Tag Archives: collage

A bit more than a week ago I found myself at a conference as an observer, rather than as a presenter, a luxury which hadn’t happened for a long time. I will write a bit more about the actual themes of the conference in a later post (I haven’t had time to properly digest all of it), but wanted to share something that I have been playing with a bit, and that I decided to test over the two-and-a-bit days of this particular conference: ‘sketchnoting’

The subject of two of Mike Rohde’s books, The Sketchnote Handbook and The Sketchnote Workbook, this is a term he coined for visual note taking, really a combination of note taking and sketches, or maybe better for the use of sketches to augment note taking.

I am a big fan of taking ‘notes’ through collage (something I was introduced to by my friend and colleague Sarah Williamson currently at the University of Huddersfield, and we have tested this out and published on it here), but that is not always possible or appropriate. So trying out drawing as part of the note-taking process seemed a good next step (or maybe a good compromise).

I had read through (not worked through) both of Rohde’s sketchnoting books within the last month, so I felt quite happy to just give it a go – making use of the paper pad and biro that were in my conference pack. And I have to say that I really loved it! It allowed me to take notes I am excited to review (plus two people at the conference mentioned to me how much they loved my notes when looking over my shoulder). I have already made another pass at them by adding some more colour – a good way of reflecting on the conference, and I do want to put together a retrospective drawing/document that summarises the themes that have come up for me at the conference.

Of course there are some things this does not immediately afford: taking notes at a live conference you don’t necessarily know where the talks are going and you might commit to imagery that at the end makes less sense – or you might not know how much space to allocate. but I found it was a great way to keep my mind (and hands) engaged, even in talks I wasn’t that interested in.

When comparing it to the collaging process, I don’t think it has quite the same potential to encourage reflection and discovery. The exciting thing about using collage is that the found materials you collage with provide an extra layer that your subconscious can latch onto and that allows you to develop your own thoughts on the material – or just with the material as a starting point. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think one of my reservations of encouraging students (particularly the ones who have just started their university career) to use collage is that it can take them very far away from the subject, using the sketchnoting technique on the other hand, might be just what they need to keep them engaged in the lectures, to encourage them to take their own notes – and then review them in preparation of the next session.

…yes, I realise that it is slightly ironic to publish this without images… I will once I have the time to take some of my sketchnotes :-)…

Marion, one of the lovely participants in our first Thoughtbites workshop sends this account:
I took part in the ‘thoughtbites‘ workshop looking at ‘folds and layers’ as a method for visual-tactile note taking.

I myself have always found it very difficult to keep any notebook in a state that I appreciated it after its use or that I wanted to return to it and remind myself of what I had written.

Working with my hands and materials whilst listening I found myself beginning to relax and filter information based on what seemed important at the time. Although I felt I had hardly listened consciously, certain information became very dominant and stuck with me afterwards.

Engaging with the materials I noticed that I had used them in various ways that began to make sense to me and that I could see certain methods that I could use in the future and which also could be shared with others as a form of template.

Examples were the use of dials and circles (e.g. priorising information, looking at the ‘central’ question), icons that could serve to highlight specific information and covering/uncovering information through material layers as a way of discerning information.

Collage Workshop VMC 2015 from Marion

In my own research I have come across the functions of the right and left hemisphere of the brain which opens up an interesting perspective on memory retention through visual-tactile means and the workshop has inspired me to include these methods in the future.

from Sue Challis


These notes are from initial research explorations of the value of collage both as an aid to problem-solving and as an extension to thinking and learning. They are also part of my unpublished PhD thesis (Maximising impact: connecting creativity, participation and impact in the qualitative evaluation of creative community projects: Coventry University, School of Geography, Environment and Disaster Management 2014).

I became interested in the potential for collage to become part of formative or summative evaluations following my attendance at a Higher Education Academy workshop on collage (Thinking Through Writing and Making, HEA Workshop, Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, 29 March 2012) when I experienced collage as a problem-solving technique, and through continuing contact with Alke Groppel-Wegener through the Tactile Academia blog, which explores the value of creativity as an aid to academic writing and thinking.

