2.5 Drawing with objects

Key words from the brief:

  • Take a sketchbook on a journey, treating it as a visual log or scrapbook including objects actually collected on the journey
  • Focus on the places where these objects were sourced and ask yourself how the objects themselves can be incorporated into an illustration of these places,
  • How can they be used to capture the key moments or places where your objects were collected?
  • Incorporate some key elements of your physical objects into your work

  • Create some simple illustrations

My approach

I completed this exercise during the week between Christmas and New Year and was looking for a subject that I could use as a starting point. I live near a large shopping centre and thought the New Years sales would provide interesting material and this became my subject.

At the same time there was a lot of comment in the news about how poorly the traditional shopping season had been for major retailers.

What I did


My research was done during two trips and mostly involved photographing shoppers in or around the central shopping precinct doing their shopping, carrying shopping bags, and I hoped swarming over the sales items.

When I reviewed the photographs I noticed several things:

  • I was attracted to images that had strong characters and narrative
  • On their own the photographs didn’t adequately communicate a sales frenzy. In fact the experience I’d observed was a bit underwhelming. I was expecting there to be shoppers struggling to carry six or seven overfilled carrier bags and swarms of bargain hunters pushing and shoving their way to the best deals. There wasn’t really much of that. There were two types of shop where this kind of behaviour could be observed: shoes shops and clothes shops, particularly in the large department stores.
  • The husband and wife or daughter and elderly mother relationships seemed to have the most potential for narrative and humour and I decided to explore this aspect further.
  • The promises made by the promotional sales literature was very far from what I was observing in the shops. There was an opportunity to play off the sales promise against the grim shopping reality.

With these observations in mind I went back with my iPhone camera for a second time.

As well as taking photographs I also noted down snippets of conversation. I was alerted to this when I heard a tired and bedraggled middle aged husband say to his wife ‘but you’ve already got hundreds of shoes’ as they both veered towards the shoe department. That struck me as providing a great caption.

This gave me enough material to start developing my ideas.

Developing the theme

I scanned through my research and found a couple of images of shoppers that I felt could be made to fit my theme. I wasn’t sure what style of drawing I should use to represent them or the types of media I should use. So I did two experiments.

Experiment 1 – Caricature and grunge

I started the first experiment to see how the different elements of the image would hang together. My very first attempt was so poor I ripped it out of the sketchbook with ink still wet, folded it in half and was about to bin it but unfolded the paper to see what the smudged image would look like. The resulting ink blots and smudges created an interesting effect that I used in later images.

The drawing style was very loose and almost a caricature.

The red sales promotion image was taken from the department store’s website and printed on a colour inkjet printer and the caption was added later.


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Dip pen and Indian ink with collage. A2 sized sketchbook

Experiment 2 – A more realistic ‘straight’ representation

My second experiment started with a series of photographs of a daughter helping her elderly mother up some stairs. Both were very fashionably dressed and the relationship between the two was charming and knowing – they must have done the same sales shop many times in the past. This gave me the narrative starting point.

For this image I changed the drawing style to be more considered and ‘realistic’. The found object was another promotional graphic from a different online retailer.


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Dip pen and Indian ink with collage. A2 sized sketchbook

These experiments gave me the material an insight to work up a set of more final illustrations.

Final illustrations

I worked up three illustrations, each in a different visual style, but each containing the same essential elements and each dealing with a different aspect of my themes.

Illustration 1 – HMV RIP

Method and media: Dip pen and Indian ink, simple cartoon illustration

The day before I started work on this exercise HMV announced that it had gone into administration; another victim of the changing way in which we’re all doing our shopping and consuming home entertainment through streaming services rather than buying CDs or DVDs.

In an article in The Guardian it was reported that: HMV said retailers of all types were facing “a tsunami of challenges”, festive trading had been “extremely weak” and sales of DVDs across the market had plunged by 30% on last year’s levels.

The idea was a simple one that combined satire and humour.

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HMV RIP – Dip pen and Indian ink – A2 sized sketchbook

The found sales poster in the headstone was printed from a photograph I took from inside the store.

Illustration 2 – Make it go away…

Method and media: Sharpie pen sketches compiled digitally in Illustrator and then all the components collaged together. Blind contour drawing for characters.

The starting point for this was a photograph of a middle aged couple stepping off the top of an escalator in a large department store. The man looked tired and had definitely lost interest in shopping, whilst his wife had a stern determined look that said ‘keep going’. That was the narrative I had to work with.

I liked the blind contour drawing exercise and used this as a way of creating an interesting  caricature with a disruptive broken feel. I thought this technique would best describe the feelings of the husband in the picture.

There was a catch – I couldn’t use a dip pen for this exercise because it would be impossible to use blindly without making a huge mess. Perhaps an experiment for later? So I used a Sharpie pen and drew each character separately on A2 paper. I then photographed these and digitised them using Illustrator. This allowed me to position and scale both figures correctly. The resulting image was printed at A3 and collaged together with the other visual elements.

I drew the outline of the escalator to give the characters a point of reference. The caption was invented and I liked it’s double meaning. Is he thinking about making his wife go away or the sales shopping or both?

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Make it go away – Digitally compiled Sharpie pen drawings collaged together. A2 sized sketchbook

The sale image was printed from the Bentalls Centre website.

Illustration 3 – You love less

Method and media: Dip pen and Indian ink smudged, liquid watercolour applied with printmaking roller and collage.

I wanted to think about ways of incorporating what I’d learned from the previous Drawing with tea bags exercise, and the puffer jacket the women in the picture is wearing looked like a good texture to be reproduced by using the printmaking roller and liquid watercolour method.

I decided to use the ink smudge technique that I’d tried out in the earlier development sketches.

The reference came from another of the research photographs and the sales image is cut from a plastic shopping bag. The caption is an actual snippet of conversation overheard during my research.

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Dip pen and Indian ink, liquid watercolour and collage. A2 sized sketchbook



What went well

  • I enjoyed continuing experimentation with drawing techniques and materials and the feeling of not being constrained by the need to create polished final pieces of work.
  • The New Year Sales theme worked well and gave plenty of scope for creating a range of narrative images.
  • The captions added another layer of humour.
  • Using sales promotional literature as the found object were easily incorporated into the illustrations adding meaning and context to the reading of the images.

What I would do differently/better

  • The HMV graveyard illustration was probably overcooked and the whole image could have been simplified down to just a headstone.
  • I found getting evenly lit good quality photographs of my sketchbooks at A1 size impossible. I have a set of lights and tripod which work fine up to A2, but beyond that the tripod arm doesn’t extend far enough to get an A1 sized image using a rostrum camera style. I tried photographing in natural light with the tripod on a table top, but this gave really poor uneven lighting.
  • I didn’t take enough care spray mounting the plastic bag collage element in the final illustration. This resulted in bubbles under the plastic. Unfortunately, even though the spray mount was repositionable adhesive, when I tried to lift the corner of the plastic it started to rip – so I just had to live with it.


The Guardian, HMV collapses into administration, putting 2,200 jobs at risk, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/dec/28/hmv-on-brink-second-collapse-administration



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