George Butler: Reportage Illustration


George Butler is an award winning artist and illustrator specialising in travel and current affairs. His drawings, done in situ are in pen, ink and watercolour.  In August 2012 George walked from Turkey across the border into Syria, where as guest of the rebel Free Syrian Army he drew the civil war damaged, small and empty town of Azaz. Over the last ten years his desire to record scenes in ink rather than with a camera has meant he has witnessed some extraordinary moments;  refugee camps in Bekaa Valley, in the oil fields in Azerbaijan, in Gaza with Oxfam, in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, in a neo-Nazi murder trial in Munich, on an oil rig in the north sea, down a Ghanian gold mine… the list goes on.

“The skill is to use drawing as an interview technique for an entire situation, I make visual notes in ink as time passes.  It isn’t all about conflict… the drawings are of more common experiences than those on our front pages, they are of unfolding scenes, of habits, of stories, or of a single character”. He says.

Since doing research for my professional practise workshop, George Butler, has fast become one of my new favorite illustrators. The amazing work that he produces with simple observational reportage illustrations, is so full of empathy and give such a close personal response to his experiences of the lives lived in the incredible places that he takes himself too. The photography and film clips that come out of Syria and Afghanistan, while very informative, don’t carry the same emotional weight of Bulters observations, by going to these places and putting himself directly in harms way in this manner, Butler’s work gains a wealth of depth and reality that is created by simple pencil and pen.
Butler’s professional practise and life as a freelance illustrator comes with a lot of risk, not just because he works in dangerous and often war torn or 3rd world countries, but because his method of generating paid work requires creating the work with no guarantee of a publisher. By operating in this way, Butler, created work that very few other illustrators can offer and his method create a very different kind of appeal, offering the publicist a very unique opportunity, this becoming the main selling point of his work. The risk that he takes is that, once h has completed his projects, there is a very really possibility that he wont be able to get it published. This gamble, in his case, has paid off massively, but when he left for Syria in 2012, he had no way of knowing this.


This very risky method of becoming a published and profitable illustrator is not an easy one, and comes with a great deal of risk, but it is a really encouraging example of just how varied and personal ones journey into professional illustration can be. While this is an extreme example of generating work for oneself, it does give a good example of how one might go about it; create a situation or find a perspective on a topic or issue that could be added to and enhanced by an illustrative response, reportage is all about reporting, so find something you are passionate and find interesting that you can offer your unique perspective on. when presenting your reportage illustration, it is important to stress that, like Butler, you can offer publishers a completely new and individual piece of reporting that no one else is able to.


Work Progress Responses

As I’ve spent much of this week working on various written work and some group project work set in the professional practise workshop, as well completing the ethics protocol sheets, my practical illustration work has been a little left behind.
However this does not mean that I’ve not been working on various pieces in this time or furthering my exploration of media in my response work. Using a combination of stock images from google and photos that I have taken myself – I have been using stock images of homeless people because I don’t feel that I can take pictures of them myself, as I don’t want to be exploiting their vulnerable position, but I do want to move on to putting human figures into my work, and therefore, wanted references to draw from – I’ve continued exploring mixed media in my work, using a combination of ink, water colour, gouache, soft pastels and pencil crayon. The textures of these mediums all work together quite effectively, creating a mat finish that is great for drawing on in pencil crayon and takes pastels very well.

Working Progress Church path.jpg

This particular image is unfinished, I’m undecided if I will be continuing it, as I’m not sure that I’m happy with the colour pallet. However, finishing the image would include changing adding in an element of foliage, which could potentially lift the pallet and add to the tonal variation in the overall piece. Lately, I’ve developed a habit of starting and not finishing my smaller pieces recently, this particular piece is a concertina zine and would therefore have a really interesting sense of perspective if it were fully finished.

Queen street.jpg

Above is another piece that I started this week and have left unfinished, this one however, won’t be finished traditionally. With this image I’ve decided that I’m going to try manipulating and editing it using photoshop, I’d like to do this because it maybe that later down the line of this project I will be looking to create a poster or banner campaign and I feel like this image ids strong enough that I could potentially create a prototype design with this graphic.
This was my first move to adding soft pastels and gouache into my response pieces, the texture that it gives to the sleeping bag is something I’m particularly happy with and if nothing else comes of this image, then the inspiration it gave me to move into more varied medias is already something that I’m carrying into further response work.

