Nous Vous: Residency Diaries Part 3 (Jay)

In the final installment of our Illustrator-in-Residence diaries series, Nous Vous Collective's Jay Cover shares thoughts on play and criticism.


  • Jay Cover
  • Residency

While producing the work for Three Men in A Boat we never had the opportunity to view more than one piece at a time, due to space restrictions in our studio.

Seeing the work together, hung and framed nicely at House Of Illustration, I got a sense of what we do and how the machine restricts us, and my relationship not only with the two other people making the work, but with the machine itself. It was also nice to finally be able to fully view the progress we made technically throughout the residency. The show is hung roughly in chronological order.

One thing I have been reflecting on – prompted by something Brian Eno said on Adam Buxton’s podcast – is the idea of play. In making our drawing machine we’d effectively built a giant toy. This idea of play is a really important part of our particular collaboration. In the interview, Eno talks about how he believes art is the adult version of play. A place to investigate and discover things about the world around us through interacting in one way or another. How this form of inquiry can start as a relatively small gesture that when prodded and explored can yield quite profound results and potentially lead to huge discoveries. Which sometimes also result in nothing.

He argued that most if not all of human achievement is down to this initial desire to play and discover things, when you trace it back to it’s source. This week I also listened to a talk by Simon Ings of New Scientist magazine, who spoke about evolutions in the human body and how this is reflected in culture: how a gesture can be a technology, how thinking about helping your local community can lead to space travel, how something small and seemingly insignificant can become large and purposeful when embraced by a wider community.

I don’t have any delusions that the machine we built or what we’ve produced on it so far is meaningful or has the capacity to alter the course of society in any way. But it is nice to have contributed to this ethos in a small way throughout this residency.

The reason I am writing all this is partly in response to something Nancy Garcia (@njoyairbrush), who was bold enough to give us our only piece of public criticism on twitter, tweeted:

Her criticism also reflects some of the concerns we ourselves had earlier on in the residency, once we’d started yielding results from the machine, we became aware that we were out of our comfort zone, removed from the technical proficiency we have for other types of image-making and exploring unfamiliar terrain.

One of our main objectives, was to question whether style and surface are as important in illustration (or visual communication) as doing something meaningful with peers - as an allegory toward doing things more closely in a community. Perhaps reflecting, prodding or attempting to escape what I personally perceive as a society that is becoming ever more individualistic, selfish even, due to social media and other emerging technologies that seem driven to separate people.

There’s a constant drive to make things perfect superficially and forget that all these things need to do is communicate, to reach people. I would argue that some of the flaws, mistakes and nuances, the vulnerability in the work we produced with this analogue piece of technology, offers something quite different - something that actively reveals the fact that ideas, structures, methodology, communication - particularly coming from a small consort of people – is often flawed and we should leave space for the viewer to interpret and fill in gaps.

My reading of Nancy’s comment is that she believes that we should demonstrate more technical proficiency in our work - especially when exhibiting in a gallery. She’d like to see more skill. Which is a valid point in some ways, but one that closes down the opportunity explore new things or have a different experience of something familiar. If you want to see well rendered imagery there’s plenty of it about and there’s room in my opinion for lots more things that explore the world in different ways.

It’s a little sad to think we would only ever have extremely technically proficient artwork on show. I take much more pleasure from a child’s drawing, uninhibited, imaginative and from a unfamiliar perspective than I do from a well-rendered portrait. Children’s drawings allow me to think and fill in gaps (contribute in a way), often I find technically proficient work doesn’t allow or want you to think for yourself - it wants you to understand what it’s saying and stand in humbly, subserviently in the creators power. I’ve always believed that technical ability should come second to expression and second to communication.

I have lots more thinking and evaluating to do, digesting. I’m looking forward to working on the machine again, to find new subject matter and explore it with Nic & Will. And hopefully to plicate Nancy’s plight, we will steadily get more technically proficient on the machine.


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 is open until 11 June 2017. Our residency programme is generously supported by the Barbara and Philip Denny Trust. 

Would you like to be our next Illustrator in Residence? Applications are now open

Read Nicholas's blog

Read Will's blog