Assignment 1 – Personal statement

The purpose of this assignment was “to create a personal statement that outlines the kinds of practice you’re interested in through your combination of text, images and design choices”. 

Key words from the brief:

  • Develop a personal statement
  • Include visual examples and a summary of your findings 
  • If there are areas you’re less certain about or haven’t defined yet, include these kinds of uncertainties and questions 
  • Produce a designed version of your personal statement 


The brief specified that this assignment should cover the following areas:

  • Present your practice
  • Locate your practice
  • Reflect on how you work and how you learn
  • Identify what’s next

My response to each of these is outlined below.

Present your practice

Much of the content for the personal statement came from the four reflective exercises leading to the assignment:

I’d already done a certain amount of reflection on my practice in advance of my Level 3 progression discussion.

Additionally, during Level 2, I created an online portfolio at:, that I’ve refreshed constantly as the course has progressed.

So from a content perspective I’d got a lot to choose from; in fact too much. It seemed to me that making a focused and engaging personal statement would need me to be very selective, to edit out the noise in order to end up with something that best represented my personal voice.

Generating ideas

I thought the lists of keywords generated during 1.1 Writing a personal statement provided an excellent summary of the story I wanted to tell. They are reproduced verbatim below:

The content


  • People
  • Place
  • Reporting and documenting


  • Human stories
  • Slightly weird
  • Humour/irreverence

Selection of key words

  • Observational
  • Expressive
  • Words and pictures
  • Narrative
  • Storytelling
  • Humourous
  • Documentary

I used a mindmap to clarify my thinking.

I wanted the booklet had to serve a number of functions:

  • To reflect my personal voice as clearly as possible
  • To stand on its own i.e. to be something, not to be about something
  • To be of genuine value as a way to ‘sell’ myself and my work
  • To have a visual style that I could reuse in my digital portfolio

I started playing with the idea of adding captions to the images to add humour and a new dynamic to the work. These were selected from online sentence generators; it was surprisingly easy to find text/image pairs that worked together.

The first stage of the design was to write a script. I did this in Microsoft Word combining captions and pictures in the order in which they seemed to make sense.

This was an iterative process. I spent a few minutes every day for about a week adding captions, making word associations and reordering images.

I probably got the idea for this approach from the work of #paulcopyrightdavis who I recently started following in Instagram. Although his visual style is quite different to my own, his daily captioned drawings are humorous, satirical and sometimes just strange.

Fix 1 – A screenshot from the Instagram account of @paulcopyrightdavis (2021)


The format of the booklet was dictated by the size and shape of the images.


The brief states that the audience is my tutor. I’ve extended that to include anyone that is/could be interested in my illustration.


I sketched out the layout by identifying a limited number of different design patterns and then I worked out a grid to standardise each page.

Thumbnails of different page layouts


I wanted the typography to be very simple and chose Times almost as an understatement showing a lack of design sophistication.

The booklet layout and typography were created in Adobe InDesign. I exported a draft of the booklet for testing.


I did two cycles of testing.

I started by asking close friends and family to review a draft of the finished booklet so that I could get some quick and honest feedback. This identified a number of minor changes, but overall the response was positive.

I felt like I’d taken quite a risk adding captions to the illustrations and really couldn’t tell whether they worked and this was an area I was particularly interested in testing.

After making amendments, I sent out the next draft to my OCA student group. Their feedback was excellent. The key points are reproduced below with my responses to each.

