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Artist’s books made by students as part of the Creative Landscapes project Lucy Brown has been working on over the past few years (see this blog post) has now made it into an exhibition! Located at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal it opens tonight (private view 5-7pm) and will be on until the first week in September. If you are in the area, make sure to pop by!

And for more information, check out the project’s website here.

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So, I was doing something else, but in my research, I came across this amazing project on The Guardian website and I thought I would share it here (also so that I won’t forget about it).

The idea of representing the structure of a book in three dimensions is, of course, not new – I mean artist’s book makers do this routinely, but I like the cross-over of literary work and model making. It also reminded me of both the tunnel books and, of course, the poem houses we have been making at some of the Writing in Creative Practice workshops.

And thinking of the structure of writing as having a shape is something that can be incredibly useful when writing. I have been sketching models of how my research is organised for both my Masters and my PhD – and in a way am doing something similar with the quilt (which is the thing I was doing when I was getting sidetracked, so more on my progress on that in a future post). I know that Pat Francis encourages her students to describe the shape of their writing to identify more clearly where they are going – is it a Christmas tree? is it an hourglas? is it a number of blocks that are fitting together like a dry-stone wall (or do they need to be moved and shaped slightly to make the fit work)? – and seeing how the argument develops and where the evidence is presented.

Right, just thought I would share this. Going back to work now…

Just a short post to let all of you who couldn’t make it to yesterday’s workshop (and the weather was probably an important factor, although some people made it up from the south coast) know how it went. I didn’t take any photographs myself, but Michael Walls, a student, joined us to take some (when we could get him away from the craft materials – and thanks Mike, for doing such a fabulous job!).

Elizabeth getting us startedAfter the by now traditional welcome of making our own name tags and having a look at lovely materials and books brought in for inspiration, Elizabeth Kealy-Morris, our host, gave a presentation on taking collage seriously, making some reference to how she gets her students to engage with text in a humument fashion – and allowing the table groups to start some discussions on the set text (a chapter by Stuart Hall).

Different groups were approaching different quotes from the text, discussing aspects they found particularly interesting and important – and finding ways to illustrate what the text was saying through changing the format from 2d to 3d (and flexible in some cases).

Sarah talking about collageThen Sarah Williamson talked about different types of Angela speakingknowledge and how that can be teased out and developed through using collage and layering as a tool. To finish off the morning session, book artist Angela Davies talked about her practice and work that inspires her – not only showing beautiful slides, but also bringing in some of her books so we could take a closer look. She also showed a work in progress, which was inspired by the reading for the workshop (and she has promised to let me have some photographs of how this work developed for this blog once she is done!).

During these three sessions there were already very lively discussions developing, which we at least partly were able to continue over lunch.

In the afternoon we had set an hour and a half aside just for making, and there was some very interesting explorations of layers going on.

By the end of this, we re-entered our discussion, but some of the energy was lost – or maybe people just wanted to continue making? At the end of the day there were some fascinating explorations of layers of meaning going on – some of which to be continued at home.

 

Jane's Tunnel Book

Jane’s Tunnel Book

I have already been sent the image of one of the books made -exploring the taxonomy of presentational knowledge introduced in Sarah’s talk – and it also uses the structure of the tunnel book I was proposing as a simple way of exploring layers (If you want to make your own, download make your own tunnel book instructions here).

The official HEA post (including handouts and presentations) about this workshop can be found here.

This was the first of the Tactile Academia books I made and funnily enough I didn’t set out to do a book at all.

So here’s the story of that one:

In June 2010 I went to the Flying Start symposium held at Liverpool Hope University. This was disseminating the work that had been/still was going on in the Flying Start project, which was concerned with academic writing transition. Here I saw Claire Penketh talking about her work, and one of the things that particularly struck a chord with me was her work on reading at degree level. In her presentation she menitoned a quote from John Bean which stated that “learning to read at degree level is like learning to fish in deep waters” (2001). In her slides she made this point to her students by showing pictures of fish and likening them to certain types of reading – goldfish (a bit like emails, small and colourful), sharks (with teeth, so a bit scary, like a peer-reviewed article might be) and angler fish (just weird, like something that was written for a different audience altogether).

Now I absolutely loved this idea and built up a presentation for my students all around the idea of evaluating secondary sources by likening them to sea creatures and ordering them on a scale of academic depth. It described a number of ‘standard’ secondary sources, such as blogs, newspapers, introductory texts, academic journals and doctoral work. This seemed to go down well and alert students to the necessity of evaluating sources, something they have a problem with in my experience.

