3: Lines of Power


How can creative application of visual dynamics of line, shape and colour lead to different possible ‘creative translations’ based on community visuals of empowerment, gender and leadership to increase their clarity and impact for advocacy without using text?

See: Assignment 3: Gathering Data (forthcoming February 2020)

Empowerment Voices

My exploration starts with visual review and semiotic analysis of ‘community voices’: drawings and role play photographs of empowerment and gender from participatory workshops. I select community drawings from different participatory processes which I have facilitated or been very closely involved and so have good visual materials and documentation to work with. They were selected from thousands of images I have to present very different drawing styles and media from people from different backgrounds and in different contexts.

I consider how different visual styles and media affect how ‘meaning’ has been, or might be, interpreted in different contexts. I 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. I analyse the community drawings using questions from semiotic analysis and art criticism. I look at how different media, together with the participatory process, affect how ‘meaning’ has been, or might be, interpreted by different people in different contexts.


Drawings of women’s empowerment and gender-based violence in India.


Drawings of women’s empowerment and happy/unhappy families.


Drawings and participatory logo of empowerment and happy families.

I begin with semiotic and visual analysis of what I consider to be the most interesting community drawings from participatory workshops where I was directly involved or where there is good documentation for me to understand the meanings intended and the visual communication process that led to the visual outputs. The aim will be a comparative study of ‘universals’ and ‘specificities’ of empowerment visions and communication styles and how these are affected by different media, contexts and participant backgrounds.

Visual dynamics principles and techniques

!! NOTE my visual research for this part is mostly in my physical sketchlogs because of copyright concerns. Only public images, information, videos and weblinks are given on this blog.

Part of my aim is to significantly broaden the range of graphic styles that might be considered as ‘professional’ by people in development agencies through referring to styles employed by artists and illustrators.

I first did a review of illustrations, logos and infographics from development agencies that I have worked with or whose work was on the internet. I was interested in:

  • illustration styles: in the many guides and toolkits on empowerment, gender and leadership.
  • logo design: the different ways in which graphic designers have used line, shape, colour and placement/juxtaposition to distil concepts of power, empowerment, gender and leadership.
  • infographic design: the ways in which information is collated and displayed in diagrams though use of placement and colour.

But in general I found these rather mechanical and ‘digital’. In order to develop my own creative translations from the community voices, I was more interested in:

  • ‘power line styles’: the ways in which political illustrators and cartoonists have portrayed feelings of power and vulnerability with no, or very little, explanatory text:
  • STIK (large stick figures with expression)
  • Marjane Satrapi (bold black and white shape-based drawings)
  • Sara Fanelli (child-like line and collage shapes)
  • Tracy Emin (expressive, nervous line in drawing)
  • Michel Basquiat (bold, angry, colour)
  • Eva Pienkovska (angular expression and bright colour)
  • David Shrigley (thick line direct style)
  • Gerald Scarfe (angry use of line and colour)
  • Yoshimoto Nara (large head and dramatic expressions in simple drawing)
  • African and Pakistani/Islamic illustrators yet to be identified.

Creative Translations

I develop a number of libraries of digital symbols in a range of graphic and cultural styles in Adobe Draw and Illustrator that communicate what participants said was the meaning of the original drawings and/or could visually communicate new meanings related to empowerment (eg vulnerability/confidence, tradition/change)

Selected graphic symbols will be available for download from this blog as png images for use in Word and Powerpoint.

Bringing these two together, I then develop a series of alternative ‘creative translations’ on paper and/or iPad responding to needs on the gamechangenetwork blog for:

For initial feedback from friends and colleagues in communities and organisations through social networks see: Assignment 3: Gathering Data and the final summary of longer term feedback, assessment and refinements in Assignment 5: Participatory VisCom Guidelines.(forthcoming September 2020)