Visual Storytelling

Coding and decoding meaning

Visual storytelling requires an understanding of communication theory:

  • how images are coded with meaning/s – and how these are affected by the particular skills and views of the illustrator.
  • how viewers might then decode these images – how those meanings are read.
  • ‘noise’ affecting the relationship between the two – whether it should be eliminated or accommodated. The type of ‘noise’ will vary depending on who is looking at the work, where they are, and their cultural standpoint.
Semiotics
Symbolism
Narrative structure

 

Assignment 2: Theoretical Framework

(1,200–1,500 words) Look back at all the choices you’ve made in terms of format, theoretical perspective and research methodology and check that you’re happy with them – for now, at any rate.

Format for my written and visual work

My work will focus on how my own professional practice as facilitator and communicator of participatory processes in international development can be improved through incorporating the theories and practices used by designers and illustrators of info-graphics and wordless (or near wordless) animation and interactive experiences.

The written report will outline my conclusions about:

  • how visual communications and practice of selected designers and illustrators can be applied to participatory pictorial processes, the benefits, challenges and limitations

My own visual research will be uploaded to this blog with the supporting posts and resource links including:

  • visual portfolio on concepts and strategies for empowerment, leadership and coffee livelihoods – three  interactive animated info-graphics based on selected community drawings that can be understood and disseminated on-line across audiences and contexts
  • a draft protocol for good practice in participatory visual communication as an animated interactive info-graphic using as few words as possible

Revised question following tutor feedback:

Theoretical framework

Development theory

Visual communications theory

  • Communication theory: the principles and methods by which information is conveyed
  • Interpretivism/postmodernism: qualitative and open approach, mixing different artistic styles and media
  • Post-structuralism: focuses on relationships and elements in a conceptual system but (following postmodernism) exploring the challenges of potential plurality and instability of pictorial (as well as verbal) meaning across cultures and contexts.

Research methodology

Ideally I would have been able to test my visual experimentation directly in communities myself to do in-depth ethnographic/action/anthropological research. But due to some health issues I will not be able to travel for a year or so. I envisage the research going through a number of phases which may overlap and interlink rather than being purely linear:

  • Semiotics and textual analysis: study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation – applied to community drawings and my photos of role plays from past work. Looking at relationship between representational and symbolic drawings and the textual documentation of the relevant diagrams. To identify which signs/concepts are common across different social categories (women/men, age, ethnicity) and context and where the main areas for misunderstanding or misinterpretation may lie.
  • Reflective practice: exploring and applying visual communication theories from graphic design/info-graphic theory and wordless narratives and my own ideas to my own visual work
  • Bricoleur: bringing together ideas about ways of working with different local materials as a means for physical as well as digital dissemination of images
  • Participatory Action Research: (hopefully) through collaborating with colleagues on the ground who can try things out in communities and organisations overseas and my own presentations in development agencies in UK.

Draft literature and resources review

Key resources from communities

I have selected community drawings from five different participatory processes which I have facilitated or been very closely involved and so have good visual materials and documentation to work with:

This selection will enable a good cross-cultural comparison, and also point to a number of different ways in which drawings and photographs can be used as the basis for wordless info-graphics and disseminated by the organisations involved. The info-graphics I produce may combine images from different processes to increase their cross-contextual understanding.

Visual Communications resources

See Bibliography

Conclusions

• Will my choices enable me to answer my research question?
• Are they appropriate for the visual and written work I am proposing?
• Do I need to rethink anything or gather any additional texts or resources?

Reflective Commentary

review and analysis of your progress as a reflective commentary of approximately 200–300 words. This should be
reflective and analytical, not just a description of what you did and when. Explain why you’ve done something and what you’ve learnt from it, rather than just telling your audience how you’ve done it.

Bibliography

For links to posts on specific illustrators and animators see menu on right. Key texts highlighted in bold.

