Human Flow – A Film by Ai WeiWei


Fig. 1 Human Flow by Ai Weiwei (2017)

When I think about reportage illustration, this would be the ultimate goal – to document with compassion and understanding a story for human beings who need a stronger, louder voice so that they can be heard.

My expectation for this film was high, I am an admirer of Ai WeiWei, his provocative work and voice for the persecuted. I was not disappointed, this film is one of the strongest documentaries I have seen in a very long time, it is upsetting and uncomfortable to watch in the comfort of a warm cinema to see footage of lines and lines of desperate people walk along roads, across fields and mountains seeking refuge away from their homeland. The numbers are staggering to see in a physical sense when this film was made during 2015 and 2016. Our time.

As an exile himself Ai WeiWei can identify with displaced people and it is quite clear in his film ‘Human Flow’, the connection he makes with the people he engages with. Very often through-out no words are necessary, there is a clear understanding and empathy for their plight, even though language could be an obstacle. The use of drone footage is the most effective use of drones I have seen in any film. Ai WeiWei creates large collections in his art installations, the drone footage is an extension of this. The footage is not used as a tool to display beautiful vistas, but is used to emphasise the size with full impact, the refugee camps hundreds of thousands of people are waiting in. Waiting not living.

As an illustrator looking through the eyes of an artist (Ai WeiWei) making a film instead of a filmmaker, there are so many pictures I see that would be very worthy subjects for reportage. To get in close, to draw these peoples stories would be emotionally difficult and tremendously rewarding. I need to brush up on my skills, this film has given me a lot more drive and inspiration to pursue the genre of reportage illustration.


Human Flow a film by Ai Wei Wei (2017) Retrieved from

Ai Wei Wei, artist. Retrieved from


Drawings For Europe – exhibition at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Berlin

I read a recent article in The Guardian reporting on an exhibition of illustration at the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs. It’s a reaction to a comment made towards Axel Scheffler that he, as a German/European is “taking away work from our British illustrators”.

Fig.1 Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Berlin

He agrees “he might never have come to Britain and worked with the author Julia Donaldson on books including The Gruffalo, were it not for the EU. But he doesn’t necessarily expect that to convince Brexit supporters”.  Wouldn’t we all be the poorer if he and Donaldson never collaborated, life without the Gruffalo is almost unimaginable.

I took myself along the the imposing building which is housing this exhibition, passport in hand, as there is a strict entrance policy to all government ministry buildings. To my delight I had the exhibition to myself, although it must be said, the room had the remains of what seemed like a very jolly opening event the evening before.

Fig.2 Axel Scheffler – mice

Of course I made a bee-line to Axel Schefflers two pieces, they are simple in their execution of ink line and gouache. My favourite of both is his four little mice leading each other along holding aloft a European flag and balloon. Axel Scheffler has a very distinctive style, his character designs are usually outlined using a scratchy wobbly line and they possess large eyes. His illustration spreads carry much detail, so that a new item can be discovered with a fresh look at the illustration. He also makes subtle plays with colour, using it to create suspense or threat throughout, by darkening the pallet or making it lighter when the mood of the story requires.

Fig.3 Jutta Bauer – Europa, Skeptisch

There were Euro sceptics in the room also, Jutta Bauer has her Lady Godiva type character sitting aloft a proud bull (perhaps a nod to the Catalonians) looking slightly bewildered with her modesty covered in a thin veil of three european blue strips. The illustration is in pencil and gouache, with the bull very noble and angular in contrast to the delicately coloured and rounded figure of lady Europa, she is precariously perched on the bulls back, looking like she might easily topple off if he makes a move.

Fig.4 Anne Brouillard – Killiok prend soin de l’Europe (Killiok takes care of Europe)

Anne Broulliard, the french illustrator of such wonderful illustrated books as The Three Cats and the Wolf Smile, created for this exhibition an amazingly detailed piece detailing the character of the Killiok taking care of Europe. In the forest behind lurks sinister creatures between the trees and under rocks. It’s a beautifully executed illustration with a setting sun perhaps a symbol of what she believes is the outlook for Europe.

