Class review: Ethics for Illustrators

Ethics

Illustration by Floor Steinz (c) 2016

I started my first class last week about ‘ethics’, in the context of Illustration. Eventhough the topic is broad and complex, I find it a very relevant topic. Ethics are strongly related with passion, and the things that drive us. Finding a personal ‘cause’ can be a powerful motivator for students to generate work. I introduced students to the concepts of Michael Welsh; from knowledgeable to knowledge-Able (2010, Tedtalk). He promotes the idea that students need be aware that they can have a major influence in shaping the future, and media-tools can play be a powerful tool for them. From this perspective I believe the topic of ethics should be part of any educational program.

During my presentation I introduced the following samples of controversial topics for illustrators: public morale (Nijn Eleven), politics (cartoons), scienticif falsification (infographics), sexual morality (children’s books), nudity (Facebook, Manara Spiderman), gender (children toys), racial stereotypes, violence (Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Combat), addiction/gambling (Candy Crush).

Afterwards we discussed specific topics that students are passionate about in groups. Every group got a 1 minute pitch to clarify the importance of their cause. We concluded with a voting. The outcome of this years ‘ethic-topic-selection’ was:

  1. stereotype representations in media (11 votes)
  2. (online) shaming (4 votes)
  3. cultural diverse super heroes (4 votes)
  4. gender representation (4 votes)
  5. body representations
  6. vandalism in public space (1 vote)
  7. animal cruelty (0 votes)

I  also asked what students are individually passionate about which led to the following topics: anti-semitism, black super heroes, stereotyping, hating trough social media, shaming, female representation in games, stereotype female characters in storytelling, metal health issues, hyper positive society, realism of sex in media, balans between supernatural and our environment, social housing, anonymity, pshycology, perfect beauty ideas, gender, plagiarism, high expectations in happiness and perfection, the existence of different truths.

I hope  our dialogue gave students an awareness of the ethical dimension of their (future) practice. When it comes to ethics I often hear illustrators mention their ideas about plagiarism and the lack of recognition in fee for their work. These are relevant topics, but I think illustrators should also take responsibility in how they represent the world in their illustrations; the type of assignments they take on, whom illustrators decide to work for, and what message they send into the world with their work. I understand the complexities of these questions; but if we don’t address this during their education; then when?

 

 

 

Inspiration & Relaxation

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Two weeks ago we organized an ‘inspiration week’ for the department of illustration at the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA). It was right after the evaluation of the year’s first projects. We wanted to give students the opportunity to reflect upon what they’ve done and try to inspire them before the second project starts. In other words we wanted our illustration students to have some R&R (Rest & Relaxation).

During the presentations of the first project I heard many students argue that if they had more time; their results would have been better. It’s an argument that sounds convincing and rational. However, I believe time-management has little to do with the success of our projects. I think our ability to stay inspired has a much bigger influence.

We can easily loose our inspiration during projects. In the beginning all projects are fun because everything is possible. At a certain point this changes, and you can only do what you said you would do. If we loose our inspiration during this phase it becomes hard to finish the project. Some of us need the fear of the deadline (and its consequences) in order to be motivated to finish it.

When the (real) inspiration is gone we often tend to change the game of a project. We start to challenge ourselves to manage the project as effectively as possible. We try to do as little as possible and spent the least amount of time on it. If we manage to pass the project like this, we praise ourselves for being so talented and effective. If we don’t pass the project like this, we’ll argue it’s because we didn’t manage our time well enough. Which in a way is true, but it’s not the real reason.

The risk of this development is we become satisfied with being efficient. However the ‘rush of deadlines’ is not the same as the ‘rush of being inspired’. In my opinion; to be inspired is not a ‘capricious, mysterious or divine feeling’. It is simply the ability to connect (the project) to a greater goal. Being inspired implies you feel a sense of urgency to give the best you’ve got. Unfortunately holding on to this feeling is easier said then done.

That’s why I thought it was important for students to have some R&R after their first project. I wanted an informal setting in which students from all years could share stories about their experiences. I asked some students to present their ‘best-practices’ and we had lunch together. Furthermore I asked teachers to team up and give an inspirational class during the rest of the week.

I hope in a way this event has contributed to the student’s clarity of their goals. If there’s clarity it becomes easier for students to understand how their education is only a tool that can help them reach their goal. When that happens; we won’t have to talk about time-management anymore, and things can become more interesting.

Crosscomix Rotterdam – review

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Presentation: Methamorphoses by alumni Veerle Coppoolse.

There are some nice events and festivals in the Netherlands for illustrators and animators. I always recommend; Playground, Klik, Haff, Graphixx (Belgium) and the Ilustration Biennale. Today I saw the pilot version of a new event: Crosscomix Rotterdam. I was attracted by the concept of this festival to connect comics with other disciplines such as; music, poetry, politics, games and architecture. The festival took place at the Rotterdam Schouwburg.

Our Illustration tutor Robert van Raffe spoke about his collaboration with a poet for Duplex (strip2000). It was nice to learn that the poems in this publication were created by actively working together. There was also a debate between politicians during which illustrators (such as Maaike Hartjes) visually commented simultaneously in the background. I did not like the debate, but I do see how the clarity of debate can be improved by the use of illustrators.

