Going Back to My Roots (Reportage in the garden)

Over the last few years, I have developed an interest in capturing events and activities through drawing.  This so called reportage approach has so many outlets!  I have been commissioned to capture reportage: one-off events, weddings and festivals and series of activities to name a few.    Telling stories of places and occasions through drawing is my passion!  With a background in landscape design, I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to record a garden Masterclass in drawings recently.  This blog describes the day.  

Reportage Out in the garden

The Garden Masterclass series (run in association with Gardens Illustrated)  aims to bring together designers and gardeners for one day workshops (each with a different topic).   I attended the Masterclass: ‘Rabbits Eye View’ held at the delightful Stillingfleet Nursery in Yorkshire on 20th September 2018, led by plantsman Noel Kingsbury.   The location is stunning and the garden interesting.  I arrived early in the morning.  The sun and blue skies were giving that wonderful autumnal glow to the nursery and gardens.  Because the weather was closing in, Noel led the outside study and discussion in the morning followed by an  inside presentation and discussion later.

For these outside sessions, Noel encouraged participants to get down close to the plants and study their habitat, size, roots and structures.  It is these aspects that give us understanding about all manner of plant characteristics.  These include longevity; establishment and plant type (annual vs perennial etc).  The drawing was quite tricky because the group moved around the garden quickly, changing from one area to another after a few minutes.   Gesture drawing and capturing something of the movement, together with gathering and crouching near the plants was the order of the day here!


Garden Masterclass Reportage drawing Liz Ackerley

Garden Masterclass Reportage Liz Ackerley

Garden Masterclass Reportage Liz Ackerley


Reportage Sheltering from the rain

From late morning, the  clouds were gathering and the warmth from the sun gone.  This was our signal to get inside!  The cafe also doubled up as a lunch venue so it made for a cosy few hours.  Noel is an engaging speaker and everyone appeared attentive! Of course, on the surface of it, sketching this scene is easier than those in the garden.   However, there are the aspects of perspective of the room to tackle.  Not to mention being able to record that attentive listening!

garden masterclass reportage liz ackerley

Challenges and opportunities in telling stories through drawing

In many ways, I found this type of reportage to be the most tricky.  This is because I was having to react to situations that I didn’t know about in advance.  They were also actives that happened quickly and were not repeated.

The other tricky aspect of the morning in particular was the need to be able to move around the garden quickly whilst carrying several brushes, pens, and my drawing set up.  I lost, but luckily retrieved my beloved dagger brush!!

The context of planting was an added bonus because this enabled the incorporation of interesting and varied texture. It also enables very effective use of darks to create depth in the drawings.

For events such as weddings, I work almost exclusively with watercolour first as my preferred approach.  However, this session taught me that one size cannot fit all!  Colour-first was just  not quick enough.  Therefore, under these circumstances using just pen or using watercolour followed by watercolour pencil is better.  Sometimes, it is just best to act instinctively and use what just seems right.  Of course, all of this comes with practice!

Watch out for more reportage illustration stories coming soon!