For myself as an Irish artist, living in Berlin & studying through a British University, I feel extremely fortunate to have the freedom to work, live and travel without borders within this vast richly cultural landscape. It is difficult to imagine the change. I only hope it is not past the point of no return.


‘We can’t be quiet’: Gruffalo co-creator and fellow illustrators respond to Brexit. by Kate Connolly for The Guardian in Berlin

Room on the broom in the primary classroom – GRIN, your knowledge has value.


Watching Others Watch My Work

Fig.1 Nature in binary – Group show, Berlin (2017)

Participating in a group show is a great opportunity to present your work.  It’s an interesting exercise to communicate what your art represents to you, what compels you to create art, where your inspirations originate from and so on. To stand back and watch people spark up conversation in reaction to an image you have planned, actualised and selected, brings a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

This past weekend (11.11.17) brought this opportunity to me and it was a wonderfully immersive experience. Not only did I get to converse with other interesting artists from a selection of disciplines but I had some pretty awesome and interesting confabulation with members of the public.

Fig.2 Bees Are Golden – Ann Kiernan (2017)

The goal is to introduce yourself and talk about your work but that’s usually a pretty big ask for most artists. My plan usually is to try my best to involve the person with the piece, engage them in the anecdote of how it came about, encourage them to experience the work on a personal level, and hopefully make it a part of their lives. At the end of the day your art is not only about you if you decide to show it, it also has to resonate in some way with viewers.


Fig.1 Courtesy of Justin Robert Thomas Smith

Zeichenerin und Zeichner aus Weisensee – Illustrators Exhibition

Fig.1 Theater unterm Dach, Berlin

There is a feast of art exhibitions in Berlin at any time but this month there is quite a focus on illustrators. I’m spoiled for choice usually and extremely fortunate to have a great exhibition space directly across the street. The Gallere Parterre is housed in the old factory building named “Kulturhaus im Ernst-Thälmann Park”. It was opened in 1986 in the former Municipal Gasworks of Prenzlauer Berg/Weissen See/ Pankow district of East Berlin. This month runs an exhibition of about 25 illustrators from the district of Weissensee.

First to catch my eye was Tim Dinter.  In this exhibit we had a sample of the sketch, the inked drawing and the finished piece in the newspaper Der Berliner Tagesspiegel.

Fig.2 Tim Dinter – Die Nackte Wahrheit – Berliner Tagesspiegel (2017)

Tim Dinter is a tremendously popular illustrator in Berlin, he has regular spots in Der Berliner Tagesspiegel and he is very accessible as an artist. His work speaks a normal language of everyday life, drawing in a ‘relaxed, realistic and easy-going style’.   He was born in Hamburg and moved to Berlin to study illustration at the Kunsthochschule Weißensee. While still a student he set up a kollectiv with fellow students called Monogatari – Pictures for Readers. It has been a great collaboration for him. In 2005 he travelled with the Goethe-Institut in Tel Aviv with two other German comic artist in exchange with three Israeli comic artists for a project to record personal reports, the resulting published work was Cargo – Comic Journalism, Israel-Germany

Fig.3 Cargo – reportage

I visited his studio during ‘The Long Night of Illustration’ (Die Lange Nacht Der Illustration) and it was a great inspiration to see the work space of a very busy comic book/strip/Graphic Novel illustrator and to chat with him about the work.

Fig. 4 Handi Song –  Wohnen in China – Life in a container (2017)

Handi Song is an enigma – there is no information I can find on this artist, at the exhibition or online, but I loved the work. Tremendously detailed and precise drawings in pen. A simple white cover with black ink make up a book telling the story of construction workers who move from the countryside to the big cities in China. These men who work long hours and in shifts, call a shipping container on the construction site home. Their story is told sensitively and in great detail through the drawings, the lines are honest and as a result add to the story of these workers. There are many detailed sketches on display that did not make it into the book, but they add proof that Handi Song spent quite some time with these men, drawing their story.

