Katie Jones-Barlow

Senior Lecturer on the BA Illustration course, Leeds Arts University


Katie Jones-Barlow

Are you repeating yourself? Katie Jones-Barlow (2019)

Close Reading: Ahistorical Illustrative Research


‘History keeps me awake’ Close to the Knives, David Wojnarowicz

This paper proposes new definitions and pedagogical methods for close reading. In hopes of challenging our illustration historicising techniques and assertions, this approach of reading demands we look again and look closer, while asking what it means to teach and think historically in this field. Illustration seeks to capture the paradox of the representable and the unseen. For this reason, its historical origins in illumination remain core to how the subject is taught. However, if we are asking illustrators to illuminate and to offer clarity on a subject, then shouldn’t we also ask what is being concealed?

Often, the illustration teaching environment presents themes of industry success and seamless forward motion. Such a trajectory reflects the arc of progress presented by modernity. But for queer and feminist histories, those subjected to vilification and suppression, this trajectory isn’t so straightforward. In her study of temporal relations in queer literary narratives, the theorist Elizabeth Freeman draws on the critical tool of close reading: ‘To close read is to linger, to dally’ she writes, ‘to take pleasure in tarrying, and to hold out that these activities can allow us to look both hard and askance at the norm’. Rather than submitting to intractable ‘history’, Freeman proposes engaging with close readings of the past for the unexcavated.

My paper considers Freeman’s methodology for illustration educators, namely how close reading might be used as a radical pedagogical tool for opening up, as Freeman describes, ‘promisingly ahistorical ways’ for reconfiguring illustration narratives. I present looking closer as a necessary alternative to the ‘story we already know’ (Perrier and Withers, 2016) and as a path towards a more inclusive and informed future illustration community.


Katie Jones-Barlow is a research-led illustrator interested in how instructional and architectural systems can be used to bring feminist and queer narratives to the fore. Katie produces bookworks and essays as part of residences and commissions, including Turn the Page: Collected Essays 2018 and the feminist journal Orlando. In July 2020 she was invited by RCA Illustration to contribute to a panel discussion responding to the question: ‘How Might Illustration Be Queered?’

Katie recently established the press Lap Books in affiliation with Leeds Arts University.