Part 1: Understanding My Practice

Assignment 1 looks in more detail at my practice and personal voice underpinning my work in this module.

‘Practice’ refers to the range of different aspects of :

  • how I make work
  • how it is framed by wider ideas and practices
  • how I learn
  • the direction in which I want to develop my personal creative voice.

This is revisited in Part 4: Presenting Your Practice. See:

My ‘Zemni Voice 2021’ and thoughts about my practice going forward by the end of the module are brought together in:

Project 1.1 Personal Statement 2019

Reflections 2019

This first exercise reviews my currently very diverse work and media experimentation from earlier OCA Visual Communications courses in Illustration, Printmaking and Book Design and how this can be brought together into a more coherent vision and creative visual approach as an illustrator working in different media.

I decided on a degree in Visual Communications rather than any one specific area like Graphic Design or Illustration because it offered the possibility for visual exploration and development of skills across a diversity of visual practice: book design, illustration and printmaking. I have with a range of different media in each module and my responses in terms of content, style and general approach have also varied widely. I very much valued the many opportunities to explore things outside my comfort zone.

Pulling all these various threads together, without overly limiting myself, was a long and quite difficult process. It was also clear that many of the pieces that were maybe technically good, did not represent my ‘voice’ as much as other pieces that were much less polished – because I was being spontaneous, experimental and taking risks that did not always work.

It was difficult to identify any one single thread, but rather a number of different areas of work, some of which I intend to integrate into my work on documentary in this module and others that I am leaving for future. My review identified four main threads to my work:

  • ‘Us Too’ a socio-political underpinning of social inclusion, human rights and personal reflection that draws on my professional consultancy work, and which I want to make more implicit throughout my work.
  • Documentary using photography, collage, illustration and printmaking of places and journeys to raise questions about society, economics and politics both overseas and at home.
  • Imagining creating single image and sequential narratives based on found images in textures and recycled materials ‘every mark, every splodge has a story to tell’.
  • Process an interest in ‘taking risks’ and ‘happy accidents’, pushing different media and visual dynamics as far as I can to see the range of effects I can produce from each, and how media can be combined to communicate different messages.

My review also identified a number of key weaknesses to address going forward:

  • a need to ‘lighten up’ and use comedy as well as anger if I want to reach a wider audience, and to look at when to use each.
  • although individually some of my images are quite powerful, I need to be clearer about underlying implicit (if not explicit) narrative so that they have greater impact

!! Please note the original blog where I pasted the galleries when I did this exercise in 2019 is now being used in 2021 for SYP. Some of the original images and documents also became deleted because of successive changes in on-line platforms and software updates, particularly the image upload plug-in from Lightroom and Adobe Creative Cloud and Publish on-line. Going forward I need to do my own website, updating my earlier skills in html coding, to develop a more stable and also secure way of presenting my work.

Portfolios of my best work from all my OCA Visual Communications courses have been uploaded to different sections on my professional SMUGMUG portfolio website:

Illustration and Design


Before and/or in parallel to my degree work on Visual Communications modules, I have also taken OCA personal development courses in

Photography: See Zemni Photography Blog

Certificate of Painting see: Drawing and Painting SMUGMUG Portfolio

Personal Statement January 2019

Image-making is a necessary part of my own process of making sense of life in our sometimes beautiful, but often insane world. In my ‘parallel life’ as global consultant in participatory development in Africa, Asia and Latin America I meet many wonderful, inspiring people. I see stunningly beautiful scenery – human rural and urban landscapes as well as ‘wild natural’ remote environments. I also see many shocking examples of violence, exploitation, environmental degradation, waste and powerlessness. The more I travel, the more questions I bring back about life at home – where are our ‘developed’ lives trying to get to, why and at what cost? My image-making is a way of working through the darker side to come out the other end and ‘look on the bright side of life’.

I work in a range of media combining drawing, printmaking, photography, collage, painting and digital media. Some of my work is experimental, exploring different media and effects in response to a wide range of briefs.

Alongside my own artistic practice I support processes for collaborative art, photography, video and web communications as part of peoples’ own documentation of their lives.

Reflections 2021

Portfolios of my best work from all my OCA Visual Communications courses have been uploaded to different sections on my professional SMUGMUG portfolio website:

Illustration and Design


My work in this module has been very much shaped by what was possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. I had started with screenprinting and photography in Assignment 2, with the intention of including much more work in natural media work, sketching from life and different printmaking media as the module progresses through Assignment 4 and 5. I also anticipated being able to do more documentary work on location. But – as I and my partner are in vulnerable categories – the COVID pandemic meant that not only were my possibilities on location seriously constrained, I also lost access to my art studio because that was needed for self-isolating by our daughter and print studios were shut or not sufficiently COVID-safe. Digital art and moving image possibilities were also constrained because of a combination of my need to manage RSI and the fact that I was not able to visit computer shops to upgrade my system – I need to see and try equipment to make sure it fits my RSI requirements.

For all these reasons, my work in this module has been far more focused on photography, particularly revisiting and working with existing image sets than I had intended when I started out. Or will be the case going forward when the COVID pandemic no longer imposes the same restrictions.

