Varoom Lab 1: Boundaries

Free Resource

Varoom Lab 1 contains papers submitted and peer reviewed for the Plymouth University/VaroomLab Boundaries Illustration symposium held at Plymouth University on 14/15 September 2012.

The Boundaries event explored how new technologies, concepts, and professional issues are encouraging innovation, shaping the subject and pushing the illustration community to practice in new ways.

You can download Boundaries: Varoom Lab, read abstracts and learn more about Varoom Lab below.

Journal design by Plymouth University MA Publishing


Keynote Speech

  • Taste – Dr. John O’Reilly, editor of Varoom magazine, writer and philosopher

Peer Reviewed Papers

  • Rear View Mirror – Stephanie Black, University of West of England
  • Tap My Drawings – James Brocklehurst, Plymouth University
  • Time and Narrative – Dr Julia Moszkowicz, Southampton Solent University
  • Political Illustration as a means to break boundaries in a mass mediated world – Professor Mario Minichiello, The University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Reportager, visual journalism – Gary Embury, University of West of England
  • The Signifier Of Incompleteness – Nanette Hoogslag

Paper Abstract: Stephanie Black Rear View Mirror

The traditional context for illustration is changing rapidly, with digital platforms offering us the possibility of moving images and audience interaction. Illustration is in a position to shape the nature of visual communication as it develops in this regard, if we identify the strengths of the field and use these to challenge the boundaries of what is expected from both the work and the medium. This paper seeks to explore one quality of illustration, time, in order to argue for an identifiable contribution from our field to bring to these interdisciplinary opportunities.

Digital poster sites and the screen based gadgets we carry with us offer visuals that are often time-based, seemingly for the sake of being able to do so. Our visual environment has been plastered indiscriminately with Adobe After Effects, and to offer an alternative the temporal feats performed by static works will be explored. These examples characterise illustration’s relationship with its audience differently, and include sequential illustration in book form, the use of unstable materials, and (in the case of music and literature) the development of a relationship between viewer and illustration over a timescale influenced by the work it accompanies.

The wider implications of these achievements within illustration will be highlighted, namely the contribution of complex performative examples showing different ways of negotiating time within practical work to extend the debate that uses time as a defining feature of the age we live in. Thereby arguing for illustration’s place as generative of ideas, not ‘merely illustrating’ them. 

Paper Abstract: James Brocklehurst Tap My Drawings: The State of Play in Illustrated Book Apps

The books category in the iPad app store contains more titles than any other, reaching nearly 20,000 (at 2012) since the launch of the device in 2010. The majority of these contain some form of illustrated content, with many being aimed at children. A rush to get titles delivered quickly, along with Apple’s insistence that book apps must contain some form of interactivity, has lead to some less than successful attempts at fusing the worlds of the printed illustrated book and interactive digital device, with illustration becoming a secondary consideration in lieu of interactive function.

This paper will critique existing examples and argue that their use of interactivity distracts the user from engagement with image-story. It will offer suggestions for ways of integrating interaction with image more successfully, deriving concepts observed from existing game apps such as environmental triggers, augmentation and interactive punctuation.

Paper Abstract: Dr Julia Moszkowicz Time and Narrative

Paul Ricouer is a philosopher who wrote three volumes on the theme of Time and Narrative, highlighting the capacity of story-telling to touch and reconfigure people’s lives (temporarily). His work suggests that narrative has the capacity not simply to re-present events but to provide rich contexts of experience wherein ideas can be explored and, to some extent, lived-through. This paper will argue for the value of applying such ideas to the reading and development of illustration within an educational context, encouraging students to develop aspirations for their practice that include making sense of the world, exploring its referential function and its claims on truth, and the re-structuring experience.

Quoting Aristotle, Ricoeur argues that drawing resemblances to and from the world can enhance people’s understanding of it: ‘bringing together terms that at first seem ‘distant’ … suddenly ‘close.’” Through the application of such understandings, this paper suggests that illustrators might see their function in terms of providing ‘semantic pertinence,’ unifying miscellaneous elements in order to secure deep understandings. The paper will explain the themes of mimetic and metaphoric value, arguing for a re-examination of the poetic potential of illustration in the educational context. The work of Eric Drooker and Tom Gauld will be used as examples of this poetic potential, leading to the question: is the metaphoric potential of an illustration in the hands of the art worker or audience?

