Out and about on London’s transport network

Transport doesn’t just take people from A to B, it allows disparate parts of our city, and of our lives, to link. Our project LGBT+ Linking Lives aims at collecting stories about how transport connects LGBT+ lives and communities across our Capital. 

In this blog Gonzalo de Ana Rodríguez – Transport for London employee and member of OUTbound , TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network – shares how London transport has shaped his relationships and experiences. 

Gonzalo at his first Pride with TfL in 2015

As a transport planner and TfL employee, London’s transport network is the main theme of my career. But London is also the city where I have forged my identity as a gay man, and its transport system has been the silent witness to that personal journey. The staff network group OUTbound is the vehicle I use to reconcile those two elements of my identity and to reflect on the role that transport plays on people identity journeys.

I have numerous memories of London’s transport in key moments of my (gay) life. The day after I realised I was gay – at age 24 – I got on the Piccadilly line at Turnpike Lane to go to university like any other morning. It had been a surprise, but it did not change who I already was.

It was a bus journey in London that started a deep friendship that is now the most important in my life. My friend and I got on a bus at Regent Street to go to a dance ball. During the journey, I told him about my bittersweet experience of coming out to my family, while he sat and listened attentively. At the time, he had not gone through that himself yet, but months later not only did he tell me that my story had inspired him, but it was also obvious for both of us how important that journey had been for our eternal bond.

Gonzalo and his friend Davide doing a paso doble at the 2016 UK Fun Competition in the Rivoli Ballroom

It was a Tube journey that took me down to Highbury & Islington for my first same-sex ballroom dance class, which completely turned my life upside down. Since then, ballroom dance has become central to my life and my identity.

Another very special and exciting moment was when I came across Olympic diver Tom Daley on an eastbound Jubilee line train at Canada Water station. His mediatic coming out a couple of years earlier had coincided with my own realisation of being gay, and he was very inspirational to me at the time. In fact, I took the opportunity to thank him for that then and there! Funnily enough, a few months ago I saw him again on the Jubilee line.

Gonzalo and Tom Daley

London transport interacts with my queer identity in many more ways. This is the network that takes me to dates and nights out; to LGBT venues; to the parade formation area to join my OUTbound colleagues on the TfL float at every Pride parade.

Beard and makeup: Gonzalo’s way of redefining masculinity at Pride 2018

But the Tube also takes me to work every day, where I can give something back to this network which is so important to my identity and to others. Thanks to OUTbound, I can even do so from a place of authenticity and bring my whole self to work, because TfL strives to make every customer and employee feel safe, and we are encouraged to be authentic on our network and in our offices.

Documentary Curators at London Transport Museum want to hear about the journeys, sites and stories in which transport has played a role in people’s experience in London. You can submit your stories to us by emailing documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk.

Commissioning art posters for the Underground

By Michael Walton, Poster Art Commissioner for Transport for London and London Transport Museum since 1998. Michael was one of the judges for 2019’s Poster Prize for Illustration competition.

Transport for London and its predecessor organisations have been commissioning art posters since 1908, the first acknowledged art image being No need to ask a P’liceman by John Hassall.

No need to ask a p’liceman, by John Hassall, 1908

Frank Pick, appointed Publicity Manager for the Underground Group of companies in 1908, quickly set about applying high standards of advertising content, presentation and display on the stations. Pick recognised that low standards of adult literacy, static passenger revenue and station environments overcrowded with poor quality signage and advertising were destroying clarity. Good design in all its forms would help build a brand that symbolised quality and reliability, and of course stimulate more passenger usage.

Pick presided over commissioning art and design posters for use on London Underground and (from the formation of London Transport in 1933) on buses and trams. The images commissioned were primarily intended to inform passengers of events, places to visit, safety and behaviour messages as well as sometimes to add interest and intrigue to entertain and educate the travelling public.

Say it Underground with a poster, by Christopher Greaves, 1933

The variety of artists and designers commissioned, their artistic style, their experience, their gender and their reputation were of lesser importance than their response to the brief they were set. In a period where the only accessible media were posters, newspapers and magazines, the poster reigned supreme as a mean of mass communication and there was nowhere better for posters to be displayed and their simple messages understood by millions than on Underground stations.

