Last Saturday, I took a trip to the lovely Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft to see their current exhibition. Taking a Line for a Walk marks 50 years of John Vernon Lord’s life and work in Ditchling. We are shown examples from the wide range of his work, as a freelance illustrator and commercial artist: anatomy manuals, advertisements, guides for locksmiths; his working journals; doodles made during meetings; a famous rock album cover; many illustrations for literary classics, including the work of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Aesop’s fables, and James Joyce.
Lord trained at Salford Art College, and then at Central in London. He began work as a freelance illustrator, in London, in the early 1960s. The sense of excitement at being young, talented, in demand, and working in the arts in ‘60s London shines through the artwork and the information boards, which conjure Lord’s own reflections and reminiscences.
Lord moved down to Brighton in 1968 to take up a teaching post at the College of Art (now part of the University of Brighton). He was a talented and respected teacher, and continued to work as a freelance artist at the same time. To this, he attributes his meticulous recording of time, in particular, how long it took to complete each drawing, and especially the commissions. Precise times taken are noted alongside many of the pieces on show. Lord routinely carries a stopwatch in his pocket, and times both creative and mundane tasks.
Lord taught at Brighton from 1961 to 1999 and continues to lecture occasionally after an association of 47 years. He was a head of department, and Head of the School of Design. He was appointed Professor of Illustration in 1986, now Professor Emeritus.
Moving to Ditchling in the 1970s, he became a pillar of the local arts community. Around about that time, Lord improvised a story while out on a country walk with friends, to distract a boy who was bothered by wasps. Set down with words by Janet Burroway and illustrations by Lord, it became the well-loved modern classic, The Giant Jam Sandwich (1972). Highlights of the exhibition include drafts of The Giant Jam Sandwich. The book has remained continually in print since it was first published, and has been translated into multiple languages and sold across the globe. The drafts are shown alongside the original manuscripts, demonstrating Lord’s meticulous and painstaking approach to the process of illustration.
Ditchling Museum of Arts and Crafts celebrates a tradition of arts and crafts centred on the pretty village since the early 20th century. The permanent exhibits include, here in the village where they were made, a nationally important works by Frank Brangwyn, Eric Gill, Philip Hagreen, Edward Johnston, David Jones, Ethel Mairet and Hilary Pepler.
Taking a line for a walk also features illustrations for children’s books by Lord’s former students from the University of Brighton, including author and illustrator of the hugely successful Old Bear books, Jane Hissey and children’s author/illustrator, school library campaigner and reading champion, Chris Riddell. Taking a Line for a Walk runs until 31st October, and is highly recommended. The museum’s opening times are here.
A note on getting there… Ditchling is not well-served by public transport. There is a bus service (Compass Travel, Burgess Hill to Lewes service) but you would need to study the timetable closely and be very disciplined with your timings. Hassocks train station (frequent, direct train service from Brighton) is about half an hour’s walk away, down a scenic, quiet, and fairly flat road, with a good pavement all the way. Having moved east recently, I tried a different route this time, travelling by train to Plumpton station via Lewes. From the map, I estimated it to be an hour or so away, cross country, but after our recent rainy spell, the bridleways were so poached up by horses’ hooves, it was quite slow going – although beautiful and well worth the effort.