These brief exercises came from the need to formulate recommendations about evaluation strategies which would be feasible for small to medium-sized community projects in less formal or skilled contexts than my own research field trials. I was interested not only in the value of collage but also in the degree to which the method would engage participants outside of a group or creative project context. Participants were asked to complete a problem-solving collage at home and in an academic lecture. I have also included the collage activity which I took part in which prompted my interest in the technique as a research method. Although these are by no means formal research interventions and thus results are only indicative, they are recorded here to suggest the value of further research into the relationship of resistance or willingness to engage with creative techniques to other factors. These might include the type of activities, technologies and materials, the type of participants, and the contexts and skills of implementation. The examples below also suggest that willingness to engage with creative activity and its impact are related to prior experiences and self-narrratives.


Example 1 Collage as an aid to problem-solving

(six adult volunteers, examples from two feedbacks)
I asked six adult volunteers, chosen arbitrarily from my own neighbours and friends but excluding arts professionals, to ‘think of a seemingly intractable problem, work-related or personal, and make a collage while you are thinking about it’. I gave or posted them bags of very similar and random materials (images, text, textiles, stationery) to work on in their own time. For some participants, the task seemed very daunting and slightly odd. Two people returned the bag, both saying that they felt , ‘too un-artistic’ to attempt it by themselves. Four people made collages. I asked them to tell me or write a short account of the process, commenting on how they felt when doing it and what impact it had on their thinking or problem-solving. Figures 1 and 2 are examples of two collages; their makers’ comments follow; and Figure 3 is an example of my own work, made at a Higher Education Academy workshop on collage (Exploring Layers of Meaning, HEA Workshop, University of Chester, Chester, 26 March 2012).

Figure 1 Problem-solving collage (A4 size) Participant 1, adult female)

Figure 1 Problem-solving collage (A4 size)
(Participant 1, adult female)

Text 1

Comments on problem solving collage Figure 1 (above). Participant 1, adult, female.

Extract from email from participant 8.8.13, 22:23

“Subject: Re: Collage”

“The collage was about the assessment of the mental health of a teenager who is extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation. She has been groomed/ lured by a paedophile ring and given drugs. She takes many drugs. She frequently threatens suicide. She is very verbally abusive to those who try to care for her because of her abuse in her own family of origin. The collage also deals with the response of organisations surrounding the girl and the difficulties in their relationships with each other. The hanged figure represents both the girl and another worker caught up on the turmoil surrounding her. The orange jagged line represents the panic. The Arabic script triangles/ shards represent the impossibility of putting our concern/ her situation/ our situation into meaningful language. The heads represent workers minds making different sense of her experience and our response to her experience. The blank spaces in the heads represent divided minds and the unknown of our own minds hidden from ourselves and from each other.

“Doing the collage helped me stand back from the situation and look at it differently. I had felt overwhelmed by the situation and by my feelings. The collage helped me feel more analytic. It also helped me see parallels between the girl and the worker, both of whom stir up my pity and also my frustration.

“As you know, I hung onto the collage bag for a long time before I felt I had a problem or could see how the collage might help. I was so challenged by this incident at work, which seemed impossible to resolve, that I thought I might as well do it, with no expectation of it working! The pictures and text which had meant nothing before I started to think about the issue seemed to become very relevant when I began to use them for the collage.

PS you know I can bullshit at length!”

Figure 2 Problem-solving collage (A3 size) (Participant, adult male)

Figure 2 Problem-solving collage (A3 size)
(Participant, adult male)

Text 2 Comments on problem solving collage Figure 2, Participant 2, adult, male;

Extracts from researcher’s notes of informal interview 17.11.13

Researcher (R): How did you feel about the collage before you started it ?
Participant (P): I was reluctant to do this – I was ready to email you and say I wasn’t going to do it, then your reminder came…I don’t really have any problems to solve…I felt that it was a waste of time. I didn’t like the blank page of it, the open-endedness of it…I’m a non-arty person. I am not a person who does collage.
R: But you did do it in the end ?
P: Yes, the only way I could do it was, I put on some choral music which I like, I do listen to music sometimes but most of the time I am doing something purposeful…I had to have something else in my head to get going on it or it would seem like a waste of half an hour.

