Making is at the heart of what we do and who we are… #creativeHE

… we often forget this.

When Norman Jackson suggested a dedicated #creativeHE conversation with John Rae around making and the role it plays in creativity, I was excited and started thinking about stuff I could make. I did think about “making as a project” as defined by Tim Ingold as a concept that was introduced during the online conversations, but I could also see that through this making projects I would hopefully gain a little bit of growth too. There is of course no guarantee for this from the outset but the process of making and reflecting on this helps us identify where we are on this journey and if we are growing, even if it is a tiny bit at the time.

It was almost as if the conversation gave me the permission to make stuff. So I did. More than usual. Colleagues participating online will have seen very little of these activities as they were not all shared through the online community. Due to circumstances and preference, I seem to have adopted what I called in my thesis selective participation… (I had explored this in the context of collaborative open learning) for me, like for my study participants, it was an informed choice and should not be interpreted that I was less engaged or disengaged with the theme under exploration even if it may appear this way to some.

We often expect individuals to fully engage online but actually there is a whole world outside the digital that is exciting and stimulates all our senses and creates opportunities for creative expression, making and sharing. We can also look at my reality from an ecological perspective. The seeds for my making activities and reflections on these were triggered by the online discussions but they didn’t stay online. Norman at some point said.. “what we see online is only the tip of the iceberg” and he is right. If we would live our lives exclusively or predominantly online that would be very sad… Norman also mentioned that we inhibit spaces and we are aware where we are and what we do in these. My presence was much more invisible to others online as I felt that the ecological system of my making creations was primarily offline with some, however extensions and feelers reaching and connecting with the online world.
Pottery making
So what did I do during these last few weeks? I guess, I was pragmatic and spotted little every day opportunities. I seized many of the opportunities and made time for them.

Was this the application of what was discussed online “pragmatic imagination” during the online #creativeHE discussions?

The reality is that I spent some time with clay thinking about my last summers with my sister and somehow I realised that while I have constantly new ideas popping into my head (people who know me know this), I also enjoy small repetitive and easy creative tasks such as making little poppy heads out of clay. Many of them.

pottery_poppies

CC-BY Chrissi Nerantzi

Who says routine has no place in being creative? We are all creatures of habit. Can some of these be creative habits? Creative habits that give us the time and space to reflect and grow?

Playing with clay also reminded me of the process of creativity and the frustrations we feel when something just doesn’t work, and we become somehow impatient with ourselves. I can see now that the pottery making activities brought memories back and helped me connect with my dear sister who is for many years now too far away and we spent far too little time together. I was perhaps expressing how much I miss her and found the medium of pottery as a way to connect with her through making. Would David Gauntlett recognise his idea of making is connecting through these activities and thoughts I shared here?

As mentioned near the beginning, I couldn’t stop myself and used these last few weeks to progress some of my ideas that bring me joy and help me connect with others. Pottery but also other stuff. The more I think about it, the more I realise that making for me, is probably more about findings ways to connect with others through making and much less about the product or output. This is an interesting discovery I am making now while writing this and perhaps explains also why I love making pedagogical creations that I have shared with many others. It is the human connection that I seek through these.

Thank you John and Norman for creating these wonderful making explorations for all of us. Reading my reflections I can see the value making has for our emotional wellbeing and the  role it plays in connecting with others. I am looking forward to catching up with the conversations online and make more discoveries.

Chrissi

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getting ready for our next #creativeHE making conversation

making

CC BY by Chrissi Nerantzi

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!

Creativity in the Making March 6-20, 2018
Led by John Rae & Norman Jackson
A little bit more info here
To join us, jump into the #creativeHE community!

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.

linedrawing.png

CC BY by Chrissi Nerantzi

Eureka!

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.

bookmaking

CC BY by Chrissi Nerantzi

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.

Updates

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.

picturebook14March18

by artist Gail Spencer

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.

bookpictures2

by artist Gail Spencer

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!

allpics

all pics… almost all here…

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.

gail_book

working with the wonderful Gail Spencer

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.

What will today bring storyweaver

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

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

 

I love making things… #cmc11

100% fruit, picked by the whole family

Warning! This is not a polished piece (did I have to say that? Anyway… let’s just start). I always loved making things. Well at least as long as I remember myself and from what others have told me and the photographs I have seen and some of the evidence that still exists today. I love drawing and painting and writing stories and making jewellery and little boats out of old wood and Christmas and Easter decorations and little dolls but also making jam (just made some with blueberries and apples), baking and cooking and knitting scarves (used to knit even jumpers when I was a teenager – weird thing to do for a teenager, but I guess, I was a weird teenager… ) now my eldest son Nassi, who will be 10 tomorrow, has started knitting and he loves it.

Nassi in action

The other day Nassi told me ‘I thought knitting was for grannies but after he started he couldn’t stop and I have seen him knitting in the morning in his bed and in the evening too. I love making curtains and pillow cases and little blankets for my boys and tableclothes and duvet covers etc etc. and I would love to make my own clothes (working on this at the moment!!!)

