Successful location drawing needs a bit of planning. It is not as simple as turning up at on site with some paper and a couple of pens. What you are trying to do is to tell a story about your chosen location

So here are 5 tips I have put together for anyone starting out in reportage and location drawing.


Do your research and make a list of possible locations to draw in. Consider what interests you and what you like to draw? Is it people, or animals, or more urban sites? If you find a location boring you will end up making boring drawings. You need to be interested and engaged in your subject, so it helps if you know something about it already. If you are not already familiar with the area and the subject, do some research.


You cannot draw everything. An in-depth study of a small area will communicate the story of the location better than a lot of unconnected drawings made at different sites. Spending an extended time observing a limited area, or a specific person will reveal things that would otherwise go over looked. Drawing sharpens your eye.


Titles are important. They pull images together and make sense of them. Before you start drawing decide on a title, or a theme, or a sentence that sums up what you are trying to capture. It can be a working title, something you may want to change later. When you are choosing what aspect of your location to record, composing your drawing, or deciding what to focus on, what to include and what to leave out; refer to your title. Are the decisions you are making adding clarity to the story you want to tell? Do they convey your title?


Rules are a set of decisions made before you get to the location. They are made considering the environment you will be working in. They are rules about the materials and format you will work in.


photograph of a sketchbook page with a handwritten table of rules.
My table of rules in my sketchbook


For example: Landscape or portrait? What size to work small or large? Sketchbooks are more discreet, and easier to carry around, but loose papers clipped to a drawing board give a choice of surfaces to work on, and are easier to scan or frame.

What media will you choose? A wet media like oil paint or water colour, or dry media like pencils, pens or pastels? Water colours are a popular choice, but in a cold damp atmosphere they can take too long to dry, leaving the paper saturated and impossible to draw on, or transport. Once you have made these decisions stick to them. Using a predetermined set of materials and format helps to unify a series of drawings.

Why make rules? And why stick to them? Because locations are often complex and chaotic. Making rules eliminates a whole raft of decisions that need to be made at the location, allowing you to concentrate on what to draw, and what you are trying to express.


Drawing openly in public will inevitable attract attention. People are curious about what you are doing. Use this as a conversation starter, and ask people about themselves. Everyone has a story to tell and if you are willing to listen they will often reveal interesting things. It is these kinds of personal accounts that will add depth to the story of your location. They are details that will allow your audience to connect with your work.

2,300 Miles to Work

This is a fascinating documentary about a young economic migrant from Tajikistan travelling to Russia to find work. Its told through George Butler’s drawings and interviews. As Butler says ‘It’s the process of drawing that allows me enough time to understand the resilience, and the extraordinary bond, that the migrants have here.’

A Year in Drawing

Reportage drawing by George Butler of Syria

Reportage drawing by George Butler

If you are in London over the summer and need a break from all the sun, how about checking out the reportage drawings that George Butler made in Syria? Butler’s recent work has won him both the editorial and overall winner of the prestigious V&A Illustration Award. His exhibition: A Year in drawing can be seen at the Illustration Cupboard Gallery from July 13th to August 3rd.

In August 2012 Butler walked the 4 km from the Turkish border to the town of Azaz in Northern Syria. There he documented the displaced returning to their homes, which had been raided or damaged in the crossfire or shelling.

I was greeted by casually dressed men, the Free Syrian Army. I was asked, “What did I want to do?” and “Make some drawings” was not necessarily the answer they were expecting. But then I wasn’t really ready to be offered a car, a translator and a place to stay in what had become a war zone. These drawings, done in situ, are not designed to compete with news teams or photographers but I hope offer an insight into how people react at a wholly vulnerable time.’

Butler is not a stranger to war zones. He was an embedded artist with his uncles regiment in Afghanistan. While the news teams chased the action around in the forward operating bases, George was stationed at the camps. He soon realized that the soldiers actually spent most of their time training or teaching the Afghan National Army inside the camp. His drawings are a record of the soldiers there.

‘I don’t think an illustrator can compete with the photo-journalists on the front line, the process is different. You are there for a longer amount of time when you are drawing. It’s open, people can see what you are doing, so you get a different reaction.’

Interestingly in the last 3 years, 2 of the winners of the V&A illustration Award have been reportage illustrators, Olivier Kugler won in 2011 for his 30 page illustrated Journal Massih”- A Trucker in Iran. Which documents a four-day trip with an Iranian truck driver from Tehran down to the Persian Gulf.

13th July 2013 to 3rd August 2013,

The Illustration Cupboard Gallery, 22 Bury Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y  6AL