R: Can you describe your collage?
P: I chose the maps because I like maps and I made a river there, and the string follows the route because that’s how I measure my route on a map anyway…, the dots and maps had a meaning for me, I made the dots into arrows and each arrow gets bigger – that’s me deciding on a line, choosing a direction to go in in life and discarding the things that didn’t have meaning for me…

R: What interested you most about doing the collage?
P: Well… as I was, as I was trying to do it I found myself interested in the way I was selecting things, how I discard some things, like, I am someone who tries, and I try to persuade other people to do this too, to move on, to select a way forward and put the other possibilities, which we have decided not to do, onto one side, to discard them and move on. …So when I started this I realised that it was more about the process of how I solve problems than a particular problem, I discard the irrelevant stuff more than other people I think, then I don’t worry about it. It was like acting out something about myself. I had to decide, select what side of the paper I would keep and which bit discard or hide, it was all about selection…This became pleasurable when I had some idea of where I was going with it…
R: What are these two piles?
P: Well I , these are the things I didn’t want – the discard piles – I stuck them there, it’s only stuff I didn’t want, it might be important to someone else…As I was getting into it…I did start to enjoy doing it… I was thinking about myself, about getting somewhere, solving problems. I saw the solving problem part was about discarding what you don’t need and assembling a way forward, only in the abstract, honing down and selecting to get somewhere. I feel strong, it’s something that works for me… so I was mirroring what I do. When I got the idea of the map or journey I really did enjoy it.
R: Most people throw away the discards. You have stuck them on the collage. Was there a reason for that ?
P: Well, it’s…I suppose it’s because it’s not foolproof…the process of deciding to keep the discards… they are worth keeping, that’s my readiness to admit I’m wrong or go back and look at things again, other options. I think I’m visualising something, the process of keeping the discard, something about myself I hadn’t put into words really before…


Example 2 Collage as an aid to problem-solving (researcher’s own activity)
During the second year of my research I attended a Higher Education Academy workshop on collage (Writing in Creative Practice: Exploring Layers of Meaning, HEA Workshop, University of Chester, 26 March 2013) and made a collage myself which was a significant help in solving my own problem of making the transition from community arts practitioner to academic writer. This extract from a journal article written at the time (and subsequently incorporated into reflections in the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice) sums up the value of the collage to me, particularly the process of selection from random materials. As Butler-Kisber says: “Novel juxtapositions and/or connections, and gaps or spaces, can reveal both the intended and the unintended” (Butler-Kisber 2008: 269):

Figure 3 Problem-solving collage (researcher - artist, adult female)

Figure 3 Problem-solving collage
(researcher – artist, adult female)

“I made a 3D collage bag (Fig 3) about my problems with academic writing. A phrase from the provided text sprang at me: ‘… that idea kept back …’ (I think from a Conrad story), and leafing through the collage materials I chanced upon a map showing the house I was born in: as the Quakers say, these two finds ‘spoke to my condition’, helped me understand my reluctance to commit to a genre of writing that seemed to obliterate me and strengthened my resolve to understand how writing might become both academic and creative.

“Specifically, to see the relevance of the …[creative]…process to the wider debate about academic writing and creativity, and, more urgently, to the tensions I embodied trying to understand where my own creativity sat in (what are for me) the arduous and sometimes opaque protocols of academic discourse. Although I had long been familiar with John Wood’s ‘Critique of the Culture of Academic Rigour’ (2000), encountering the Writing PAD project through a ‘hands on’ HEA seminar was the trigger for this: it gave me permission to regard my own creative activity as a way of knowing”.
Challis, S (2013: 189-190)
Example 3 Collage as a means to extend thinking time

(65 undergraduate, third-year Geography students, 15 Youth and Community Work students, Coventry University 2012 and 2013)

At the start of two, two-hour lectures entitled ‘Visual and creative research methodologies’ I gave each Geography student an envelope containing a similar range of collage materials (text, images, fabric, paper, scissors, glue) and explained that the intention was to explore the idea that concentrating on making a collage whilst listening to complex new ideas would support understanding (Butler-Kisber 2008).This activity was drawn from my own experience at the HEA workshop described above. While they worked in silence on their individual collage books (folded paper) I gave a lecture about a range of visual and creative methods, using digital slides, occasionally asking them to ‘look up now’. At the end of the session we discussed their experience and at the start of the second session (a week later) had a brief group discussion reflecting on its impact. I made notes from this discussion but there was no further follow-up as it was the last session of term in each case. This was by no means a satisfactory research exercise, having no means to measure changes in concentration or learning. However, as an activity suggestive of further research, I have included it here for its relevance to issues of resistance to and acceptance of creative methods, rather than the light it sheds on collage as an aid to thinking. Further research might include a questionnaire reflecting on self-reported change and feedback from other lecturers.

For Youth and Community Work students I was restricted to one two-hour session which was less formal (for example, sitting in a circle rather than in a lecture theatre). I introduced the session as above, but invited students to select collage material from a wide range laid out on a table. Students made collage books while I gave a presentation about visual and creative methodologies. The making was followed by a group discussion and some people shared their books.


