Michael Kirkham

Lecturer, University of Dundee


Michael Kirkham

Michael Kirkham

The Value of Exploring the Art Director - Illustrator Relationship to Illustration Students


The Art Director-Illustrator relationship is the context in which all commercial Illustration projects happen but it is rarely explored in the teaching of the subject. This study investigates whether Illustration students could benefit from a dedicated focus on the Art Director [AD] role and the AD-Illustrator collaborative process.

A series of experimental teaching projects were run where the lecturer played the role of AD. Evaluative discussions were held with participants throughout to compare and contrast the AD-Illustrator relationship with the Lecturer-Student relationship. Interviews were carried out with a prominent AD to establish the industry view of the AD-Illustrator relationship and the transferable skills required of an AD. Those were mapped onto lists of desirable transferable skills for graduates as published by government and industry bodies.

The study found that the AD-Illustrator relationship models, and can therefore be used to teach, valuable transferable skills such as collaboration, relationship building and communication. ADs’ viewpoints on the purpose and application of illustration were found to be distinct from and complementary to the traditional view of the discipline within higher education.

The results indicate that a more developed understanding of the AD-Illustrator relationship would better prepare students for the professional role of Illustrator and provide them with valuable transferable skills should they choose to pursue another career path. Further research projects are planned to test the hypothesized benefits of teaching the activity of Art Directing to Illustrators.


Michael Kirkham is an illustrator and educator. In his professional role he works internationally for clients including The New Yorker, The Guardian and Faber & Faber. In his academic role he is a lecturer and researcher at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee.

A central theme in his work is the depiction of the emotional experience of spaces. Referencing the work of Giotto and other Proto-Renaissance artists, he plays with multiple viewpoints and an expressionistic use of scale. He combines a background in screen printing with digital techniques to craft his complex yet concise imagery.

His teaching practice is the meeting point of his extensive industry experience and his central belief in the value of whole-hearted creative exploration. Drawing, in the broadest sense, is held in the utmost importance as he sees this as the primary means by which students can gain access to themselves.

Michael graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2006 and has been represented by the Heart Agency in London and New York since 2007. His work has been recognised by the Association of Illustrators, American Illustration, Graphic Design USA, Deutsches Architekturmuseum, D&AD and the V&A.