Move over old media gatekeepers

“Get used to the idea of significant portion of the population walking around with high-speed Internet connections on their person, with sophisticated video cameras built in. They will be shooting all kinds of events all the time. Crime. Crashes. Speeches. Sports. And the footage won’t be the short, sanitized and safe versions we usually see on television, courtesy of the old media gatekeepers. The user-generated pictures and video will be raw and real. It will be disturbing, yet illuminating. And it will be shared over the ‘Net almost as it happens, and available for everyone to see.”
― Ian Lamont


Exercise 4 Cutting edge

Connecting in cyberspace. I suppose it is true that we are all more connected but connected to what? I buy from eBay and Amazon. I look for ideas on Pinterest and music on YouTube. there are opportunities to play interactive games and Candy Crush and Scrabble are my favourite. However, I am not connecting to anyone else, it is a solo shopping trip and a solo media
Yes, I use Facebook. Not a lot, but sometimes it is good to see what friends are doing on their holidays. If I “like” a photo I am sending a supportive message to a friend which could be construed as connecting but still there is no real contact. People I have never met ask to “friend” me and then I don’t hear from them unless they are promoting an event or selling a product. I am on Linkedin and people ask to connect with me but I never hear from them again unless they want an endorsement. Maybe its me but this all feels like just another form of marketing and I am not that thrilled with it. I want to engage with people in the physicality of life, not through a screen. I guess I am old fashioned.
However, when it comes to interest groups things change. Literally. Groups of people form organically, attracted by a common desire to either learn more, support others or incite change. The difference between this and mass marketing is that people are doing it for themselves. People are seeking out kindred spirits and connecting regardless of geography. This is what I find exciting.
Although petition sites such as Avaaz and SumOfUs may not win design awards, the work they do in pulling people together from all over the world to demand change, is somewhat spectacular.faces-63516_960_720
Oh, and I do use Skype which is a fantastic way to connect with my son in America, friends in South Africa, work colleagues and clients. Here is an application that does connect people at a deeper level and it is an amazing gift as it is free.



Researching new ideas and sites, I am reminded that new things emerge as a result of an interest or need in the public audience. This is almost a form of systems theory where the feedback determines the product. I came across a few interesting interactive sites designed to calm and reduce stress.
Pixel Thoughts is simple with basic graphics and yet effective in inviting the viewer to type what is bothering them in a few words. This appears in a bubble which gradually reduces in size and disappears whilst offering a reminder of the vastness of the galaxy in which we live. It appeals to me because of its simplicity and the diminishing  thoughts do seem to reduce stress.
Silk is a doodle platform where the viewer creates beautiful images that are relaxing. It is not a drawing tool and actually quite difficult to control but the results and the options are ethereal . The image can be saved, there is no log in, no sense of emails being collected and an extraordinarily pleasant offering.doodle on silkweave.png Here is one I made earlier.



One of my favourite films is The Life of Pi and I was really pleased to find a website called Pi’s Epic Journey  describing the making of the film. life-of-pi1The site is as clever and entertaining as the film with several interactive screens and plenty of information.





A site that does leave me feeling connected is A Network for Grateful Living. There are reading resources, opportunities to contribute to online questions in sharing forums, a beautifully crafted virtual candle lighting, online book groups, videos, blogs and other community based events.  This site has been around for a long time but I still feel that the technology is great and the concept is wonderful. It is upgraded and dynamic, seeing ways to connect people.  . It could be described as entertaining and informing in some ways.

Reflecting on my choices here I see that I am mostly drawn to more relaxing and “quiet” sites that offer something less busy, however I do appreciate the complexity of the technology and the enormous skills of the designers. I am also aware of some of the extraordinary apps available and the fact that my phone takes better photos than my camera.

Yes, it is entirely up to you how new media is used and if it appeals to you.

Balancing act

The analogy between the sofa and relationships intrigues me. Yes, often relationships are about balance. Something quite wonderful that the sofa will not break if it does fall over, because the artist has ensured that the pieces are held together with magnets. Relationships and magnetism. I like it.

Balance from Within, Jacob Tonski

Balance from Within, Jacob Tonski


3D printing fancies and fantasies

3d-printed-ear3D printing fascinates me. It probably does a lot more than that for the scientists who are ever closer to printing out entire human organs. It is already possible to small body parts and  heart tissue  that actually beats by using this technology.  Researchers are developing skin graft printing, blood vessels and kidney cells. 

Of course the humanitarian uses of 3D printing are the most important. And, here is a band that plays 3D printed instruments,. What extraordinary times we live in.

I am curious about other practical uses. We know about printing furniture and even houses have been printed in China but as a closet Trekkie, I want to know when we will be able to print nutritious food in our own kitchens. In Star Trek land the “replicator” was asked to provide tea and cookies and they appeared as if from thin air. Were they actually printed incredibly quickly using original tea and cookie material? Will we soon have a choice in a restaurant between 3D printed no-calorie, no preservatives, no food colouring, gluten free, dairy free ice cream with hot chocolate sauce and the as-nature-intended alternative?

