NorwichAOI Round Two: Another Full-House!
With out first event being speaker focused, we wanted the second one to be a bit more informal and hands on, more of a socialising opportunity than learning & listening. We’ve found so many fantastic connections and friends by immersing ourselves into creative groups and circles in Norwich, so naturally we really wanted to enable an environment were more people could share in this inclusivity!
Creative groups and networks are incredibly important to, not only an artists’ wellbeing, but to the freshness of their ideas, inspirations, and networks (I go off on one about creative communities in a blog post here). It’s one of the main reasons we chose to have our second event as a Drink & Draw. We wanted to project as much of a relaxed, informal, and judgement-free atmosphere as possible, allowing folks from all levels of professionalism, education, or simple interest to attend and feel welcome. A large part about organising and growing creative communities is to broaden the audience it attracts, an audience of just professionals can be intimidating, and just beginners can be inefficient, but a hearty mixture can help everybody.
With all of this in mind, the first step was finding the right venue to meet our needs! We needed it to be; big (since our last event sold out!), lots of table space, food & drink available, central Norwich location, and cheap! Our hunt was definitely fruitful and it’s all thanks to the beautiful Norwich BrewDog.
The venue was ideal! It ticked every body as well as being a visually beautiful place (had amazing burgers/veggie burgers too…). With the venue secure, we got to work on planning the evening itself!
It was, rightly so, suggested by the wonderful folks at AOI that a drink & draw event flourishes best when it has some sort of structure. As familiar as we were with the usual ‘turn up and draw’ style of drink & draw, we were all too aware that these evenings were normally with friends, so no awkward ‘break the ice’ moments. With a larger, public event like this one, some sort of structured activity would be the perfect way to help folks who might have come by themselves or might be struggling to mingle, to find their footing and feel more relaxed.
I have previously run many character design workshops across Norfolk and Suffolk in a wide range of schools and colleges, so I - as well as my team mates - were keen to include some sort of character design element. It’s easy, open, and accessible to anybody of any skill level or personal subject preference. We also wanted to create an activity that encouraged attendees to collaborate, so a group activity needed to be planned too.
Eventually, after many cups of coffee, distractions, biscuits, and more distractions, we had planned our two structured activities for the evening! Fiona even designed some amazing instructional handouts for each table! (above)
All that was left to do was get hold of the materials, hand out some flyers, and shift some tickets. We made tickets free for this event to keep it as accessible as possible.
I was initially worried that our first event being a sell out was a fluke. Maybe we’ll struggle to shift tickets for this one, maybe everyone is on holiday, maybe everybody’s celebrating graduation (it was graduation day for NUA!), but fortunately this was not the case as every single ticket was snapped up again!
Two sold out events in a row! Woo!
All that was left now was to wait for the night itself…
On the night
With a suitcase full of paper, pens, pencils, little pots, flyers, posters, and a billion other things (equating to approx. 2812 tonnes), we ventured through our Fine City to BrewDog!
Set up was surprisingly fun. It was so satisfying to get out our extra large roller banner, see our instructional posters and screens up on the walls, and fill every table with materials and inspiration. We’re growing incredibly fond of our ever flourishing meet-up group.
After we’d set up, the grand opening time of 5pm came and… it was quiet. A couple of folks wondered in, started doodling, said hi, but oh boy were we worried that it would be a quiet affair. Since the tickets were free, we knew we’d have a few no-shows, but we really were hoping to get it bustling a bit more.
Fortunately, our worries were misplaced as eventually the two rooms we hired started to fill up! And when I say fill up, I mean they were well and truly full. Every seat, every table, every surface, was full!
Now that the seats were full and drinks/burgers/chips/assorted carbs were in, it was time to get started on the activities we had painstakingly planned and were incredibly excited to see come to life!
This was our collaborative task!
Each table had a pen pot for their materials in the middle and each pot had a different theme. We centred the themes around different environments, e.g; pond, desert, city, rainforest, etc.
