Olivier Kugler

Olivier Kugler produces graphic documentary with very detailed final drawing and text, often about war and migration.


“He uses his ears and eyes – plus a camera, digital voice recorder, sketchbook, pencil, scanner and laptop – to document stories of exile, displacement and the complex reality of refugees’ lives

“When he carries out interviews, Kugler knows that the camera will pick up details and perspectives that would take too long to capture if he sat down and drew the scene. And in many cases, the people he talks to cannot spare the time to sit and pose; their story tumbles out before they have to move on. His digital photos are effectively ‘roughs’ from which he makes the next stage in the illustration: a black-and-white ‘B’ pencil drawing on a large sketchpad. These drawings are about four times bigger than their eventual size. Kugler rarely publishes any photos – they are effectively private ‘roughs’ – but occasionally he will stick photographic print-outs on to a rough layout that he sends to art directors to give them a clearer idea of how the finished design will look on a magazine page or spread. The next stage in Kugler’s process is to scan the drawing and then colour the image using the ancient computer program Freehand – to which he has a stubborn attachment – producing the effect of a saturated watercolour wash or gouache.

He adds handwritten notes that inhabit another layer of the file. This way, the English-language narrative can be replaced by other languages using a typeface based on Kugler’s pencilled handwriting made by Flo Gärtner of Magma in Karlsruhe (and a co-founder of the German type and design blog / magazine Slanted).

Kugler’s handwritten texts have become a crucial part of his distinctive approach to reportage, which has evolved slowly over time. His early work, made while studying in New York, contained short notes, but by the time of his Guardian slot ‘Kugler’s People’ in the mid-2000s, words had begun to fill every scrap of space.