Nous Vous: Residency Diaries Part 2 (Nicholas)

In the second blog of our Illustrator in Residence diaries: part 2, we hear from Nous Vous Collective's Nicholas Burrows.


  • Nicholas Burrows
  • Residency


How do you begin illustrating a three-person mind?

In our first workshop with our prototype drawing machine at House of Illustration we wrote the names of images, objects and people on pieces of paper and folded them up. Participants each chose one and used each other’s imaginative associations and memories to draw their subject. This opened up collaborative conversations and resulted in some interesting images.

That was all well and good for drawing simple objects and places, but it got more complex when trying to ‘illustrate’ ideas and scenarios. In the studio we began to look at alternative ways of creating compositions:

For instance: 

1. One person leads the image, dictating what the others do
2. A composition is sketched out in pencil and then worked over with ink
3. The illustration is based on a study made from photo-collage
4. The illustration is invented but uses reference material for dress, postures and faces etc

We experienced various problems, the main one being that we were planning too much.

We began to form an idea of how to proceed...

Some examples of our reference collages:


We approached the paper with no ideas in mind already? No plan, no sketch. What if we just, read a portion of text, loaded up the machine and started?

Drawing bit by bit, figures and objects change and morph into something mangled and organic – a bit like an exquisite corpse. The indecisions are recorded in the machine’s slight jerks and wavering, unsteady undulations. A mistake is patched over or turned into something else.

It’s become an enjoyable process. Something which I now look forward to every week, like a band-practice or a game of football, where thinking and conversation is required, but the joy of communicating through actions prevails.


We’re under no illusion that these images are ‘good’, but nor do we think they’re ‘bad’. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

We’re trying to make images which could not have existed without all three of us working on them. We’re trying to make something that surprises us, makes us laugh, in a way that we can’t predict or properly control – and that gives a clear indication of the process through the marks.


We go into the last month of the residency trying to finish a list of illustrations that span the plot of Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’, whilst continuing to experiment and push the possibilities of this drawing process.

Now we have more of a handle on what we’re doing, we’re thinking about the complexity and ambition of the drawings, continuing to experiment with colour and how to communicate the nature of this absurd, farcical and often ridiculous text, through this preposterous, frustrating but ultimately fascinating process.


Nous Vous Collective is House of Illustration's 2016 Illustrator 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. 

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