Assignment 2: Theoretical Framework: ‘bricolage translation’

Research question

Refocused question in the light of my reading and research on digital software, incorporating tutor feedback on Assignment 1:

Core Question:
How can community visions and strategies for empowerment be ethically ‘translated’ into powerful visual communication for advocacy in a way that ‘frees, transforms and multiplies rather than possesses, controls and defines’?

In particular:
– can this be done graphically without text through using simple lines and shapes?
– can textless narrative sequences as short comic strips or simple animation overcome some of the communicative limitations of single images
– can this be done using media accessible to most people working in communities?

Considering in particular:

  • How can tensions between ‘abusive fidelity’ and ‘professionalised distortion’ be addressed in different digitisation processes ?
  • How do the different media available for participatory workshops affect the types of meanings communicated and how they can be digitised? drawing media: pens/pencils, markers and paper in different colours etc, photography, collage?
  • Which wordless narrative design principles and techniques used by illustrators and animators can enhance visual communication for advocacy in a way that maintains community meanings and styles?
  • When is clarity empowering? When is flexibility/ambiguity better in ‘freeing, transforming and multiplying’? Is text necessary? If so for what, when and how?
  • Are ‘global translations’ possible? Or is there a need for a series of contextualised tailored translations for different audiences and cultures?

My visual research for this module builds on my professional work skills and aims to address key gaps in my digital skill set (specifically Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Animate and After Effects) in relation to graphic design, illustration and interactivity to make much more engaging and impactful pictorial materials based on community visions and drawings produced from participatory workshops. The final version also develops my skills in interactive web/blog design to incorporate the different styles in html coding and different interactive media for WordPress.

Subsequent changes

Assignment 3: Due to RSI and work pressure I decided to focus much more on drawing with pencil/pen/marker on paper. And only transferring the key visual to digital formats. A further issue was updates in Adobe software that would not work properly on my older graphics cards, requiring finance to update my system and only possible in the longer term. On the positive side, the initial focus on locally-available media also makes my work more relevant to other designers within communities themselves who do not have access to expensive software.

‘Translation bricolage’ framework

My main work for this Assignment has focused on going systematically through the research frameworks suggested and using concept maps as a way of linking and thinking through key issues and relationships between different frameworks in order to clarify my questions. I started to look at bricolage and translation theory as new but very relevant ways of thinking about the challenges I have experienced so far in attempts at community-led advocacy. I am aiming to bring these two frameworks together:

see: ‘Translation bricolage’

The Bricolage approach takes a flexible, non-linear and emergent theoretical approach and contextually contingent mixed methods that adapt to empowerment requirements to privilege inclusion of marginalised people. This is consistent with what I see as my role as:

A creative translator advocate must be very flexible to a multiplicity of possible ‘translations’ and translation media that ‘free, transform and multiply’ provoking those in power to listen and act, not sit back and passively consume messages they have heard many times before (see Translation Theory).

I use this framework to examine potential interlinkages and possible tensions between:

Concept Map: Empowerment

Empowerment advocacy as the overarching aim of my work – but where inherent tensions between universalist and individualist definitions of ’empowerment’ mirror in many respects the divisions in Visual Communications theory.

Concept Map: Semiotics and Semiology

Post-structuralist semiotics:focusing 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. Taking a qualitative and open approach, mixing different artistic styles and media.

Visual Communication theory: the principles and methods by which information is conveyed based on largely Western audiences and research, but increasingly including illustrators and designers from the global South. Only a limited range of potential styles and approaches are currently used by development agency visuals and info-graphics.

Format for my visual and written work

As my tutor pointed out in Feedback to Assignment 1, my plans for this module were very ambitious and not everything needs to be done at once. So part of my work in this assignment has been to think about how to efficiently sequence my learning, bearing in mind my work also for the Visual Communications Advanced Practice module where I am developing skills in the same software for more documentary and imaginative work. Following the principles of bricolage, I am proposing to maintain a relatively wide set of possibilities for now and then focus down in a contingent and emergent way driven by what I think I need for ’empowering translations’ of the specific visuals I select in Assignment 3.

The module responds to a professional need to develop digital and on-line ways of working because earlier allergy and breathing problem caused by air pollution and cleaning products/insecticides have now become much more restrictive on my travel abroad. There are a number of related challenges I need to bear in mind that may require further adjustments as I proceed:

  • I will have to develop ways of working digitally while continuing to manage my long-term RSI. This means that a key focus of this module is on simple graphics and animation and exploring a range of software to develop the most RSI-friendly integrated way of working. I will need to build my skills over time, and my style will need to bear these limitations in mind, particularly during the learning curve.
  • Travelling to Asia and Africa will not be possible in the time-frame of this module so I am dependent on on-line feedback from colleagues and English-speaking friends in communities. I cannot predict how reliable/extensive this will be.

