Tag Archives: Writing in Creative Practice

Thursday, 13th June:  (free) workshop at Middlesex University

Within the art and design academy we witness few of the expanded possibilities that lie between writing practices and the object. This workshop will combine theoretical and practical approaches to consider different writing-object relationships, including: writing about objects, writing as an object, writing to generate objects, etc.

This day-workshop will examine different relationships between writing practices and the object in art and design.

We write about objects, we produce writing as objects, we write in order to generate objects and sometimes we write in spite of objects, yet within the academy we rarely witness many of the expanded possibilities that lie within the relationship.

Our workshop will take a theoretical and a practical approach to exploring these possiilities, so we will schedule sessions which theorise on these themes but also sessions which allow for practical, hands-on experience. We will also allow time for reflection on themes raised in the sessions and for discussion.

Papers will investigate topics such as the use of writing as a means of generating design; the role of intuition within object-focused writing practices, and its relationship to formalised writing norms; ways of drawing on art and design practices in writing, such as the use of making in writing instruction with art and design students.

Speakers at the workshop will be both external to Middlesex University and internal, and the day’s activities will involve the University’s Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture and its collection.

You can find abstracts for the various sessions here: Writing & the object – topics. For more information, please get in touch with Peter Thomas (p.thomas[at] and to book, please check the information on the HEA events page.

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!

if walking alone
I am lonely it is both
a place and a path
        Thomas A. Clark

This was the haiku I found on my bag at todays writing in creative practice workshop at the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr. I will blog about the actual event – including why there were haikus on the bags – in a few days when I’m back at my computer, but these few lines made me think about the nature of this growing network… while it may sometimes feel like each of us is walking alone in the teaching and support we are providing in our respective posts at our respective universities, getting together for days like this, meeting in a place, allows us to share a path. And maybe even point out shortcuts (or detours) to each other.
Today new friends were made, the network got a bit bigger and the path might become a bit more travelled.

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.

On 12th April the University of the West of Scotland (Ayr Campus) will host the first Scotland-based workshop in the Writing in Creative Practice series, which is run in conjunction with Writing PAD and partly funded by the Higher Education Academy.

Titled Collage, Reflection and Writing, this workshop looks at collage’s potential as a method of inquiry through creative practice which seamlessly merges the making and the textual. We will explore the versatility collage offers as it allows one to find the words to express subjective experience through reflexivity and its (collage’s) intrinsic multiple interpretations of the ‘image’. We will take a look (and possibly have a go) at collage as a method of inquiry, reflective bookmaking, poetic inquiry and poem houses, as well as discussing ways of introducing students to structuring academic texts through collage.

Conceived as a hands-on day with lots of activities and discussion, this workshop will give participants the opportunity to explore collage in both a theoretical and practical way, but particularly as a way of engaging students in a reflective and analytical process that can prepare and support their writing tasks.

For more information on previous workshops in the Writing in Creative Practice series, please check the HEA events archive or


The attendance of this workshop is free of charge to all those interested in the workshop topic, with preference being given to staff working in HE institutions and HE in FE colleges from across the UK. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, but travel expenses will not be covered. However, the HEA is currently running a funding scheme to support travel crossing national borders to attend events, which could be applied for independently.

For more information or to book a place, please get in touch with Dr Alke Gröppel-Wegener ( with ‘WiCP Ayr’ in the subject line.


Our current draft programme (subject to change)

11:00 registration and refreshments

11.30 welcome

11.45 Thinking through Collaging: Reflective bookmaking and poetic inquiry (Sarah Williamson)

13.00: Lunch

13.45: Collage as subjective experience: Transitioning, Relinquishing, Becoming (Alison Bell)

14.45: Collaging in three dimensions: the Poem House (Brigid Collins)

15.45: refreshments

16.00: Collaging the Context: Visual Ways of Collating a Literature Review (Alke Gröppel-Wegener)

16.30: Discussion

17.00: end


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.

Just to let you all know that the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice has just published a short article by Pat Francis and myself where we share tips of how to put on a good (writing) workshop. This collaboration has come out of the Writing in Creative Practice events we have been working on together, which have been well received by participants, so if you are interested in putting on workshops like those yourself, whether for staff development or for student, this might be helpful.

A tip which isn’t included because it occurred to me after we sent this off (as a bonus for the readers of Tactile Academia):

Sort out the documentation beforehand

Just like it is important to gather feedback from your participants, it is important to be able to document the workshop. The most common form of doing that is probably taking photographs. If you are doing the workshops as part of your normal teaching routine this might not be as important, although good documentation can certainly help you demonstrate your good practice in an appraisal or interview situation for example. If you are doing the workshops as staff development or for an external funder this documentation becomes really important, as institutions like to show off what they have done/funded.

Whether you are running sessions yourself or ‘just’ organising, it can sometimes be difficult to remember to take photographs. So, nominate somebody to do it for you, maybe your institution has an official photographer who can pop in or you can get a photography student for the duration for a few quid (include this in your budget) and the work experience. Take the time to think about what you want the photographs to show in advance and discuss this with your photographer (or have a list if you are doing it yourself so that you don’t forget in the heat of the moment) – do you want shots of people arriving, materials, of the speakers, or work in progress, of certain activities and/or finished artefacts? The more you think about it beforehand, the more useful the photographs will be for you afterwards.