Furthermore political cartoonist TRIK gave a presentation on how he illustrates news-topics. How can you clarify your opinion visually to a broad audience? His key solutions were; use metaphors and clichés. During the program illustrator Brecht Evens gave an ongoing workshop to students who were experimenting with his style/technique. Our alumnnus Karida Bochove also seemed to draw continously throughout the program on a ongoing comic.

Illustrator Merel Barends explained about her drives and interest in scientific topics. She says her interest in science came partly because she wanted her comics to ‘last longer’ or have a ’deeper impact’. She also introduced the term: Illustrated Journalism, which might offer new posibilities for illustrators.  It was also nice to listen to Paul Bierhaus, (great to have a Rotterdam-based game company: YipYip). He gave a lecture about the relation between comics and video games. There was even a skype conference with Joost Swarte. Unfortunately the connection was not very well. He spoke about his new publication: Scratches. The cover image he presented was made by our alumnus Daan Botlek, but I am sure no one in the audience could identify the blurry image.

Next to the professionals it was nice to see our alumni students present their graduation projects from last year as well (Maureen van der Hout, Meral Tuncali,  and Veerle Coppoolse). In general the program was easy accessible, fast, diverse, and never boring. It was nice to see students, teachers and alumni. The festival is still going on as a write this review. They probably had a lot more to offer, and I’m sorry to have missed the performance of Kamagurka, but for me it was time to go home.

I think the relevance of the festival is to see the importance, the fun and the beauty of ‘crossing borders’ and making new connections with other disciplines. I think that it’s important for illustration students to others approach others for new forms of collaborations.

I am looking forward what the program will be like next year. Congratulations to all those who made this event possible.

WdKA FINALS ILLUSTRATION 2016

The WdKA Finals (graduation show) can still be seen until Sunday the 10th of July.  I have been wanting to write my reflections on the works of this years illustration graduation students. However for now I’ll share this quick visual impression. I would like to show the themes that inspired the illustration students. The design probably still has lots of bugs. However I learned at the expo, that bugs have meaning too..

Finals – Beeldverslag

 

 

FINALS-ILLUSTRATION-WDKA-2016

Stop Individual Student Feedback

I was amazed yesterday at how well students can give feedback on each others work. We had a project-feedback moments and I asked the students to write down feedback on post-its. Each ‘feedback-round’ had a specific aim:

  1. indicate a quality
  2. raise relevant questions
  3. give sound advice
  4. give bland critique

I considered it a very effective class, because within short time we had all given each other feedback. It made me reflect on the question; how relevant is a teacher’s individuals feedback for a student? Is it really necessary?

When talking to my students about the quality of education; they often desire more individual feedback moments with teachers. Individual feedback is not the most effective method to support the majority of a class. I don’t like the situation where students  sit around waiting for their little talk with the teacher.

I also notice that many students find it difficult to prepare for a feedback moment. Some students postpone their research, claiming they don’t want to develop anything until they acquire the “teachers blessing”. Some students passively wait for the teacher to tell them what to do. I think students are aware that they’re sabotaging their own studies this way, but there’s always enough distraction and arguments at hand to explain for themselves why they couldn’t prepare better. The risk of individual teacher-feedback in education; is that it doesn’t challenge students to make their own decisions.

I see a certain paradox in this situation as well. I consider my students motivation above average in relation to non-academy students. They are often well motivated, and strongly dedicated in completing a task. If I ask them about their desires; they often describe big and challenging achievements. They know perfectly well who their heroes are in the industry. They have no problem in working throughout night and day to make the deadline. The problem is definitely not in the big gestures. I think the problem lies in the ability of students to take small steps.

How can we inspire students to take small steps? How can we stimulte them to move ‘slow but steady’. I hope to take some small stepswith them, and give less individual-feedback, in the remaining periode of this project.

Designers-Behaviour-Grid 1.0

yesterday I presented this ‘Designers-Behaviour-Grid’ to 2nd year Illustration students.

It was my intention to discuss with students what type of behavior we desire from design students in projects. I think most students know what type of behavior is expected, but sometimes they choose to act differently.

I tried to explain that I believe it’s normal and human that students can’t always act like professionals yet. Part of their education is to learn how to act properly. However in order to learn how to behave; I would like to recommend students to become aware of different roles they can choose from. If they know which roles there are; they can vary and learn how to play each role.

I think that by learning to play the different roles, students can acquire a bigger insight in themselves and what they can be. I hope students can use the grid as reference and play with it during projects as they see fit. It was version 1.0.

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Applied Research in Higher Education

Today I went to a ‘lecture-day’ about Applied Research in Higher Professional Education (Folder praktijkgericht onderzoek in het HBO). The topic is considered relevant because since 2009 it has been put on the agenda of every higher education-institute in the Netherlands. This includes my own institute of Art&Design. I was interested because I find it such an essential aspect of learning, but I also consider it challenging and complex. There were several speakers who shared their thoughts on the subject.