Visual Communications and design

  • Baldwin, J. & Roberts, L., (2006) Visual Communication: from research to practice, London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc.
  • Barlow, H., Blakemore, C. & Weston-Smith, M. (eds.) (1990) Images and Understanding, Cambridge, New Yorlk, Port Chester, Melbourne, Sydney: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bell, R. & Sinclair, M., (2005) Pictures and Words: New comic art and narrative illustration, London: Lawrence King Publishing.
  • Bishop, C. (ed.) (2006) Participation, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: MIT Press.
  • Blazer, L., (2016) Animated Storytelling: simple steps for creating animation and motion graphics, USA: Peachpit Press.
  • Davis, M., (2012) Graphic Design Theory, London: Thames and Hudson.
    Downs, S., (2012) The Graphic Communication Handbook, London, New York: Routledge.
  • Hall, S., (2012) This Means This, That Means That: a user’s guide to semiotics, London: Laurence King Publishing.
  • Jason Lankow, J. R., Ross Crooks, (2012) Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling, New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons inc.
  • Julier, G., (2014) The Culture of Design Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: Sage Publications.
  • Kepes, G. & Giedion, S., (1944) Language of Vision, USA: Wisconsin Cuneo Press.
  • Kristof, R. & Satran, A., Interactivity by Design: creating and communicating with new media, Moutnain View USA: Adobe Press.
  • Macario, J. W., (2009) Graphic Design Essentials: Skills, software and creative solutions, London: Lawrence King Publishing.
  • Noble, I. & Bestley, R., (2001) Experimental Layout, East Sussex, UK: Rotovision SA.
  • Noble, I. & Bestley, R., (2016) Visual Research: an introduction to research methods in graphic design, London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc.
  • Rihde, M., (2013) The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note teaking, USA: Peachpit Press.
  • Rose, G., (2016) Visual Methodologies: and introduction to researching with visual materials, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi,Singapore, WashingtonDC, Melbourn: Sage Publications.
  • Taussig, M., (2011) I swear I saw this: drawings in fieldwork notebooks, namely my own, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Tharp, T., (2003) The Creative Habit: learn it and use it for life, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

To be added:

  • resources on participatory development and theories of change
  • Adobe Animate and javascript handbooks

Assignment 1: Research Question and Plans

Which design and story-telling principles used by animators and illustrators creating textless narratives are most important in converting farmer drawings and photos into powerful representations of farmer voices on empowerment and leadership in development?

Why I selected this research question

I want to explicitly link my visual communications visual experimentation and research with my professional consultancy work on participatory visual methodologies for development agencies in order to increase my ability to communicate the voice of farmers across contexts and to powerful people.

See: Research rationale

Key interests are the integration of textless design and storytelling principles of illustrators and animators with theories of change and stakeholder participation in international development. This is obviously a long term and multi-faceted process – particularly because my professional work covers a range of issues and I work in a wide range of media where I am keen to improve my skills.

A key challenge was therefore to narrow the question down to focus on specific technical skills most central to communicating the voice of farmers. For that reason the main focus is on Adobe Animate as a way of collating drawings and worked photographs of farmer role plays. Improving also my skills in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I also selected empowerment and leadership as crosscutting issues for my work and for which I have the most interesting cross-cultural farmer visuals.

Visual work options

My visual work will start with selection of a library of the most powerful drawings/concepts of empowerment and leadership and photo series of role plays from different cultures and selection of which farmer images to work with.

These images will then be digitised and worked on in different ways that aim to keep the energy and immediacy of the originals.

These images will then be collated into textless visual narratives as:

  • one page comic/infographics
  • 60 second animations
  • Interactive presentations combining the two

Experimenting with different solutions applying different principles from other illustrators and animators who have produced powerful textless narratives.

A selection of these will then be shared with farmers and development agencies for feedback of which solutions they find most powerful.

Finally a selection of 2-3 of the most successful solutions agreed under each head will be finalised for on-line publication.

Key texts, resources and gatekeepers

The key texts will bring together:

  • visual communications theory and participatory development theory to provide a framework for participatory visual communication for empowerment.
  • in-depth analysis of the work of illustrators and animators who have produced powerful textless, or nearly textless, infographic comics, animations and interactive experiences.