1I think the captions are too squashed in the little strip at the bottom. It feels as if the layout makes both drawings and text constrained in the space and unable to breath properly. Maybe you could scale the drawings down a bit on each page?This was intentional. The purpose was to create a handmade ‘zine’ effect.
2I think the font you have chosen doesn’t match the drawings, it seems very conservative in the face of your very contemporary style.Same answer as #1.
3Two typos: nauseous instead of nausious and memento instead of momento.Lesson – proofread carefully.
4Like the yellow of the covers – much needed at the grey beginning of a lockdown February.No action.
5Really like the  frieze-like frontispiece – makes me think that this is a book-like object, rather than just a scroll of pages. So… should they be extended into a double-spread that is everything you see when you open the cover? The current document is caught between a physical booklet and a scrollable PDF. Decision – assume printed booklet. Extend repeat pattern across double page at front and back of document.
6(And could you create a semaphoring alphabet of them, not necessarily here, but somewhere?).Lovely idea – one to add to the backlog.
7The people/observation/storytelling venn made me think that everything else is representational when I went through the scroll for the second time.No action.
8pp.4 – 8 (smoking to catch a few Z’s). Good – like what you’re doing with the subject’s gaze/awareness of being observed by the viewer of the images. No action.
9Text works, but could do with another edit, perhaps: ‘in the ashtray provided’ works better for me than ‘in the provided ashtray’ for example. Should everything be ing-ing? Not sure.  Catching a few Z’s works; but how much does Cottaging change the reading of the image?Changes made as suggested.
10 like of an ‘about the author’ at either the beginning or ending. The five illustrations seem to form part of a community – are you part of it, or an outsider, observing? Some context about you would be nice I think…I like this. Will add and ‘about the author’ page as part of a double page spread with the venn diagram to provide the WHO and the WHAT.
11Spell Check! – it’s nauseous; and, if it isn’t a misspelling, I’m not sure if ‘Whistful’ for wistful works as a play on words… Spelling error. Changed to ‘wistful’.
12Also, a contents page might be a nice idea – the opening is obviously structured, but it sort of breaks down after that. Quickies, I thought was going to be the start of a series, but then I realised that quite a lot of time/effort had gone into a lot of the images before what I took to be the next section (Documentary History & Commentary – sp. again!).This points to the weakness of the portfolio. At the moment there are two voices. This is a gap that I need to fill by crashing together a developing visual style (expressed in the figure drawing, with the more considered work) during Level 3.
13I like the catalogue of styles in this bit though. And the contrast between the words, and my reading of the subject’s gaze/expression in Well-Bred. Whistful, Thoughtful & Grumpy remind me of 70s Hockney, I think. Assume the bearded block in the hat is Grumpy though, in which case it maybe should be Whistful, grumpy and thoughtful? It’s really interesting how you’ve done the Memento (Sp!) Mori in reverse chronology. You could hint at the way Manga run back to front, by doing a double spread of these, which would allow the pictures to be viewed bigger too, possibly with the black boxes for the more recent months expanding as well…The Memento Mori is a 6-page comic strip. Based on this feedback I’ll make this a double page spread (page 1 and 2 of the original work).
14Some of the text [on the Swedish Captain page] (another double spread?) you had – or was it just said on zoom –  would help the uninitiated get more out of it though.I tried adding the full text and image version of the illustration but the square format doesn’t work as either a double page spread or single page.
15The two diary entries are strong as well – possibly giving you an entry into providing your own narrative to illustrate…No action
16Is the last page scanned pints, or have you mocked up a print effect?These are combination prints: woodcut and drypoint.
17Magazine character works very well. Maybe present it on double sides like a real magazine? A wrap around cover is a really nice idea. The problem is that it won’t work in an electronic PDF format. Definitely one for a printed version.
18 Effectfull cover, can easily be imagined on the „Zeit Magazin“, a German magazine published together with the weekly newsmagazine „Die Zeit“. I even found an example in a similar yellow: action – nice reference. Add this to research backlog.
19Yellow: effectful but maybe chose a warmer tone? Together with black its effect is slightly aggressive.I quite like the more aggressive ‘bite’. No action.
20The captions but they are playful, associative, ambiguous, seem to thoughtfully playing with double meaning etc.No action.
21„Who’s Hugh?“ works very well, but: Who is Hugh? I am not sure if resp. what the images present of you as a person. A written part would be good.A similar comment to #10. Written ‘about the author’ paragraph added.
22Written & illustrated“ -> for me the other way round would be more coherentAccepted. This is a better formulation for a visual portfolio – change made
23I am wondering why there is the series of nudes on the second page and the kind of logo only on the third. This appears not coherent to me.Agreed. This should be resolved by adding the 2-page nude figures (#5) and the ‘about the author’ section (#10)
24I find that there is an imbalance between the number of strong figure/portrait drawings and the other illustrations (documentary, urban sketches, illustration etc.). It is nearly 50% portrait/figure vs. 50% of the others while the „content logo“ on page 3 indicates 1:1:1.Accepted. This is the same issue identified in #12.
25It’s not clear to me, which target group you are addressing? The main figures/portraits have an obvious excentric sexual connotation – you should consider if this goes together with whom you address.Another great observation. The brief specifies ‘the tutor’ as being the audience. I have deliberately designed it to extend to a more general audience. I think this is the same point as #24
26You could consider a kind of dramaturgy like for a story, book etc.
27To me the pieces in the second part are more appealing than in the first part, as they are less obvious and involve the viewer more than the figures. The reason might just be that I did figure drawing and modelling for many years and am a bit saturated, but I would say they the more documentary/storytelling pieces offer more room for the viewer to get in contact with the scenes while the eccentric figures tend to overwhelm you or are a bit obtrusive.Accepted. This is another observation where the root cause relates to not currently having a balanced enough portfolio. This is one of the objectives for me during Level 3.
28Also some pieces in the second part make me wonder about techniques: I particularly like the very last one with its print like character and am wondering if you do the drawings on a pad or with traditional material. I think techniques, material, and maybe size should/could be added in the portfolio.It’s interesting that this question came up in #16. I am undecided on this. Does an illustration portfolio need techniques and materials information or is it stand alone?

The final artwork

For the purposes of this assignment the output format is a PDF in a ‘spread’ format, although the design is for a physical booklet.