Keywords: time, narrative, metaphor, semantic pertinence and mimesis

Paper Abstract: Professor Mario Minichiello Political Illustration as a means to break boundaries in a mass mediated world

Political illustration is now rarely commissioned in editorial publications unless it is in the form of a cartoon. This paper discusses examples of political satirical cartoons as well as illustration that is not satirical in its intent but is designed to communicate a persuasive message or to advocate an ideological view of the world. I discuss political art that is made by individual artists; by the term artists I include illustrators and graphic communicators that challenge governments and established views of society.

Finally I will reflect on an example of my own work for the Sydney Morning Herald covering 2007 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation a political gathering held in Sydney). I use this commission as a Case Study to reflect on my role as a visual political journalist illustrating ideas and events in ways, which could be achieved solely through photography or the written word.

Keywords :  Political illustration,  satirical cartoon, Drawing, Graphic Design, visual journalism.

Paper Abstract: Gary Embury Reportager, visual journalism

Opportunities for illustrators have vastly increased over the last few years partly due to new technologies and the growth and easy availability of visual material.

There is a theory we are approaching an era of new visual literacy, (Kress & Van Leeuwen 1996 p.16 &19) brought about by the change of balance between image and text. Every week we open the colour supplements to see yet another several page photographic visual essay or photo illustrated report on ecological, geopolitical, or social issue from our inner cities. Much current illustration, of which there are very good examples, exist either as ambient decoration, or page filler, and only really engages us on a purely aesthetic level. Much contemporary illustration doesn’t really comment, debate or inform, but merely exists on a secondary level to support the text.

There are examples where illustrators are acting as visual journalists, proactively, authorially making work about issues and subjects, which interest them. Illustrators are being commissioned as reporters to go out and document on a range of subjects, locations and issues. is a online journal which supports, initiates, and showcases projects involving drawing as reportage. Reportager is interested in projects, which use the made image to interrogate a diverse range of themes and is interested in projects which are issue based, including those which use new and emerging technologies.

This paper/presentation aims to demonstrate documentary drawing and reportage is alive and kicking and increasingly relevant in the 21st Century.

Paper Abstract: Nanette Hoogslag The Signifier Of Incompleteness

…today’s process of transition allows us to perceive what we are losing and what we are gaining – this perception will become impossible the moment we fully embrace and feel fully at home in the new technologies. In short we have the privilege of occupying the place of vanishing mediators (Žižek, 1997 p.131)

In this paper I present a particular group of editorial conditions that enable editorial illustration in newspapers (illustration in newspapers and magazines) to be successful. Editorial illustration has established itself as a distinct and integral part of printed newspapers, but it is my hypothesis that some of the enabling factors present in print are diminished or absent in online news media, the current driver of news media. I will argue that the changed structure of news stories and audience expectations have introduced a new style of management and presentation of news content which has had a major impact on the specific image/text relationship, necessary for illustration. This I see as the underlying reason for the reduction of the efficacy and use of editorial illustration in online editions. Present in print but reduced in online news media, the incompleteness of text, the overt ambiguity of the handmade image and the incomplete intertextual relationship between them, are essential for editorial illustration.

I wish to start by laying out my understanding of editorial illustration and then by describing the conditions prevailing in print media, which enable illustration to be effective. Following the new media theories of Dean and Zizek, I will show that current online news media present an entirely different set of conditions and that these profoundly affect the quality of editorial illustration.

Finally I wish to point to trends in present and developing formats, in particular the slate – the iPad and tablet readers – and the walled garden model, which may present those communication landscapes with the ability to recuperate some of the qualities and create an environment that retains the sense of incompleteness.

About VaroomLab

Varoom Lab was a sector leading academic collaboration led by the AOI. Running from 2010 to 2016 it brought partners together to develop thinking in the field of illustration and established a platform for exchange and discussion of ideas around the broad subject of illustration.  Read more here.


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