This will be combined with cross-cultural comparative analysis of:

  • drawings and photographs from participatory empowerment and leadership workshops in  Asia and Africa

My own visual research will draw on inputs and feedback from colleagues on the ground in Africa and Asia and in international development agencies as well as visual communications networks and OCA VisCom students.

For a list of resources collated so far see: Bibliography and the links in the menus in the righthand column of this page.

Time scale and plan of campaign

For further details see Narrowing down your topic Question 4.2 Action Plan

  • Mid January Assignment 1
  • End February Assignment 2 theoretical framework from VisCom and development literature, including analysis of design and animation principles used by other illustrators and animators and collation of bodies of images to be used from farmers.
  • End October Assignment 3 upgrading of technical skills (particularly Adobe Animate), drafting of infographics and animations and sharing with development networks.
  • End December Assignment 4 refining most successful infographics and animations and sharing with VisCom networks, reviewing and extending reading and consultation of background resources,
  • End March 2020 Assignment 5.

Strengths, weaknesses and strategies

Key strengths and opportunities for this proposal are:

  • my professional development experience and links. I have a good body of farmer drawings and photographs from which to select images to work with.  Because the project addresses a key challenge in my work I am hopeful that I will get the feedback I hope for.
  • I am not planning to take on so much professional work this year for a range of personal and professional reasons. So I should have a lot more time to devote to my degree.

Key weaknesses and threats

  • Although I plan to take in much less professional work, I do need to earn some income. This means I may unexpectedly need to alter my schedule.
  • I suffer from RSI that I have managed since 1994. This means that I have to be careful how much computer work I do at any one time. I have to diversify my activities and limit computer work for my degree if I have a lot of paid computer work.
  • I am doing this module alongside the Advanced Practice module. This focuses on physical skills and so should help diversify my activities. But I need to sequence assignments carefully.
  • I tend to have very many ideas and get intensely interested in things. I will need to be careful to keep focused and not take on too much. Exactly how I do this will become clearer once I have done Assignment 2.
  • Although I have postdoctoral research experience in my field, I am much less familiar with VisCom research and not so good (or motivated) at theoretical debates and critique in VisCom. Coupled with my RSI issues I will have to pace myself and spend quite a lot of time on reflection. Concept maps of theory will help.
  • I do not need to finish this module before end September 2020 and my work plan leaves plenty of time in case of overshoot.

Review and analysis of progress

I started this project with a broad idea of the types of ways in which I could integrate my work interests and visual communications work. With very many ideas. Initially doing very many maps appeared to be a bit repetitive. But as I continued I found that each idea thread could become more focused.

I think the research question I now have is reasonably clear, and can be answered in the word limit of the written assignment. Bringing all these maps together in Question 4 was particularly useful – and the collage process one I can use for other purposes in future in my work.

The topic is very important to the alternative participatory visual communications framework I am trying to develop in my work. I am  very therefore fully motivated to go into detail on the relevant visual communications theory. I am planning to increase my design proficiency in concept mapping software in my syntheses of VisCom debates – but starting with pencil/physical draft maps and moodboards in my sketchbook – and seeing how far I can also represent some of that visually.

The visual research is also something I am extremely motivated by I will need to do a thorough review of all the various processes I have been involved in to see which drawings and photos are most interesting to select. This may lead to either a broadening out of the topic from empowerment/leadership to include value chains to focus on cross-cultural comparisons, or a narrowing down to just gender or leadership or another topic.

The actual visual outputs I produce are not yet completely specified. I can see a logical progression from drawings and photos  1-page layout to 60 second animation to interactive experience using Adobe Animate. Using selected material on one issue in 2-3 cultural locations. But depending on my in-depth review of the materials I have, I may decide to focus on one set of drawings/photos and take that through. Or a broader set of drawings/photos/issues and do a cross-cultural comparative set of experiments in only one of these.

I think that my understanding, and maybe the research question itself, will continue to evolve and be refined and re-focused when I have gone deeper into the theoretical framework and had time to review all my secondary material from farmers and development agencies. And now also the relevant literature from development theory.

