Loughborough University Teacher in Graphics illustrates book authored by the Children’s Laureate

Richard Johnson, Teacher in Graphic Communication and Illustration in the School of Design and Creative Arts has illustrated a children’s book which has been authored by Joseph Coelho, the Waterstones Children’s Laureate for 2022-2024.

Our Tower is a story that follows three children living in a tower block as they embark on a fantastical adventure which helps them see their home in a new light. A deeply personal story to Joseph, that is drawn from his own experience growing up in a tower block and looking for adventure. The story is a celebration of, and a reclaiming of tower blocks as a place where magic and adventure can happen.

Image: Exhibition by Richard Johnson

Speaking of the development and inspiration for his designs, Richard says:

“It was an honour to work with Joseph, bringing his poem to life. From the moment I read the text, I knew the book was very special. I think a lot of Joseph’s work is autobiographical, so it was important that I captured a sense of Joseph’s personal story in the illustrations. I conducted a lot of visual research when developing my concepts. Joseph sent me photographs of his childhood, which were useful to get a sense of the place. I researched architectural details, the diversity of the people that lived there—and listening to Joseph’s stories, which all helped me to shape the story-world.” 

Image: The Watchers sculpture by Lynn Chadwick

Richard continues to say:

“On meeting with Joseph for the first time, I noticed a photograph of Lynn Chadwick’s sculpture ‘The Watchers’, pinned to his office wall. I knew Joseph had previously written a poem about the work. We chatted for a bit, and he told me the sculpture had played a large in his childhood adventures, growing up on the Roehampton estate. I was also very familiar with the statues, as they stand on the Loughborough University campus… watching. This was enough of a coincidence for us to make a connection and for me to bring the sculptures into the illustrative story. They became a metaphor for the three children in the book.”

Richard’s interest lie in the unbinding of the traditional children’s book form, reconstructing visual stories through multi-panelling and layering of drawn imagery that explores spatial, temporal, and empathic narrative relationships. Our Tower also formed part of Richard’s output in year one of his PhD.


Image: Richard Johnson and Joseph Coelho

Joseph said of working with Richard:

"Richard has done a magnificent job, I love the warmth and the magic of his illustrations, I love the details he has included, and so lovely to see his version of The Watchers Statue by Lynn Chadwick. I think the comic book style framing and overlapping works brilliantly it feels like an advent calendar with gorgeous surprises on every page. 

The green man and the hand-over of the magical stone feels like a real moment of wonder and splendour and the change in orientation as they make their way back out of the tree feels so right. And to have that then followed by a spread that shows us both the block through the stone and the estate simultaneously upside down is genius, it makes me think of viewing something far off through a raindrop and the resulting inversion that that creates. 

 The return to the block feels very exciting and the change of perspective as we look down on the children is wonderful, being both architectural and filmic in nature. It is so great seeing community blossom here as we feel the impact of the children's journey affecting everyone, I adore the way that nature is all over the estate by the end...There is so much to appreciate and unpick here - feels like a very special book."