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The Fish-scale of Academicness – linocut edition 2012

As I thought this was a very good way of explaining the concept of provenance to students I wanted to turn this into an Open Educational Resource, however, my slides were populated with copyrighted fish from animation, so I needed to find a way to illustrate this. And then a course on the Illustrated Book came along near me and I signed up for that with the express plan to work on the illustrations for this. And so I made a book out of it. I played about with the layout and used tear-aways to show a sense of depths. This book, with original linocuts, was done in an edition of 7 in 2012.

At the same time I thought this might be a very good way for me to explain this concept at this workshop I was organising and how nice it would be to give the delegates something special. So I also made an edition for them, which is photocopied and has drawn illustrations, but it also has the ‘torn’ pages meant to visualise the depth of the academic ocean.

This booklet was produced in an edition of 31 and given out at the Thinking through Writing and Making workshop.

The Fish-Scale doesn’t stop with explaining the concept to the students. I have also started using it as an activity. I give students excerpts of sample text from a variety of academic depths, and ask them in groups to decide what sort of sea creatures these texts would be and draw them. What is important here is that the students also are able to articulate the reasons why they decided on a particular sea creature. We then all order them in terms of their academic depths through a group discussion. I encourage students to go through this thinking process when they are using their sources, and to visualise their bibliography in terms of the depth achieved – and ask them to think about trying to ‘go deeper’ when they progress through the years.

The very small-scale evaluation I have done on this so far, has indicated that introducing the lecture coupled with the activity has resulted in students using a better range and better quality of secondary sources in their essays.

I’m currently planning a research project to test whether this would work with students from other universities and disciplines. Maybe as part of this I will actually get around to making that Open Educational Resource. If you are interested in collaborating on this, please get in touch!

As the people who have come to my workshops know, I have gotten into the habit of making and giving out little booklets. I call them ‘tactile academia books’ (which sounds a bit grand), and I thought it was high time to post a few details about them.

I thought I would start with The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice. This wasn’t the first one I did, but it was based on an idea that I had a long time ago and on a concept I have been using to explain what I do for quite some time. And in a way it explains my take on academic and creative practice – and the relationship between them.

So here the little story behind this book…

When I started teaching at uni, I joined an Art & Design department as an academic looking after the first year study skills provision. Very much a Writing in the Disciplines approach, I was tasked with running modules that would teach studio-based art, design and media students how to research and write for an academic essay. And I found myself quite often in the position of having to explain to other colleagues how what I did fit into the individual programmes, and how it did work that my students ranged from 3D Design to Animation, from Fine Art to Film Production.

Art, Design and Media Islands

Art, Design and Media Islands in my teaching ca 2008/09

What I started using was the image of islands, each representing a separate discipline, but each connected in a way through an ocean, that could be seen as ‘Contextual Studies’ (the historical and theoretical stuff that is somehow outside of the making).

While it is, like any visual analogy, a fairly simplified model, I think this shows the relationship between the realm of the tangible outcome, the islands, on the one hand, and the more theoretical thinking, the ocean, on the other. (The Study Skills bit I always thought of as somewhere in the shallows around the islands, linking the practical and the theoretical approach to a specific discipline.) It also made me think about the ntaure of words as an outcome, which can be a bit like water: they can be shallow or deep, they can be watered down, but above all they are fluid.

This image stayed with me and when I encountered Artist’s Books and thought I might be interested in making some myself, I used this as the starting point of my first foray into screen printing, making an accordion fold book called Contours.

Contours

Contours 2011

The idea was that it would show a part of that initial map idea, but visualise the thinking in more detail. So the island bit used images – pictures of finished artefacts inland, then images of word in progress, maquettes, and finally sketches where it came to the ‘beach’ – while the ocean bit used words – hand-written notes in the shallows, then artists statements and more and more theoretical (and later on abstract) texts on craft.

While Contours is a plan view, I always wanted to make a sort of elevation, because that would visualise the idea of shallows and depth more. It took me a while to find the right technique, but last year I was on a printing course where we made scratch negatives, which can result in printing plates, which are very fine and detailed, almost like engravings, and here I was able to make this image, which I think shows the land- and seascape of creative practice.

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The Land- and Seascape of Academic Practice 2012
a tactile Academia book

This print has become the centrepiece of this particular booklet, The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice. Subtitled ‘Modelling Knowledge’ it aims to explain the relationship between creative practice and theoretical thinking – and does so by not just introducing the islands analogy, but also mapping Donald Schon’s notion of reflective practice and Michael Biggs’ differentiation of experiential feeling and experiential knowledge onto it. it aims to make the point that there is a synergy between the making and the theory – and that it is useful (if not crucial) to be able to engage with both for the best results in either.

The booklet itself was made in an edition of 73 and given out to participants of the second day of the Teaching in Practice event. All of the copies include an original print of the map artwork. (And I still have some copies, so if you would like a copy, get in touch!)

