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June 29, 2021
In the month we mark World Refugee Day, I would like to talk about reportage drawing – a type of visual journalism. Reportage drawing is drawing on location, intending to capture an observed subject. It resonates hugely with me as a former journalist and broadcast news pr for nearly 20 years, before I retrained as a portrait artist in 2010.
Reportage drawing finds its roots in the wish for information. According to Gary Embury and Mario Minichiello in their book, ‘Reportage Illustration: Visual Journalism’ historically it has documented conflicts and wars, courtrooms (where cameras are not allowed to be present in the UK), news reports and investigations and social events, such as protests and concerts.
As resident artist at iconic music venue, the Half Moon Putney, I use reportage journalism to tell a specific story documenting the creative energy of performing live. My artworks record a particular moment in time by hand, just as a photo journalist would use a camera to record them.
Reportage Illustration has its roots in ‘The Illustrated London News’, first published in 1842. Herbert Ingram, who founded it, discovered sales increased if newspapers used pictures. And, as photography back then couldn’t capture movement, artists filled the gap. Illustrations existed prior to this of course, and later reportage illustration became a vital way of documenting war from the frontline until photography became more reliable, portable and less invasive.
British illustrator Paul Hogarth is widely thought of as the father of modern reportage illustration, after he and his colleagues were sent overseas after WWII to record various news items of interest.
Having reported from many trials at the Old Bailey – the central criminal court in London for England and Wales – I have always been an admirer of the work of courtroom artists who capture the unfolding events during court proceedings. In the UK, artists are not allowed to draw inside the courtroom and must sketch from memory after they leave.
I don’t really sketch on location. I operate more like a courtroom artist where I draw afterwards from memory (and from photographs). You have to consider that I am either working in the street capturing buskers who I might come across towards the end of an act, or in a dark venue where fans who have paid to see an act like to get as close to the stage as they are able and, in times of no Covid restrictions, shoulder to shoulder.
My camera picks up details that spark my memory – the moment when the artist is tuning up mid song, as the heat has made his guitar go out of tune, or where the singer thrusts his microphone into the audience to hear their rendering of a much-loved chorus, or when two performers on stage are dueting. I will later sketch in pencil, working in pencil or paint or digitally from my photographs.
And if the performer has time I will talk their stories out of them to accompany my pictures.
Of course, there are many British artists who identify as reportage artists or whose work fits within the definition from Stanley Spencer who served as an official war artist between 1940-45 to Norman Cornish with his insight into miners’ working and naïve artists like Beryl Cook whose comical works showed people enjoying themselves in pubs, shopping, on hen nights etc
And it can also encompasses Urban Sketching as both may involve sketching from life and on location. The urban sketching movement was started by Gabriel Campanario, a Seattle-based journalist who works for The Seattle Times as a writer and an artist. On his Urban Sketchers blog he invited other artists to contribute regular journalistic sketches showing life as it unfolds. The beauty of reportage is it doesn’t need to be an earth-shattering story. You can find a story in the everyday – or even in a life of crime as I read in The Guardian/ Observer this weekend, ‘Caught on canvas: how an armed robber turned his life of crime into art’.
Now take inspiration in the work of the Skylark Galleries Art collective:
Jo Hodgen are currently mostly of her children and are intended to be fun. She works from photos and is happy to undertake commissions.
Helen Trevisiol-Duff has just moved from Ealing to Halifax and is inspired by the Yorkshire countryside and, having mobility issues, has found joy sketching from her car. See pages from her sketchbook here and keep an eye open in our shop to find how the landscape is influencing her finished art.
Other Skylarks who capture the urban setting as it is now are Kelly Stewart in screenprints and mudlark Ed Bucknall.
Cutty Sark Pub by Ed J BucknallOriginal Watercolour on paper. Unframed. A4 – 210 x 297mm£250
July 20, 2021
What a fascinating article. I have several early editions of The Illustrated London News, I am going to dig them out and have a leaf through them. Thanks for sharing your writing.
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