Buzz Business workshop: Face to Face Selling

Being that, as a freelance Illustrator, I signed up to this workshop on the basis that, in my professional life being able to see my skills and my time will be hugely important skill. The Buzz Business workshop series so far, has been really interesting and informative about basic business practises and tips on how best to publicise your business. This most recent workshop, I think, has been the most directly useful so far.
The act of selling ones skills and time as a business or ‘opportunity’ will be a huge part of my future professional work, from what I have learned from my professional practise research, most illustrators are very active in seeking out and creating work for themselves by producing their own projects to then sell to publishers or companies that might benefit from their work. in order to do this, it’s very important to be able to talk about your work and what you can offer as an illustrator.
In the workshop, presented by guest speaker Julie Collins from the centre for entrepreneurship, we sent a hour going through a crash course in practical sales, covering important tips to remember when talking about yourself and your business. The first step that Julie instructed us on, was the act of building a short sharp introduction to our products, keeping your opening short and exciting, people switch off very quickly and getting to the point is very important in retaining their interest in you and your product. Julie also stressed how important it is to remember to personalise your opening and introduction, the ‘it works for everyone’ approach is basically the same as ‘it works for no-one’.
One of the more important points that she covered was about the way that you talk about your work, making sure that you talk about your skill/product in the a way that stresses the benefits that you can offer, not the features, ie: WIIFM- what’s in it for me. Telling a potential business partner or customer that you have a degree and therefore they should hire you is not good practise, instead you should be telling your target that you are ‘fully trained and have professional experience’, posing the statement in away that focusing on the things that you offer as a partner or freelance hire that make you the best and most beneficial hire.
Julie Collins was a really great speaker during this workshop and I found much of what she had to say very helpful and informative on the subject of how I might approach talking to future partners and making a successful pitch to a person or company that I want to work with. The past buzz business workshops that I have attended have been good, but this workshop was perhaps the best as I feel like I can really apply the skill that I’ve learned and that it was the most tailored to me during the session.

Professional Practice Philosophy

During our first Professional practise work shop, with Phil Wrigglesworth, we had to write a ‘professional philosophy’ that described the way in which we want to approach our practice and artistic future. After the group presentations we then had to revise our first philosophy in light of the new information that we learned from our research and the research of the other groups.
My first draft Philosophy:
The direction of my illustration is aimed at empathetic response and the reporting of issues, to always seek to educate people about things that affect the wider world in a way that stressed the collective human experience in a relatable way. My illustration will aim to make people care about the things that I care about, expressing why they should also care. My work should be both visually informative and emotionally engaging to its audience.

In light of the presentations and my research, my philosophy didn’t change too much, but it did become much more focused:
The direction of my illustration is aimed at empathetic response and the reporting of issues, to always seek to educate people about things that affect the wider world in a way that stressed the collective human experience in a relatable way. The focus of my illustration should be observation, both playing to my strength in observational drawing and producing the most personal and individual response, in order to generate a genuine feel to my illustration. Educating and highlighting the issues and causes that matter to me.
As an illustrator, I will aim to create as many opportunities for myself as possible and to operate in a collective and collaborative space as often as possible. As an illustrator, a key aspect of my professional practise should revolve around working with others in my field,by way of collectives and agencies. Specifically, I’d like to work towards being involved with the collective ‘Women Who Draw’ project, as a strong feminist and politically active collective, they reflect a lot of values that I hold and reflect the kind of attitude that excited me.

Professional Practise Workshop with Phil Wrigglesworth: Pechakucha presentation.