It will not be until the end of Assignment 2 that my plans, blog structure and thereby resources/gatekeepers etc will be completely clear. I will have to set that as a time limit, and leave any pending issues at that point for another project.

1b Research Proposal: Narrowing down the topic

1.4.1 Is the project driven by visual or written work.

This research is driven by visual challenges thrown up by my professional work on empowerment and leadership through participatory workshops with farmers, companies and development agencies. It is part of the development of a new model for participatory visual communication in development (see modelling above).

Addressing those visual challenges to translate drawings and photographs from the participatory workshops into powerful narratives that can work over multiple contexts to promote communication between farmers in different places and companies and development agencies requires research on other illustrators and animators who have developed engaging textfree narratives. This will establish some guidelines and principles that can be generalisable to other participatory communication processes – replacing currently ‘professionalised’ design with communication based directly on farmer visual images.

1.4.2 Action Plan

February – July Assignment 2

    • Review and cross-cultural analysis of existing farmer drawings and photographs in different countries in Africa and Asia from my own archive and from other colleagues – community farmer trainers and staff in companies and development agencies.
    • Download and analysis of known internet resources and search for other material on empowerment and leadership
    • Facebook discussion on VisCom4Dev set up on gamechange Facebook page
    • Review and analysis of books on textless (or near textless) infographics and 1 page comics
    • Review and analysis of textless animations on-line and methodologies of designing 60 second animations and interactive presentations.
    • Development of underlying viscom framework for the research and experimentation
    • Learning Adobe Animate in depth from manuals

July – December Assignment 3

  • Visual research and experimentation with converting selected farmer images and photographs into 1 page infographics, 60 second animations and interactive presentations
  • Sharing of my experiments as I proceed to get ideas and feedback from development colleagues (I want to get the development content agreed first)
  • Refinement of the experiments on the basis of feedback (depending on my consultancy work, I hope to be able to test directly with communities)

January-end Feb Assignment 4 

  • Sharing the revised infographics, animations and presentations with visual communications networks for feedback on design and aesthetics and communication to a wider audience
  • Further revisions to the materials in the light of that feedback and revisiting the theoretical research from Assignment 2
  • Drafting the Research Report

Feb-end March 2020 Assignment 5

  • Final revisions and review

1.4.3: Visual research: What do I want to achieve?

I want to develop skills in  designing simple textless infographics and animations  with interactivity in Adobe Animate.

I want to consolidate skills in:

  • ways of converting farmer drawings into usable digital form using image trace and blend modes etc in  Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop and/or Animate.
  • use of my own and other photographs eg through working over them in gouache/pen/crayon and/or collage to tell ‘reality-based’ narratives.

I want to produce:

  • a series of textless one page info-graphic comics, 60 second animations and interactive presentations based on farmer drawings and role plays about empowerment and leadership for download onto mobile phones to increase farmers’ voice in communicating with other farmers and companies and development agencies worldwide.
  • a short set of principles and guidelines on making engaging textless animation that can be applied by farmers and local organisations using locally available Apps on mobile phones

This will require review of:

  • farmer drawings on empowerment and leadership from participatory workshops I have facilitated
  •  company/NGO/academic ‘expert’ empowerment training materials
  • Design principles used by illustrators and animators who have produced simple wordless narratives, particularly those working in Flash
  • Types of Apps for local mobile smartphones

I want to promote my work to:

  • Farmers in Africa and Asia through on-line social networks and contacts I have
  • communities, companies, agencies and researchers interested in farmer empowerment
  • Illustration/animation forums interested in participatory/community VisCom

I want to refine my own skills in expressive textless visualisation and video design principles to be able to make the best use of farmer drawings

I want to explore

  • How textless visual communication works – types of framing, juxtaposition and contrast, role of humour/tension, timing etc
  • Differences in audience response to drawing and photo-based information and different roles these might play, can they be combined?
  • Different layout options for one page comics/infographics
  • Different methods of animating : stop motion of drawing process or role play, frame by frame and tweening
  • How far the same images can be used in layout and animation and what design adaptations might be needed going from sequence/infographic to animation.
  • How the original drawings are best done and preserved to maximise the ease of digitisation/photographing
  • How far these methods and principles can be applied by farmer organisations and local development organisations using software available to them

I want to prove that:

  • it is possible to create powerful textless one page comic infographics and short animations and presentations based on farmer drawings and role plays.
  • It is possible to do this at least to some extent using media available in communities and software that is available to most development agencies.