Fig. 5 Alexandra Klobouk – Polymeer (2017)

Alexandra Klobouk is an author and she self describes a “culture illustrator“. She has a strong voice in campaigning  against Xenophobia through her self initiated work.  While I am not drawn so much to picture book illustration, I found Polymeer a really interesting concept for a book. It’s not a children’s story. It’s an apocalyptic utopian story about a character who wakes up one day to find the glaciers have melted and Holland has been swallowed up, he finds safety in a floating pink wardrobe. The colours are dark greys and black and a really interesting choice of highlighter marker, pinks, oranges, yellows. It’s a disturbing tale of climate change and the story is supplemented by facts such as the pacific garbage whirlwind and the UN figures of expected 250 million climate refugees by 2050.

Fig. 6 Ariane Spanier illustrationen für Green Peace Magazin (2016-2017)

Editorial illustration is a genre of illustration I’d like to put some focus on, this great selection of process sketches and final published pieces by the design group Ariane Spanier brought me to their online portfolio to find these finished pieces became animated GIFs. They have a heavy hitting client base and their work is very present in Berlin

I spent and inspiring couple of hours browsing sketchbooks and reading notes, I’ll make another visit across the street before the closing.


Tim Dinter – Avant-Verlag artist bios

Berlin Interviews

Alexandra Klobouk

Ariane Spanier

Kulturhaus im Ernst-Thälmann-Park



Christoph Niemann solo exhibition.


Fig.1 Christoph Niemann, Galerie Max Hetzler 2017

Last evening I had the pleasure to attend the vernissage of Christoph Niemann at Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin. The small room upstairs in the Galerie Max Hetzler was full.  Very noticeable in the centre surrounded by friends & admirers was the tall slim frame of Christoph Niemann. People were excited to be there, there was a pleasing buzz of chatter in the room.

The exhibition is a collection of his newest series of collages, using a combination of aluminium foil and black ink. This is a slight change from his usual style in that it is a collection, in marked difference to previous exhibitions of his work, these are uniform pieces. Painted in black ink on paper, each drawing is embellished with silver aluminium foil giving an almost clinical feel, but they certainly have the Christoph Niemann dry quirky sense of humour, putting a little twist in an image you’d never normally make an association with. He  has great skill in making images using negative spaces, forcing your brain to work a little bit, just enough to give you a small buzz of satisfaction when you make the connection.

Christoph Niemann is a favourite illustrator of mine. His work has donned the covers of the New Yorker, The New York Times magazine, Wired and many more. He has sketched the 26.1 miles of the New York City Marathon and live sketched at the Olympic Games in London 2012.

He has featured in the ‘Abstract’ series on Netflix, which give a brilliant insight into the man himself, he is openly and candidly insecure about his work, it seems we all carry that coat.

Christoph Niemann has quite a few published books including the brilliant Sunday Sketching and Abstract Sunday. The collection of work in these books use simple lines and everyday objects to bring humour or absurdity in an almost poetic way never ceases to inspire me.

“This might be the most important skill you can have as an artist: Open your mind as wide as you can and check out every connection between any two elements. Most of these experiments yield nothing, but somewhere in this ocean of meaningless gibberish, something might click.” – Christoph Niemann, Sketching Sundays (2016)

When I look at his work, it always reminds me that sometimes, less, really can be more. It has certainly been his influence, to cause me to remember to take a step back and look on my work, strip back my busy lines and think how I might impart the story more effectively.

Fig.2 Christoph Niemann – Machine (2017)

Alongside these collages pieces Christoph Niemann is entering new territory with a group of video works. The video works are, I can only describe as quite a surreal experience. He has taken many short films of everyday moments, for example, a tractor driving across a field, then cut, mirrors, duplicates to produce a challenging viewing experience. Although this is a new visual medium for Christoph Niemann, it is still his process to make use of mundane objects and with a few simple shifts he manages to create completely different perception.