Figure 4 Collage made referring to content of lecture (A4 folded paper) (Geography student, male)

Figure 4 Collage made referring to content of lecture (A4 folded paper)
(Participant, geography student, male)

Text 3 Researcher’s observations from notes made after each Geography student session

(two sets of two, two-hours teaching sessions, with collage in first session of each set; November 2012, November 2013):

Some students made work clearly referring to the lecture content (Figure 4 ); these sometimes used text or phrases from the lecture or commented on it. For example, one male student made an image of his children learning “arts as well as sciences: I want them to have both to be whole people, not like me I just did sciences”, rather wistfully adding, “I haven’t got any children yet” (Researcher notes from group discussion). Others made collages clearly relating to feelings . A male student made a page, (Figure 5 ), with fierce concentration while listening to a video clip of a woman describing her experience of domestic violence. He commented: “I was feeling strong feelings while I was listening, it was quite upsetting really. I wasn’t really thinking about the drawing”. My interpretation of the drawing was that it reflected his turbulent feelings through colour and markmaking, and intensity through strength of physical gesture (pressure on page and over drawing). As such, it might offer a useful prompt to further discussion or thinking. In both classes a student stapled his finished book together and said that it was ‘private’. This could suggest that personal feelings had been expressed (although these may simply have been critical of the process or ‘rude’).

Figure 5 Made whilst listening to video clip about domestic violence (A5) (Geography student, male)

Figure 5 Made whilst listening to video clip about domestic violence (A5)
(Participant, geography student, male)

Mixed gender groups (marginally more female). In each group all but three students participated (five male, one female). There were varying degrees of willingness to take part. In the final discussions several students (about 5/35) said they found the process “useless”, “a distraction” or “pointless”; a similar number said it was “interesting”, “enjoyable” and they could “see the point”. In each session five people were willing to ‘share’, that is, show and talk about, their own collage, usually describing what it represented to them and how they felt making it. The people who shared made broadly positive comments about the activity (for example, that they ’enjoyed’ it). Six students (three in each group) said they felt that the activity had improved their concentration. In both groups several students said that they had been repeatedly told off in school for persistently doodling during lessons. They related doodling to a way of improving their concentration and ‘enjoyed’ the collage activity.
There was no way of telling if this activity did improve concentration, although the self-report of a small number of students might suggest so in some cases. However, as a ‘pilot’ for the method with a large group, including many adult males (missing from most of my previous research which was mainly with teenage boys and adult women) it was indicative: My informal observations suggested that more female students found it easier to attempt and to enjoy the activity, but I cannot be sure this was true without further research. More male students voiced their reluctance, but there could be many reasons for this. Resistance to participation was linked in discussion either to lack of commitment to qualitative methods (many of the students were using exclusively quantitative methods in their own research and had not used qualitative methods before), or to reluctance to do an arts-based activity because of lack of skill or experience. Where there was reluctance, I did not feel that it was the ‘open-endedness’ per se which was a barrier, rather a lack of belief in the usefulness of the method generally, or for themselves in particular.

Figure 6 Collage made expressing personal feelings (A5) (Youth Work student, female)

Figure 6 Collage made expressing personal feelings (A5)
(Participant, youth work student, female)

The Youth and Community Work students (also mixed gender, mainly female) were generally more receptive to the collage making, and many of them in discussion could relate it to activities they might carry out in their own professional practice and qualitative research. They saw it much more as a prompt for discussion than an aid to concentration than the Geography students, although several did relate it to doodling as means of concentrating, and most said they ’enjoyed’ the activity. All students in this group shared their collage in the discussion: one student who had stapled his closed, explained this as an expression of specific feelings relating to self-disclosure rather than the activity. Several students in this group made collages about personal feelings unrelated to the lecture (Figure 6). On the whole, I felt that there was less resistance to the activity in this group; but again, this informal interpretation suggests a number of more specific lines of enquiry, about prior experience, current skills, gender, age, ethnicity and so on.

Tentative conclusions indicative of need for further research

In the first problem-solving collage activity, Example 1, participants expressed reluctance to participate connected with not regarding themselves as ‘artistic’ or being convinced about the method. I also think that a self-consciousness about participating in a ‘soft’, reflective activity underlies the comment in Text 1, ‘I can bullshit at length’.

