My year as an illustrator in residence - Jessica Hartshorn

As I sit in my studio creating the final Sporting Heritage resource for the Hidden histories Illustrated project, I begin to reflect on the past year.

It has been the first long term residency for me since becoming a freelancer two and half years ago and I feel extremely privileged to have had such a positive experience.

In October 2020, the funding for The Hidden Histories Illustrated project was granted by Arts Council and I set to work in partnership with Sporting Heritage CIC and 50 sporting museums. My task was to innovatively show heritage through 8 illustrated online family resources for each school holiday.  We aimed to not only provide invaluable free activities, but also connect museums, sharing their untold stories of women in sport, disability in sport and unusual objects.

I began by carefully crafting a yearlong schedule, calling out to the organisations through Sporting Heritage for objects or stories linked to each resource. This was followed by an intense couple of weeks per resource creating the vibrant illustrations in acrylic paint, scanning, and digitally refining to create the final activity. This was then passed to an access and disability consultant to check and advise, before going live on the Sporting Heritage website. The organisations and museums involved also shared and distributed the link to the webpage for families to enjoy.

As soon as one resource was complete, I was onto the next one, using what I had learnt, striving to develop something new and different.

There have been a range of different of highlights as part of the project including seeing the fascinating collections drop into my inbox. From 18th century women’s fencing jackets, a statue of Dr Guttmann the creator of the Paralympics, through to inspiring stories of women in sport through the ages. It was exciting to paint these intriguing objects and people and then bring them to life.

I also enjoyed working with such a variety of museums from all over the country from the World Golf Museum, Wheelpower, the National Horse Racing Museum to smaller archives such as the Squash archives. Having a small insight into diverse collections and learning about their venues has inspired me to visit a range of places across the country, with my own family.

Build a 3D Sporting Museum Title and photo of constructed modelWhen planning the eight resources, I tried to create engaging and interactive activities in response to the themes and objects I received from each museum.  As a result, I varied the programme from cut and stick, colouring in, building, and constructing a museum, through to digital games. We created a Christmas themed activity, Paralympic digital jigsaw, through to dress an athlete with a sporting fashion focus. I also responded to feedback from the public, which influenced the future activities created. My favourite artwork was without doubt the female sporting heroes’ top trumps inspired game. The artwork was challenging but very rewarding and I was really pleased with the illustrations.

The whole year has been a huge learning experience but here are a few which stand out. An element of funding was allocated to training, development and purchasing resources. An important and crucial learning curve in the project began right at the beginning of November, when I purchased the programme Abode Illustrator. This is one of the industries leading design programmes and I hit the ground running learning how to create visually pleasing graphics. This was the most difficult part of the project, as it took me a lot longer than expected to achieve the end result for the first resource. I remember getting closer to the deadline and the file was so huge that it wouldn’t send, even with We-Transfer, and I was at a complete loss at what to do! I rang all the graphic designers I knew to get advice and managed to compress the file. I am in awe of how much I have fast tracked my learning in less than 12 months and feel immensely grateful to all of the graphic designers who have kindly advised and supported my journey. What an amazing creative community! Throughout the project I also challenged myself further by venturing into basic gaming templates, working with a company called Interact to create online games, which proved very popular.

illustrated collage of famous sporting women.Working on the female sporting heroes was another big learning curve, particularly in the area of copyright. Although I had a pretty good grasp of this before the project, I was really tested, as I was working from photos of sports women which the sporting organisations sent to me, and many smaller organisations didn’t have or know if they had copyright. After a consultation session with the Association of Illustrators I felt far more confident with the legal side of using photos as a reference for illustrations and the details of out-of-date copyright images. This knowledge has proven useful when working with other clients too.

The final major learning curve within the project was working with an access and disability consultant for the year. We would meet regularly at the development stage of each resource to run my ideas past her and explore potential issues or changes. She then checked the completed resource for any final feedback. This process has been important in the accessibility of the resources. We designed large print versions where needed and these were uploaded alongside the original resources, rather than being an afterthought. Where possible, I used the size 16 font on the main resource to avoid creating two documents and making it accessible to all. I learnt which colours and fonts not to use, to keep graphics simple and not overlap text over two colours. We realised that the gaming software didn’t have the audio descript function, therefore I created additional supporting quiz questions or extra information featured in the game as a large print download. It really highlighted to me how inaccessible most family resources are (even basics such as large print are only available if you ask) and that we have such a long way to go as a sector to ensure truly accessible programmes are mainstream.

I have really enjoyed my experienced working along side the fantastic Sporting Heritage team and I am inspired by their passion and determination to support the sector and bring awareness to Sporting collections of the past.

Looking back, I feel I have fulfilled the brief of the Hidden Histories project by creating illustrations inspired by the sporting heritage collections and turning them into unique and fun resources for all the family. The unique collaboration with the various sporting organisations has enabled me to create a one of kind programme of activities which can be used beyond the project. I feel very proud that my work has enabled families to remotely learn about the different national sporting museums across the country and their incredible collections.

I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds beyond the project and hope to continue to share heritage with the new partnerships I have made. Watch this space.




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