Taking to the Streets

On a cold November Saturday afternoon I took my sketchbook, ink and brushes and decided to find myself an event to make some illustrative reportage on. This came about, following a very engaging tutorial with Thom Cuschieri  who suggested I consider reportage as an option.

So before I set out I did a little research on a few of the big names, beginning with one of my favourites Olivier Kugler. Who began his reportage career while studying illustration at the SVA, spending his time location sketching around New York city. In an interview with Andrew Humphries for Visual Arts Journal said:

‘as he drew he found himself eavesdropping on conversations around him. “I didn’t do it consciously,” he says, “but when I heard something interesting I would just scribble it on my drawing.” His instructors and fellow students thought the quotes, and his other written observations, a novel touch, and it was clear to Kugler that the words added a narrative element that set his work apart.’

His technique is to work around a scene creating several points of interest and making notes on, it seems, the most innocuous objects, but all together they add interest and dept to the report. It feels like you are moving through the scene with him as he takes his visual notes. Olivier Kugler makes no apologies for making reference photographs

‘Sketching, he says, is inefficient when he has such limited time on the ground. Instead, he takes hundreds of photographs. Each evening, he reviews the day’s work and plots scenes in a notebook, sketching rough compositions and page layouts. Only when he is back in his East London studio does he begin making line drawings based on his photographs.’ 

I have a tendency to disagree with the first part of the statement, I think at least a few rough sketches are important for line sensitivity and to get a feel for the moment but certainly reference photographs are a very necessary part of the process too.  Of course I have a lot to learn in this field and may find also that ‘sketching is inefficient’.

Fig.1 Syrian refugees I met while in Kos ‘Escaping Wars and Waves’ for Harpers Magazine (2016) – Olivier Kugler (image:

Jenny Soep is a very interesting illustrator for me. She draws live music gigs and interviews at festivals – ‘Drawing the Experience’. She makes very rushed busy images or even just makes marks to visually record what sounds she experiences in the moment. She has no fear in making bold marks across her work if that is what the moment brings. Jenny Soep records ‘on paper or iPad, from the length of a poem to an entire concert’ 

Fig.2 Jenny Soep, Drawing the Experience ( 2006)

Fig.2 Drawing the experience – Jenny Soep ( 2012)

I checked out what events were on, I was drawn to a protest march which was planned to gather at 4pm on Hermannplatz, it also happened to be a very hot topic for the moment.

Fig.3 #MeToo March, Hermannplatz, Berlin – Ann Kiernan (2017)

It was bitterly cold, I found a doorway out of the wind and began sketching in my book in pencil first then pen. I took many photos of things I was sketching so I could work back into then when I got back to my studio. This was a great exercise in quick sketching in ink but also quite different to be an observer making a story.  I regret I wasn’t brave enough to approach people for questions but one step at a time. This now is my challenge to marry my experiments in sound with images I make on the spot.


Drawing from Reality: Olivier Kugler’s Journalistic Illustration – Andrew Humphries (Nov 4 2016) – Visual Arts Journal

Illustration Forum 2014 – Witness – Reportage and Documentary


A Note on Sound

It surrounds us every moment. There is no escaping from it. It has the power to frighten. To bring immense joy, or to bring a memory rushing to the front of your mind.

Reflecting on sound is an intriguing journey into a sense that is difficult to illustrate but I want to try to make a visual journey to include sound and so experiment with marks and colours to best describe what I am hearing as I see.

In my research I came across Christine Sun Kim, an artist who was born deaf. While she was on a residency in Berlin, she began exploring ways to make sound a visual experience. When I took an in depth look at Christine Sun Kim’s work it’s so simple and honest. Her use of simple colour, marks and symbols are a pretty ingenious way to describe the sounds she can never hear. Though she uses musical notes, she has never experienced a melody as a sound.

“Sound has always been a ghost to me, but not in the haunting sense. It was more like I knew something was there, I could visualise the reactions sparked by sounds, and then try to determine why A caused B.”