It is acknowledged that the ‘golden age’ of posters ran between 1920 and 1939 (the period between the First and Second World Wars) and so many fantastic images by internationally renowned artists such as Man Ray, Graham Sutherland, Freda Lingstrom, Abram Games and Edward McKnight Kauffer were posted on the Underground.

Power – the nerve centre of London’s Underground, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1931

During the 1960s the importance of the art poster declined.  More people owned cars and televisions which in their different ways replaced the use of public transport for visiting cinemas, dance halls, shopping and days out in London or the countryside. There were more pressing priorities for the use of funds than producing ‘pretty’ images.

The art poster largely fell out of use from 1976 until 1986, when a new and enlightened Director of Marketing, Dr Henry Fitzhugh, was appointed and he revived the art programme with some stunning commissions including Tate Gallery by Tube and Highgate Ponds.

The Tate Gallery by Tube, by David Booth of the agency Fine White Line, 1987

With various intervening twists and turns of fortune, I was invited to carry on the tradition in 1998. I am a passionate believer in great poster art and its power to please, annoy or be hated, but never to be ignored!

We have a limited budget for poster commissioning, so it is with great care that we choose artists and subjects. The annual list of subjects reflects what are important objectives for London Transport Museum, Transport for London and the Mayor of London. Artists and designers we employ are drawn from the huge array of illustrative and design talent that London hosts. Photographic commissions are largely avoided to differentiate the overwhelming output of that medium from the far less used illustrative approach.

Once a topic and appropriate artist is agreed, meetings take place to explore ideas, formats, budgets and timescales for delivery and display and a full written brief is issued. The chosen artist is invited to submit a series of rough sketches and suggested colour palette and a further meeting takes place to explore the final options for production. When the artwork has been delivered, the next steps are to employ in-house designers to format the artwork into a poster with the approved text and logos ready to submit to Transport for London and City Hall in time for approval.

Continuing the great tradition of commissioning art posters, we also host the biennial Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition, in parternship with the AOI. This year’s exhibition, London Stories, is on display at the Museum until 14 July 2019. The winning poster, London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood, will be displayed across the Underground network.

London is the Place for Me by Eliza Southwood

Art posters still engage millions of London Underground customers and doubtless persuade some to take additional journeys to featured destinations. These posters are sold in London Transport Museum’s shop to raise revenue to support its charitable objectives, and as we purchase appropriate copyright in perpetuity, we can assure these images will be available for the public to enjoy, and the Museum to use, for ever.

I am so proud to help maintain this ancient, honourable, but still wonderfully relevant job!

Love your line – Museum Depot Open Weekend

By  Georgina Dobson, Public Programmes Manager

It’s all hands on deck as we gear up for our Museum Depot Open Weekend – Love Your Line on 27 and 28 April.

We are very proud of our Museum Depot in Acton, a huge building spanning over 6000m2 which serves many purposes. It houses 98% of our collection, sees groups of volunteers working on vehicle restoration projects, and it’s where our curators keep our heritage bus fleet operational, manage collection acquisitions and maintenance, and oversee the movement of trains for heritage vehicle outings.

Three times a year we throw the Depot’s doors open and invite visitors of all ages to come in and explore what we like to call our treasure trove. Our Open Weekends are best described as mini-festivals, offering a huge variety of fun and interactive activities, and opportunities for London lovers, transport enthusiasts and design geeks to spend an enjoyable, informative day out and have a good ‘nose around’ the 300,000+ objects in our collection.

April’s Open Weekend it’s all about tube lines, specifically the Victoria, Jubilee, District and Overground lines. What’s there to know about a tube line? Well as it turns out, quite a lot! Three of these lines are celebrating (rather important) birthdays: the Victoria line its 50th, the Jubilee its 40th, and last but not  least, the star of the show – the District line, who turns 150 this year!

You might ask how the Overground made the cut, being the youngest by far, and not technically a tube line. As with many things in London, as soon as you delve a little deeper you find there’s a rich history to discover. For instance, the Thames Tunnel built by Sir Marc Brunel is the first ever tunnel successfully constructed under a navigable river. The Overground running through it it’s a vital connection between north and south London. The tunnel celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2019, and guest speaker Robert Hulse, Director of the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, will be on hand to tell us more about this remarkable tunnelling project.