My work for this module focuses on my own visual ’empowerment translation’ innovation, using community empowerment drawings for advocacy as primary sources. Research on other artists and illustrators in driven by this in an emergent and contingent ‘bricolage’ manner. The visual work – translations and interactive info-graphics – will be brought together in the ‘on-line interactive empowerment experience’ produced in Assignment 5 below.


Assignment 3:

Visual work 1: review of primary sources – exploratory/emergent

In Assignment 1 I did a preliminary review of primary source material from community participatory workshops and development agencies. This primary source review will be further developed as I progress through the translation experiments, annotated in sketchlogs and summarised in linked blog posts as relevant to my innovation work.

Visual work 2: development of digital workflow – exploratory/emergent

In Assignment 2 I started to upgrade my technical skills in Adobe Draw, Procreate, Illustrator, Photoshop, Animate, After effects and Premiere using 2019 software, and test some of the potential integrated digital workflows. I tested Adobe Animate for producing animated information graphics for the post: Message and Meaning: Visual Communications theory. I also established how these can be embedded into the wordpress blog see: WordPress embed. From this it became clear that Adobe Animate is not the most RSI-friendly base software and that a more integrated approach would be best, using Illustrator symbols and styles as the main link. With Adobe Draw, Procreate and natural media in sketchlogs as the best media for initial experimentation. My software discoveries and workflow will be documented in blog posts and linked as relevant to my innovation work.

Visual work 3: Visualising Empowerment – core work Assignment 3

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. Some examples so far that I will develop further are:

ADDED: Good and Bad Leadership Drawings: Tanzania

I plan to use Adobe Draw Fresco and/or Procreate on my iPad to analyse and make vector copies from photographs of selected community drawings, then send these to Adobe Illustrator on my pc to produce a series of symbol and style libraries that produce a range of possible ‘translations’ of the original meanings. Selected graphic symbols will be available for download from this blog as png images for others to use in Word and Powerpoint.

Part of my aim will be 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. As is consistent with the bricolage approach, I want to leave this selection open and contingent on requirements of the content being translated. But is likely to include:

  • 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.

Visual Work 4: Telling Empowerment Stories – core work Assignment 4.

The next part of my visual research in Assignment 4 will be to look at ways of producing alternative translations of three community empowerment narratives from the drawings, and also from photo series and video of role plays:

SUBSTITUTED: Narrative on child marriage from work with Oxfam

Here I will work with Adobe Animate, After Effects and Premiere Procreate and other tablet animation software looking at a range of graphic styles from line drawing, coloured cartoons and more ‘realistic’ image sequences, digitally converting photos and videos and/or redrawing depending on the type of source document and type of style produced. Working with photography and video will enable me to carefully analyse and observe body language and posture, and how to draw people from different cultures based on how they present themselves.

I will experiment with different narrative treatments, experimenting with different framing, composition, timing and sequencing and different formats eg:

  • strip cartoon comic pages with simple panning and sound effects
  • stick drawing animated gifs compiled as an interactive ‘what’s next’ game in Adobe Animate
  • cartoon-style animation video in Adobe After Effects, including animation to music and write-on techniques

NOTE: Animate, After Effects and Premiere no longer work with the older graphics card on my pc and laptop and I will not be able to upgrade my pc until much later this year. I am not planning to replace my laptop but switch entirely to iPad for mobile work. Animate or InDesign/Acrobat can still be used to add interactivity in my final presentation in Assignment 5. But for animation and storytelling I am now proposing to use the much improved animation features for tablet and iPad (click on the links for my preliminary search on other peoples’ work and tutorials) :

Stick Nodes for tweening of stick figures that can be done in quite a range of styles just using different line widths and shapes, colour and size
Toontastic that has animated lego type figures that are easy to manipulate to create different characters from different cultures and construct a range narratives with your own image backgrounds
Procreate 5 for a wide range of styles with short frame by frame animation

with supplementary software:
Flipaclip for storyboarding
Rough Animator for fine tuning the animation

The added advantage of using tablet software is that this is also accessible to use for many staff and also people in communities if they so choose.

Selected animations will be uploaded to a You Tube channel and embedded in this blog. Less ‘successful’ work will be placed in this blog or on my Adobe account and linked for reference.

This work will be draw on examples from other illustrators and animators. I want to leave my investigation of other designers and illustrators somewhat open and contingent on emergent requirements of the question as my research progresses. As well as the artists and illustrators from Assignment 3, I envisage including:

  • flash stick animation styles like those of Raymond Bollinger
  • illustrators and animators producing sequential narratives who have innovated with framing, layout and narrative sequencing: manga, Chris Ware and ‘Introduction to…’ graphic guides consulted on theoretical frameworks for this Assignment and/or being studied for Visual Communications Advanced Practice.

Visual work 5: On-line ‘interactive empowerment experience’ – core work Assignment 5.