The article can be found in Volumen 5 Number 2 of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, pp. 291-300

The workshop at the University of Northampton was yesterday and it was another very enjoyable (if intensive) day, where some really interesting projects were discussed.


the reflective journalling starts

After our already customary icebreaker of making name tags, I started us out with a really short introduction to reflective bookmaking, based on work developed with my colleague Sarah Williamson.

Will Hoon, who had organised the day on the Northampton side, then told us about his work integrating contextual studies with practical design projects. Particularly fascinating was some student-led research that made them ‘remove the spectacle’ of advertising by taking out the visuals of advertising from the cityscape allowing the focus on just the slogans. Will also talked about how the quality of dissertation research and writing improved once 20% of the mark became allocated to the designerly presentation, speculating that the editing process the students are used to in their designs also made them edit their writing more carefully. He ended by showing two short film clips student groups had made that explained how to research and write an essay – and told us of his plans to use these films in teaching the new intake of students next year.


if a Tweet was an outfit – the Gingerbread Mankini

After Will it was my turn (again) to explain ways of visualising hidden academic practice. As the day was concerned with genre and re-genre-ing, I had decided to focus on The Dress-Up Doll of Formality, which is a little fun activity designed to get students to consider different ways of communicating information by thinking about the concept of ‘dressing for the occasion’. In groups participants were encouraged to design an outfit to fit a genre pulled out of a hat (in the end we had Radio News Programme, Advertising Billboard, Children’s Television Programme and Tweet) and dress up a cardboard gingerbread man (well person). I also talked briefly about alternative ways of presenting research (some of which can be found on this blog) and the 2D Challenge, which was part of my PhD research once upon a time.

After a lovely lunch, Will’s colleague Louise Bird shared her research with us, making a clear link between her practice, her teaching and her student’s projects. I was particularly fascinated by the notion of the mantelpiece as a cultural repository and Louise’s use of the shape of squares as a genre, as well as the artist’s books her students produce as part of their research.

The last speaker of the day was Fiona English, who drew the threads of the day together by talking about using genre as a pedagogical resource. She particularly highlighted a new case study, where an MA student had presented her reflection on a practical project as a transcript of a (fictitious) radio interview. Allowing us to listen to the student’s thoughts about this was of reflecting was a particularly poignant end to the formal part of the day, as it literally gave the student the last word.


one of the finished books at the end of the day

The following brief discussion showed how well the different examples that had been showcased throughout the day fit together, and it seemed like some participants were inspired and gained confidence in thinking about genre as a way of practicing theory.

This week Pat and I met up in Falmouth for the Annual Learning and Teaching Conference hosted by the Centre for Pedagogic Arts-based Research (PedARe). PedARe actually was launched on Wednesday night at a lovely celebration at the Maritime Museum, where a lot of networking was going on amidst the sails of various vessels with mulled wine and mince pies (and some cheese, too).

The coference itself kicked off on Thursday morning with a thoughtprovoking keynote by Professor Anna Craft from the University of Exeter. Titled ‘Possibility Thinking and Creativity’, she talked about the quiet revolution that might/will be coming to education through the combination of possibility thinking and creativity, particularly in digital youth.

I was very interested in the concept of ‘meddling in the middle’ – giving students support through enabling a place for uncertainty at some point during the process of learning.  Anna also made the point that wise possibility thinking had the potential to be both gear and game changing, because it challenges what is through asking ‘what if?’ or imagining things ‘as if’. This is particularly the case when combined with the 4 P’s of digital possibility thinking: Pluralities, Possibilities, Playfulness and Participation, which potentially results in creative empowerment and wise, humanising creativity.

As Pat and I went to prepare the first of our joint sessions, it struck me how much these 4 P’s also applied very much to what we are doing, although we are not employing digital means. Pat’s session was conceived as a ‘warm-up’ for writing, giving a very brief overview of some of the methods she uses to get studnets unblocked when it comes to writing. Most of the first couple of activities she suggested were fast and furious, the latter ones could be developed over a much longer amount of time. Unfortunately we didn’t really have the time to enjoy and explore as much as this needs, but some stimulating conversations were started that hopefully will lead to participants giving this a go once they are back at work.

The session I led over lunch focused on using visual analogies to illustrate the hidden academic practice that so often gets overlooked by students. This talk featured The Butterfly Challenge, The Land- and Seascape of Creative Practice, The Underwater Iceberg, The Fishscale of Academicness and the analogy I am currently working on, The Dress-up Doll of Formality. (I promise that one of these days I will get around to posting details of all these here!)

Both of our sessions got a really good response, but at the end of it both Pat and myself were so exhausted that we couldn’t make a useful contribution to the World Cafe session that was the closing session of the event. At the very end Carolyn Bew from the HEA sgared with us her impressions of the event as drawn on her iPad. Overall it was a very enjoyable day.

In the evening some of us went for a drink, where we discussed some ideas for the future. Particularly useful for Pat and myself weas an idea we then turned into an abstract for the upcoming HEA conference in Brighton. We will propose a workshop showing the different starting points a simple button can provide, an idea that came directly out of doing our two sessions. We don’t see each other that often (actually this was only the third time we had met) so it is really nice to see how fruitful these meetings can be if there is a bit more time involved than just the workshop itself! And true to form, over breakfast this morning we were discussing an idea for a workshop in Kent, triggered by the process of editing our abstract. And on the way to the train we were talking about the special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice that I will be hopefully editing soon, and that gave me a good idea to the direction that could take….

It was a fantastic event all round, the recordings of the sessions that will hopefully be up on the PedARe website soon will be well worth checking out, especially as there was too much on to see everything!