#Citiesofhope: A day in the life of a reportage piece

This is my second blog about my involvement in #citiesofhope.  You can read my first blog about it here.  The convention of CitiesOfHope 21-29th May has now finished, but the incredible legacy of these amazing pieces of wall art prevails.    Their impact across walls in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, UK has been and continues to be amazing, prompting much in the way of discussion, photography and a stop, stare (and think) moment.   The difference between these and other street art is that each of the pieces of art are reflecting and communicating about a key social justice cause from Homelessness to Child war and globalisation. Furthermore, each of the 10 main pieces is linked to a local charity reflecting aspects of that social justice issue.   The intention is that for each wall, monies will be raised through various means, including the selling of artworks. In this blog I am going to focus on the production of my urbansketching reportage artworks of each of the 10 main pieces, for which I was commissioned a few weeks ago and which were completed from 21 May-8th June 2016.


I worked on pieces in parallel and did not work to completely finish one piece and move onto the next. This is related to location work vs. studio work and I took my opportunities to work outside when I could, doing complete days on site if possible, given our wonderful British weather! This gave me some other valuable perspective too: that of the environment of the northern quarter and of the people that inhabit it.   A lot of people stopped to chat whilst I was drawing, from street art enthusiasts, to local workers to those clearly living on the streets to those frequenting the bars! It gave a very valuable and humbling additional dimension to my work. When I look at the pieces, I remember those conversations and the weather and anecdotes about the situation. This is what makes up my 3D view of the Street Art and I try to capture some of that in my drawings.


Within each piece there were 3 parameters that were important to me: The composition of the piece to create an engaging and well balanced drawing on the paper, with the wall art as the focal point; A reflection of the sense of place and context in each of the pieces that reflects the experience of viewing them with the street as gallery and finally, technical mastery of the chosen materials (including my lettering). The first two of these are intertwined, as my composition really did need to enable me to reflect that sense of place and context.  It also needed to consider the text and its location and ability to frame the drawing. For me and in this project I am defining the sense of place as the streets and the architecture and the feel of the place brought about through scale, people, street furniture, vehicles etc. The context is all about how it will be viewed within the streets as a gallery: is it from a major road (i.e. often viewed from a moving car) or is it more intimate, close up and within the close knit streets of the northern quarter? I needed to show enough of the surroundings to give that context and I spent sometime considering what was in and what wasn’t before putting pencil to paper. Sometimes decisions on detail were included as I progressed the drawing.

On location 

Each piece was created on approximate A3 size heavyweight watercolour paper and I used a light weight board that I held whilst I worked. In general, I clipped the paper to the board (and learned to my cost, the issues of taping paper to board-enough said!). I worked on location on usually 2 pieces in a day and sometimes 3 depending upon the circumstances but these weren’t all finished for studio work in that time, usually it was a maximum of one piece finished for studio work in a day. Most of the time I was standing up, although on several of them I was able to perch on walls without affecting my level relative to the view too much.


Drawings were all done using a 0.7 mm mechanical pencil with soft leads (so as not to damage the paper); the pencil work was not full detail but construction outline and gesture to enable me to get scale, proportion and perspective right before committing pen to paper. I then moved onto pen, using permanent DeAtramentis ink and a Lamy or Pelikan M200 fountain pen and fine nibs. With respect to the murals, key lines and the major features of the wall were completed in pencil/pen on site. These were then taken back to the studio to complete using a finer pen: the Platinum carbon pen.   Photographs were always taken for subsequent colour and some detail but their use was kept to a minimum-I wanted to ensure that these pieces were all true urban sketching reportage!



Back in the studio, text was added first using my developed font with different sizing of letters: titles, subtitles, main body etc. It is important that the text is a part of the overall drawing not added as an afterthought so its positioning to wrap and frame the drawing lines was important. The same ink as the drawing was used together with an italic nib Lamy pen. The line up of the writing is critical so measurement and rulers are the order of the day here! The other thing that’s important in this family of drawings is consistency; there can be variations on the theme, e.g. exact location of the text, but certain parameters were kept consistent e.g. measurement from the edge of the paper, certain titles in certain sizes etc.



Prior to adding watercolour all traces of graphite were removed from the drawing using clean putty rubber. This does take some time but is worth doing well to avoid muddying the watercolour. With respect to painting, two common techniques have been used: wet on wet and glazing. Watercolour pencils have also been used in some circumstances and to create certain effects on the mural walls. For each of the drawings, I copied and then used the photocopy to trial out where I was going to use my selective colour. The colour has been used in part to lead you to the focal point of the drawing but also to create that sense of place and connection with the actual wall art. I tried to keep the colours fresh and bright by not over mixing. Colours were all tested on watercolour paper before applying to the original. None of the images are completely coloured. Selective colour is my preference!


Yesterday I shared the original pieces prior to framing with one of the founders of Cities Of Hope: Raja Mia. His response was: “I knew you would produce something special for us but you have surpassed my expectations, they are better than I imagined, they are magical”.   My brief to myself was to produce something more than was expected, -to go over and above. I am absolutely thrilled (and a bit teary!) with his response!

2016-06-10_0005 All these original drawings are being framed and displayed prior to being auctioned and prints will be available on the CitiesOfHope website and at a launch event in Takk coffee house and creative space in the Northern Quarter with proceeds going to the 10 charities involved. I will be reporting more on all that and on the finished pieces together in a future blog.

3 thoughts on “#Citiesofhope: A day in the life of a reportage piece

  1. Wow! What an exciting (and huge) project to work on. I love your work you have done an amazing and impressive job. No wonder they were happy. Congratulations. I really enjoy reading your blogs. Chris from Perth:)

  2. Thank you so much for your continued support Chris. It’s so kind of you to comment and I am so glad they are of interest – best wishes and happy drawing!

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