Locate your practice

The intersection in the centre of the venn diagram sums up how and where I locate my practice.

Illustrators I admire and/or take inspiration from

Melanie Reim – New York based reportage illustrator. What I really like about her work is that very often the storytelling or narrative in her pictures are driven through the people/characters located in a place. This emphasis is something I would like to achieve in my own work.

Fig 2 – Melanie Reim, Lower beach Saturday

Olivier Kugler – London based illustrator. I love the documentary approach he takes to the people and places he covers. His combination of words and pictures derived from extensive research and created digitally are very distinctive and work brilliantly in an editorial context.

Fig 3 – Olivier Kugler’s illustration from his book about the experience of refugees, Escaping War and Waves (2018)

Jonathan Twingley – New York based illustrator. His visual language is based on closely observed figure drawing that incorporates a level of caricature to create narrative. His drawing uses pen and ink, (Lamy fountain pens), combined with splashes of colour using mixed media that can either be applied quite loosely or in a very controlled manner. His image design is meticulous. The results are amusing, cutting, engaging and all have a strong sense of place: New York or America.

Fig 4 – Fisherman’s wharf with Dilone and Dylan (2018)

Varya Yakovleva – Is an illustrator based in Moscow, Russia. For six years, she studied painting at the Gerasimov University of Cinematography as an art-director of animation and for two additional years, she worked as a director of animation at the school-based studio Shar. I really like her inventive visual language and her focus on people and character to provide narrative.

Fig 5 – A screenshot from Varya Yakovleva’s Instagram account (2020)

Reflect on how you work and how you learn

How I work

How I generate ideas and visual outcomes: My approach to visual problem solving is quite systematic. Although it adapts to the size of the problem, the nature of the brief, and myriad other factors, it broadly follows the same pattern.

My creative process defined during Assignment 5 Rethinking and realising

How I learn

Key learning moments: There are a number of key moments and lessons that I can point to.

  • The point at which I decided I was an Illustrator not aspiring to be Illustrator.
  • When I saw the interview with Ira Glass on ‘Taste’. It was so inspiring and made me realise that my own personal experience of making work was absolutely normal, and that in order to progress I needed to do a lot of work.
  • Going on an Urban Sketching Bootcamp in Prague run by  Melanie Reim and Veronica Lawlor. In order to tell stories using images, I learned ‘design is most important‘.
  • Realising that risk taking and failure are essential ingredients to developing as an illustrator.

The kinds of challenges I respond to:

  • I seem to learn best when outcomes and clear and the learning is structured. I find workshops a particularly productive format.
  • I benefit from working with others in situations where I can share and develop ideas interactively.
  • I like responding to situations in the moment, at speed, reacting directly to what is in front of me.

Identify what’s next

Overall outcome: I will have succeeded as an illustrator when the work I make generates an income AND I pivot away from my current job into a role that fully utilises visual skills.

The kinds of projects I’m interested in developing:

  • Self-published book
  • Editorial (reportage)
  • Book illustrations
  • Exploring a theme through a series of woodcuts/silkscreen prints
  • A project that explores social media/digital
  • Visual thinking – using illustration/visual communication within an agile transformation context

Knowledge gaps: Refer to my practice research backlog for a full list of knowledge gaps/research opportunities.

  • Dip pens on location
  • Figure drawing with movement
  • Watercolour/working with colour
  • Handwritten typography
  • Using Illustrator for visual thinking
  • Analogue/digital hybrid – exploring the creative capabilities of Illustrator

Technical skill gaps:

  • Rostrum photography
  • Adobe Illustrator – course in-progress
  • Use of watercolour
  • Use of gouache

Research practice:

  • Identify new themes and subjects
  • Identify new projects


  • Testing the personal statement booklet with fellow OCA students was a really valuable part of the learning from this assignment.
  • It is interesting to me that the booklet has two parts and two voices. The first consists of figure drawings and portraits that I think most effectively demonstrate my developing visual style. The second includes OCA exercises and assignments. This is the more ‘finished’ work. I think my immediate next steps will involve crashing these two things together. In other words, applying my newly developed visual style to subjects, themes and projects that I find interesting.


Glass, Ira A interview talking about ‘Taste’ (2009) At: (Accessed: 08/02/21)

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – @paulcopyrightdavis (2021) A screenshot from the Instagram account of @paulcopyrightdavis At: (Accessed: 07/02/21)

Figure 2 – Reim, Melanie Lower beach Saturday At: (Accessed: 08/02/21)

Figure 3 – Kugler, Olivier (2018) Escaping War and Waves At: (Accessed: 08/02/21)

Figure 4 – Twingley, Jonathan (2018) Fisherman’s wharf with Dilone and Dylan At: (Accessed: 08/02/21)

Figure 5 – Yakovleva, Varya (2020) A screenshot from the Instagram account of @varya__yakovleva At: (Accessed: 07/02/21)

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