7th International Illustration Research Symposium, Edinburgh College of Art , took place November 10th and 11th 2016

The 7th annual Illustration Research Symposium takes the idea of ‘landscape’ as a starting point. Academic papers, visual presentations, interventions and excursions are invited to explore, map and interrogate the ways that landscapes are conceptualised and understood through illustration, both in contemporary practice and historically.

From topographic engravings in 18thc travel guides to pen and ink hand drawn maps in the end papers of classic detective fiction, the mass produced illustrated image mediates our collective understanding of place. In recognising a view as ‘romantic’, picturesque or even as abject, an illustrated image often lurks at the edges of our idea of landscape, prompting these taxonomies of place.

National and regional identities are depicted through illustrated representations of ‘chocolate box’ country villages, highland castles or welsh valleys. On biscuit tins and place mats, book jackets, wallpaper and food packaging these are images in everyday use forming the background to our daily lives.

Geographies of the last wild places- the prairie, the arctic tundra, the rain forest, the moon- exotic landscapes often encountered only via the pages of an atlas or picture book. Our popular awareness and understanding of these places is mediated through the commissioned, constructed image.

The landscape itself is often illustrated – think of the long man of Wilmington, and the ‘wild signs’ of graffiti on buildings, trees and stones. History is inscribed into the landscape, and read out from archaeological data drawings and ethnographic documentation.

Future landscapes are imagined through the para-texts of book, poster and colour plate. Science fiction illustration creates a set of cultural blueprints for a Utopian/dystopia vision on the horizon, but also creates spaces to enact contemporary anxieties about the natural world and our place within it.

The residing ‘genius loci’ or spirit of place is personified- for example in Studio Ghibli’s ‘night walker’, or the ‘Green Man’ who stalks through the forested collective unconscious of British folklore, the idea of nature as sentient, knowing and seeing, pervades the literary and visual cultures of landscape around the world.

Dreams and memories are often sited in particular places, and locating the inner landscape through illustration is a form of liminal practice connecting the imagined and the real. Conversely, illustrating using the materiality of place is a form of alchemical practice, sealing the world into an image, mustering a place into the picture plane.

Illustration both enables us to ‘see’ landscape and positions us within it, enscribing meaning and value into certain kinds of landscape, creating cultural habitats for personal and collective memory.