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


The Importance of Rules.

A photograph of a page in my sketchbook with a table of rules to be filled out.
When I draw on location I often start by setting myself some rules. There are so many decisions to be made about what to draw: what subject, what angle, what to include in the composition, which materials, size and format? That the choices can be overwhelming. Setting rules about simple things like format, size, and limiting material choices before I start can really help. Restricting myself to a particular location, or theme can bring cohesion to a project.

In his lecture Drawing Me, Drawing You, Antonio Jorge Goncalves talked about his project Subway Life and the rules he set for himself. He visited Lisbon, Berlin, Stockholm, New York, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Athens, Moscow, Paris, and Cairo, travelling on the city subways and documenting the people he saw there. His rules for himself included: only working in black line on the same square sketchbooks, only drawing people and not including their environment, he didn’t allow himself to choose who he drew instead it had to be the person sitting opposite him, or as near to opposite as possible. And his drawings had to capture the full time period that the trains ran, so he could capture the different people travelling at different times of day. His drawings form an anthropological study of the subways and the people who use them, highlighting the cultural differences and similarities between countries. The images that stay with me are of a square, matronly Russian women wrapped up warmly; in contrast to a scantily clad, slim, Brazilian women. Antonio’s rules give the project a firm structure from which a subtle and beautifully observed narrative emerges.