Ask people what’s their favourite line and they will not only give you an answer, but also a catalogue of reasons and often, quite movingly, the memories that lie behind them. The same goes for those who have spent their lives working on the lines. We are delighted to be welcoming some of these people to speak at our Open Weekend.

There are also many stories to be told from the periphery of the lines, in themselves places of opportunity. Mathew Frith from the London Wildlife Trust will talk about the animals and flora that thrive on seemingly inhospitable urban linesides; Agamemnon Otero of Energy Garden will speak of the communities who create flourishing gardens around Overground stations.

It’s not all talks however.  Colour psychology specialist Karen Haller will make you look at the tube map in a different way with association games, and Geoff Marshall will host a live World Cup of Tube Lines competition.

For those looking for a more hands on exploration of the lines, there are creative activities for our younger visitors in the Family Zone – with special mini tours of the Depot, badge making, dressing up, and soft play. Not to mention the chance to ride on a heritage bus or feel like a giant on our special miniature railway.

Visit our website to see the full programme and book your tickets, and see you soon at our Museum Depot!

Bus Fare: Stories of the London Bus

London buses are one of the city’s most recognisable icons. As well as a vital component of the Capital’s infrastructure, they are equally embedded into its culture. They have been written about, sung about, joked about, filmed, painted (and painted on), and celebrated in myriad ways.

In the book Bus Fare – Collected Writings on the London Bus, social historians Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr have curated a collection of newspaper reports, technical and transport journals, guide books, diaries, letters, poems, novels and non-fiction pieces, combined with freshly commissioned articles and interviews with leading Londoners of today. This anthology aims to capture the unique relationship Londoners have with their most important mode of transport – the bus!

On 21 March 2019, Travis and Joe will discuss the book at the talk Bus Fare: Stories of the London Bus.  Here is an excerpt from the introduction to whet your appetite.

‘Garden seat’ type horse bus (ca. 1881), London Transport Museum’s collection

To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a comparable attempt to draw together the diversity of writing on the London omnibus between the covers of a single book. This is not altogether surprising, as buses have been justly described as the Cinderella service of London’s various transport systems; despite carrying nearly twice as many passengers as the Underground, the bus network features far less prominently in public consciousness. Buses are just there, carrying their 2 billion passengers a year, generating little attention or fuss.

The surprising revelation of this project, however, has been the realisation of quite how many writers, including those with considerable literary reputations, have been drawn to write about the humble bus. Who would have thought an anthology that embraces such exalted figures as Dickens, Woolf, Morton, Hardy, Kipling, Bennett, Self and Sinclair could possibly be directed at such a workaday subject? Indeed, these writers display such an expert knowledge of buses and their operation that they sometimes even play a significant role in narrative and plot, rather than merely featuring as background colour.

B340 B-type motor bus (1911), London Transport Museum’s collection.

What is equally revealing about collecting together this material is how richly and vividly it portrays the daily experiences and discomforts of bus passengers and bus crew alike, creating a seamless unity of experience across nearly two centuries of London life. For although buses have undergone so much change over their long history – from horse drawn to motorised; from open to roofed top decks and staircases; and from private operation through public ownership and back to private again – nonetheless to read these accounts is to be constantly surprised and delighted at how recognisable and familiar so many of the details are of a journey on a Victorian omnibus compared to today’s version of the same.

It is also delightful to learn that the personal knowledge of bus routes and destinations and times that Dickens and Woolf and Bennett possessed a century and more ago were just as precious and hard-won an acquisition for the dedicated Londoner as they are for contemporary metropolitans.

RT-type AEC double deck bus (1954), London Transport Museum’s collection

Join Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr at the talk Bus Fare: Stories of  the London Bus, on Thursday 21 March 2019. There will also be readings by special guests John Grindrod, author of ‘Concretopia’; Patrice Lawrence, award-winning YA novelist, and novelist Rowena Macdonald. And we will be screening Joe Bloom’s short film ‘Ahmed Serhani, A Portrait: London’s Friendliest bus driver’.

Bus Fare, published by the AA, is available to buy in our shop. Travis and Joe will be signing copies of the book after the talk.

The event is part of the series In Their Own Words, celebrating our latest exhibition, Poster Prize for Illustration 2019: London Stories.

Does transport shape our experiences?

