We're exploring the connections and creations produced by the Royal Designers for Industry Mentoring Programme. We've already heard from illustration legend George Hardie about his experiences of mentoring illustration collective INK. Now Chloé Regan from INK gives her side of the story. INK began while Chloé, Rachel Gannon and Fumie Kamijo were studying at the Royal College of Art. They work on illustration projects in many different contexts, from the gallery to the shop window, and for clients such as Somerset House, the V&A and Topshop as well as self-initiated work. INK applied to have George Hardie as their mentor and have now been in touch with him for nearly five years. (Read George's point of view here.)
We were awarded George Hardie in 2007, the year that we graduated. Since then we’ve probably met up with him about five times, but we’ve also been in contact with him through emails quite a lot. Initially he came to the Royal College and we discussed more broadly the idea of working as a collective, because the three of us formed INK just before we graduated. We were shortlisted for the Deutsche Bank Business Award so that’s what gave us the idea initially. We just talked to him about our future development as a collective and the realities of working as a collective and then we went to Brighton where he teaches. It was initially more conversational really.
More recently, we had a drawing exhibition at a gallery in London and he provided a short article for our programme or catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, talking about the role of sketching and drawing within illustration and our particular approach. That was really nice way for him to be involved.
He’s always been really encouraging and really supportive and it’s felt more of a dialogue both ways. He’s often said to us he benefited from having insight into how a young, contemporary collective sees illustration. I think he sees what we do, which is a looser approach to drawing or image making, producing loose sketchy things as final commissions, as being unconventional and new. He’s been very supportive. He’s never been particularly didactic about how to do things; we’ve just had interesting conversations. In relation to the most recent project, the generation gap was there, and he saw the stuff we did as almost a little bit provocative, as our work is quite sketchy and has an unfinished look about it, but it brought up really interesting conversations about where illustration stands today. We’re different types of illustrators: he’s had lots of commercial success, and we’ve done more exhibition work, so some interesting debates have come out of our collaboration.
When we first started out we really didn’t know how it was going to pan out, because creatively there’s no right or wrong route. George was quite good initially throwing up ideas – like, “What if one of you becomes much more successful than the others?” We found it really invaluable to have that behind us, that link to RCA after we left, and obviously he’s from the Royal Designers, so it was great to have the validation that somebody of that calibre was supporting and encouraging us.
It’s nice to have somebody outside it to analyse what you’re doing and throw up ideas or suggestions. It was really helpful to hear from him about the business side and the realities of it all. It’s not like he ever said, this is the best way of going about things. It was more, talking realistically about the business side of stuff, talking about the potential areas for our subject matter, being in dialogue with other creatives, pushing where illustration could sit and where our work sat.
We see him as friend now. At times he’s felt a bit guilty about not being able to provide as much support as he could, but we still use him as a sounding board occasionally. Recently, having written the thing for the catalogue, he’s saying he wants to do more for us and be around more. It’s interesting that five years on the relationship is still developing and we’re still learning a lot from each other.