I want to involve:

  • farmers, local organisations and companies facilitating empowerment and leadership capacity-building with whom I am in regular WhatsAp/Facebook contact with in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Philippines.
  •  others working on empowerment and leadership in international development agencies and academic institutions
  •  infographic designers and animators and OCA VisCom students who might be interested in giving feedback from a design/aesthetic perspective

I want to integrate:

  •  visual communications theory (semiotics, post-modernist/feminist approaches), design and animation principles  and
  • participatory development theory: theories of change and empowerment and leadership methodologies.

to develop a new model of participatory visual communications that enables the voices of farmers to be powerfully represented in strategy and policy.

5 Narrowing down your research topic

4.1 Look through and identify main areas of interest

I started by printing out and pasting all the elements from my previous maps that were relevant for my answers in Question 3. The remaining elements I pasted on a separate page for possible follow up later in other modules or outside this degree.

Maps revisited and refined
Maps revisited and refined

2 Take each starting point and turn it into a series of questions

My starting points focused on a range of different types of output:

  1. How can information graphics best communicate voices of women, youth and men farmers to global companies, development agencies and researchers using insights from visual communications theory on semiotics and cross-cultural design?
  2. Most infographics integrate text and image. How far can the text be eliminated? When is text really needed? (involving me working with existing infographics by development agencies and seeing how far I can simplify and remove text, drawing on examples from illustration)
  3. How can collage and layout design principles be used to produce clear textless infographics using photographs of farmer role plays and drawings of empowerment and leadership?
  4. How can textless animation design principles be applied to farmer drawings and role play photographs to create powerful 60 second animations on empowerment and leadership?
  5. How far and in what ways do animation and interactivity add to clarifying textless communication farmer-identified  empowerment strategies ? What lessons can be learned from illustrators and animators?
  6. Which design and story-telling principles used by animators and illustrators creating textless narratives are most important in converting farmer drawings and photos into powerful representations of farmer voices on empowerment and leadership in development?

1a Research Proposal: Initial ideas

My Visual Communications practice and work on OCA courses is currently split between:

I currently have separate websites, on-line identities and networks for each.  To some extent this separation will continue. A key issue being my need to diversify my physical activity away from computers and even iPad to avoid/manage RSI.

At the same time, I am significantly reducing my travel abroad for a mix of health and personal reasons (age 65 in May!?! and increasingly over-sensitive to all types of pollution). I need to find alternative UK-based means of making an income. The best way for me to get commissions and client-based work in illustration and design is to start by linking this to content from my consultancy – developing on-line materials that I can use for training from UK. At this final level of my Visual Communications degree I am therefore aiming to bring my work and visual communications skills together more, and increase linkages between them. Leaving some of the things I enjoy most to a time when I have more financial security – and hopefully some sort of track record as an illustrator and designer.

In the VisCom degree as a whole I am planning to focus on:Module 1 Advanced Practice: establishing a distinctive socio-political ‘Zemni voice’. Looking first at what that might mean for documentary and briefs like ‘Spirit of Place’ for a tourist market. Then for more explicitly feminist work on image and text, exploring concepts of leadership. Finally developing some of the more imaginative work with a feminist narrative. On a technical level the emphasis will be on mixed media and printmaking. I want to focus on improving physical illustration skills: drawing from life and imagination, painting, collage and taking these to printmaking. Digital skills will continue to be part of my workflow, but not the main focus. (See new level 3 Illustration blog)

Module 2 Visual Research: I want to explicitly link my visual communications with my professional consultancy work on participatory visual methodologies for development agencies. As outlined in more detail below this will entail significantly improving my expressive concept drawing/cartooning, info-graphics/graphic design, animation and web design skills using locally available images and different cultural styles collated in Adobe Animate.