On a more serious note,  there are already 3D printers making real guns and we know how that technology can evolve, however the scope for artists with a techie side is huge. Here is a polished nickel steel sculpture by Manfred Keilnhofer created in 2014 and aptly named.

Guardians of Time

Guardians of Time


Tattoos as narrative

Are tattoos a living visual communication? This whole body a blank canvas waiting for the images that tell the world about the life of the person within, exposing or creating an identity, a history, a life story?  Or are these messages of fantasy? Angel_tattoo

Image Wikipedia Creative Commons

Exercise 3 Visual conventions for time and place

I have been reflecting on the past, initially imagining  how it might have been  for a Cro-Magnon  cave painter in France. The aim is to create an animated series of animals. You have no paint, brushes, pencils or pens. The surface is unprepared and uneven and there is no south facing window of natural light. These were the conditions for stone – age artists 20,000 years ago.Lascaux cave painting (Public Domain)
Despite this, cave paintings found in Lascaux  not only depict beautiful representations of creatures, but they show animals that appear to run when lit with flickering candles. In this way, the artists created a sense of movement, and therefore time, as well as the freedom of space.
In South America,  more than 2,000 years ago,  one of the earliest  Mayan murals  was painted on a plaster wall.  The   30 feet long  piece  has a central image of the crowning of the king, making the whole mural into one event.


At the other end of the world, in Japan, one of the earliest comics, from the 1100’s known as “Frolicking Animals and People ” is a treasured artwork  comprising four scrolls. The  first scroll is 36 feet long and the amusing line drawings depict  animals imitating people in different activities such as archery. The parts of the scroll I was able to see online, show vegetation, streams, hills and trees in the background, indicating that the animals are outdoors and not in a zoo or enclosed space.


The slightly earlier Bayeux tapestry presents a stream of events which include outdoor roasting on spits and food preparation, messengers riding on horseback with hair flying in the wind, as well as battles . Again the vegetation indicates the landscape and this changes as the viewer moves forward literally, and forward in the narrative. Indoor space is signified by a roof and pillars and when travelling across water, the sea is shown as wavy lines. More about that below.


Neelkanth Temple, Yann Forget, Wikipedia Commons

Neelkanth Temple, Yann Forget, Wikipedia Commons

My research for this exercise took me to so many fascinating examples of early visual communication including Indian erotica carved into cave walls  and of course the Egyptian hieroglyphics which I was fortunate to see when visiting Egypt some years ago.
The conditions of the era fascinate me and the perseverance needed to create these paintings and carvings. The sense of craftsmanship and tactile connection to the materials, be they pigment made from berries or stone chipping at stone, it seems so different compared to the technology of today when creating visual imagery on screens.  Yet whatever the medium, whatever the conditions, the impulse to communicate with visual illustration seems to be an inherent part of the human psyche of artists.


Back to the task at hand, and exploring early Egyptian art, I am reminded of the means of communicating through signs and signifiers and semiotics shows that each culture holds its own visual language.eye of horus An example of this is perhaps the most familiar of Egyptian symbols – the eye of Horus and the ankh. In modern day Europe we might consider the eye to represent watching but to the Egyptians it was used to represent protection and healing.
Some symbols do seem to have a more archetypal feel such as the similarity between the ankh and the Christian cross. The ankh is the symbol of eternal life, the breath of life needed in the afterlife. The Christian cross, whilst it can be seen as a literal symbol of crucifixion, is also used to represent eternal life and probably draws on the traditional iconography of the ankh.


The Egyptian hieroglyphics are ordered into horizontal or vertical rows, almost a precursor to the horizontal frame – by –  frame images telling a story sequentially such as on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. This religious narrative painted in the 1500’s tells the story in a frame – by – frame sequence as  a narrative set in sequential blocks of time. However the Egyptian hieroglyphics were also sometimes designed to be read from left to right and the next piece from right to left. The clue is in which way the people or animals face.


In more recent times comics such as Rupert the Bear told the story through sequential images as did Dennis the Menace, but with the addition of speech bubbles. However, there were satirical cartoons and comics for adults long before then including Punch in the 1800s.
When film took a series of still images and created animation, this became a variation rather than the next step, although the results are  a leap forward.
Observing the evolution of visual communication of this kind and how it progressed to reach a wider audience by utilising signs and symbols with a more universal understanding, I have seen more use of expression on faces, posture, gesture and clothing in illustrations. A man with a happy face wearing waders and carrying a fishing rod is clearly indicating someone going fishing for sport. The connotations could be fine weather, peace and quiet, solitude and relaxation. We do talk about “dress codes” for different events, we know a policeman by his uniform, and we know that a queen wears a crown. However, unless the reader has knowledge of fishing and recognises the fishing rod, or has seen a local policeman, the symbols are not understood.

