Illustrator in Residence Diaries: Nous Vous part 1 (Jay)

Jay Cover of Nous Vous Collective begins our Illustrator in Residence diaries...

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  • Illustrator in Residence

Our six month residency at House of Illustration is an investigation into collaboration, using ourselves as a case study. We’ve been working together as Nous vous Collective for nearly ten years. Over that period of time we’ve collaborated with each other in various different ways: as a design studio where we would discuss ideas and divvy up tasks; curating multifaceted exhibitions which require organising, installing, generating ideas through conversation and administrating; and most recently setting up a publishing imprint where we all suggest ideas, manage the website, ship orders and speak to new stockists and customers.

Like most actions, behaviours or modus operandi subjected to a long lifespan, our collaboration has become second nature. In some ways we’ve lost sight and perspective of how and why we work together and simply go through the motions.

In the context of illustration, collaboration has its challenges; finding a visual language, sharing money, issues over authorship, egos endlessly colliding, finding it difficult to locate a direction. But the exact same thing can be said in reverse as a list of positive things; having no visual language = freedom, anonymity, sharing costs, strengthening ideas, more thorough thinking. All with a daily dose of healthy competition and inspiration.

It’s been nice thinking and reflecting on these things, noticing them in all of the ‘play days’ we’ve engaged in so far during the residency. We’ve attempted to try new ways of working together, foreign to all of us: drawing with play dough, creating co-authored stories from word games, collaging with found photographs.

So it’s great to be given this opportunity by House Of Illustration to breathe some fresh life into our collective, to hold up a mirror, look under the hood, oil the gears and clean out the cobwebs. In short, to find new ways of working together and challenge what it means to be in a collective. This is particularly important in a world where day-to-day we see new and emerging forms of polarisation amongst communities, large and small; where the healthy notion of having a different point of view, of discussing and finding compromises for the common good, seems to be dissolving. We want to explore whether working together, getting on board the same ‘Big Ship’ can sail us to new fertile lands, where we can discover new things together.

The image above, A Big Ship, was a drawing we collaboratively (and quite frivolously) produced on our new invention, which for lack of a better name is currently called ‘the drawing machine’. The machine was conceived during one of our ‘play days’, where we gathered a selection of basic materials and attempted to construct collaborative drawing tools, devices and games. The machine was then taken and worked up into a functioning (albeit a little ram-shackle) machine. Contracted to consciously remove our hands from holding a pencil, in order to resist any attempt to furnish a drawing with a particular ‘style’. The machine is operated by three people, pulling levers left and right, up and down.

We tested it at our first House of Illustration workshop. Visitors were invited in groups of three to create a drawing on the machine. It’s extremely difficult to create a visually pleasing drawing, but very easy to have fun and highly necessary to compromise and converse. Which left me with a few questions for further investigation in our ongoing collaborative study. What is more important: a visually accurate, pleasing and articulate image, or one that is extremely fun to make that encourages conversation? Is it a better way of forging a bond and shared experience? Does a badly drawn image done in a unique and interesting way inherit more meaning than a well thought out and executed one in the context of a collaboration? Can we get really good at making pictures on this machine through practice? The investigation continues…

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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.