Our next #creativeHE conversation is approaching… We start on the 6th of March and I have been thinking how to engage in a meaningful way. The conversation will be about making. But it won’t be just a conversation!
In the last few years I have enjoyed spending a little bit of time in the summer with my sister making objects out of clay. I miss my sister a lot for many reasons. She is really good at working with clay and does complex structures. BTW, also a fab cook!!! I seem to like simple and flat stuff, two dimensional mostly when I am working with clay. But I enjoy it enormously and feel relaxed when I am immersed in the creative process and far far away from reality… in a different world where everything is possible.
Illustrating is definitely one of my passions (photography too) but am obviously not a professional illustrator and lack the confidence to tackle a whole picture book project on my own. But Norman encouraged me to go ahead. I think I need to listen this time. I am going to listen!
I decided to focus my making project for our next #creativeHE conversation around illustrating a story I have written. I will go through this process to explore how something like this could be used for learning and teaching. While I have been using story for some years now in academic development and frequently used Storybird for example, this time it will be making everything from scratch.
The story, I would like to use during our #creativeHE making conversation, is for children and adults alike. I would love it to be published properly as an open picture book when it is ready. And raise money for charity. At least raise awareness, is stage 1. This is the plan. For the education of children, refugee children. Perhaps the Children’s University can help. And it would be wonderful if the story could be translated into other languages too.
Colleagues from Bookdash kindly introduced me to the open access picture book creation platform StoryWeaver and I have added the storyline there already. The platform will enable me to make the story into an open book and I can look into translations of this work too. So I think I am in a good place to start. During our #creativeHE conversation, I would like to focus on the illustrations for this booklet.
As I mentioned already, I am not a professional illustrator and I am not a professional writer of children’s stories either. But I used to translate children’s stories in one of my previous lives and one of my own stories was published many years ago.
I was looking for an individual who would like to collaborate with me on this open picture book project. I am interested in minimal illustration and clean lines for this story so that the reader can use their own imagination to complete the picture. To engage with the story in a different way.
And it didn’t take me long to find a fantastic collaborator. Artist Gail Spencer. I am so so excited she said yes. We agreed that our collaborative illustrations/collage for the open picture book will be made available under a creative commons licence, via Storyweaver initially.
For now, I have created an empty version of the picture book out of ordinary paper using my basic book making skills and tools and copied the storyline into it. This will help me start thinking of illustrations for the 12 scenes. Gail is making hers and we will be meeting soon to share our initial thoughts and ideas and bring them together. I have seen some very first drafts and I love them!
We are getting organised for this #creativeHE project…
… and I will be working on a second making project with Haleh Moravej but more about this later. April update: We are making good progress with this too and have used the above tree image style in that project. So I managed to recycle that idea. Later in April/May we will be able to release the output of the project with Haleh and MetMunch.
7 March 18: Gail and I have been working on conceptualising ideas for the pictures, materials and style. We met today and only needed 30 mins to agree on a style and construct over 50% of the scenes. We had given ourselves the target of 3 scenes for today but we have 8. A massive achievement. I think we now have a good understanding of each other’s tastes and we experimented with possibilities. This exploration was really useful to find a way forward that would work for both of us. We went for a cut-out style and lots of empty space that could be filled by the reader. And different coloured background. We decided with a “less is more” approach that helps the imagination imagine. As you can see, in the end go we didn’t go with the above idea (but I hope to use this style in another project).
Gail and I both felt that we need to give ourselves time for our ideas to mature and stabilise and can see that at the moment the ideas might still be very liquid and dynamic and we are definitely prepared to make changes and bring this project to fruition. We said that we would probably have finished draft in four weeks. We said this before we started. After what we achieved already, it is very possible that we will have a first full draft much earlier. A sign of a smooth collaboration? I am very excited!
While we work on this project, I am also thinking how such an activity would be of value for students. How could it work with students from two disciplines? What could the purpose be? I suspect there would be individual and collective benefits and I would love to explore this further when we have finished working with Gail on this.
14 March 18: A relatively short meeting with Gail as we have now agreed on style. We discussed details for some of the pictures and have now a full set ready as ideas in our heads and described on paper. We know where we are going. The path is there in front of us and some pictures are growing and taking shape already. I can see it all in front of my eyes already and our approach is definitely, “less is more”. Instead of adding we take away and it is a liberating feeling.