In more modern visuals there is also more use of distance, detail, close up and panoramic views to give a sense of place and space.

Visual communication is only successful if the viewer can connect to the image through something previously experienced. The viewer creates meaning from the image by relating it to similar groups of images in her mind and things she may have learned in the past. The images that can be seen from the viewer’s perspective are therefore the most successful at relaying the information. Some exceptions to this might be the universal symbols of the sun and moon and other natural objects.

In creating an image with the sun in the background we can tell that the event takes place in the daylight as people everywhere will relate to the image of the sun and light.  Interestingly, back to the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the symbol for water water heiroglyphmight also be considered universal or archetypal.  Although it might literally appear to denote waves, it is understood to signify water which could be a pond or lake as well. We see it also used  in the astrological sign of Aquarius as well as notices advising people of areas safe to swim. swimming_clip_art_15823The Egyptians used a method of enclosing the symbol to denote water in an enclosed space.

In more modern times I find it curious the way graphic novels have evolved. Initially I imagined the term to mean stories that might contain explicit material, perhaps about crime or worse. I am better informed now, but still curious that novels such as Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie by Shirley Hughes that have no words at all. Although the illustrations are complex and finely drawn, in visual communication terms it is not that different to the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, is it?

I notice my own prejudice around textless books and my concern that children and young people don’t read widely and well. And yet we are drawn to imagery and perhaps we are most drawn to images that we quickly recognise the archetype or symbolism.

In searching for images expressing a sense of place, I  was particularly drawn to an image in the Bridgeman Library that was a painting of the Swimming pool on The Titanic.  An indoor pool room depicted in shades of blue and silvery grey, with portholes in one side readily gave an impression of a room with metallic walls on a ship.  The swimmers are relaxed and it was an innocuous illustration denoting a leisure activity, but the connotations were powerful. (Safely swimming inside the ship were several people who would soon be drowning in the sea.) More powerful perhaps was the title as it tells us of the impending doom.

This exercise has been  a process of moving from the general to the specific. I used online libraries and art sites as well as paper books and YouTube. Specific search terms are naturally the most helpful and the internet is an extraordinary resource. When using a search term such as “early comics” I found that it could lead into other areas of interest and perhaps more detail, all contributing to a sense of overwhelm at the amount of information that is so readily available.


My final thoughts are to recognise that the connotations surrounding an image appear to activate the imagination in the same way that poetry might.



Increase empathy through reading

stone-figure-10543_960_720 Dr. Gregory S. Berns, director of Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy, told the Huffington Post:
“At a minimum, we can say that reading stories — especially those with strong narrative arcs — reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.”
In addition, reading literary fiction was shown to enhance a skill known as theory of mind, which is the ability to understand others’ mental states4 and show increased empathy.

Why I knit….quote (fiction)

“I knit the afternoon away. I knit reasons for Elijah to come back.
I knit apologies for Emma. I knit angry knots and slipped stitches
for every mistake I ever made, and I knit wet, swollen stitches
that look awful. I knit the sun down. ”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirlswintergirls

Visual Communications : Exercise 2 Knitting Patterns

Knitting mind map

Knitting mind map

A quick knitting mind map reminded me of when my sons were very young. I knitted jumpers with  cars and trains trundling across the front and zip-up jackets in stripes of red and blue.

Knitting was enjoyable and for young children it did not take too long.

Researching vintage knitting patterns has been amusing and looking at contemporary wearable art is humbling. My imagination has stretched to understand knitting on your own arms and fingers. Most of all I am happy that there seems to be a trend towards men taking up knitting. Traditionally men and boys learned to knit, supposedly as a result of creating fishing nets. Now it is presented as a relaxing, therapeutic, sociable, creative and productive activity. For me it has been those things and I am not sure why I stopped knitting.

Arm knitting

Arm knitting

This beautiful shawl (left) was knitted on a pair of arms, while this arm bangle (below) was knitted with wire. Knitting offers amazing opportunities.

Knitting with wire

Knitting with wire

graffiti knitting

graffiti knitting

Knitting a scarf on your fingers

Knitting a scarf on your fingers

Yarn Bomb

Yarn Bomb

knit card

Fire-fighters knitting

Fire-fighters knitting

knitting tea cosy knitting toy knitting toys

Knitted wall art

Knitted wall art

knitted wearable art

Wearable art knitted by Alison Ellen

knitting 1



Sometimes less is more

Great paper cut out work called Holding onto Myself by Peter Callesen, 2006.

The simplicity appeals to me, almost because of the expanse of emptiness and the feeling that “he” could fall off the edge unless he held on to some part of himself. The image is clever whilst carrying some emotional content.Peter-Callesen-holding on to myself 2006 The cutout negative image is the same shape as the positive cutout, of course, but the effect is of two different shapes. One appears to be falling whilst the other is leaning over to hold on and save. The addition of the shadow offers more depth.