Transport doesn’t just take people from A to B, it connects us and allows disparate parts of our city, and of our lives, to link. 

Our project, LGBT+ Linking Lives, aims at collecting stories about how transport connects LGBT+ lives and communities across our Capital. We want to hear about the journeys, sites and stories in which transport has played a role in people’s experience in London.

In this blog Andy De Santis – Vice Chair of OUTbound , TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network – shares with us how London transport has shaped his relationships and experiences. 

Who doesn’t LOVE TfL designs?!

Even before working in transport, I could already understand its importance to the LGBT+ community. When I arrived in London, I initially met a varied group of friends on LGBT+ websites. We were an odd mix of people, from quiet guys in suits to the leotard-wearing nonchalant extrovert. We’d meet up at different venues every weekend – a welcoming break from our exhausting work life. This was our opportunity to be ourselves, free of shame or judgement as we got inside the Tube laughing and enjoying being together.

I don’t drive but I like to pretend I do!

Do you remember what it was like before the Night Tube? After a night out, everyone would drag themselves along to the bus stop to catch their night bus, like tired zombies in the night – ruined make up, dirty clothes, sometimes the stench accompanying someone who had partied too hard!

But the night bus was a place of freedom. Sexuality, race, gender, nothing mattered. Do you remember the big groups? They’d usually be the loudest ones, screaming as if to tell you they’d had such an awesome time. I also remember when they’d start singing – on a couple of occasions others on the bus would sing with them. This bizarre sing-a-long is perhaps what I miss the most from that time. Although I was a bit shy at the time, just hearing everyone around me singing was mesmerising. People united in song, all declaring how they had a good time.

Me and Judith, a very visible and proud bisexual, showcasing our rainbow lanyard.

Oh, the good times… all the connections, and that’s what transport does, isn’t it? It connects communities and people. I volunteer with a service helping LGBT+ people struggling with addiction and some come from outside the city, as support isn’t available in small towns. I could tell you many stories about me, but I’ll skip the “when I got the bus/train/tram”. Most of my experiences wouldn’t have happened without public transport. Transport connects us to people we care about. Isn’t it funny how we take that for granted?

Write to  documentarycurator@ltmuseum.co.uk if you would like to tell us your story about the role of transport in your LGBT+ life and experiences in London.  Visit our website to learn more about the LGBT+ Linking Lives project.

District line: a history in maps

The District line has turned 150 years old, and we are celebrating its past, present and future throughout 2019, as part of TfL’s District 150 celebrations. In this first blog installment, our curator Simon Murphy unravels the history of the District line through maps from London Transport Museum’s collection.

Westminster Bridge station on the first section of the Metropolitan District Railway, 1868

Ref. 2019/680

The oldest part of what is now the District line opened on 24 December 1868, from South Kensington to Westminster. This map was hand-drawn as an exact record of the railway and where it ran. It was standard practice well into the 20th century to use existing, commercially produced street maps of London and simply print the railway line on top, usually in red. Maps of this period were large and functioned as street maps as well as railway maps, but as they got smaller they had to be simplified.

Extension of the Metropolitan District Railway from Blackfriars to Mansion House, 1871

Ref. 2009-11501

As the title in the top left suggests, in the early years the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railway companies worked closely together. Four Metropolitan directors sat on the District’s board, and trains for the District were initially provided by the Metropolitan. It was expected that the two companies would merge on completion of the Circle line, but relations between the two companies soon soured, and they became bitter rivals.

District Railway map of London, 1876

Ref. 1984-51-761

The bright colours and bold sans serif typeface of this map make it look quite modern, despite its age. When unfolded, these maps could often be more than a metre wide, but they were still considered ‘pocket size’. Note how the river and a tangle of local railways is bursting out of the left-hand side of the frame! The company’s operating name no longer includes the word ‘Metropolitan’, but has been shortened to the District Railway.

Improved District Railway map of London, 1884

Ref. 1992-658

After much rancour, and with Government intervention, the District and Metropolitan Railways eventually co-operated over closing the gap between Aldgate and Mansion House to complete the circle. On top of the feud between the two directors, James Staat Forbes and Edward Watkin, both companies were struggling financially at the time. They were more interested in tapping profitable suburban traffic than in collaborating to provide an intensive urban service. Nevertheless, the ‘Inner Circle’ finally opened for public service on 6 October 1884.