In all cases, the extent to which participants identify themselves as ‘arty’ impacts on willingness to engage (‘I am not a person who does collage’ Text 2); as does prior experience of qualitative research methods. Gauntlett suggests that willingness to engage with creative activity and its impact are related to prior experiences and self-narrratives (Gauntlett 2011). There are perhaps a whole raft of other contingent and structural factors related both to personalities and context. These could be subject to research enquiry in a number of feasible ways.

However, I would suggest that in all the examples shown here, where there has been an engagement with the process, these impacts could be inferred from discussion and examination of the collages to be possible pathways for further research:

1. Contribution to understanding of self or problem solving not available by other means (Texts 1-3)
2. Expression of feelings in a different (not verbalised) way (Figures 5 and 6)
3. Figure 4 also suggests that collage is not necessarily a distraction from new learning. Combined with the comments in Text 2, I relate this to the physical process of selecting and discarding, combining and juxtaposing, in other words, to the embodied enactment of thinking.

Sue Challis

Butler-Kisber, L (2010) Qualitative Inquiry: thematic, narrative and Arts-Informed Perspectives London, Sage
Challis (2013) Sketchbook Postal Exchange Journal of Writing in Creative Practice Vol 6 No 2 London, Intellect

Gauntlett, D (2011) Making is Connecting :the social meaning of creativity from DIY to knitting and YouTube to Web 2.0 Cambridge, Polity Press

Last week I finished off my unofficial sabbatical by going to the HEA Arts and Humanities Heroes and Monsters Conference. Here’s what I have been up to over those two and a half days…

I hadn’t signed up for a pre-conference workshop, but admired some of the pamphlet stitched books that came out of one of them (sorry, I don’t know which one). A colleague that I worked with in Massachusetts gets her students to make simple books, one blank  lot to be used as sketchbooks during the term, the other specifically to note-take for one module, which uses paper that she copies for them beforehand and which when finished includes prompts and guidance for their note-taking, as well as a fold-out timeline. (I must ask her to write a little guest post on that soon.)

Anyway, so my conference experience started with Monday evenings keynote by Marian McCarthy, the co-director of Ionad Bairre, the teaching and learning centre at the University College Cork. Marian started with an immersive performance piece as an investigator working with the police trying to get to the bottom of worldwide zombie sightings, and made a very good point about using performance to change the dynamic in a lecture theatre, which was a very good introduction to the conference.

Through my action photography, Jesse looks a bit like a zombie himself...

Through my action photography, Jesse looks a bit like a zombie himself…

Tuesday morning’s keynote on ‘Zombie Pedagogies‘ was given by Jesse Stommel of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is one of the brains behind Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching and technology. He made the slides to his keynote available here. Three things I will take away from his talk – way more information about follicle mites than I ever wanted (you sort of had to be there), Jesse talking about a future project where he wants his students to turn Moby Dick into a humument-like artwork, and his remark that “Learning happens in those tangents”. He was referring to the times between conference sessions, the chats over coffee and lunch, but I think this is meaningful in a larger way (something that I will probably post about separately soon).

After the keynote was my own session. As mentioned in a previous post, this was a training montage based around the Fishscale of Academicness (more information on this can be found here). As you can see from some of these pictures, participants were very engaged in designing their own sea creatures for some rather random sample sources, and I got some good feedback afterwards.

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In the afternoon I wanted to join a session called ‘Talk, Chalk and Walk‘ by Carolyn Bew, subject lead for art and design at the Higher Education Academy. Unfortunately the weather didn’t really play ball, so we couldn’t really embellish the Lowry’s outside with large-scale chalk drawings. Instead we explored the building through a tour by the lovely volunteer Carol, and then popped over the Manchester Ship Canal to the Imperial War Museum North, where I gave a little impromtu talk about the building’s design.

The evening ended with some ‘Ted-ish talks’, some drinks, posters and the conference dinner, where I found myself back at the War Museum, this time at a table set up in the main exhibition space and surrounded by large projections of quotes relating to heroes and monsters. That was quite special, even if the food was not.

My first session on Wednesday was ‘The shape-shifting teddy bear: creating a historic persona and teaching by doing‘ led by Gaby Neher from the University of Nottingham. I had been particularly looking forward to this, as I reblogged her original blog post about this not so long ago. While I made a little superhero outfit for the frog that had insisted on coming for the day and turned a teddy into a vampire teddy (complete with batwings and pipecleaner teeth), the group chatted about this hands-on approach in the context of history teaching, and one of the group also recommended Ian Dawson’s Thinking History site.