On Monday 6th November, we had our first on two professional practise seminars with Phil Wrigglesworth, in the first workshop we were tasked with putting together a group presentation about ways that we can go about practising illustration and get into the business after we graduate. The groups that we were placed into where based roughly on the interests and the general directions that we are all focused on. In my group of four, with Ruth, Tom and Dom, the common thread was ‘reportage illustration’, we all have an interest in reporting and responding using illustration. Our Pechakucha presentation consisted on 20 slides, so we did 4 slides each about illustrators whose path into the industry inspire us and the organisations and opportunities that could help us to practice professionally in the field. We then came back on the morning of Monday 13th and put our presentation together

The Final presentation: PK-PW

Looking at all the individual research that we came up with was really inspiring;

  • Dom focused mostly on Illustration collectives and organisations like ‘The Society of Illustrators’ and ‘AOI’, as well as opportunities like zine fairs in Bristol, HI fest and illustration awards like the ‘International Compostela Prize For Picture Books’
  • Tom Looked at a whole host of reportage illustrators, such as, George Butler and Jenny Soap, who created their own opportunities by investigating and going to the countries full conflict in order to illustrate and respond to the people there. By doing this they created unique work that they could then take to the papers and publishing companies to get printed, this is a really risky way of generating work, as it requires you putting in a lot of effort, and investing a great deal of time and potentially a lot of money, with no guarantee of a return, but it can really pay off.
  • Ruth also looked at a few reportage illustrators, but she also looked at other opportunities and the agencies that one can join, who will represent and help to generate work for freelance illustrators. Publications like Frankie Magazine and Vice also hire freelance illustrators and have also offered great opportunities to practising illustrators to be published.
  • I mostly looked at the organisation and collectives that I’d like to work with/for, like the collaborative collective Scriberia, who art an international design company who have worked with a great deal of big brands and are always on the look out for new talent to work with; on their opportunities page there is a short video that you are invited to respond to, your response must be completed within 2 hours and you can then submit it with a 500 word description/explanation as to what you can offer as an employee/collaborator.

Listening to everyone else’s presentations on the illustration practises and opportunities that they had researched was really interesting and gave me a lot of things to think about. Some of the illustrators and professional routes that they researched and discovered were ones that I had not considered or not known about previously. For example, I’d no idea that the New Scientist had a submission space on their website for illustrators and designers to post their work in order to get the opportunity to work with the publication and get their work out. -Since learning about this, I have in fact, sent an email via their site inquiring about how they source their illustrators and for hints on what kind of illustration that they look for.
The workshop was a very useful one and has left me a great deal more aware of how I might go forward with my professional practise and also given me a great deal more research to do into some of the ideas and professional routes that were brought to my attention.



Submitting work to V&A Award.

As part of my own research into professional practise I’ve been looking into awards and illustration briefs that I can submit my work to, I’m hoping that by putting myself out there like this and getting in a mindset where I post my work into these public spaces, it will become more natural to me and become an easier, less stressful, process. Putting my work out on different platforms and displaying it amongst other folk in my field will hopeful boost my confidence in its quality and may even gather more interest in my work, exposing it to people who may be interested in me and my illustrative abilities.
The pieces that I submitted where the pencil crayon and mixed media pieces that I have been working on in my current project:

I’m planning on using some older work from previous projects to submit to other competitions, and will definitely be pushing myself to do this more often.

Artist research: Yann Kebbi

French illustrator, Yann Kebbi, is an observational illustrator who works largely in pencil crayon. His work often holds a slightly sinister undertone, the otherwise bright and happy scenes often centering around emotional dramas acted out with in the piece; featuring, bike crashes, arguments, and bustling crowds.


Kebbiis is a prolific drawer, filling sketchbooks full of his travels, his subjects are ostly people and his work is always underpinned by his observational drawing skills; providing it with a very humane response to his subject matters.
Being that my own work is best when it is based on my observational drawing, Yann Kebbi’s work is very relevant to my own, and I find him to be quite a compelling illustrator. His obvious fondness for the human condition and the empathy that his pieces conveys is a quality that I feel I need to be reflecting in my own work, considering that my subjects are some of the most vulnerable members of society who are often overlooked, in order for it be effective, I need my audience to feel empathetic to the message in my illustrations. His use of pencil crayon is very effective at creating his tone, and is a very different approach to my own approach, his use of sketch lines and negative space is something that I’d like to look into using in my own work to explore how that might change the tone of my pieces.


Though, ultimately, I am moving more in the direction of mixed media, currently using a combination of pencil crayon and ink to create a more fluid and engaging feel to my work. Kebbi’s work remains relevant to my own as his narrative landscapes, and the way in which he engages his audience emotionally, are both aspects of illustration that I’d like to be showing in my project.