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Small fry and elephant academy

Small Fry Collective The Seasoning of Small Fry

After three years of home-grown illustration events, Manchester's Small Fry Collective has found its stride.

Small fry logo

Small Fry Collective

Most experts agree that in recent years the illustration field has expanded. Digital technology and the online environment play no small part in this, and of course, there is something inherently human about the wish to communicate with images. Whether as hobbyists or professionals, illustrators frequently offer more than surface decoration; they are creators in their own right responding to the changing world with their own visual language. It is at the fore of Manchester's illustration community that we find Small Fry, a collective of event organisers that has been hosting workshops and talks since 2018.

Co-founded by illustrator and animator Maisy Summer, the DIY approach of the earliest events is still a recognisable part of Small Fry, which has seen the use of screen printing, risograph, block printing, and other craft-based techniques. Despite there not being a future vision from the outset, Small Fry has gradually evolved from an interdisciplinary print fair into what it is today – a collaborative facilitator of illustration events. Among those that took place in Manchester were 'The Refry', a meet-up hosted by illustration dignitary Darek Brazell, and a workshop at the Pankhurst Centre to mark International Women's Day.

Small fry hatch

Small Fry × Hatch pop-up event postponed due to COVID-19

Small Fry

In early 2020 the COVID-19 restrictions would see the postponement of Small Fry's physical gatherings, and usher their foray into online events. Thankfully many had become accustomed to this way of attending and participating, especially students whose classroom sessions were replaced by online learning. While these sweeping changes could not have been anticipated, Maisy has been glad to discover that hosting events via Zoom does hold many advantages; in particular it is cost effective, easier to organise, and has allowed Small Fry to host speakers from other locations, such as New York based illustrator Fran Meneses. For these reasons it seems online events are unlikely to entirely disappear after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Small fry with fran meneses

Small Fry Chats & Draws with Fran Meneses

"With Zoom there are definitely positives - the fact you can reach an international audience, and get international speakers. That's been really good to push Small Fry."

Maisy Summer

The theme of their most recent webcast was how different creative disciplines might be 'blended' within one's practice. Small Fry, having been a collaborative endeavour since its inception, exemplifies this ethos perfectly, as seen with the addition of graphic designer and illustrator Isobel Platt in 2021. Having met each other through teaching at Manchester School of Art, Maisy and Isobel recognised there are benefits to operating with design skills in tandem with their illustrative work. This has been especially true when creating promotional items, where visuals are relayed between the two until both are happy with the result. As put by Isobel, "It's been an interest of ours to combine and explore these two worlds, both collaboratively and individually."

Cap and dove wallpaper maisy summer

Cap and Dove Wallpaper

Maisy Summer
Lentils will save the world maisy summer


Maisy Summer
The healthy fibre rich cookbook

Design for ‘The Healthy Fibre-Rich Cookbook’ by Catherine Atkinson.

Isobel Platt
The last bag of pasta 30works30days isobel platt

The Last Bag of Pasta, submission for the 30works30days project in 2020

Isobel Platt

Given their journey so far, it seems fitting that more events are being organised with illustration's foremost national body, the Association of Illustrators (AOI), for whom Small Fry now hosts the AOI Manchester Meet Up. Though London has long been the centre of the UK's illustration scene, being based in Manchester has not been an obstacle for either Maisy or Isobel, who both value what can be accomplished remotely, the accessibility of the city's creative networks, and the social life that exists around the art school.

"I like the sense of community in Manchester. There's lots of things going on […] it feels quite well connected."

Isobel Platt

At the time of writing, the duo are preparing to embark on their next project, this time with Elephant Academy. These are online classes for students of all abilities, taught by leading artists, and with the provision of all necessary materials. Beginning in the summer the 'illustration pathway' will have been curated by Small Fry, and consist of accessible workshops guided by select practitioners in the use of mark-making media. This has allowed Maisy to realise one of her long-held ambitions – to extend commissions to other artists.

Small fry and elephant academy

Small Fry × Elephant Academy illustration workshop collaboration, supported by Winsor & Newton

Small Fry

For those who illustrate there is often an affinity when meeting people who do the same. And while Manchester's creative sector stands to gain from the building of its niche communities, it is equally significant that home-grown events give illustrators a way to connect, share, and help one another. Small Fry brings this mindset to their events, and is poised to continue making Manchester a better place for visual creative culture to flourish.

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