My work for the final part of the module will bring all this together as an integrated animated on-line experience. This will require further visual work and upgrading my understanding of html coding and how to customise WordPress themes to reflect the empowerment styles and content developed. The animated experience will be hosted on the front page of this blog and/or linked from my Adobe account and/or a separate website depending on what proves most efficient in rendering the styles and animation.

My selection of styles and content and interactive design will be based on period of consultation with English speaking friends in communities with whom I am in WhatsApp and/or Facebook contact and colleagues in development agencies.

This top web page will link to sections on the blog that contain my sources and background research selected from a series of 3 Sketchlogs (see blog sections and green sketchlog outlines in diagram above):

  • Sketchlog 1: ‘Translation bricolage’: (A3 ring bound) containing the hand-drafted Concept Maps and info-graphics from Assignment 2 and graphic design experiments and sketches for further refinements for Assignment 5. Also my design maps for interactivity of the final on-line experience.
  • Sketchlog 2: Empowerment translations: (A3 ringbound with glued-in sheets or sections from cheap local notebooks and printouts from my digital work). This will include annotated examples from other illustrators and my experiments with visual dynamics of sketch-noting and doodling to produce new ‘translations’. Physical sketching is a freer RSI-friendly way of working that will be done alongside my digital work.
  • Sketchlog 3 Empowerment stories: (A2 with flipcharts glued-in sheets or sections from cheap local notebooks) will include annotated analysis of storyboards and layouts of other animators and illustrators and sketches of some of my own ‘stories’.

This visual on-line content will be accompanied by a written downloadable pdf, summarising my conclusions about:

  • theoretical ‘translation bricolage’ framework encompassing semiotics and visual communications theory and potential interlinkages and tensions between theoretical/methodological clarity and flexibility in a global context.
  • the ways in which different media (drawing, photography and collage) have been, or could be, used for wordless narratives.
  • innovations and challenges faced in translating community empowerment visualisations and narratives for a global audience discovered in my own visual research and earlier practical experience.
  • experience and possible ways forward for participatory on-line feedback in terms of both visual critique and dissemination/impact for advocacy
  • overall conclusions about community-led participatory visual communication practice for empowerment advocacy and issues for further innovation.

Draft literature and resources review

I will be using a range of primary sources that I will examine in sketchbooks as the basis for developing my own ‘translations’:

  • Primary sources from communities (see above)
  • Primary sources from other illustrators and designers (see above)

I have developed quite a large bibliography – mostly my own books that I have collected or articles I can easily access on-line.

See Primary and Secondary Sources for an Assignment-wise time plan.

Reflective Commentary

I am confident that the above choices will enable me to produce some very innovative ’empowerment translations’ in answer to my research question. The question itself, with the subsidiary narrowing questions, is still quite broad as is my list of possible primary and secondary sources. Following the contingent approach of bricolage, I do not want to narrow this down at this stage. I will review and dip into these and other relevant sources I come across as I progress further with my visual work, focusing only on those sections and sources that I feel are most relevant for producing impactful translations. Although this will be a lot of work, and I will need to pace myself to manage RSI, it builds on and upgrades existing skills and I am motivated by its importance for future professional work with development agencies.

I think that my research covers quite well all the assessment criteria of:

  • creativity: the translations and interactive on-line experience.
  • research and idea development: semiotic analysis of community drawing and exploration of different visual translation possibilities in the Sketchlogs and digital work.
  • visual and technical skills: digital drawing and animation across Adobe Draw, Procreate, Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects and Animate linked to parallel software skills development in VisCom Advanced Practice.
  • context: theoretical frameworks and researching illustrators and animators and work of other designers and illustrators in development agencies.

Reworking the assignment

In general my tutor seemed fairly happy with my theoretical work and the way things are progressing, except that I seemed to have taken on too much and would need to focus down for a dissertation at this level.

In answer to specific questions:

A2 Exercise 1
– Reflection on previous assignment 1 feedback is given in red at the end of Assignment 1: Research Questions and Plans
– See comments on Excellent Dissertations text
– Yes this is’ a career-oriented area of focus that might generate data’ ie the Illustrator symbol library from Assignment 3, the animated story translations in Assignment 4 and the interactive blog itself as an overview of translation issues for illustrators and designers working on development issues.

A2 Exercise 2 and Exercise 3
I will need to think carefully as I work through Assignments 3-5 about ways of avoiding different types of bias at different points (mine and that of others and the assessors). To some extent I have enough experience I think to anticipate some of these, and in my post Community Empowerment Methodology that is now part of Assignment 2, should highlight the ways in which people are involved at different levels, and the potential biases that might be involved. Inclusion and comparison of responses from different people involved (community people, NGO staff and consultants at different levels and VisCom forums) through my work and associated social networks will help reduce bias. My conclusions should also bear this in mind.

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