Reportage illustration as a distinct discipline is a form of visual reporting that covers everything from exotic locations to war zones, enclosed courtroom proceedings to public events. It shares many of the concerns of written journalism and documentary photography, but reportage illustration offers something additional to both of these practices. It provides a different way to understand a place or event; it is visual but it’s often more than just a snapshot.The nature and style of reportage illustration has evolved alongside journalism and the technical development of printing.
Truth in drawing is about trying to capture the essence of the situation, whether it’s an emotional truth, a descriptive truth, or trying to capture a particular dynamic or tension. Getting to the truth of a story might, for example, mean emphasising certain aspects that you want a viewer to focus on.
(Course Guide p45 my emphasis added – illustration is inevitably a subjective interpretation. The key issue is to be aware of that subjectivity and its implications.
History of reportage illustration
Reportage illustration has a very long history – going back to stone friezes depicting rules and wars of ancient civilizations, tapestries like Bayeux Tapestries and medieval illuminated manuscripts. 17th century woodcuts were used to illustrate cheap publications called broadsides and later chapbooks or rags (named after the recycled fabric they were made from). These focused on murders, robberies and executions and provided grizzly depictions of victims and consequences.
By the nineteenth century news reporting had widened its scope and, with it, the breadth of material illustrated. As the market for newspapers increased the quality of the illustrations improved with the use of more expensive wood engravings and etchings. It took a while for photography to become integrated into newspaper publishing as a form of journalism, mainly because of the technical issues of printing photographs.
In Fine Art painters at the end of the nineteenth century painted social topics, for example:
- Degas Absinthe Drinkers
- Sickert Camden Town Murders
- Cezanne Card Players
- Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War.
- L.S.Lowry’s urban portraits
Contemporary reportage illustration
Reportage illustration is still practised as a way of providing a viewpoint on hard to document events, from courtrooms where cameras are banned, to personal experiences such as travel that are difficult to sum up in one image. And to convey mood of a piece. Particular sources of contemporary inspiration for my work include:
L S Lowry urban landscapes for their perspective and stylisation
and stylistic possibilities of:
Graham Dean watercolour
Franziska Neubert simple linocuts and woodcuts
Jake and Dinos Chapman: reinterpretation and reworking of Goya and other contentious issues.
Sally Pring for the flat colours
Olivia Lomenech Gill for her very diverse style with gouache, pencil, printmaking, collage
- How to draw something that might only be in place for a few moments? It takes practice to analyse a scene and commit the essential elements of fleeting impressions to visual memory, then make those impressions into an image.
- Initially at least the aim is not to make a finished picture, but to capture information. Focus on the key elements – a person’s face and hands, how they’re standing, the dynamic of a group of people huddled together. You might also have to draw a lot quicker. You’ll need to do a number of drawings. Movements are often cyclical even for people. Decide when to do the background and when to do the people.
- Interactions with the subjects – how to stop people being embarrassed or self-conscious See some of the hints in Urban Sketching
- Many reportage illustrators include written notes with their illustrations, reflecting on their perceptions, describing dialogue, thoughts or events. This adds to the personal perspective and gives the drawings a sense of personal identity.
- Final image: Mood, Media, Cropping, Colour etc