It is my pleasure to announce the next of the Writing in Creative Practice Workshops. This time we want to specifically explore layers of meaning and will be hosted by the University of Chester on 26th March 2013. The official HEA annoucement and booking form can be found here.

Just before Christmas, Elizabeth (our host) and I got together to think about some of the visualisations and structures that can be used to show layers – and we tried some of them out.

We took sentence diagramming as a starting point. I had recently looked through When will the book be done?, a catalogue of the books published by Granary Books up to 2001, and had particularly liked What the Ambulance Driver Said by Jane Wodening (1998) , which uses a diagrammed sentence.  After doing some research we decided to give it a go and to diagram the Sennett quote used in the workshop proposal:

Every good craftsman conducts a dialogue between concrete practices and thinking; this dialogue evolves into sustaining habits, and these habits establish a rhythm between problem solving and problem finding. (Sennett, 2008:7)

While the inspirations had looked a bit like the roofs of houses, our version reminded me more of a mountain range, so I then used the subclauses to make up a sort of tunnel book.

the layered subclauses as mountain ranges

the layered subclauses as mountain ranges

Meanwhile, Elizabeth explored both tunnel books as well as layering with transparent paper.

Overall it was a great day (far too short, of course), which has given us some good ideas, I think, of what to explore during the workshop itself.

As I mentioned the intriguing sounding Documentary Drawing Masterclass in a previous post, I thought it was only fair to share some of what I was thinking about on the way home…

Well, firstly, it was a great day facilitated by Julia Midgley, who has documented everything from archaeology projects to hospital processes – and also sometimes draws at/for conferences. (That in itself is, of course, very interesting as it links really closely to the reflective bookmaking I have been known to go on about.)

Julia gave us some great tips as to how we could loosen up as part of a warm-up, and especially things to think about to make people less precious about the outcomes of a drawing, which allows us to focus on the energy of the situation rather than on the artefact ending up on the sheets of paper. So consider drawing with both hands at the same time, for a result full of energy (and in my case lots of cross-hatching), not allowing yourself to look back at the paper once you have started drawing, or doing an ‘etch-a-sketch’ by not allowing yourself to let your drawing implement leave the page until you are done.

warm-up drawing made with charcoal on a stick using both hands to draw at the same time

warm-up drawing made with charcoal on a stick using both hands to draw at the same time

We also talked about considering the paper you are using – and how much more effective a drawing can be if it is backed up by ephemera – a timetable as the background to you documenting a journey, with added tickets, for example.

Another thing that we explored was cutting out pictures of people and collaging those together – but turned over, so that we would concentrate on the shape that the human body creates. I have to admit that I didn’t really have time to do this during the workshop, but I was thinking about my previous post and thinking about how documenting workshops can sometimes be tricky if you don’t have the permissions of people to use their photographs. I also think that sometimes then the picture becomes about the people, rather than about the workshop. but what if you just used the silhouette of your participants…? I think this way we could end up with another really interesting ways of documenting a workshop. Something I will attempt to try out soon.

However, what I am probably most excited by is the way I used documentary drawing as a research method in the afternoon. Julia had given us a brief, parts of it was “By closely observing visitors to the Gallery what can the reportage artist discern about the activity of looking at art?” So I found myself sitting in the Tracing the Century exhibition and in the beginning I was randomly sketching people.

some typical poses observed

some typical poses observed

I found some typical poses, for example there is almost a standard way that men hold their arms behind their backs when looking at art. I and my fellow documentary drawers complained to each other that people never stand still long enough. I decided to ‘follow’ a group around, sketching them whenever they paused in front of art, to see how they interacted – and found that there was an opinion maker, who tried to move the group by moving herself and almost dragging the others with her, while another one seemed to be really interested in the art and tried to linger in front of certain pieces.

And then I started tracking visitors’ journeys along one specific wall. Comparing these drawings I realised that people tended to either stop at artworks or at the labels. So I am now wondering whether this form of observation is something I could use to get my students a bit more excited about primary data collection for their research. I think I spent less than an hour in the gallery, but can’t help thinking that this could be turned into more rigorous data gathering, I could develop rules, such as really try to sketch where the visitors stop and pause; the longer they pause, the more detailed/black/intensive the sketch of them should get; trace the ‘motion lines’ on the floor to capture where they come closer or step-away from the work (later put in corresponding motion lines following the whole bodies); prepare a standard background on which to sketch, so that the data can be more easily standardised (possibly superimposed). From this (and a suitable sample), it could be determined whether there really is a distinction between pictureviewers and labelreaders; it could be found out which group is bigger; and possibly whether one spends more time interacting with the art.

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I made a little book transferring my sketches onto transparent paper to illustrate my mini-findings, which I might show students to get them to consider documentary drawing within their research. As you can see I was very inspired by the workshop and will be doing more documentary drawing for sure!