Cover of the pocket District Railway map, Jubilee edition, 1887

Ref. 1984-51-760

The District Railway was a prolific publisher of London maps in the 1870s and 1880s. For Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, they replaced the usual images of local landmarks with a royal portrait and scenes of Britain’s glorious Empire. Benjamin Franklin’s maxim ‘Time is money’ features around the tunnel entrance at the bottom.

District Railway miniature map of London and environs, 1900

Ref. 1996-5849

Despite being half the width of the earlier folding maps, the District’s first ‘miniature’ maps were still quite cumbersome. This series of maps was originally designed by W E Soar in 1887. Additions and extensions were added to the design as they were built.

District Railway poster map, 1908

Ref. 1996-5849

This map is about the same size as the full-size Tube maps seen on stations and platforms today. Large maps like this were displayed outside District Railway stations from 1908. The District, and the three new deep-level Tube lines opened in 1906-7, are shown in bold lines on a simplified and slightly distorted map of London. The black lines represent the Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL) system. Other railways are indicated with faint grey lines.

First Underground-branded pocket map, 1908

Ref. 1983-4-2

This map showed all the underground railway companies on the same map for the first time, branded with the UndergrounD logo. It was prompted by the opening of the Franco-British exhibition at the Wood Lane exhibition centre in 1908 (you can see it marked on the left-hand side) which was hugely popular and attracted large numbers of visitors to London. The 1908 London Olympics was held there too. The Head of Underground publicity, Frank Pick, coordinated the production of the map, using a different colour for each line. The District has been green on all colour maps ever since. The UndergrounD brand with the capital U and D was another of Pick’s ideas.

Pocket Underground map, 1930

Ref. 1992-85

Fred Stingemore was a talented photographer, designer and artist who worked in the Underground publicity office. His elegant design was used from 1926 to 1932. It simplified the geography of the system, enlarging the central area and doing away with the street background completely. The dotted lines show the new Piccadilly line services that opened in 1932, running alongside the District in the west.

First diagrammatic Underground pocket map, 1933

Ref. 1984-51-204

H C Beck was a draughtsman working in the signalling department when he designed his first ground-breaking Tube map in 1931. It was initially rejected, but Stingemore encouraged him to make some changes and try again a year later. This time it was accepted, still somewhat reluctantly, but when finally issued, it was an instant hit with the public.

The map today: pocket Underground map, December 2018

Ref. 2019-131

Remarkably, pocket Tube maps today are the same size as Stingemore’s three-panel maps of the 1920s, albeit with a fourth panel for the key to lines and other information. To fit the furthest reaches of the Overground into the same space, the central area has shrunk again, and text is much smaller. The District has shrunk too, as many western sections originally opened on the District are now only operated by the Piccadilly line.

We will continue to celebrate the District line’s 150th anniversary all throughout the year. Visit our website for more information about the District 150 celebrations.

Where are all the women?

by Ellie Miles, Documentary Curator

In December 2018, we launched the collecting project Where are all the women? and asked the public to contribute their stories about female family members, ancestors or employees who may have worked in the transport industry in London, or across the United Kingdom, from 1800 to the present day. Here follows a little update on how the collecting project is going.

A storekeeper in the fitting shop at the LGOC’s engineering works during WW2

So far, we have been trusted with some remarkable stories which I’d like to share with you. We have heard about women who found that they were the only females working in an area at the time, whether that was twenty or seventy years ago:

“Mum said she worked in the ticket office at Waterloo station during the war. She was the only female employee in the ticket offices.”  – Ann Westfold, describing her mother’s work during the Second World War

“For a while I was the only female train operator on the Bakerloo line.” – Hannah Wood, talking about her job in the 1990s

Canteen workers being trained at Baker Street, 1968

We have a range of dates covered already, from the last of the horse-drawn era in the 1940s to the Jubilee Line Extension in the 1990s:

“Rose worked on horse-drawn vehicles at King’s Cross and St Pancras from the late 1940s until the 1960s… At only four foot nine inches and weighing six and a half stone, Rose’s small stature was quite a contrast to the large heavy horses she worked with.” – Margaret Palmer, describing her mother’s work

“I joined in 1998 when there was a big recruitment drive for the Jubilee Line Extension. Saw the advert for station assistant at Whitechapel station and decided to apply.” – Nicola Dinneen, describing the start of her career

Vic Roberts tells us she was a “driver, manager and then mechanic. I was part of the much unseen fabric that we women create.” She features in images in the Museum’s collection, and donated a set of photographs that she took of her colleagues.