Module 3 Sustaining Your Practice: is yet to be decided based on how the other two modules go, but will continue to link my VisCom work with my consultancy. Possibly focusing on producing visual campaigning resources around ‘Building chains of value’ for organisations and companies I work with on chocolate/cocoa/coffee and tea.

Exercise 1.1: Visual Research: Initial ideas

I am therefore seeing Module 2 Visual Research as an opportunity to build on and contribute to my professional consultancy work. For a range of health and personal problems (65 in May! but need to keep earning) I am now needing to make my consultancy work more UK-based (also cheaper and more environmentally sustainable for development agencies). Linking my work on this module to my consultancy experience and interests would increase my potential to add more of a UK-based illustration and on-line component to consultancy contracts.

It will provide a focus for me to use a theoretical VisCom perspective and inspiration from other illustrators, designers and artists to look at innovative ways to address some of the challenges faced in my work – specifically the need for textless pictorial communication because of the commitment to inclusion of people with no formal education, cross-cultural communication and very limited budgets for translation etc – even if that was possible into the multiple local languages that can be there even in one community.

In terms of my VisCom skills development I want to significantly improve my visual rapid brainstorming skills and my ability to build on community-level drawings as the basis for participatory logos and ‘professional graphics’ that can be incorporated into presentations for development agencies and disseminated on-line. This requires improving graphic design, animation and interactive/web design skills using  Adobe Animate (image-based Powerpoint files are much too large).

Inspiration: secondary sources

A key source of inspiration are community drawings from participatory workshops I have facilitated on empowerment in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This includes:

  • expressive figure and symbol drawings on empowerment dimensions done by participants in pencil and marker pens or biro on white and coloured paper.
  • photos/videos of dances and role plays about empowerment
  • video and photographs of diagrammatic ‘infographics’ with individual or quantitative information on empowerment processes.

I will do a review of NGO illustration and graphic design styles. But much of this I find a bit monotonous – with a few exceptions. One of my main aims will be to explore and adapt innovative styles from beyond the Western ‘International’ style. The main sources of inspiration will be:

For drawing, cartooning and animation:

  • Islamic protest artists and illustrators like Marian Satrapi (Persepolis graphic novel and animation) and Middle East Street Art.
  • African artists and illustrators
  • Indonesian shadow puppets
  • Western political cartoonists, caricaturists and illustrators like Art Spiegelman (Maus), Ralph Steadman, Steve Bell, Steve Brodner
  • Minimalist surrealist illustrators like Alessandro Gottardo and David Shrigley
  • Japanese cartoon and manga artists including Yoshimoto Nara

For graphic design:

  • African geometric styles??
  • Islamic geometric styles??

Western graphic designers: Neville Brody, Philippo Marinetti, Wolfgang Weingart, Sarah Fanelli, fanzines.

I will also draw on traditional styles from art and sculpture from different cultures in museums like British and Victoria and Albert Museums.??

1.1.2 How will it extend my previous projects? Primary research

My primary research material will be experimenting – digitising, working over and collating the secondary community-level drawings and photos – with:

  • Digitising, tweaking and combining community drawings into narratives that can be understood by people from different backgrounds
  • Creating narratives using my own photos of role plays and other participatory exercises using painting/drawing on top for clarity and collage
  • Ways of collating this into animations and interactive presentations in Adobe Illustrator, Animate and InDesign and the relative advantages of each for the type of downloadable mobile content I am aiming at.

Some of my work community-level work – innovative and distinctive within my professional field – was presented but not successfully applied in:

  • Book Design 1 Image and Text
  • Illustration 2 Project 4.4 Street Art
  • Illustration 2 Project 4.5 Contemporary Ceramics

Unfortunately I no longer have these images – as they were not successful, they got deleted in a clear out of files I thought I would no longer need. Better examples of some relevant materials I produced (but want to apply design principles to are shown in the Flash videos in the righthand menu and infographic toolkit animations for a financial education module (in Illustrator and After Effects) on https://gamechangenetwork.org/fals-toolkit-oikocredit-aski-nwtf-philippines/

The research will build on and further develop;

