All ages: Illustrating Poetry with Chris Riddell

Former Children’s Laureate and illustrator extraordinaire Chris Riddell talks you through three gorgeous illustrations he makes of winning poems from The Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2019: ‘Explaining Memes to Keats’ by Nadia Lines, ‘The Drowning of Li Po’ by Thomas Frost and ‘my mother, with eight chemo sessions to go’ by Dana Collins. Give it a watch and get inspired to illustrate a poem or two yourself with our prompts below:

CW: The second and third poems deal with some difficult subjects (illness and death), with references to suicide 5:077:45 and cancer from 7:45, but the video is suitable for teenagers and up who want to learn more about illustrated poems. The video is captioned.

You can download Chris’s illustrations below and even colour them in if you like:

Get illustrating

Chris starts by talking about “the look of words on a page” inspiring him to illustrate them. The way a poem looks on the page is vitally important to how it works! We challenge you to find a poem and, without reading what it’s about, sketch or paint a response, based on how the words look on a page. Lots of short lines and short stanzas? Maybe you feel like drawing raindrops. Or pebbles on a beach. Really long lines? Maybe it’s a racetrack. Or outstretched fingers.

Now read the poem, or if you like, choose another poem to read. What is the mood of the poem? Is it happy, or sad? Funny, or serious? Do the words seem to bounce off the page, or is there lots of punctuation slowing us down?

Next, find what the central image of the poem. What is a central image? There’s no right or wrong answer, but Chris suggests it’s an image that captures the essence or intention of the poem. For instance, in Dana Collins’s poem, Chris chooses the green chair that the speaker sits in. But if someone else was illustrating this poem, they might choose an image of the mother cleaning. It’s totally up to you.

Draw your chosen image, bearing in mind the mood you’ve identified in the poem. Congratulations! You’re officially a poem-illustrator.

Calling all illustrators – send us your art!

We watched Chris drawing, and we had a thought. We know that there are lots of talented writers who are equally talented artists as well. Doodling and colouring is a great creative stress-buster – so we thought we’d ask you to make us some poetry colouring pages that we can share. This sort of thing, but with a poetry focus. Let’s see how this goes, shall we? You’ll need a piece of white A4 paper, and whatever black pens, pencils, paints or crayons of various thicknesses you have lying around.

  • Pick a poem – one of your own, or a classic one. You can use the whole thing, or an extract.
  • Think about how you want the poem or extract to look on the page. Do you want to write the poem out and then design around it, or do you want to use the shapes of the letters themselves as things that people can colour?
  • Aiming for a mixture of words and images on the one page, create a black and white design that can be coloured in.
  • You could concentrate on the words and letters, or illustrate the scene, or add patterns – whatever you like.
  • Remember that you need lots of smaller shapes and spaces for people to colour – big, plain images are less fun to colour in.
  • Add your first name and your age to the page.
  • Either scan it and send it as a PDF, or take a high res photo and email it to [email protected]
  • We’ll then share a selection of the pages on our website for other people to download and have fun with. (Do make sure you’re happy for us to share your poem / page in this way – our websites get millions of hits a year from all over the world!)