House of Illustration Curation Internship: A Day in the Life

Our post today is by Fiona Dakin, a PhD student in French at the University of St Andrews. She is currently researching illustrated editions of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal. As a SGSAH student, she was provided with the opportunity to devise her own internship, so she contacted the curation team at London’s House of Illustrationand began a two-month internship in January.

Fiona pic

Artwork by Jo Brocklehurst, photographed by Paul Grover


I wake up and make sure I dress in practical clothes, because I will spend time in the gallery today which is in the final stages of a new installation.


I leave the house in North London, where I am lodging, and travel to King’s Cross by bus and tube. Starting at 10 rather than 9 is great, because the crowds and queues are much smaller! I grab a free coffee from Waitrose before heading down to the office at around 09:45.


I spend my morning doing research for an upcoming show. I have been given my own desk space and computer in the offices below the gallery itself, which is a real privilege. My current project is about the stage a screen design work of contemporary political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, which includes Pink Floyd – The Wall, Disney’s Hercules, and stage design for the English National Opera and the English National Ballet. It’s a very fun, colourful and satirical show to work on.


One of the curators asks me to edit some images for the new exhibition handlist in Photoshop: this is for the show which opens tomorrow, on Jo Brocklehurst. I have never used Photoshop before, so she shows me how to use the relevant tools. This is a hugely valuable skill to have learnt, and it has opened my eyes to the possibilities that the software provides, which will become very useful for presenting the images for my thesis.


I head upstairs to the gallery to see if they need any help setting up the show opening tomorrow night. This involves lots of new skills, and lots of considerations which I never would have thought about before coming here. Firstly, the artwork needed to be moved up from the storeroom downstairs (which must be kept at certain temperature, light, and humidity specifications, just like the galleries). This was a five-person job: two curators, two technicians, and me. The artwork must be kept flat, must not have exposed corners which might snag at doorways, and must be covered. This proved quite challenging in the case of three already-damaged, life-sized portraits of drag queens in heavy medium! Next, the technicians put the paintings up onto sheets of steel, attached to the mounting with magnets. This is a relatively new technique which is proving more and more popular in many art galleries and museums. The magnets cannot touch the artwork, so it is my job to individually coat each magnet with acid-free tape, to avoid damage. We also need to do a condition report on each piece of artwork every time it enters or leaves the building, for conservation and insurance purposes. Lighting is another important consideration, as these types of drawings must not receive more than 50 lux of light exposure, and we use a measuring device to confirm this.


I head home after staying a little late to help with the last-minute preparations. I’m definitely excited for tomorrow’s opening night!


The internship has been enormously helpful in shaping my understanding of the industry, providing me with new skills and even material for my thesis.

Jo Brocklehurst: Nobodies and Somebodies is open until the 14th May, and Gerald Scarfe: Stage and Screen opens on the 22nd September. For more information visit the House of Illustration website. If you are interested in doing an internship during your PhD, check out a few of our other blog posts on this subject here, here and here. 

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