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

100 hands, 100 feet

For 6 weeks I have not drawn which has been a welcome break, but I am increasingly aware of how rusty my drawings skills are becoming. If I start to practice now then my eye hand coordination ought to be back relatively quickly, but leave it much longer and it will become a gargantuan task. So the question is what to do next?

A daily drawing practice seems to be a topic that comes up a lot. I have tried this in the past, but never managed to maintain it for long. Day to day life presents me with the same familiar things, so finding something I actually want to draw and half an hour to draw it in is difficult to maintain. Matthew Brehm stresses the importance of a daily drawing practice; he suggests that making multiple thumbnails has a greater effect on drawing skills than making one more sustained drawing.

Steve Wilkin draws his fellow commuters, but working from home, I have no commute. Melanie Reim instructs her students to draw 100 hands and 100 feet every week, good practice as hands and feet are particularly unforgiving. I have seen her in lectures with the pages of her sketchbook divided into squares in which she makes quick thumbnail sketches. I think this is an excellent idea, however, I live in a rural area and I doubt I see that many hands and feet in a week, let alone get the chance to draw them.

I could create a daily journal, drawing some significant part of the day and perhaps writing a brief diary entry, but in the past when I have tried this I have waited all day for something significant to reveal itself, only to find myself late at night drawing my drying laundry just for the sake of making a drawing. A boring exercise which leads to boring drawings. I am not ready to commit to another long term sustained project yet, and I find it difficult to draw without some purpose, to me that feels like mindlessly filling up bits of paper. I am still undecided as to what my daily drawing practice should be – any suggestions?