Report – Creative Keynote with Chris Riddell

Posted on: Thursday 07 July 2016 10:43am

A picture can say a thousand words. Or in Chris Riddell’s case, a whole library, as guest blogger Rick Adams discovered…


  • “Drawing is a meditation, a catharsis – a way to channel feelings”
  • Use a sketchbook to feel better, you don’t have to be an artist to do it
  • Go out and find stories that only you can tell


When the UK’s Children’s Laureate puts pencil to paper something magical always seems to happen. Today’s keynote – or ‘KeySketch’ – at the Crucible Theatre delivered a real-time avalanche of artistic charisma. Chris Riddell’s take on life, with only a pencil, created such heart-felt warmth and joy it roused a room-full of children’s media professionals to their feet for a standing ovation.

DSC8586From the moment he sat down,(before the audience had taken their seats) our nation’s much-treasured illustrator-laureate began using his incisive wit and a pencil to gently skewer The Teletubbies theme playing as the background music in the Crucible Theatre, and even to poke fun at himself.

In the time it would take most of us to blink he’d created page after page of gorgeous feasts for the eyeballs that were tweeted-out on the web before he’d even started the keynote. It was clear Chris has an artistic well deeper than the Mariana Trench! He’s a one-man publishing phenomenon as his genius ‘Goth Girl’ and ‘Ottoline’ book series attest. It’s enough to make any creative at the CMC weep into their laptop!

But there were no tears, only laughter as his warm and caring presence were felt by all through his thought-provoking, deeply intelligent and sometimes deliciously vicious cartoonography unveiled before us. It’s easy to see why his work has made publications like ‘The Observer’ worthy of their name. Hogarth would be proud…

Chris made a profound cathartic and healing impact on all watching in awe as he sketched live to a spellbound audience. Taking us on a visual journey from his childhood to his adult daily drawing routine we soared with him on the adventure. Witnessing, with accompanying pictures, the moment he discovered his mission: “that’s what I’ve got to do! Find stories!”. It was clear he was enjoying every moment, filling them full of playful mirth and joyfully off-centre observation. British satire’s flame is clearly fanned daily by Chris with just a pencil.

Earlier, when I spoke with him backstage, he was excited to be giving the minds of pitch-frenzied CMCers a much needed break by interrupting the ceaseless flow of words with inspiring and amusing images. On-stage he delivered his promise, even offering profound advice: “Drawing is a meditation, a catharsis,” he said, “a way of thinking things through visually, a way to channel feelings.”

He also shared his revelation: “I’m going to make myself better with a sketchbook!” – something he urged all of us to do: to grab a sketchbook and draw how you feel. Which, in Chris’s case, took the form of a picture of a Tony Blair behind bars on the day of The Chilcot Report.

What we witnessed was a masterclass, a priceless lesson on the power of a single image, how we can use it to unleash our feelings and bring our own stories alive. So, in honour of Chris, let’s all grab our sketch books. In fact, I’m starting mine right now:


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