  • my expressive drawing skills in eg Illustration 1: Puberty and Book Design 1: Fanzine
  • conceptual abstraction/imagination from eg Printmaking 2: Abstract self-portrait
  • collage from Illustration 1: Making a Cup of Tea
  • photos with gouache and crayon overlay from Illustration 2: Oromia Reflected

It will also aim to significantly improve my graphic design and illustration skills that I started to develop in:

  • Book Design 1: Assignment 3 Good Typography
  • Book Design 1: Assignment 4 The Greed Game
  • Illustration 1: Making a Cup of Tea (collage of tea supply chain from farm to company CEO/supermarket)
  • Illustration 2: Pixelated images

and build on e-book and animation work I did in:

  • Illustration 2: Assignment 5 Oromia Reflected
  • Illustration 2: Flickbooks

Although the research is a project driven by my professional consultancy needs, it is nevertheless very much in line with my artistic ‘voice’:

• What makes your work different from other people’s? A distinctive dimension of my work as I see it developing going forward is clarifying and promoting a more political/developmental voice around issues of gender, environment, economy and sustainable development.

How do you produce your work? I produce my work in a range of different ways. This project would build on some of my rapid expressive sketching and widen my ability to deal with theoretical concepts, rather than building on my more digital evocative work with found images and textures.

• Do you have a specific style? My style to date has often been complex and multi-layered. I envisage learning a lot from this research project about clarifying and simplifying images/animations/interactive experience while retaining potential complexity of message.

• Do you predominantly use certain media? I work with very many different media. This project builds on my drawing and digital editing skills, but focuses particularly on developing my animation and interactivity skills using Adobe Animate.

• Do you tackle certain topics? My work on previous courses has ranged across a broad range of personal, aesthetic and political topics. This wider range is likely to continue but this project will provide a focus for deepening my ability to communicate political issues – something I am used to doing verbally for publication but where my awareness of the complexity of issues hampers the clarity of my visual work.

Take another look at the critical reviews you produced at Level 2 and your tutor’s feedback to these. What do you need to improve now that you’re working at Level 3?

In terms of analytical thinking, this research project will focus on sharpening my ‘Ockam’s razor’ paying attention to symbolism and visual dynamics and the universals/cultural relativity of visual communication.

1.1.3 Identify your strengths and weaknesses

a) SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and b) PEST (Political, Economic, Social, Technological)

OCASWOTPEST

c) Mind-maps

My identification of initial ideas from a very broad brainstorming on the very many various things that interest me led to some narrowing down to a number of broad areas for visual communications research that would be very useful for linking with my professional consultancy: political illustration, textless illustration/animation, visual communication for development and infographics. Clicjk on the mind maps below for more details.

d) Concept map

Click on the annotated Concept Map on Empowerment that provides the basis for the current arrangement of this blog:

Concept Map: Empowerment
Concept Map: Empowerment

1.4 My specific area of interest

After much thought and reading the rest of the course guide and requirements for the research as whole I thought that a focus on one concept: ’empowerment’ would provide me with a good handle on which I could hang many of my more technical research interests. The focus remains on textless communication (complementing other text and image work on feminism and leadership planned for Advanced Practice) but moves from visioning/logo to infographic to story-telling comic/animation and then some alternative media possibilities and interactivity. The aim would be to see how much I can communicate through using very simple locally available tools and stick people (different types of line, shape, colour). Drawing on community drawings and some of the work on wordless illustration/comic animation  from other illustrators and designers – even if they have a more complex visual style some of the approach on eg narrative organisation, composition or perspective/viewpoint would still be relevant to making simple stick people more engaging.