I suspect that in a few weeks, we will have it all together. In my head I can see it all. I am now thinking about the colourful backgrounds and if these could be added digitally. I will need to seek some advice on how to do this. Adding the backgrounds digitally will give us even more flexibility but also harmonise everything so that it all goes together nicely. For now I am adding here some sample pages, not ready but you will get the idea… there is plenty of room for the imagination to wonder and that is the plan. We would like our readers to engage with the story also through visualising it themselves in the pages of the book. Will it work? We will see.
22 March: We met again today with Gail and the path we are now going is clear. We refined a few last details and agreed how to tackle some of the more challenging pictures. While teddy was going to be bigger and browner, we actually like him now hanging from the page as he is. I feel that Gail had such a good idea of assemplying Teddy on the page. This approach we realised will also help us with some of the other pictures. So can’t wait to see them all together next week. We decided to scan the pictures in on a white background and then add colour to them digitally. This way we will be able to select what we feel works best and harmonise them throughout the story. I can’t wait.
28 March and 11 April: We met and finalised all pictures. It was a very smooth process and we now have all 12 pictures. It feels good. We decided to scan these in on a white background and also take some photographs so that we can then see what we can do digitally. We decided to do this so that we can find backgrounds that really go well with the pictures but also that link nicely to each other so that it feels like a collection of pictures that go together and tell a story. It is truly amazing what we have achieved so far and I am now looking forward to working with Gail digitally on the pictures and putting the book together. Can’t wait to see it as a book!
2nd of May: We met again and Gail had already digitised all the pictures. In a short meeting we managed to agree backgrounds, size and locations of the images on each page. It was amazing. While we initially seemed to look at pale backgrounds, we felt that the vibrant backgrounds actually added more emotions and drama, so we decided to use bright colours.
3rd of May: This is the day when Gail uploaded all the pictures to Storyweaver. It took us a little while to fix some of the images, as we didn’t check the dimensions in advance (but it was a useful lesson for future projects). An amazing feeling filled me when I pushed publish and it was suddenly there. Really really enjoyed the process of working with Gail on this and am looking forward to seeing where this little project will take us.
the published open picture book is now available here.
Our first reviews arrived quickly… here are some of them…
“What will today bring?” by Dr Chrissi Nerantzi is a picture book aimed at refugee children in host countries. The theme is current and relevant. Dr Nerantzi travels us to the moving reality of a little girl who following a journey through the seas, finds herself alone in a refugee camp searching for her parents and Hope. Does the girl find her parents? Does she find Hope? Dr Nerantzi’s simple use of language is full of imagery, creating a captivating narrative that triggers profound emotions. The powerful messages are supported by the wonderful illustration by Gail Spencer. I would strongly recommend the book to all professionals working with refugee children.” Dr Gerasimos Chatzidamianos, FHEA, CPsychol, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Manchester Met
“Hi Chrissi, This is absolutely beautiful! The illustrations work so elegantly with the story – well done to Gail! This is such an important story – and handled so poetically. You’ve both created something flexible and resonant for so many young readers – it’s a delight.” Dr Meriel Lland, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, Manchester Met
Beautiful, raw, and so vividly captures the child’s perspective….
— margy maclibrary (@margymaclibrary) May 3, 2018
— Arnab Biswas (@arnabbiswas1) May 4, 2018
Prof. Norman Jackson invited us to write an article for the Creative Academic Magazine. This is currently in preparation and will be shared when ready and published. The Greek translation of the story is also ready as an open picture book and I would like to thank Dr Gerasimos Chatzidamianos and Dr Eythymia Karaouta for their valuable comments and suggestions. The German translation is also ready. I just need to upload this to Storyweaver.
We are looking for an organisation that would help us print the book, raise awareness and identify ways to help children in need.
We can all do a little something to help…
Sep 2018 update: Our edited blog post and the process of the creation of this picture book has now been published as an article in the Creative Academic Magazine:
Nerantzi, C. & Spencer, G. (2018) The spirit and wonder of collaborative making, in: Jackson, N. & Willis, J. (eds.) (2018) Creativity in the Making, Creative Academic Magazine, Issue 12a, pp. 46-49, available at http://www.creativeacademic.uk/magazine.html