A book of Influences

At the Urban Sketchers Symposium Melanie Reim introduced us to her ‘book of influences’. An A4 plastic folder that she had filled with images that inspire her, and which she takes with her when she is sketching. The idea is not to copy someone else’s work, but to be encouraged to apply to our own practice, lessons that can be learned from the work of others.

I have gathered together a few of the images that I will be putting into my own book of influences; it has been an interesting exercise. While I have been choosing which pictures to include and which to leave out it has become clear that there is a massive difference between images that I admire, and those from which I would like to learn lessons.

Photography is a huge influence on my work, so it is no surprise to find so many picture by Robert Frank making it into my selection. What surprises me more is that all the photographs and illustrations I have selected are black and white.

As well as these influential images I would like to include two quotes into my ‘book of influences’:

‘What you reject…is just as important’ Robert Frank

‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.’ Robert Capa


Is Drawing Journalism?

Black and white Photograph of a man floating on his back in a swimming pool.

Sometimes when I look at my drawings it is hard to see an obvious journalistic or news angle to them. After all, images tell stories in such a completely different way to a written article. But I saw this amazing photograph by Karoly Escher at the Royal Academy exhibition Eyewitness: Hungarian photography in the 20th Century. Now I have a postcard of it on my studio wall to remind me of the unique, and multi-layered way that narrative comes from images, and of what I am trying to do with my drawings.

The title of this photo is The Bank Manager at the Baths, 1938. When you look at the image with this title you get one impression: of a well-fed, slightly smug, successful man enjoying some not too strenuous leisure time.

But when you look at it with the additional information: that after the First World War and the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, Hungary lost nearly three quarters of its territory. Tens of thousands of ethnic Hungarians found themselves resident in ‘foreign lands’, and moving into what was left of their country resulted in overcrowding, unemployment, poverty and political unrest. Over the next few decades their government became increasingly fascist and anti-Semitic and the Great Depression of 1930s can only have added to the struggle for survival of the workingman. Knowing this it is hard to view the corpulent bank manager in quite the same benign way.

Embark Workshops 2011

In June I was invited to run some workshops for primary school children at a local farm. My aim was to get the children to really look at the environment around them, and to draw what they saw.

I made uncomplicated books out of a folded sheet of A1 cartridge paper and kept it simple only working in black and white. We experimented with different media: charcoal, ink, poster paint, ballpoint pens, reed pens and pencils; making different marks using toothbrushes and paintbrushes, and the feathers and flowers found around the farm.

I showed the children some work by Matisse and Ellsworth Kelly to give them inspiration and encouraged them to consider page design using repetition like Matisse, or strong areas of black or white like Ellsworth Kelly.

It was a great couple of days. I was blown away by the work that was made and learned so much from the children and the open way that they engaged with the project.