Christine Sun Kim – (Daily Beast 2015)

Fig.1 How to Measure Loudness – Christine Sun Kim (2015)

She describes her experience of sound growing up and how she initially thought her experience of it was only through vibrations.  As she developed as an artist studying sound she realised that from the beginning she was “mostly informed by the way people react and behave around it and then I in turn mirror them, sometimes out of good manners.”

Christine Sun Kim creates pieces through vibrations using speakers and paint. She also makes descriptive drawings on paper using musical notes and pictorial interpretations of the American Sign Language (ASL). So this took me on a journey into the language of hands and I began referring to ASL when I was stuck for a starting point for a visual of sound I am trying to describe. This took me back to looking at the beginnings of ASL and it’s effectiveness today in teaching not only deaf people but babies and animals like chimpanzees and gorillas to communicate. American Sign Language was the idea of Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet who in 1814 realised his neighbours child Alice Cogswell was very intelligent despite being deaf and not being able to speak, while he had little success teaching Alice he realised he needed some expert help in developing this new language. He received support from his community to go to Europe to gain a greater understanding for better educational methods in teaching the deaf. In Europe he met Laurent Clerc and American Sign Language was developed from the language Clerc thought him. He returned to America an set up the American School for the Deaf.


How Christine Sun Kim, Deaf Sound Artist, Hears Everything – Daily beast (2015)

I am a deaf artist redefining sound – Karen Frances 2015 – TED Fellows

History of American Sign Language

Image – How to Measure Loudness by Christine Sun Kim, courtesy of the artist to the Guardian, (Wednesday 25th November 2015).

When current becomes sound.

If change happens as a constant surely then the current can only capture a moment and then it’s gone.

Like a current in water, moving in the ocean it slips along, slightly changing everything it encounters, sometimes causing a ripple-effect creating a bigger shift in direction, other times the change is barely noticible.

This is why I chose ‘Current’ as a keyword – it opens a floodgate of possiblities for me to explore which also forces me to push my thought process beyond the obvious. The first thing I do when I begin to brainstorm an idea is to set out a mind map. Mind mapping is a technique invented by Tony Buzan. 

“Tony Buzan has always been passionate about using key words in Mind Maps rather than phrases or a collection of words. Tony states that a key word is essentially a word that will trigger as much relevant meaning as possible. So by using key words in your Mind Map, you open up your thinking and stimulate your mind to dig deeper and see greater detail on thoughts that were previously vague.” 

I like to use colour and sometimes images, I find it gives a little kick start to my creative process. Starting with my keyword in the centre I work radially creating groupings called “chunking” which gives me a good scope for ideas to form.

Radiant, organic structure – works just like your brain In a Mind Map, information is structured in a way that mirrors exactly how the brain functions – in a radiant rather than linear manner. The brain likes to work on the basis of association and it will connect every idea, memory or piece of information to tens, hundreds and even thousands of other ideas and concepts (Anokhin, 1973)”  

Fig.1 Mind map for the keyword ‘Current’ – Ann Kiernan

The mind-mapping session and resulted in close to one hundred possibilities for directions to take. Very overwhelming & exciting but mostly overwhelming.

I began working methodically through each word exploring possiblities. I made a list of materials I had to work with, a list of techniques I could experiment with and for each word I plucked from the pile I stuck a pin in my materials list and one my techniques list.

Fig.2 The methodical approach, working through each word.

I felt very uncomfortable and lost at the start and I was feeling really disheartened with my results and felt like I was trying too hard. I did not want to fall back into my usual literal style of picture making. My goal for this project, at least, is to get out of my comfortzone.

Then SOUND grabbed me.


Mind Mapping – Scientific Research and Studies (2015) Tony Buzan pg 27 Summary Report – The Evidence Supporting Mind Mapping. pg 32 Anokhin P.K. (1973). ‘The forming of natural and artificial intelligence’. Impact of Science in Society, Vol. XXIII 3. Online pdf