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Seeing, Learning and Recording ... Drawing

I am a documentary and reportage illustrator from the UK who was invited to join the Jeewan Jal team this Tuesday morning to help participants think about using drawing as a way of seeing, learning, recording findings, and displaying information.

I studied BA (hons) illustration at UWE in Bristol, UK. I found an interest in documentary and reportage illustration – trying to unify illustration and documentary journalism.I work with Gary Embury who runs the reportage network in the UK, a research group concerned with this specific field. Since graduating I have been in Asia for 17 months, pursuing my own practice amongst other things. I am exploring ways in which art and in particular drawing can cross pollinate with research, journalism, and understanding of the world.

Here in Nepal I am running the Reflections 25.4.16 project. We aim to develop a platform where journalists and storytellers can collaborate with artists to tell stories about social issues and concerns in a more emotive and slow way than conventional journalism currently does, with the intention of promoting positive social change.

Our workshop on Tuesday was broken into two halves: First I gave a presentation and workshop in the Jeewan Jal studio space before we moved into the field, using our new skills to gather findings relevant to the Jeewan Jhal project.

I used several examples from a paper by Sarah Casey and Gerald Davies (UK) – “Drawing as Babel fish” for their research on drawing as a way of understanding reality, referencing John Ruskin’s ideas of drawing being a way to see and learn. Here are a few of the examples I shared.

Then we tried out some techniques to loosen us up and to understand that drawing can be more about understanding something than creating a photo-real representation. Also that a rough drawing made in only a matter of seconds can convey a lot of information.

We started with speed drawing, all participants including Sian and Megha closed their eyes and were given a small object. With nothing other than the sense of touch I gave them 10 seconds to draw a representation of the object on paper, before passing the object, receiving a new one, and repeating.

We then did the same but with eyes open, except that students were asked not to look at the paper or pencil, only the object before them. We then explored space and mapping. First conveying our journey to the workshop in a very literal physical sense but then in a more conceptual and non literal way such as in the work of Paul Davis and Peter Matthews, with the prompt: How did you reach this point in your life?

Paul Davis Map Illustration

I was very impressed with how fast the students took up the ideas and techniques we explored in the workshop, and how adeptly they used them. It seemed that they were receptive to my comments on the value of their rough drawings, and they all seemed to enjoy the experiments.

Then we headed out. In groups of 2-3 we made our way into central Patan, walking through the streets with paper, charcoal and pencils in hand. Local participants led their own groups, choosing their separate sites. I went with a group of 3, one of which is doing his masters in Buddhism, and who was an extremely knowledgeable guide. He led us on a winding route that took us past many Hitis, wells, water tanks and pumps. We settled at a large and disused Hiti deep in Patan, and sat down to draw. Together we made small studies of details, took interviews of people who past by, and interacted with curious children and locals.

A local girl decides to join in

I found the group to be engaged, interested, and ready to experiment, far from the shy and withdrawn group that I had nervously expected. Though most had no formal art training, their drawings were visually interesting and expressed exactly the values I was hoping to explore. Each participant wholeheartedly explored with these new techniques and ideas.

I’m very happy to have been a part of this project, and hope that I can do more like this in future!

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