The Mighty Pen & the rebirth of Illustration

Do you have that one cartoon show, or even a specific episode, that reminds you so vividly of being a kid? Was it a classic Tom and Jerry, a dreamy Disney creation or a Matt Groening masterpiece? We are now at a point where the majority of people in the UK and beyond will have grown up knowing or loving at least one form of illustrated media. 

With the apparent link between powers of persuasion and our thirst for nostalgia, is it any surprise that illustrative art forms are becoming increasingly popular? The clarity and, to a degree, simplicity through which it incept an idea has a certain charm. Happiness can be instilled in an audience with the smallest of pen strokes and a helpful dose of bright tones. More precisely, it is the power of the message that it communicates so boldly that carries such strength in this medium.

This piece explores some of the incredibly talented illustrative artists who have blessed the city. Their own individual flair and creativity demonstrate the breadth of the craft and the intrinsic value today.

1. Katie Tomlinson

Katie Tomlinson has used the illustrative form to tackle one of the greatest social debates. On a higher level, it can be seen as a challenge to the whole system of employment, and what it means to be employed. It almost tiptoes around Marxist commentary. Choosing specifically to embody this plight through the subject of feminine objectification, Katie finds the clearest modern exemplar of this problem in the act of passive, digital prostitution: a cam girl.

The collection of work does not pass judgement either way. Instead it challenges the very notion of what is on sale in any given frame by the seductive red colouring that draws the minds eye to that of a paying customer. In one square of paper there is confrontation between freedom and coercion; sexual expression and exploitation; innocence and power. Before you, in reality, is an entire person. A portrait. Yet our attention is captivated by those licking lips, the figure-hugging fit of lingerie and the subtle framing of a thong on a young girl’s buttocks. 

2. Darren Stevenson

This discipline extends beyond the depiction of characters. It can also bring life to the inanimate. Darren’s appreciation of the beautiful detail in some of Birmingham’s flattest and greyest scenes, seeps onto the pages of his sketchbook. As a restoration artist, spending his day painstakingly returning the interiors of buildings to their former glories, Darren also takes his talent into the city. At Limelight, an entire wall of the space was decorated by his very own sketched-skyline of Birmingham. And whilst this scene may have limited appeal beyond the M42, it was certainly the subject of interest for all the guests. Of course we were big fans immediately, but we certainly weren’t the only ones. Through Darren’s own generosity, these small illustrations were available to guests as tokens for the evening to take home. There is something quite beautiful about having an artists impression of Waterstones as my bookmark. A piece of the city, uniquely captured by a shared love of the same place - something photograph could not quite attain.

We have been lucky enough to collaborate with Darren on other projects, such as “The Key to the City”. You can read more on that story here. And if you haven’t got one yet then you really must come to our next event!

3. Amy Powell

A quick question for you - are in a ‘creative’ job? Working as a designer or videographer perhaps. Then you will understand the effort that is required to build the portfolio that opens doors; to earn the reputation, and turn the thing you love into a paying job. Well, a member of the Project Birmingham team has managed to achieve this. 

Amy Powell, a graduate of the city, joined the Project Birmingham to help us coordinate the art and artists for many of our earliest events. Her energy and creative vision helped to deliver the work of countless other artists in the most restrictive confines and venues. She ensured the best side of an artists work was given the platform it deserved. 

Today, Amy will be working somewhere in the offices of CapGemini, the globally renown tech firm. She isn’t programming though. Amy works alongside project teams and clients to help capture the story of an idea. 


The quality of ownership is so incredibly valuable in business. That feeling of responsibility for the value of what you do is the catalyst that drives us to achieve something meaningful and innovative. When tackling the scale of challenges that CapGemini face, any individual could feel lost or feel disconnected from what they are achieving. This is where Amy steps in. Finding a way to illustrate a concept, a journey, a process, she can make the intangible tangible.

Her vibrant style has put her on the map with some of the best-known DJ collectives around the city. Who would have thought those doodles found on A3 gloss, dotted around the Hare and Hounds, would also find a purpose on the parameter of glass board-rooms? But it is not surprising. That same mechanism that tickles the part of the brain, encouraging you to invest in a ticket, is not a far-cry from the mindset that inspires that investment in any other shared goal. Perhaps Dan Roam is right to identify the ability to draw as a vital secret to success in business. 

The abundance of digital tools and artistic inspiration is helping to create this surge in such a powerful medium. Granted, we are also seeing incredible advances in other forms of digital media. Photoshop is almost an extension of word processing skills on a CV. An Instagram-mindset can frame any reality we choose. And the prevalence of video editing software means a holiday album has the look and feel of a National Geographic documentary. With this potential of photo and video editing tools, where fiction can be made to look like fact, we may all be happier finding answers in something that appears more truthful because of its beautiful simplicity.


If you want to follow any of these incredible individuals on Instagram (best place to see their beautiful work), links below:

Katie Tomlinson | Darren Stevenson | Amy Powell