1a Research Proposal: Initial ideas

Concept Map: Empowerment

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)
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’





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