Drawing together to celebrate Bedford’s historic High Street

The Drawing Bedford Together zine. Image: Circus of Illustration
The Drawing Bedford Together zine. Image: Circus of Illustration

A series of new illustrations commissioned by a local artists’ collective will be available in a limited edition ‘zine’ launched at a free event in Harpur Square on Saturday, 19 August.

‘Drawing Together Bedford’ is a project that was launched by the Circus of Illustration earlier this year, funded by Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) initiative, Bedford Borough Council and Bedford BID.

Its aim was to collaborate with experienced and aspiring artists, pairing them as mentors and mentees to “nurture the creative industry in our town”.

The result is a beautiful and imaginative collection of original artwork that will be available as a limited-edition printed book, launched at a drawing event for all ages in Harpur Square from 11am on 19 August.

You can get a sneak peek here though…

‘Drawing Bedford Together’ collaborators

Among the artists taking part in the project is Marta Plizga, who said that she loved the collaborative creative process and that she knew immediately which town centre legend she wanted to illustrate for the zine.

“Taking part in this project I could meet a larger group of illustrators from our area,” said Marta.

“When I started working on the illustration, I knew from the very beginning who I wanted to illustrate. The whole project from the very beginning to the very end brought me a lot of joy and satisfaction.

“My works mainly depict people, they are a huge inspiration for me. I work in a quite spontaneous and fast way I like to capture the originality of each character and I work to make my style recognisable.”

“Thanks to this project I met many artists I had never known before,” said Marta.

“I think that many young and experienced artists can take inspiration from this project due to the variety of artistic styles as presented in the entire publication.”

Taking the Cat Café as his inspiration, Mo Rahman told the Bedford Independent: “As a relatively new resident to Bedford, it was great to dig into the history of Bedford’s high street and through that, a bit of the history of the town itself.

“I was able to get some great resources from the library and archives and through talking to some of the local stores.

“I actually went through various ideas and styles and worked closely with my mentee to bounce ideas off each other and provide regular feedback. My final image was an irreverent take on one of the newer businesses in the High Street, The Bedford Cat Café.”

Mo said he has found the creative community in Bedford to be talented, diverse and welcoming, saying, “it’s a thriving community that I am proud to be a part of.

“It was a wonderful experience working on the zine and I look forward to seeing all the amazing work from the other artists once it is released.”

Print-maker Maria Merridan said it was her fondness for Bedford which inspired her to take part in the project.

“I really like the art scene in Bedford,” she told the Bedford Independent. “Bedford seems to have some really dynamic creative folks who set up and deliver some original projects which reach out to ordinary people.

“I like art to be inclusive, not elitist, and I feel Bedford offers this. Personally, I have been able to sell my work at the Bedford Flea and Affordable Art Market, I have been involved in Made in Bedford Events and currently supporting the Pride of Place, Bedford initiative.

“There is an authentic desire to come together here, to support and celebrate diversity which I have not experienced working in other places. In Bedford, I feel involved, appreciated and part of something constructive and good.” 

For this Drawing Bedford Together project, Maria mentored emerging artist, Sophia Antoniou.

To research her piece, Maria walked the length of the High Street having listened to the Invisible Folk Walking Tour of Bedford High Street podcast and shared the details with Sophia.

“I was also able to give her feedback on her design and introduce her to other local creative events and groups to help her network.”

Maria admits that her initial impression of Bedford High Street was “probably a bit dismissive, however, walking and actually seeing and looking at the architecture and buildings and learning about the history, changed my impression completely.”

She said: “I really loved the Golden Bull clock, originally mounted on John Bull & Co, Clock and Watchmakers and decided to make this my focus.

“Sophia also chose this shop and our differing styles really complemented, my illustration was a bold and blocky lino cut and hers was a more linear and illustrative, digital piece. The contrast worked really well as a double spread for the zine.”

One of the youngest artists involved in the project is Rue Hughes who has just finished their A-levels.

“When I came across the zine’s open call on Instagram, I was finishing up my coursework for my last year of 6th form,” they told the Bedford Independent.

“It was the perfect project to start off my summer and branch into commission work. Plus I grew up in Bedford, and as I’m going away to uni in September to study animation, it was a nice opportunity to reflect on my childhood here.

“Working alongside [my mentor] Assim Heetun during this project was a great motivator and incredibly helpful too. I really appreciated having feedback from him on my piece as he noticed things I didn’t and encouraged its development, it was very validating throughout
the process and he was a wonderful artistic partner.”

Rue said that although they went through several design concepts, they ended up going with their first idea.

“It took me some time to figure out what I wanted to do, but walking around the High Street taking pictures, I was inspired by the murals and decided to make my piece either in a mural style, or celebrating the murals that decorate the street.

“For me this piece was a bit of an ode to the memories I have shopping around with friends, going out for surprise birthday meals and the
festivals held by the river.

“The fact I’m going to uni in September has made me feel even more connected to this illustration and what the zine stands for, and I’m really proud to be a part of it. This project has been a nice touchstone for me and I will look back on it as a marker of my progress as an artist.”

Lasting legacy

Asked what the group hoped would be the legacy of the project, Circus of Illustration founding member and the original designer of the Bedford Clanger, Marisa Straccia, said: “I hope as many people as possible get to see the zine and discover these talented artists.

“For some, it’s their first paid gig as illustrators. Hopefully the first in a successful creative career.

“I hope everyone will enjoy their inventive interpretations of the High Street and that it stirs up an appreciation for this part of our town in a fun, new way that will spark our imagination too.”

You can pick up your free copy of the Drawing Bedford Together zine at the Circus of Illustration’s inclusive doodling event in Harpur Square on Saturday 19 August.

Drawing Bedford Together graphic over a stylised photograph of the Silver Faces statue
Drawing Bedford Together. Image: The Circus of Illustration

“These zines will be free to all who participate at our launch event,” said Marisa.

“Pop by Harpur Square between 11am and 3pm, grab a pen and get doodling on our big drawing of your vision of the High Street. Be as inventive as you like.

“Get creative and you’ll be rewarded with a copy of this beautiful book. This event is suitable for everyone.”

Proving that there’s no limit to your imagination, fellow CoI creative (and also former Clanger designer), Kristina Bullen, said: “If we’re collaboratively drawing our dream High Street, I’d like a dinosaur petting zoo. Like a cat cafe for a baby triceratops.”

The Circus of Illustration was formed in 2011 and is comprised of Bedfordshire-based artists dedicated to promoting illustration locally.

They aim to offer a range of opportunities for both professional and amateur artists to get involved through exhibitions, attending one of their informal drink and draws or bringing the kids along to one of their exciting children’s workshops.

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