Liset Munnike gave some nice insights:

  1. Issues that students often run into with applied Research

– the complexity of the process vs the independence of the study

– the transition from; practice-issue to research question

– the transition form research findings to ‘research-product’

– the students ability to write (scientific writing)

2. How to teach teachers to assist students with research:

The first priority should be to teach teachers how to assist students with research. The focus should be on ‘how to assist students’, instead of trying to make teachers good at doing (their own) research. In training teachers the focus should be on what you want to achieve with the students. An important competency for a Research teacher is to be able to contextualize scenario’s/situations for students. Let students see how to connect theory with their ‘local-issue’.

I didn’t like the story of the second speaker very much, but I do think there were some interesting questions by the audience:

– How do teachers asses the students ‘will to research’?

– Are teachers trying to teach research skills, or establish a research-attitude?

– How do we prevent ‘checklists’ to become ‘overdominant’ in research education?

After the guest-speakers we got some samples of ‘best-practices’. Manon Joosten presented her visual ‘research-journey-map’. I liked the idea, but found her concept a bit too strict and confined. The talk of Jochem Naafs appealed a lot more to me. He accepted that not all students have the same skills. He is searching for ways in which students can connect their qualities with research. I have an interest in the following of his topics:  Lecture performance, Merging, Poetic Feedback, Comtemplative Dialogue (see DasArts Feedback).I think these can be interesting methods for Illustration students to acquire a deeper understanding in their education.

I also followed a ‘workshop/lecture: Safety & Risk-takin in Research. I liked the topic because I think one of the issues with research is that students can experience it as frightfully personal; (which I can remember from my own studies). I liked how Stijn Bollinger explained that students must do 2 complex things in applied research: 1. make sense of the problem & 2. be able to communicate their sense-making to others. He had also designed an interesting method on how to adress the issues of fear/anxiety with students.

The day was concluded by a decent presentation of Daan Andriessen about the possible role of lectors in higher education. I though he was good because he was very sharp in defining what the discussion was about. He indicated the pro’s and cons of connecting students to research by lectors. He was not a big fan of letting students work on the research of lectors because its such a different form of research.

Enough to contemplate on and discuss with students.

Presentations published via FactaHenri Ponds [Compatibiliteitsmodus] Fokke Brouwer Guusje en Stephan_compressed Stijn Bollinger Subsessie Tuinzaal Presentatie Daan Andriessen Jochem Naafs

Illustration WdKA Studyday – step1

WdKA-Illustratie-Danai

“WdKA – Illustration – Morale Patch”

Yesterday we had a STUDIEDAG-ILLUSTRATIE-2016. After a    significant proces of educational changes at the WdKA in the last 4 years, I sensed the urgency to get together with the teachers of the department of Illustration.  If the WdKA has changed its program; what does that imply for our core-values of Illustration within the WdKA?

We had presentations by Maarten Uwland & Loes Sikkes as a    reminder that  education can always be different. I believe that how we provide our education; what we teach, how we teach, and why; should be a conscious decision.

We talked together about our aspirations for the next 5 years, with Anneke Seelen as our moderator. During our talks Kim Ravers  illustrated our first concepts and ideas. Furthermore every teacher has deliverd his/her own image of how they want the department to be seen by others.

It has been an exciting start, and I will be looking forward at reflecting to this day at a later moment in the proces. For now the cast is die!

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How to: Build organizational capacity

Today was my last day with “the Movement 2.0” (De Beweging 2.0). I was invited in the beginning of this year by Ernst Phaff to become part of a group of employees who have an ambition for improving the quality of education at Hogeschool Rotterdam. Perviously there was: The Beweging 1.0; I was part of  2.0. The Movement consisted out of: a series of classes, moments of inspiration and reflection about realizing organzational change hosted by Killian Bennebroek Gravenhorst .

At the end of the program we decided to collect the reflections of all participants and publish them in a small publication. This publication was designed and illustrated by Yara Kronieger.

Publication: DeBeweging2.0-HogeschoolRotterdam-2016

I also created an illustration depicting the possible influence of 3 types of change agents when trying to build organizational capacity for change. I think the answer to how to build organizational change lies in making new connections, and to know how to make the right combinations. I hope to be able to reflect next year in how this worked out for me.

OrganizationalCapacity-DANAI2016

 

 

 

 

Writings – Pyramid of Learning

After a difficult project with illustration students I made this illustration for them. The project was difficult because some students lost motivation and could not complete the demands. I wanted them to understand that big projects cannot always be done in the final hour. Students often find it hard to organize their time effectively in long projects.

I tried to explain that this is a common problem for both students as well as professionals. I would call it: “The Monster”. The Monster appears when you’re confronted with your own limitations. When you don’t feel you have a creative solution,..At this moment I often see students “disappearing”. They leave class a bit earlier, miss the next class,.and gradually they abandon ship.
My advice; if the monster appears; become tactical. If you can’t shock-and-aw with your creations, than at least just deliver the minimum requirements. I think that part can be hard for art students because they have such strong relation with the products they make. The Monster is difficult; but bit-by-bit and with the help of critical friends it can be done. It’s not easy, but things are only easy if you’re a genius. Maybe the pyramid can be a reminder in the future.

PyramidofLearning-Danai2016