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31st May, 2022

Renowned illustrator John Vernon Lord receives honorary fellowship from Kingston University at Kingston School of Art graduation ceremony


A celebrated illustrator, author and educator has been awarded an honorary fellowship by Kingston University in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Kingston School of Art’s internationally acclaimed undergraduate and postgraduate illustration courses.

Born in 1939, Professor John Vernon Lord has twice been named overall winner of the Victoria and Albert Museum Illustration Awards, first in 1990 for his work on Aesop’s Fables and more recently for James Joyce’s Ulysses in 2018. He has also been awarded the Moira Gemmill Illustrator of the Year and the Best Illustrated Book prize during a distinguished career that has spanned 60 years.

The esteemed artist has illustrated more than 40 books, published two monographs and is currently working on a collection of images from his notepads which is set to be published next year. His best-known works include children’s book The Giant Jam Sandwich, first published in 1972, and his award-winning edition of The Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear. He has also won acclaim for his accomplished work on several Folio Society editions and Artists’ Choice Editions.

His long-standing academic career has seen him lecture on the art of illustration both in the UK and internationally, alongside chairing the Graphic Design Board of the Council for National Academic Awards. He also holds the position of Professor Emeritus at the University of Brighton, having been Professor of Illustration at the institution from 1986 until his retirement in 1999.

Upon receiving the fellowship during a graduation ceremony held at Twickenham Stadium, Professor Lord reflected on the role he had played in helping launch the illustration course at Kingston School of Art in the early 1970s while working as an external examiner for graphic design. “There were a number of illustrators on the graphic design course and I was concerned they weren’t being taught by practitioners,” he explained.

“When I wrote my early report I recommended Kingston, then a polytechnic, develop a staff base of practicing illustrators and establish a full time post to help guide the illustrators. They took me at my word and appointed the late Brian Love to be the first course leader and it has gone from strength to strength.”

This 43-year association with the University has strengthened over the years with Professor Lord regularly visiting the Knights Park campus to impart his wisdom and technical mastery.

“I’m a great believer in helping students develop their individuality. The most important job of a teacher is to recognise that each student is an individual and to bring out their special qualities.”

Both his teaching and practice have been informed by a desire to introduce the reader to elements they may have missed.

“An illustrator’s work acts as a complement to the text and the images they create should serve to help clarify or explain to the reader aspects they might not be aware of. Literature moves through time, changing and developing as different generations bring their own experiences and understanding to the pages of a novel. In contrast, illustrations freeze time like a snapshot, so it is crucial they convey the right information or emotion.”

The leading artist’s career has benefited from many serendipitous moments, with inspiration often striking in unusual places and without warning – with the story behind the creation of his best-selling book The Giant Jam Sandwich a prime example. “I was on holiday in Devon with my family and some friends. We had a picnic and their two boys were hysterical with worry about wasps,” he explained.

“I quickly made up a story about wasps invading a village and how the community constructed a giant jam sandwich to catch them. If those boys had never mentioned their fears I would never have thought of the story, which stemmed from a childhood memory of my father placing a jam sandwich away from where we picnicked to distract wasps.”

Offering advice to graduating students, Mr Lord told of how self-belief and collaborations were key to a successful career. “Although an illustrator can work on their own for long periods, ultimately you are working with publishers, printers, typographers and designers,” he said.

“Studying art and design, you are learning techniques and approaches, but a lot of the work comes out of the air through imagination. We have to keep imagination at the forefront and embrace the opportunity to launch the careers of creative people.”

Kingston School of Art associate professor Geoffrey Grandfield said the award-winning illustrator had helped inspire generations of students and staff across several decades. “It’s a rare person who can truly make a difference to their profession in the way John Lord has,” he said.

“Through his practice and as one of the most respected, generous and intelligent academics in the subject, John has combined observation with imagination and been instrumental in launching many careers in illustration.”

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