As part of the development project at Wellcome Collection, a temporary wall had to be erected between the permanent galleries. We wanted this wall to be used in an interactive way so decided that each week we would start a conversation with our visitors, both in the gallery and online (via Twitter and Facebook). The idea is as follows.
- We ask a question. For example: “what do you want to happen to your body after you die?”
- You respond. For example: “I want my body to be covered in breadcrumbs and pecked apart by sparrows.”
- Some of the responses are turned into a drawing on the large whiteboard on the temporary wall and shared online.
I took on the role of illustrator with both enthusiasm and nervousness. Drawing “live” in the gallery was a slightly daunting thought. I hadn’t really worked on a large scale like this since university (where I had made large banners of Easter Eggs – it’s a long story) but I thought the discipline would help my drawing abilities. I was right: I found it difficult to know what scale to draw everything at first and I’ve had to draw things (such as Robocop and a Lamborghini) that I would probably never have drawn in my own practice.
Every Wednesday I check the responses on Twitter and in the gallery to see what kind of answers people are giving and note down my favourites. Sometimes I can’t fathom how to render great answers; sometimes the ones that seem easiest to draw are not the most inspiring. The ones that usually make it into the final drawing are interesting or surprising in themselves; I feel I can riff off those responses or use them in a silly pun. I struggle to know how daft to be. I’ve been trying for weeks to fit in something about how the Twitter logo looks a bit like the logo for Birdseye and that, perhaps, the hash symbol is in fact a frozen potato waffle!
Once I’ve chosen my favourites, I make rough sketches (sometimes using Google image search to draw the few things I can’t conjure up from memory). This either makes me feel confident for the next day or it makes me feel uneasy about how it will turn out.
On Thursday I have two hours to draw. I try to clean the previous week’s picture off at some point before as it takes about half an hour and feels like a motivational workout before drawing. I’ve never been to a gym, but I imagine this must be how people feel when doing a heavy bench-press before going home to watch telly. The drawing itself is usually fun; sometimes visitors chat to me while I’m working, which I like.
Probably the best part of doing Curious Conversations is seeing how people interact with it, both online and in the gallery. I feel like I’m getting to know the personalities of the repeat contributors on Twitter. In my daily role as a Visitor Services Assistant, I can be in the Medicine Now gallery and watch the visitors’ reactions to the drawing without them knowing it was me who drew it. It’s a good way of gauging honest reactions: I know if I’ve done an ok job if people come away smiling.