Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Drawing and writing together: pushing my boundaries

Shocking mess at my desk.
I started my occasional blog on developing visual methods in research and teaching as a way of documenting my own process of grappling with developing my artistic-academic practice. It gives me an opportunity to connect up thinking about how I can know things, my perspectives on subjects and how I develop and use visual methods in a coherent way. This is important for me, as my fields of teaching and research (e.g. children, young people and families, service design and evaluation, leadership and organisation) are ones, like others, that benefit from the application of visual methods but deserve more than decoration or illustration in the traditional sense. So - I am here to push myself both in my teaching, research and writing activities. Below are a couple of examples: firstly from teaching, then from a writing project in progress. They are not perfect, but that's not the point.

I started this academic year with a personal commitment to increase the use of drawing in my teaching practice, which I have done (and loved). The images below are from a module I have taught with a colleague on social policy for children, families and communities. As someone who has studied social policy and public administration, I know this can be a dry subject if simply considered as a body of knowledge to be transmitted, so the challenge for me has been to use drawing to stimulate the imagination, disrupt thinking and to provide spaces for thinking and and questioning. I have done this with a fairly loud voice in my head saying "stop playing about on the edges", as I have introduced imaginary machines that make social policy, or birds that get involved in family life. I know, it sounds a bit crackers. The thing is, I have found from student evaluation that drawing has enabled some of my students to find new 'ways in' to this topic. This new sort of access has also helped them to explore and navigate in new ways, but I have more to do to document this which will be exciting.

An education / schooling "machine" 

Family intervention birds.

Three point perspective 'community' with contrasting elements.

On the writing front, I'm also working with a colleague who is a cultural geographer and fellow childhood person to develop a way of thinking and writing together. This is new territory for me, which I can tell because I spend my time thinking (again) "is this properly academic?" "am I wasting my time?" "shouldn't I be doing this the other way round?" and so on. In the end, I have realised that this process of exploration and adventure will result in learning, and I will be a better writer and illustrator because of it. After some initial conversations, I've made drawing my starting point, which has been a challenge, as I'm normally thinking about what the issue is, what contribution I offer and what impact it has had to please reviewers and readers to please a more (social) scientific audience. I am more than sure the process of writing and then peer review will develop clarity and rigour, but I'm starting a conversation (which includes visuals) with my co-author. Examples from the early part of the process are below.

Sketching elements that will eventually feature in a image-text article.

In this process, we are imagining a composite image which will also be deconstructed and used with text (sort of) in a way inspired (but not copying) a graphic novel format. I'm taking some of Deleuze's ideas I've previously blogged about (stacking, mapping, folding etc.) and applied them to early childhood education practice. I have found the process of sketching multiple versions has been helpful, and has caused me to think about relationships between elements and "arguments" in new ways. We will be discussing how text will interact with the images.

An early composite image featuring the elements previously sketched. 
This is an early version of a composite image I have produced with a graphics tablet which may start or end the article. The time spent drawing and revising has given me space to consider and reflect on the topic in a way which writing alone does not tend to do. It's helped me avoid some of the early editing and self-censorship that can sabotage my writing projects, so that has been helpful.

Creating elements as artifacts to support writing collaboration.
I am developing new ways of collaborating for academic publication which are helpful for me. In addition to having a shared Google document with my co-writer, I am also in the process of creating a series of visual artifacts (in this case, the six 'elements' of the composite image above) which we can use to configure a visual and textual narrative. I am also finding that adding in ideas and themes as text boxes to imagine possibilities helps, and the test will be when I meet up with my co-writer and we see how they make a difference to the writing process.

I will continue to think about what all of this means for the sorts of journals and special editions I submit to, as I think I need to continue to be really clear about what 'counts' as valuable, useful and clear to audiences. As I become even clearer about my artistic-academic practice and identity, that will help, so here's to that journey.