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#CuriousConversations at the Wellcome Collection with illustrator Rob Bidder


The Wellcome Collection's #CuriousConversations has been generating funny and bizarre responses from the public and every week these are illustrated by the talented Rob Bidder. We’ve seen the results but now Rob talks us through the process from start to finish.

As part of the development project at Wellcome Collection, a temporary wall had to be erected between the permanent galleries. We wanted this wall to be used in an interactive way so we decided that each week we would start a conversation with our visitors, both in the gallery and online (via Twitter and Facebook). The idea is as follows.

1.    We ask a question. For example: "what do you want to happen to your body after you die?"
2.    You respond. For example: "I want my body to be covered in breadcrumbs and pecked apart by sparrows."
3.    Some of the responses are turned into a drawing on the large whiteboard on the temporary wall and shared online.


I took on the role of illustrator with both enthusiasm and nervousness. Drawing "live" in the gallery was a slightly daunting thought. I hadn’t really worked on a large scale like this since university (where I had made large banners of Easter Eggs – it’s a long story) but I thought the discipline would help my drawing abilities. I was right: I found it difficult to know what scale to draw everything at first and I’ve had to draw things (such as Robocop and a Lamborghini) that I would probably never have drawn in my own practice.


Every Wednesday I check the responses on Twitter and in the gallery to see what kind of answers people are giving and note down my favourites. Sometimes I can’t fathom how to render great answers; sometimes the ones that seem easiest to draw are not the most inspiring. The ones that usually make it into the final drawing are interesting or surprising in themselves; I feel I can riff off those responses or use them in a silly pun. I struggle to know how daft to be. I’ve been trying for weeks to fit in something about how the Twitter logo looks a bit like the logo for Birdseye and that, perhaps, the hash symbol is in fact a frozen potato waffle!


Once I’ve chosen my favourites, I make rough sketches (sometimes using Google image search to draw the few things I can’t conjure up from memory). This either makes me feel confident for the next day or it makes me feel uneasy about how it will turn out.


On Thursday I have two hours to draw. I try to clean the previous week’s picture off at some point before as it takes about half an hour and feels like a motivational workout before drawing. I’ve never been to a gym, but I imagine this must be how people feel when doing a heavy bench-press before going home to watch telly. The drawing itself is usually fun; sometimes visitors chat to me while I’m working, which I like.


Probably the best part of doing Curious Conversations is seeing how people interact with it, both online and in the gallery. I feel like I’m getting to know the personalities of the repeat contributors on Twitter. In my daily role as a Visitor Services Assistant, I can be in the Medicine Now gallery and watch the visitors’ reactions to the drawing without them knowing it was me who drew it. It’s a good way of gauging honest reactions: I know if I’ve done an OK job if people come away smiling.

Rob is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection. You can join in with their #CuriousConversations by following them on Twitter and Facebook as well as commenting in person in the Medicine Now Gallery.

Rob Bidder: robertbidder.tumblr.com



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