Several weeks ago, I wrote about the range of Toolkits available via the Morgan Centre of interest to health researchers. Whilst looking through the research being undertaken by the Centre, a project which caught my attention, partly due to the illustrative sketches, was Sketching Research. The narrative about the project on the Centre’s website (paraphrased below) outlines how:
Lynne Chapman, an urban sketcher and illustrator, is working as an Artist in Residence at the Centre documenting its life and work, and working with researchers to explore the similarities between sketching and qualitative research in the ways they interpret and represent everyday lives.
This sparked my interest for a number of reasons: I have never come across urban sketching and was fascinated to find out more about what it; I was curious about the synergies between social science researchers and urban sketchers; I was interested to find out about how this collaboration came about. So a couple of emails and a cup of tea later I’m reflecting on a really stimulating discussion with Lynne.
If, like me, you are unfamiliar with urban sketching, the website of Urban Sketchers is a good place to find out more information, specifically their manifesto, which states:
- We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
- Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
- Our drawings are a record of time and place.
- We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
- We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
- We support each other and draw together.
- We share our drawings online.
- We show the world, one drawing at a time.
An important thing to note about the way Lynne works is that all of her work is produced on site, in the moment. Nothing is done afterwards from photographs or memory.
There is a lot of discussion in the research community about the value of cross disciplinary working. This project is an example of how such working can evolve from chance meetings of people who are willing to be curious about each others work and generous enough with their time to explore potential synergies between these worlds together.
In this instance, two different worlds came into contact during one of Lynne’s monthly SketchCrawls with Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, a group she founded in 2010, with the aim to inspire and empower more people to use sketchbooks. This was attended by Prof. Sue Heath of the Morgan Centre and ultimately led to a successful application to the Leverhulme Trust, one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, to fund Lynne as an artist in residence with the Centre for 2 days a week for 10 months. The following extract from the Leverhulme Trust newsletter, written by Prof. Heath, explains the rationale behind the project:
Conceptually, there are similarities between the ethos of urban sketching and a lot of the research we do at the Morgan Centre. We share a curiosity about the everyday world around us. We have a real fascination with things like emotions and experiences which are notoriously hard to pin down in words. We are committed to exploring the world around us in innovative and creative ways.
And yet, our respective ways of working would look very different to an observer. Urban sketchers work quickly and intuitively, selecting which parts of their environment to include in or leave out of their sketch. Unlike most photographs, sketches often capture a period of time rather than a fraction of a second, and some sketchers – including Lynne – choose to highlight small, yet significant, details or include snatches of conversation in the drawing. Urban Sketchers aim to be truthful to the scene, “showing the world, one drawing at a time”, but through personal interpretation rather than a reproduction.
At the Morgan Centre we use qualitative research methods, for example interviewing people or observing them. We also incorporate visual research methods, using photography or video, although we usually ask the people taking part in our project to do this bit for us. We are experienced in combining different research methods to shed light on a particular issue. Our projects usually span months or years. Our most common way of sharing our knowledge is – like all academics, really – through lengthy articles. During the residency, Lynne will be documenting a year in the life of the Morgan Centre through her sketches – coincidentally, our tenth anniversary year – and coming with us while we carry out our research to trial sketching as a research method.
Over tea, Lynne shared some of the fabulous, themed, concertina sketchbooks she has created during her residency, which illustrate aspects of the built environment, the social and work spaces in and around the Morgan Centre and the people and interactions which take place within the Centre. As part of her residency Lynne is working also with volunteers from the Centres’ staff to develop their skills as urban sketchers providing them with the opportunity to experience and explore potential applications of urban sketching within their work.
Lynne also shared some of the sketchbooks she has developed, as she has participated in specific research projects. The latter fascinated me as a researcher, as I reflected upon what it would feel like to take an urban sketcher with me on fieldwork, how urban sketching might put a whole new slant on fieldwork diaries and on fieldwork observation.
The fieldwork Lynne has observed, has included a project focused on carers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. In this instance, not only did Lynne sketch focus groups, but the researcher, Andy Balmer, also incorporated some of the creative techniques Lynne has been using, into the research process, to inform data collection.
Lynne also shared her experiences of working on a project ‘Dormant Things’ with researcher Sophie Woodward, which is exploring items which people keep in spaces in their homes, such as cupboards and attics, which they do not currently use (or never have). In this instance Lynne is sketching some of the objects participants talk about in their interviews.
As we spoke, I wondered what impact Lynne’s presence would have on the data collected, whether the things that stood out to her and informed her sketches were the same as some of the things that stood out for the researchers, and how her observations could feed into the research process. Fascinating questions, which challenge and stretch our thinking as qualitative researchers into new arenas.
The residency also offers a unique and creative approach to documenting and communicating the world of social science research, a world which may feel elusive and exclusive to those outside of the academy. The sketches Lynne has made, open up that world in a way which words alone would not, creating a more inclusive and definitely more engaging narrative.
The interface between qualitative research and creative processes is open to exploration and, in this project, it has moved beyond the utilisation of creative processes to communicate research, into the integration of creative approaches within research process itself.
Further information about Lynne’s residency can be found via her blog and, if you live in the North West, there is an opportunity to view some of the work generated through the residency in an exhibition at Z-Arts in Hulme, Manchester from July 26th – 30th. The exhibition is part of the international Symposium of Urban Sketchers which is taking place in Manchester from 27th-30th July. Details about the symposium and events happening before and during can be found here.