The list is probably endless and I seem to be constantly in the mood to make something… sometimes(?) I make a mess too. This is part of the fun.  The stuff that I make are things for the house, for myself but also for my family and friends but it doesn’t stop there (could it?) Nobody forces me, nobody makes me make anything. Sometimes, others might think that what I do is not a good idea. But this doesn’t (usually) stop me… (I like the phrase ‘only dead fish swim with the stream’ and use it a lot – too often we see people going with the masses with whatever the majority says/wants – I find that boring!).

What I make helps me communicate and connect with myself, ideas, concepts and people but also with problems and understanding things that are difficult/impossible? to understand. This making habit (is this a bad habit?) is also present in my professional life. I can’t stop myself!!! Flashcards, games, costumes and loads of other aids for teaching are part of my ever growing toolkit. Soon, I will need a room just for all my toys… I used to have an attic to store them… now we don’t.

my dad is a maker too, his purple crop in 2008

Of course, these days not all my creations are low- or no-tech physical creations. Some live in the digital world as well and they definitely take up less room and are not so heavy to carry around and I can share them more easily too. They help me connect with different and more people, ideas and concept and let me and us explore the world around us from different perspectives.

sleeping bag by Ody (7) using one of his old socks

I haven’t mentioned yet the thousands of digital photographs I have taken so far… – another one of my passions.

Some might think/say that it is not good to have a passion… do they talk about obsessions though? Anyway, I always loved taking photographs but before DC (digital cameras), I felt so so very restricted, just 36 photographs to take on one film? What to take? And what not to? More films were an option but I had less control of the quality of the final product. First because I was an amateur photographer (and still am) and didn’t know how to operate my camera properly (who reads and follows instrucions?) so most of the images were for the bin anyway and then there was a cost involved as well. The films were not cheap (well, I guess you could get some in the Poundshop) but waiting for the photographs to be printed was sometimes (only sometimes?) a traumatic experience and one where I felt useless and creativeless (if there is such a word in the English language). Should I give up trying? I was so releaved when technology progressed and became affordable (because this is usually the big issue for the majority of people, and I am one of this part of our society) and I got my first digital camera. A whole new and exciting world opened suddenly in front of my eyes! Wow! I couldn’t stop and I am still an active (hyper-active) photographer. I love the fact that I can take loads and don’t have to worry about it (these days the SD cards can be huge and fit thousands of photographs). I can delete, if I want to, but I can also edit and do all kinds of fancy things which I was not able to do before. The middleman is gone now and I can express creatively even after the photographs have been taken and share them easily with family and friends and connect with the wider community too, thanks to the web and the user-friendly platform and tools. A the web! It is always nice to hear that people like something you have done and find out if they have been useful and in what way.

All these things that I make, give me pleasure, probably in a slightly selfish way, but I also love to give and to share what I make on my own and with others. Sharing gives me the opportunity to make somebody smile (if they like it, of course) and be useful for others. We don’t share stuff to get something in return. Well, I don’t but if somebody acknowledges your work, your contribution this is great and can be motivational too (I found this article on sharing online recently, which might useful reading for some – and I think I should revisit this and reflect on this as well).

Lego cinema by Ody and Nassi

My boys are little (or should I really say big creators? because they are). They love making things in the physical and the digital world. Ody, my youngest took the camcorder the other day and created the clip below. On his own. He was behind and in front of the camera. He thought of the story, special effects, everything on his own. A one man production team (see clip below).


What I am trying to say here, and I am not sure if I am just mumbling… but the above come straight out of my head and are unprocessed thoughts is, that since I started reading David Gauntlett’s book ‘Making is Connecting’ I have all the above in my head (and loads of other stuff that I probably didn’t include) and when I went out this afternoon with my boys and took the book with me to the playground I felt the need to scribble some of my thoughts into the book (I always read with a pencil in my hand, a habit I picked up when I was translating…) and here I am now sharing them on the web, because I want to, because I can and because I would be interested to hear your voice, what you would like to say. This is strange though, I am hoping that there is an audience out there who would have read the above and feel that they would like to add their story too and will do so because they can… humans always wanted to connect wth others. We are social beings, Aristotle said it and many others too. We enjoy being part of a community, we love to be included in what is happening and to co-shape the present and the future. To make things and to make things happen. To be and learn together (of course we need some time for ourselves as well). I am so glad that Frances (Bell) showed me this book because it does confirm to me, what I always thought. We are all makers, creators and networkers too. All the web does is provide a platform and the tools to make it happen on a massive scale. We all can do it! Finally somebody said it and wrote a book about it! I am just on page 60 and am looking forward to what is still to be discovered.

I will probably revisit this post after the sparklers in my head normalise and let me refine and rationalise my thinking a bit more… will this be possible/is this needed? Not sure at the moment… I just wanted to get all this out of my system before I say Goodnight.

Goodnight everybody.