Unique 'dialectogram' drawings capture a regenerating city

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Media captionHow to map a sense of place

"It's as much their work as it is mine" - a Scottish artist and illustrator explains how he maps the stories of Glasgow's communities.

When Mitch Miller invented the 'dialectogram' he brought together an illustrative style which displays a place through the eyes and the words of the people living there.

These unique, complex drawings map a location in intricate detail using a range of cartography, ethnography, architecture and sequential art.

Mitch has been drawing the people of Glasgow for 10 years now, ensuring their stories are always at the heart of his work.

The word 'dialectogram' derives from 'dialect', and 'diagram', although Mitch insists keeping the name 10 years on was all a bit of a mistake.

"Well I'd like to start by saying that first of all, I made the word up," he explains. "It's completely made up, so don't worry too much about that."

Image caption Mitch works in a shared artists' space in Dennistoun

Mitch has recently finished a project documenting Kirkintilloch's town hall and its 100 year rich history. To map a drawing of this scale and depth, he spent a year and a half working within the community.

This amount of time immersing himself in the place that he is mapping is important to the process, both for the detail of the sketches and the relationships with the people he meets.

You can find a link to a large version of Mitch's 'A Showman's Yard in the East End' here:

A Showman's Yard in the East End [4.23 MB ]

"I'll go into a place and work with the people of that place for months and sometimes years," Mitch says. "I'll get to know them, I'll talk to them, I'll sketch them and I'll try to involve them as much as possible.

"I'll chat to them about where they live and work and get to know why their place means so much to them. All the while I'll be creating a drawing of the place I'm in, and include their opinions and stories within that.

'Cartoonist at heart'

"I beg, borrow, and steal from various disciplines. There's a bit of architecture in there, bits of map-making and a lot of comics, which is my background really.

"Once people get used to me and realise who I am, and that I'm not just some random weirdo, then I'll start sketching."

Image copyright Mitch miller
Image caption 'The Showman's Yard' is a dialectogram of Mitch's home and community

After a decade of working with different groups from around Glasgow, Mitch believes the most important thing to get right is how you treat each person's story.

"You have a responsibility to them," he says. "If you're going to take their stories and their knowledge, your basic job is to make sure that that is respected, and that you don't abuse their trust.

"You need to make sure that you're doing this stuff right, and that you're being fair - not always balanced, but always fair. There have been moments where I've had to really check whether it's appropriate to show something, or whether the people I'm involved with are being looked after properly.

"I do work with some quite vulnerable groups - homeless people and young people for example. It's really important that you get these things right."

Image caption Mitch is now commissioned to draw his dialectograms by local communities, as well as taking on some of his own 'dream' projects

A recurring theme of many of Mitch's dialectograms is regeneration. As part of Glasgow's large showpeople community, Mitch understands first-hand how regeneration can have an affect on a place.

"I think inevitably regeneration is always a mix of good and bad, it's always a very complicated story whenever you go and change the fabric of a city or a town.

"However, I do think that sometimes the balance between the 'good' and 'bad' parts of regeneration can be questionable.

"We often have to ask 'do we really need more of this type of development, rather than tackle long-standing issues that are not being addressed?'"

Image caption Mitch believes that regeneration isn't always necessarily good or bad - it affects people in different ways

Mitch feels "amazing things" can be gained, but the way in which that is done and the effects of that can be very mixed.

"I think that the most common story that I come across when talking to communities across Glasgow, is that they are seeing new things and licks of paint here and there, but the long-standing issues are not being addressed," he says.

"Really what I try to do in my work is not to have a go at regeneration, neither make excuses for regeneration. I'm just really there to see what is happening and how people are affected by it, and how that's affecting their lives and the stories they want to tell."

Image copyright Mitch Miller
Image caption "So he's a big, fat, bald guy with elephant feet"

Mitch has developed an intricate way to draw the city that has been changing before him in the shape of his dialectograms. But as a cartoonist at heart, he has found that conveying a city's regeneration is much more poignant through the hollow eyes of the 'Glasgow Giant'.

"So he's a big, fat, bald guy with elephant feet," he explains.

"I suppose the Glasgow Giant just came out of years and years of working in and around a regenerating city. When Red Road flats were demolished I couldn't really resist putting the Glasgow Giant right in there amongst the ruins, showing him potentially having destroyed them himself.

Image copyright Mitch Miller
Image caption Mitch's 'Glasgow Giant' is seen here to have flattened his family's 'Showman's Yard in the East End'

"He's just a big, fat guy who goes around Glasgow having an effect on it.

"He might be the city itself, he might be the city council, he might just be my fevered imagination!

"At the end of the day I'm a cartoonist with delusions of grandeur. If you tear away the surface level then you find that that's what I do. I'm a cartoonist, but I like being able to talk about these issues and think about how things are changing and of course, why."

Image caption Mitch explains that he is "superstitious", and "won't sign a work until he knows it's done"

At the very end of the process, Mitch will invite the people who are a part of the drawing to sign it with him.

"I try to make sure that the finished work - in all it's mucky, tippex-ed glory - sits with the community that I've been working with. It's important to me that these drawings are available to the locals and to the public for free if I can.

"It's as much their work as it is mine."

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