Material Samples for Susan's session

Material Samples for Susan’s session

The lecture spectre‘ by Susan Ryland, Imperial College London, was the next session I attended. Susan has been testing collage as a note-taking activity in lectures beyond the art and design realm. Very interesting was a comment by a student she shared with us, which started from a very dismissive position on the collaging activity and transformed into the realisation that it had been very useful. Unfortunately it was presented as a much too short paper, so we didn’t really have time to explore collage ourselves, although Susan had brought some material samples for us to experiment with as an introduction. I hope that Susan will be able to share some of that work with us on here soon.

In the same session Blane Savage talked about his work in ‘Interpreting art practitioner’s unconscious communications through symbolic modelling and metaphoric transformation‘, and he had brought Alison Bell with him, who had been his case study. Both based at the University of the West of Scotland, Blane had used his background in hypnotherapy to allow Alison to describe her work differrently, which allowed her to make some significant breakthroughs in her practice as a fine artist. I found this use of metaphors absolutely fascinating, and again, I hope to be able to publish something more detailed on this blog soon.

The last session of the day for me before we concluded the conference with a plenary was describing two very performative projects. In his presentation ‘Project2of3 – Alternate Reality Games and assessment on Campus‘, Alan Hook from the University of Ulster shared some experiences of Alternate Reality Games with us, and particularly his plans for a future project that hopes to use an ARG format to familiarise students more to the assessment criteria and learning outcomes. In ‘How I survived the zombie acopalypse or summer 2013‘, Teresa Gray from Plymouth College of Art shared some creative writing with us, which she had used to engage more students in cross-departmental activities.

By the time the closing panel arrived I couldn’t help realising that a few monsters had been slain or tamed, and that strategies from the arts and humanities could well be considerd heroes in quite a few contexts. And even if these activities and narratives sometimes feel like tangents at the outset, the learning really does happen in the tangents, in those little ways that we can individually make sense of something through linking it to a personal experience.


After our December workshops had gone down quite well, Falmouth University invited Pat and myself back to this time put together a whole day as part of the Writing in Creative Practice series – Making Writing.

We started off with making name tags in order to explore the materials available for reflective bookmaking – and I don’t think we ever had as many feathers to use before!

Pat then started us off with an extended Writing Warm-up, which we used to explore writing on different textures ending up with writing about both objects and photographs. Again, a very rich experience to loosen us up (we didn’t really need to warm up as the weather was absolutely fantastic!).

Nancy de Freitas then shared her expertise of coming to writing from a material studies background, talking about Writing and Materiality (Falmouth_workshop2) – starting us off with blue sky thinking, introducing the importance of having a working abstract when doing any sort of research project, the usefulness of questions to prompt where you are going, the utilisation of images in both abstract ‘writing’ and planning structure as well as the differences between personal and academic writing (yes, there should be one!).

What I particularly loved was her use of the image of a shed to illustrate what a working draft of a piece of writing is like – yes, it might feel cobbled together (and the shed on the image she showed us really was…), but the important thing is that it is holding together! in a way this is the point when writing goes from a solitary to a social activity – now you can show it to somebody else, because it has enough structure to make sense. And from now on it can be worked on, carefully turning the precarious shed into a house with foundations, a solid structure, a roof that doesn’t leak, maybe even a conservatory… No, she didn’t actually mention conservatories, that is just what I was thinking, she did however go on to talk about the importance of editing as a social practice, because writing should work for the ‘other person’ – the reader! (An important fact that my students often don’t seem to be aware of.)

Nancy also shared some interesting thoughts on active documentation, and how that can be used to get students to think about structure and editing.

After lunch Oliver West took over sharing with us his journey of how he developed the Footnotes project out of his own struggle with writing as a dyslexic student and then practcioner. This is based around taking notes on a simple folded grid – allowing visuals to be recorded, annotated and then reordered. And of course we got to have a go – and I saw Nancy’s shed make an appearance on not just my grid!

I ended the official program with a gallop through the visual anaolgies and metaphors I use in order to engage my students with writing and particularly academic practice. Using the ‘mini’ quilt’ developed for the recent School of Education conference as a starting point, I introduced the framing of Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle and then really briefly talked about The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice, The Butterfly Challenge, ways of using objects, reflective bookmaking and poetic inquiry, The Dress-up Doll of Formality, visualising introduction/main body and conclusion of an essay as stages in journy planning, The Fishscale of Academicness, The Button Connection and The Winning Hand of Independence. And while I am not convinced all of them made sense with only a few sentences to explain them, I believe the gist of it came across – and I had some interesting feedback at the end of the session.

