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: olivierkugler.com)

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 (Facebook.com/JennySoep 2006)

Fig.2 Drawing the experience – Jenny Soep (Facebook.com/JennySoep 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 http://www.sva.edu/features/drawing-from-reality-olivier-kuglers-journalistic-illustration

Illustration Forum 2014 – Witness – Reportage and Documentary https://medium.com/@JulesPowis/illustration-forum-2014-witness-reportage-documentary-8936ea0fd0d9



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) https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-christine-sun-kim-deaf-sound-artist-hears-everything

I am a deaf artist redefining sound – Karen Frances 2015 – TED Fellows https://fellowsblog.ted.com/i-am-a-deaf-artist-redefining-sound-4437f20297a3

History of American Sign Language  https://www.startasl.com/history-of-american-sign-language_html

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 https://b701d59276e9340c5b4d-ba88e5c92710a8d62fc2e3a3b5f53bbb.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/docs/Mind%20Mapping%20Evidence%20Report.pdf


The Basics

It’s amazing how it can happen, how you can forget the basics. You wonder why you feel your work is feeling stale, stuck.

You spend days, weeks, months, years, chasing work getting the work, producing the work, chasing the invoices and the cycle begins again. A quiet period comes upon you and you panic – chase work harder. If you don’t take time to breathe and release you can lose all sight of why you make pictures for a living & why you love it.

So it’s time to get back to basics. To look at our chosen field with an analytical eye using research to bolster findings in key issues and developments.

There are still many illustrators and I am one of them working in a straight forward pictorial manner. My tendency to be narrative and more literal might have resulted in marginalizing my appeal. It’s time to push my boundaries creatively and embrace somewhat the latest visual fashion. Not with a plan to supplant my more traditional methods and styles of my image-making—but to offer more relevance and bring a fresh eye to my drawing table.

It’s time to take the leap and jump out of my comfort zone.