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.