‘I want to do something BIG!’ was what PJ Lynch said when he was named Ireland’s fourth Laureate na nÓg in May 2016.
Each new laureate puts their own stamp on the role. Having reflected on his Laureate theme, PJ returned with an idea called The Big Picture.
As an artist, it was natural for him to celebrate visual narrative. Stories, he reasoned, are how we first see the world through the eyes of others. They teach us empathy and compassion—values that help to shape our world.
Thus the fourth Laureate’s mission to celebrate visual storytelling was born. PJ named it The Big Picture Project—a two-year programme of events highlighting the power of illustration.
The key aim of The Big Picture Project was to encourage children to tell their own stories through pictures. PJ decided that Big Picture walls were the way to go about this. By constructing giant walls, children of all ages would be able to enjoy working at their own height and ability to create stories.
The first Big Picture wall was constructed at Cruinniú na Cásca, RTÉ and Creative Ireland’s national celebration of culture and creativity. PJ drew a giant fire-breathing dragon and invited the children who passed by to populate the wall. In a few short hours, his blank grey wall was transformed by robots and sunflowers, cupcakes and cars, footballers and princesses, all happily co-existing beneath a sky filled with sunshine and spaceships.
Before long Big Picture walls were constructed in Bantry for the West Cork Literary Festival, and in Waterford for the Towers and Tales Festival. In Dublin, PJ launched the IFI Family Festival with a picture wall inspired by the Japanese anime film Rudolph the Black Cat.
At Dublin Book Festival, The Big Picture Project completed three new picture walls over three days, drawn by children under the guidance of Ireland’s top children’s illustrators, including PJ, Alan Clarke, Niamh Sharkey, Chris Judge, Mary-Louise Fitzpatrick and Lauren O’Neill.
Big Picture walls were also popping up beyond Dublin. At the Arts Council Ardán tent during the National Ploughing Championships in Offaly, kids from across the country helped PJ to recreate a battle scene from the Táin Bó Cuailgne. The following month PJ travelled to the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar to complete a twenty-four foot long illustration inspired by an unfinished story, found in a copy book from the National Folklore Collection, written by an unknown child in Skerdagh in the 1930’s.
A collaboration with Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words project involved illustrating a book written initially by children in Dublin, with the subsequent chapters completed by children in Fighting Words workshops in Wicklow, Cork and Belfast. In January 2018 a picture book called The Search was launched by Roddy and PJ and presented to hundred-plus children who authored and illustrated it.
The most ambitious Big Picture project took place in Gaelscoil Mhainistir na Corann in Midleton. PJ and a crack team of illustrators: Chris Judge, Michael Emberley, Niamh Sharkey, Lauren O’Neill, and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick engaged the whole school—over 500 students—in a gigantic “monster doodle”, before spending the weekend painting a series of permanent murals on the building’s corridors and stairwells. When the children returned to classes on Monday, their school was completely transformed!
In March 2018, PJ’s first solo exhibition at the Ulster Museum coincided with the Laureate’s Big Picture collaboration with the Belfast Children’s Festival, during which a series of large illustrated panels, resulting from a series of local children’s workshops, were displayed at the Crescent Arts Centre.
For the Mountains to Sea festival in Dun Laoighre, PJ drew a Big Picture over two days in front of a live audience at dlr Lexicon. The artwork celebrating our maritime culture is on permanent display at the Grainstore youth centre in Cabinteely.
PJ Lynch’s final Big Picture Project was a collaboration with Northern Ireland’s inaugural Children’s Writing Fellow Myra Zepf, who chose five stories from hundreds written by schoolchildren across the North. The authors and their classmates were invited to a live improv show at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, where their work was performed by storyteller Dave Rudden and illustrated live on stage by some of Ireland’s top children’s book illustrators: PJ Lynch, Peter Donnelly, Margaret Anne Suggs, Tarsila Kruse, and Andrew Whitson.