Exercise 1.2: Getting started

1.2.1 Getting organised

My work will be organised in two main ways:

Experimental Sketchlogs

My first level of organisation will be flexible and somewhat disorganised to allow lateral thinking and free experimentation. This will consist of a series of A3 or A4 ring bound sketchbooks bringing together my review of primary and secondary resources and experimentation – places to try out options and scribble over examples, annotating with cross-cultural analysis and comparison of that are then summarised on the blog:

  • Concept maps and theory diagrams from Assignments 1 and 2 – handrawn and/or in diagramming software
  • Textless cartoons from selected farmer drawings: analysing drawing styles, visual dynamics and symbolism/concepts
  • Worked into photographs from role plays and other activities
  • 60 second Animation: looking at forms of narrative and storyboarding
  • 1-page Information graphics: looking at types of mapping diagram, visual dynamics and integration of quantitative and qualitative information
  • Interactivity, user design diagrams and web maps

These will all include examples and experimentation from different cultures, particularly different Islamic and African traditions.

On-line blog sections:

Map of blog organisation
Map of blog organisation

The blog will be organised along two axes:

  • A clear Assignment menu on the righthand side column will point the assessors to my work on each assignment to track development of my ideas and research. Posts will relate to my secondary research and portfolios to my own visual experimentation and be listed in section-specific pages under the appropriate assignment.

The top menu will be thematic for use by development practitioners:

  1. VisCom4Dev overview: My visual research portfolio, the research document and this project proposal. (Assignments 1,4 and 5)
  2. What is empowerment? leadership? with original secondary sources from communities and development agencies, theory of change and participatory diagramming methodologies in development (Assignment 2)
  3. Visual Communications Theory outlining the design and storytelling principles I identify as useful to incorporate in my own visual research. With posts on areas like semiotics, communication theory, participatory methodologies. Then posts on my selected animators and illustrators working with textless (or near textless) images and narratives. (Assignment 2)
  4. My visual experiments portfolios on analysis of community diagrams, annotated worked into photos, 1 Page infographics, 60 sec animations and interactive presentations with details of my working process, stakeholder feedback and final revisions in response to feedback (Assignment 3) 

1.2.2 Time Schedule

I am planning to complete this module by end March 2020 – leaving time for any overshoot before the final module end date in October 2020. 

January and February I will have related work on my professional contracts but enough time to focus on the more planning and conceptual dimensions of the project. Weather will also not be so good for the documentary sketching etc planned for Module 3.1 Advanced Practice. So I envisage being able to advance quite quickly with:

  • Part 1: Project proposal  finish end Jan 2019
  • Part 2: A theoretical framework end Feb 2019

I will then spend much more time gathering data and producing my own visual experiments, as well as work on Module 3.1 and fully developing my skills in Adobe Animate. So:

  • Part 3 Gathering data end October 2019
  • Part 4: A working draft end December 2020

I then hope to have one further month to finish my submission to send to my tutor (then some further time before assessment while I complete my other two modules)

  • Part 5: Finalising your submission end March 2020

1.2.3 My learning style and writing habits

I don’t usually find the process of writing difficult – I have to do a lot of writing for my professional work. I generally start with an outline of topics, drafted (depending on the topic and balance of image/text) in iThoughts or as a Word outline or as pages in InDesign or a One Note page/folder. I then just put what I think – working on the easiest sections first.

When I have got as far as I can, or have to get on with other things I get a printout, leave things to mull over for a while and come back later, working first on the printout. I often use One Note for recording thoughts as they occur, or pencil jottings in a notebook/sketchbook/piece of paper.

If I start to get stuck I just go and do something else – work or exercise. Then thoughts flow much better than sticking at my computer.

I repeat that process until I feel the text is ready to send for feedback. My main challenges are RSI and when I am too tired to properly copy edit (normally done by a colleague or professional editor). For OCA work I can ask a family member to read things through.

My working process
My working process

Exercise 1.3 Identify Resources

I already have a very wide range of references and sources on artists and illustrators from Google searches, earlier courses and books I have at home. I joined AOI and House of Illustration.

Very many NGO resources on empowerment and pictorial methods are on the internet if you or I can request them from colleagues. I have been collecting these.

I have a number of books on Adobe Animate, and subscribe to training resources on Lynda.com.

I subscribe to various social networking sites and have access to many libraries in Cambridge, including the University. I could also make more of contacts on Linked In and correspond with people individually.

My challenge is not so much lack of ideas and resources as too many, and the need to focus before I go wider on gaps.

See detailed resource list in ‘Narrowing down the topic’