Image credit: Joe Lyward

Since graduating from BA (Hons) Illustration in 2010 Joe Lyward has collaborated with author and curator Philip Hoare on a number of creative projects, his most recent success being The Ancient Mariner Big Read

Free to access, this project transforms Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 18th century epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner into an immersive work of audio and visual art. 

Comprised of 40 daily online broadcasts, narrated by celebrity voices and paired with artwork by a renowned contemporary artist, including an illustration by Joe, the Ancient Mariner Big Read retells The Rime for the digital age. 

Tune into on 26 May to see his contribution.

Joe Ly

Describe your work for this project in three words

Responsibility. Kinship. Holding.

Why did you decide to study BA (Hons) Illustration at University of Plymouth?
I decided to study BA Illustration mainly as a way to keep drawing and doing something I enjoyed. I remember visiting the University of Plymouth and thinking the facilities and studio in the (then new) Roland Levinsky Building were quite impressive, and as I'm from Cornwall it meant I wouldn't have to move too far away. It's awkward to say but I actually wasn't all that engaged with the 'going to uni' process. In the end, studying illustration at Plymouth was one of the best things I could have done; I feel very lucky and grateful for the path it put me on.
What was your favourite project/brief whilst studying?
My favourite project was the final project in Year 3. It felt like I had time to process all the experiences I had had on the course and produce something meaningful. My project included making a picturebook inspired after visiting Bologna Book Fair in Year 2, a second, more experimental picturebook using printmaking, and other experimental image-making.

How and why did you get involved in The Ancient Mariner Big Read project?
I was invited to the project by Philip Hoare and Angela Cockayne. I have worked with Philip on his last two books, first on The Sea Inside not long after I graduated (we met during the launch of the Moby-Dick Big Read) followed by RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR. Creating the artwork for both books has been really collaborative between us, Philip is very visual and it's wonderful to work together. We put a lot of thought into the effect the illustration can have on the book overall. The publisher, 4th Estate, respond with a lot of trust; we essentially work between ourselves and then include the publisher when we're ready. It is work I'm very proud of. 

What about the literary work that inspired you?

The thing that first came to my mind when I think about the poem was a point about determinacy. I always thought that the superstitious sailors brought about their own bad-luck through their fear. Bad actions begat bad actions. When revisiting the work for this project coupled with recent photographs shown showing the carcasses of albatrosses (and other marine life) filled with plastic rubbish this idea of determinacy evolved to include responsibility. In the poem the mariner carries the albatross, in reality, the animals are carrying the products of humans.

Sea inside by Joe Lyward
Joe Lyward
Joe Lyward poster

One top tip for anyone thinking of applying to study Illustration
Be open. I think studying art will always give you value no matter what path you end up on.

How have you and your work changed since graduating? 
It's an ongoing process and probably too incremental for me to see but I expect my taste or "eye" has developed a lot. I think one thing the illustration course at Plymouth endowed me with was an open-minded interpretation of what forms illustration as a practice could take. I think that attitude has stayed with me and evolved. 

Arts education is part of my career now which has developed over the recent years into something I now feel is a core part of what I want to do with my work.
What is the highlight of your career so far?
Hard to say, but recently I lived in Japan for a year. Not only was this a rich experience personally, but during this time I organised a curatorial project called Kind Things, which I feel has really opened up the idea of what sort of work is available to me.

What are you working on at the moment?
I've been working on more authorial projects lately. I've just finished a series of monotype prints for a solo exhibition which was scheduled for Tokyo this summer (we shall see). I have a picturebook I've been slowly developing that I'm hoping to bring together soon. And I have a research project I am planning to start about education in the arts.
Any advice for staying creative in isolation?
I think, even if you're used to working from home and spending lots of time by yourself, being in isolation for COVID-19 is different. So, perhaps something to think about is that this may be the thing which, in some way, inspires art-making later. There may be pressure to capitalise on this bad situation, but while we're in it we still need to process, take care, and be careful.
Aside from work, being creative in life is really important to feeling good. Creative living can be done even simply by paying attention to things and committing fully to any task. Take the effort to solve problems and try out ideas, perhaps in a way that will make a positive change that can continue after this period of isolation.

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AMBR Albatross

Ancient Mariner Big Read

Stars of the stage and screen, arts and music transform one of English Literature’s most celebrated poems, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

An epic tale of adventure, fear and fascination this 18th-century science fiction has prophetic messages for the natural world, climate breakdown and mental health globally relevant in the 21st century. Free to access, this online audio/visual work comprises 40 daily online broadcasts narrated by celebrity voices. Each reading is paired with artwork by a renowned contemporary artist, and complemented by scientific, cultural and personal commentary.