We ended with a discussion round wondering whether approaches are different for practitioners and teachers, people who see themselves as more comfortable with words rather than images – and how we can make sure to cater for different learning styles of out students.

It was a fantastic day full of interesting sharing, and some fabulous reflective books were made that will hopefully inspire things to come – and I hope that we can do it again sometime. (And then we immediately did with a Writing Retreat the following two days, about which I will blog soon!)

The Writing in Creative Practice: Writing and the Object workshop was held at Middlesex University on 13 June 2013. It was a very full day – full with delegates, speakers and, above all, ideas. (You can find the official schedule here). Here are my initial impressions… (so far only my photos, more to follow soon)

Peter Thomas, who had organised the whole day on the Middlesex side, started us of with putting the day into a larger context, talking about the tension between the object representing tacit understanding and the writing, which records explicit knowledge. This is something that is very close to my understanding of the relationship between the word and object as well (as can be seen in The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice), and I particularly liked Peter’s notion of the tension, which visually could also be read as interference in a way, which is somewhat ironic, because what the object particularly can give to writing is the focus and relevance that is so often lacking in student writing.

I then took over from Peter, introducing Sarah Williamson’s reflective book making activity (yes, by presenting everybody with a long paper strip, ready to be filled with collage/drawing or whatever else people felt like), giving a tiny little bit of background and particularly flagging up David Gauntlett’s notion of the ‘longer stretch of thoughtfulness’ (2010) that making brings. I then gave a brief overview of how I use objects in my teaching, particularly how interviewing an object can become a non-threatening precursor to an academic investigation (framed as an article) – because the genre of interview is less scary to students than the academic essay, because they are familiar with the former. I then put the two starting points – of using objects and making objects – together in the discussion of the 2D Challenge – making a sample copy of a magazine/newspaper based on the question ‘What would me work be like if it was a newspaper/magazine?’

Following this, Grace Lees-Maffei gave an overview of the different perspectives from which the relationship between words and objects are approached in Writing Design: Words and Objects, a book she has edited recently. What particularly stuck with me was the notion of triangulation – we need to approach objects from different angles, because really they “defy all attempts to define them in language”.  I was thinking how looking at objects can become a great illustration of the concept of triangulation within academic research through using different perspectives/shots of the same object (maybe a future tactile academia booklet?). I also liked her talking about omission, how it can be revealing to look for what is not written about.

Luke White talked about the sense in which objects can be seen (or can become?) ‘haunted’ after Derrida’s Hauntology, framed through his own encounter with Hirst’s shark. This really opened thoughts of the real and unreal – can we really attempt to talk about an object’s ‘truth’, or is what we are talking about ALWAYS an interpretation? Does objectivity exist at all, or is it always – or sometimes? – more akin to reflexivity? Does Design Writing take possession of the objects that are its subject?

Pauline Sumner took over and talked about her work in dyslexia support. She started with a brief overview of how dyslexia connects with related learning difficulties and some facts, for example that why it has been shown that 3D visual information processing skills are better in dyslexic men, this has not been found to be the case for women… I found particularly interesting the system she described of colour coding and chunking text – breaking up text that needs to be produced for a whole essay into manageable chunks and colour code them in a reverse traffic light system (the introduction in green, the main body in sections of various colours and the conclusion in red).

And this was all before lunch! Over lunch I had a really interesting discussion with some delegates about the use of the reflective bookmaking as note taking, which seemed to be a big hit. (In fact this came up a fair few times in the feedback: “Absolutely LOVED the new method of taking notes and found I was able to focus on my own responses to the presentations in an entirely new way.” “Lots of memory triggers now to reconnect me to my thoughts today and take back into my practice.” “Didn’t think collage and listening would be so compatible.”)

After lunch, Peter and Ossie Parker told us about their interventions on an animation course, where they use a generative writing cycle of free-writing, reviewing for pathways, freewriting on the pathways, reviewing for a short presentation to facilitate an inner dialogue in students, basically scaffolding the developing and editing of ideas in preparation for a 15 second stop-motion animation.

Then Tony Side told us about how a writing portfolio (also as a designed object reflecting the content) has replaced the traditional dissertation on an Interior Design/Architecture course – and how this is supported/scaffolded through writing workshops including object/image analysis and site-writing to name but a few.

