Nous Vous: Residency Diaries Part 1 (Nicholas)

Nicholas Burrows of Nous Vous Collective continues our Illustrator in Residence diaries.


  • Nicholas Burrows
  • Residency

Working together takes much more time than we’d imagined. Experimenting without objectives is fun, but it becomes difficult to know whether what we’ve done is useful, has potential, is a success or failure. So far during our House of Illustration residency we've made collages, written strange co-authored stories and played visual games in order to generate images. We’ve even made rudimentary machines. But what are these images? And what is our objective in making them?

All of these threads are worth exploring and delving into, but the one that has most value as I see it is the drawing machine that we conceived of and Jay put together. This was designed so that three participants can use it at any one time, with each participant having limited control over a single pen. The machine came out of several attempts in the studio at developing simple collaborative drawing tools. The initial versions were very crude, involving heavy books, string, plastic tubing, bits of wood and tape. While the prototype is still made from studio leftovers, it’s much more refined - working almost like a printer, with the possibility of only basic up/down movement.

One method of operation is for participants to choose a folded up piece of paper on which is written an object or person (i.e. ‘Hot Dog’, ‘Banana’ or ‘Donald Trump’, rather like getting a brief) and then work together to draw this on paper, using the machine and a selection of paint pens. Testing this out at our first residency workshop last month, I felt that we could really push this further.

What does the drawing machine do?

  • It forces discussion about seemingly obvious or simple objects or ideas.
  • Different operators have different viewpoints so there’s an element of trust in helping other members of your team who can’t see the paper.
  • It is slow. It slows the operators down.
  • It allows a truly egoless result, if all participants are equally influential in the discussion.
  • It allows for a visual language that is part machine, part participant 1, part participant 2, part participant 3.
  • It’s drawing by committee.
  • The results are not ‘good’, rather they are interesting and filled with potential.
  • There’s an element of the ‘magic’ associated with printmaking/photographic development etc. when the result is partially unexpected and essentially uncontrollable.
  • It’s the uncontrollability that is attractive in undertaking the process
And perhaps most importantly: the process of using the machine illustrates the nuances of collaboration.

This was unexpected, but watching (and working with) participants at the workshop, it was clear that the machine forced them to discuss, slow down, think ahead, plan and problem solve, in a vocal way. Some people collaborated better than others, and for some, a second attempt was much more rewarding than the first, suggesting that this is an instrument that can be learned, developed and tweaked. Jay, Will and I made one drawing together, of a ‘Big Ship’. For me it’s the most successful object or thing or drawing we’ve made yet on this residency - crude, wobbly and ridiculous as it is - because it is totally co-created, through a process that is fun, addictive and full of potential.


Nous Vous Collective are House of Illustration's 2016 Illustrators in Residence. See the results of six months spent exploring the nature of collaborative work at our South Gallery exhibition. Nous Vous: Three Men in a Boat opens on 18 March 2017. Our residency programme is generously supported by The Barbara and Philip Denny Trust.