Bus mechanic Vic Roberts cleaning her tools at Putney bus garage in the mid-1990s

There is still time to submit your story, and we would love you to do that so we can share it. Here are some frequently asked questions about the project:

I’m a woman and I work in transport – can I put myself forward?

Of course! We love first-hand accounts of your work and it’s great to hear from the experts.

Do you want stories that aren’t all positive? Sometimes work has been difficult and I’ve faced sexism in the workplace.

Unfortunately, many people face discrimination at work and have experienced unfair treatment, harassment and bullying. If this is part of your story, please include it in your account so we can preserve a full picture.

I’m a trans woman, is my story welcome?

Yes, we would be very pleased to hear from you, and grateful that you have chosen to share your story with London Transport Museum. The experiences of non-binary people and transgender women are under-represented in our collections and we would like to correct this. If you can help, we’d be delighted.

We look forward to hearing from you. Just pop over to Where are all the women? project webpage and fill out the form there!

LGBT+ Linking Lives collecting project

London Transport Museum’s Documentary Curators, Susanna Cordner and Ellie Miles, collate and collect perspectives on and stories about the role transport plays in contemporary London. Their work gives us the opportunity to bring new voices into our collection and to make sure that the history and narratives we tell reflect the experiences of different kinds of people.

In this blog, Susanna reveals what attracted her to this role, and introduces her latest collecting project, LGBT+ Linking Lives.

What first drew me to the role of Documentary Curator was the opportunity to seek out and share different kinds of social stories. Transport seemed a particularly potent subject through which to do it. Public transport acts as a great unifier of public experience. If you dare to look around you, next time you’re sat on the Tube (I grant you, this isn’t common practice, but it might be worth the risk), more likely than not you’ll find yourself framed by a diverse range of people, with a greater mix of ages, ethnicities, and orientations than the majority of other work places or public spaces can offer.

Public transport is therefore a social space, a social subject, and, simultaneously, the performer of an essential social role. Transport doesn’t just take people from A to B, it connects us – it allows disparate parts of our city, and of our lives, to link.

TfL Ride with Pride vehicles, painted in rainbow colours in support of LGBT+ staff network, OUTbound. Photo by Eleanor Bentall

We took inspiration from this for our current LGBT+ Linking Lives collecting project, through which we are collecting stories about how transport connects LGBT+ lives and communities across our Capital. We want to hear about the journeys, sites and stories in which transport has played a role in your LGBT+ experience in London.

Andy De Santis, Vice Chair of OUTbound, TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network

I’ve been collaborating with colleagues from OUTbound, TfL’s LGBT+ Staff Network Group, who have been so generous about sharing their stories so far. The subjects of these stories range from experiencing public transport as spaces of safety while transitioning, to the accepting community and revelry of the night bus, from feeling heartbroken heading home on the Tube to finding joy in staffing a station during Pride.

We will be sharing these stories over the coming weeks, and they will be the subject of a pop-up display at our upcoming Friday Late: London Stories on Friday 8 February.

Friday Late and Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories promotional image by Julia Allum

At the event, you will also be able to add your own love stories to a giant map of meeting places. In case you want to record your own piece of past or present there and then, we will also be hosting a pop-up oral history booth on the night.

The everyday can often tell us more about the human experience than the exceptional, and the role and impact of something as arguably humble but essential as transport on our lives deserves to be remembered. I look forward to hearing your stories!

Learn more about our Friday Late: London Stories event on 8 February, and book here.

Poster Prize for Illustration – Bringing London stories to life

Artist Julia Allum, winner of the Silver Award  in 2017 Prize for Illustration, reveals how she brought London stories to life in her stunning promotional image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition.

Mid-century poster design has always been one of my biggest influences and sources of inspiration, therefore I was delighted when London Transport Museum approached me to illustrate their marketing image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories exhibition.