The last session by Peter, Emma Dick, Richard Lumb and Marion Syratt Barnes started by letting us experience how they link objects from their collections (the Museum of Domestic Architecture and the Library Special Collections) to student research, exploration and writing. They refer to a method of material artefact analysis described by Valerie Steele in ‘A Museum of Fashion Is More Than A Clothes Bag’ (1998), which goes through the steps of Description, Deduction and Speculation. Again one of the threads running through this approach (as in the approach to the Animation Project mentioned above) was making it clear to the students that there is a space in the process of generating writing that is (and should be) private – when you are still figuring out what you want to say.

We ended the day with Stewart Martin responding to the themes and issues that had been raised. I particularly liked his thought that both creative practice and academic writing are (or should be?) about the creation of something new… a novel contribution. Questions that came out of the following discussion were: “Should writing be considered as an independent field?”, “should we throw out the notion of ‘academic writing’ and just focus on writing?” and the idea of the “artefact of text”.

While there may have not been any answers, I found it a very stimulating day that has given me a lot to think about.

Through booking forthcoming events, I also get to catch up with people who came to previous workshops – and I of course always ask whether they were able to put anything into practice since then, or whether they went away inspired.

Well, today, Sara Eaglesfield got in touch. She was at the second workshop in Stoke last year, and says that

During the summer I created a series of workshops for our first year students which combined my multiple intelligences research with some collage-making-sticking ideas I’d picked up from our day in May (we have since got through incredible amounts of glitter).

And she also sent this Poster she made to disseminate her research, to share it with all you lovely blog readers. She is very interested in taking this research further, possibly in a collaboration, so if you think this looks interesting, please do get in touch with her at Sara.Eaglesfield[at]

So last week, Sarah and myself made our way to the first Writing in Creative Practice workshop to be held in Scotland. We had been invited to come to the Ayr campus of The University of the West of Scotland by Alison Bell, who had been at the very first of these workshops in Stoke-on-Trent, and we had been talking ever since to make this happen.

bags waiting for participants to arrive

bags waiting for participants to arrive

The idea behind the programming of the day was to particularly look at collage, but more in the direction of reflection than the recent Chester workshop had been, which was very much about interpretation of text I felt. And of course we had set it up so that participants could have a go themselves. Intitially (after making our own name tags), Sarah introduced reflective notetaking in book form, with a particular look at poetic inquiry and its roots in Dada (as well as referencing the songwriting of David Bowie).

After lunch, Alison shared her experiences of working with collage as a methods of enquiry as part of her PhD. This was a very thought- and personal reflection on her work, which (for me) particularly made the point that it is not only the collages that can be interpreted, but that taking photographs of them then allow their interpretations from mutliple perspectives, again changing what one is able to see in them (and in extension in the work).

The next part of the day was given over to just that exploration of words in not just two but three dimensions. Brigid Collins introduced us to her work on poem houses, and with the help of some handy template boxes, participants were encouraged to take their two dimensional collage into the third dimension. Brigid had also given everybody a haiku as a possible starting point. A really intensive working period followed, where people were working on both two and three dimensional visual reflection.

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To bring everybody back to the university context, I then introduced a way of using collage as a way of thinking about collating a literature review, and particularly for explaining to students the difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography (something I seem to have trouble at in my teaching). I will blog about this in more detail soon.

In order to collect feedback, we used an activity that Sarah had recently tried with her students: we gave everybody a page of notes from the back of a found book of a greek play (I think), asking them to pick out three words and expain how these three words reflected their experience of the workshop. Because the notes were quite academic and sometimes included translations of greek and latin terms, the found words were really interesting and the feedback in places was almost lyrical.

Overall it was a great day – on our way back we were already making plans on a future event, so keep your eyes peeled for that (though of course it might take another year for that to actually happen…).

Igniting Anything - my poem house

Igniting Anything – my poem house

Here is a picture of my ‘poem house’ (slightly unfinished as yet). It was inspired by a David Bowie quote in a video clip Sarah showed: “igniting anything that might be in my imagination” and a Conquergood quote that popped up in Alison’s presentation “braiding together of disparate and stratified ways of knowing” (2003). I liked the idea of igniting and found a map of islands at least some of which I thought might well be volcanic, and liking the idea of braiding things together, I cut them into strips according to the longtitude. So far I didn’t do any braiding, but that might still come!