout and what to draw creating a kind of dummy book which you send back. Publishes then look at that and make changes. They always make changes. Other times they send me the dummy book with the layout and text and I will know there they what the illustration and how much of the page to illustrate. But that’s never the end, because publishers sell to other countries this is called co-addition sales. They too can ask for anything to be changed.

Q: What sort of things have you been asked to change?

A: Lots of things, anything. An example is with the book A Squash and A Squeeze in the Macmillan book the goat had udders but when it was sold to the American publisher they wanted the udders removed as they didn’t find it appropriate. Just lots of things like that and practical things like moving the layout because the amount of text or even direction of text is different.

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Q: Have you ever written a children’s book?

A: Only one as I’m not a writer. Pixi publishing who make little books were doing their 1000 print and they asked me if I would give then a picture book. The story was about a squirrel that got blown out of a tree. But it was not amazing like I said I’m not a writer.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to those illustrators who are now leaving university?

A: Never say no to work; you just never know where that will lead. Illustration is an applied art. So listen to what they (publishers and editors) say to you it is in both your interests to make the work sellable. Compromise is good, yet you should always keep your own style. (He smiles) That’s all my advice.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Just completing another picture book with Julia Donaldson; The Scarecrow’s Wedding.