I was told that the image would need to be multi-layered and encompass many narratives and stories. The task in hand seemed rather overwhelming at first, where to start? The list of stories that could be included was infinite. Luckily, I also work in a library, the perfect place to begin. I borrowed a pile of books, made lots of lists and began scribbling ideas.

Julia Allum’s promotional image for 2019’s Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories

I wanted the various elements and stories to be interwoven with one another, and thought pages of an open book would be a way of linking everything together. The design developed organically, the patterns and shapes created from the pages dictated the direction it took. The final image includes about thirty different stories, narratives, myths, landmarks and references to film and literature, plus a parakeet from my award-winning illustration for 2017’s Prize for Illustration: Sounds of the City.

‘Surprise City Sounds’, winner of the Silver Award in 2017’s Prize for Illustration competition

The majority of my illustrations continue to be simple geometric designs, so it was good to push myself out of my comfort zone with this brief for London Transport Museum. Not only has it encouraged me to experiment more and introduce a few more detailed pieces into my portfolio, it has also led directly to new commissions.

Artist Julia Allum.

I’m really looking forward to visiting the upcoming Poster Prize for Illustration exhibition to find out how other artists responded to the London Stories brief, and see their amazing work on display.

Visit Julia’s website to check out her work.

Our new exhibition Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, organised in partnership with the AOI, launches on 8 February at our Friday Late. Join us to find out who the winners of this year’s competition are, and immerse yourself in an evening of exciting talks, workshops, and activities to celebrate the many stories of our beautiful city.

Prize for Illustration: Notes from a winner – by Julia Allum

Julia Allum, winner of the Silver Award  in 2017 Prize for Illustration, and the artist behind this year’s promotional image, shares how her winning artwork was created, what it was like to take part in the competition and how her career benefited from it.

The AOI’s Poster Prize for Illustration was a competition I had been meaning to enter for quite a few years, but for some reason or another never got round to until 2016. When the call for entries was announced, a commission I was expecting had just fallen through and so I decided to put the extra time to good use.

The theme of the competition was ‘Sounds of the City’, and I wanted to tackle the brief from a different angle and produce something that wasn’t too obvious. After brainstorming several ideas, and being inspired by a visit to Kew Gardens, I decided to focus on wildlife living and thriving in the city. Parakeets seemed the ideal choice: not only do they have a distinctive, incredibly noisy sound, they also bring a little piece of the tropics to urban London.

‘Surprise City Sounds’

The final poster design was a long way from where it began. The image initially developed through scribbles. I then spent a lot of time moving shapes around, and  the design evolved from birds featuring within a cityscape to them being the main focus. I am fascinated by pattern, symmetry and repetition and enjoy exploring shapes and how they fit together to create images. What began as trees, slowly morphed into Transport for London’s roundel, and the final design began to take shape. Influenced by my love of Art Deco posters, my work has changed substantially over the years, it has gradually become more simplified and stylised.

When working on this design I was still in the early stages of this new style and a little unsure about it. In fact I was so unsure about my entry – thinking it was too simple to count as ‘proper’ illustration – that I didn’t tell anyone I had submitted it. It therefore came as a great surprise when I heard that my piece had been shortlisted; never in a million years did I think I would go on to win one of the awards!

In the eighteen months since, I have concentrated on producing work as much as I can; work I enjoy doing, and forging a style that is uniquely mine. In turn this has led to more enquiries and collaborations, including commissions for interior vinyl graphics, travel posters, editorial illustrations, a shopping bag for a national US chain and of course the marketing image for this year’s Poster Prize for Illustration. Furthermore, towards the end of last year I was in discussion with some dream clients, so I am looking forward to what 2019 may bring.

The Poster Prize for Illustration is such a wonderful platform for illustrators to showcase their work and further their career, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in organising it.

Besides receiving enquiries and commissions, the most important thing I took from the award was confidence and self-belief. This opportunity gave me the push I needed to take my career to the next level. Having my work acknowledged and praised by industry professionals, plus seeing my poster on the London underground gave me such a boost.

Visit Julia’s website to check out her work.

Our new exhibition Poster Prize for Illustration: London Stories, organised in partnership with the AOI, opens at London Transport Museum on 8 February 2019. On the same date, we invite you to join us at our Friday Late launch event, where you can find out who the winners are, and join us as we bring London’s stories to life, engaging the senses through captivating talks, workshops, and activities.