For an hour, each person sitting at that table had to illustrate their table’s environment, but for every 10 minutes of that hour they had to give their drawing to the person next to them for them to continue it!
Eventually, vast and incredibly unique environments started to form. The converging styles, inspirations, and concepts from each person created some truly amazing worlds.
Some were seriously considered, with accurate foliage, beautifully crafted creatures, and careful planning. Others were hilariously quirky and silly. It was so much fun to go around and look and what everybody was producing, I almost forgot to join in myself!
Once this activity wrapped up, we had an hour break for folks to wonder, chat, and generally doodle whatever they wanted.
Next came the character design!
At the bottom of each pen pot hid some folded pieces of paper, each with a prompt word. Words like; sneaky. ancient, fluffy, etc. Everyone on each table had to pick one of these pieces of paper to reveal their prompt word for their character design.
Using this word as inspiration, folks were tasked to create a character to live in the amazing environments they created in the previous activity.
Just like before, they certainly didn’t fail to impress.
Many-eyed beasts, cute fluffy critters, adorable fat seals, pond-dwelling robots, anti-capitalist heroes, we saw ‘em all! It was brilliant to see what a huge collective of illustrators can come up with when faced with a vague brief, a few pints of beer, and a room full of fellow artists.
Not only did we have the two structured activities running, but we also utilised the second, slightly smaller room, for some large scale group drawing. We spread large sheets of paper across two tables, scattered some pens, and left a static screen giving Norwich themed prompts to those joining in. By the end of the evening we had two huge, chocka-block pieces of artwork, full of everything amazing - and weird - about Norwich.
This was an incredibly popular room, with every seat full for nearly the whole evening!
Short answer: yes
Long answer: a resounding yes!
As this was our first event with free tickets, there was every chance that turnout would be low. There were also so many unknowns when it came to how best to coordinate an informal event like this and how best to balance the structured/unstructured time. We didn’t want folks sitting around not knowing where to start, but we didn’t want the activities to feel like an obligation.
Looking back on the evening, I can confidently say that we struck the right balance between the two and turnout certainly wasn’t something to worry about! We filled BrewDog to the brim!
Thinking about the next drink and draw (of which there definitely will be plenty more!) we probably wouldn’t have to change much in terms of the overall structure.
The venue was ideal, themed tables worked particularly well, two separate rooms with different activities was a success. Potentially, we’ll think up two or more different activities to keep the evenings fresh. We also discussed having some form of easy and accessible way for attendees to leave feedback, whether this is digitally (QR code leading to a poll, for example. Or another MentiMetre interactive slide) or hand written (suggestion box, guest book, etc.). This would really help us work out exactly what Norwich’s illustrator community would love to see in these events.
Feedback-wise, we received plenty of thank yous and “When is the next one!?” from folks as they were leaving, which was certainly a reassurance that the events are well received! As well as that, many people added to their Instagram stories throughout the night, tagging @Norwich_AOI and/or #NorwichAOI. It was so fun to see this insight into how people were utilising and enjoying the event. One particular repeat attendee, the infamous Owen Mathers, documented most of the evening with his fantastic reportage illustration!
Looking to the future events, the only thing I think we need to change is we need a bigger venue!
With both our events being entirely sold out - with waitlists for tickets! - it looks like we definitely have potential to expand already. We still have some pre-booked nights available at the wonderful Ideas Factory at NUA and BrewDog was not only a suitable venue, but a visually stunning one to boot, however we have definitely proven that we could fill much larger venues.
Expansion, creativity, and inclusiveness seem to be our core plans for the future of Norwich AOI. We’ve had such an amazing time organising, brain storming, and coordinating these events.
Of course, we owe all of these opportunities to the AOI who kindly handed off the reins of Norwich’s events to us, given us plenty of support with them, and generally been the ideal organisation for illustrators all over the UK.
Another massive thanks to everybody who came along to #NorwichAOI episode 2! You were just the loveliest bunch of people with so many different skills, styles, and creative voices. We really hope to see you all again at episode 3!