Us Too

This first section includes work that represents my underlying ‘voice’ and socio-political perspective that I want to integrate more fully across all my work:

  • Me Me Me : Much of my Visual Communications work to date has been part of my own search for artistic identity. Self-reflection on my own life, motivations and instinctive reactions are an essential understanding of my own subjectivity in order to move on. Although autobiography per se is not an area I am intending to pursue further before the end of this degree, it is something that I have enjoyed, and want to take up again in a few years’ time. I am also interested in pursuing further the issues of personal identity and mental health.
  • From Life : shows selected sketches from different places and types of things I choose to sketch and record. I want to focus much more on life sketching in this module, to significantly upgrade quick sketching skills linked to my documentary.
  • Feminist Gaze: selected work that explores feminism and part of an ongoing interest in how my gender affects what I see, what I communicate and how I communicate it. I want to do a lot more research on other photographers, illustrators and printmakers and integrate more into my documentary work.
  • Life of Zemni is a live project where I am aiming to develop further my ‘alter ego’ as a ‘blind middle-ageing molerat’ trying to make sense of the world. In the longer term I am hoping to develop this into eg a series of alternative travel guides ‘Zemni Goes to…’ as an extension of my documentary work.

This second section is the biggest – and the most central to my work on this module.

  • Greed Game SMUGMUG Portfolio : a project on politics in Middle East for an altered book in Book Design 1
  • Road to Goma : collagraphs and sketchbook work in Rwanda for Printmaking 1.
  • Japan: a Cultural Journey : linocut, monoprints, drypoints and sketches from Printmaking 1 about Japanese culture.
  • Cambridge: in Search of Arcadia: a subjective approach to documentary looking at my memories and associations with the Grand Arcade, Cambridge.

The third section contains some of my most visually interesting work, but the current images generally no longer represent my conceptual ‘voice’. In this current module I want to pursue some of the techniques and styles further,  adapting them to documentary. With the intention then in a few years’ time to revisit some of the material for political allegory, writing my own story-lines.

There are a number of bodies of work and draft books:

  • Hybrids from Illustration 2, exploring different digital/physical workflows.
  • Landscape: imaginary landscapes in a range of media.
  • Jabberwocky: an edgy reworking of Lewis Carol’s poem to high contrast black and white photographs of a walk in Holmefirth, Derbyshire.
  • Deliverance : Blurb draft book a spin-off book based on iPad images from gouache daubs that were part of my visual experiments in Oromia: A Reflected Journey.
  • Journey Blurb draft book: a second spin-off book from watercolour experiments for Oromia: A Reflected Journey.
  • Tales from the Edge a series of images produced on my iPad from photographs of textures in Aldeburgh, edited with a broad allegorical narrative.

In all my work I have been interested in ‘taking risks’ and ‘happy accidents’, pushing different media and visual dynamics as far as I can to see the range of effects I can produce from each, and how media can be combined to communicate different messages.

My experimentation can be seen in:

  • Landscape paintings in watercolour, ink and acrylic on my SMUGMUG gallery.
  • Experimentation with different materials and surfaces including chocolate, glue and grease, treacle, rust and many more in Draft Blurb book from OCA Book Design Assignment 5: A to Z from Armageddon

1.2 Skills and media 

I work in a range of media. The basis is generally photography or sketching and painting in natural media or on my iPad. These images may then be combined and further developed in different printmaking media, digital software, collage or animation. Some of my work is more experimental and abstract, exploring the range of intentional and accidental effects that can be achieved in different media.

This second exercise looks at my existing skills  and establishes a plan of skills development to significantly improve:

  • the technical  standard of my work across the range of existing media
  • some new media I am interested in exploring.

Natural Media

I work in very many different types of media: drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, collage, photomontage (See above)  Some of my work is based on observation from life (See Paintings and Drawings on zemniimages portfolio site). Other work is inspired by, or directly uses found textures from natural materials like wood and stone or media experiments like glue, treacle, torn paper etc. (See discussion and links on Process above)

I very much enjoy experimenting with different types of textures and natural media. For non-degree personal development painting and drawing courses with OCA I worked with:

  • pencil/graphite
  • charcoal
  • ink
  • watercolour
  • mixed media.

For Printmaking 1 and Printmaking 2 Visual Communications degree courses I worked in a wide range of printmaking media:

  • monoprint
  • linocut
  • collagraph
  • lithography
  • etching
  • combination prints.

See blog:

Skills I wanted to develop in 2019
  • Drawing and sketching from life: pencil, charcoal, crayon, oil pastel, soft pastel. I want to significantly improve the fluency and expressiveness of my drawing in all these media. Drawing particularly on Zen styles. I am particularly interested in monochrome tonal work drawing on principles of Notan.
  • Printmaking : monoprint, collagraph, drypoint, linocut, lithography, woodcut, screenprinting. I want to continue to develop my skills in all the above
  • Collage: better understanding of visual dynamics, use of edges and mixed media and professional finishing
  • Painting: Watercolour, Gouache, Ink, Acrylic, Oil. Chinese and Japanese ink painting
What would I like to do that I’ve not done yet?
  • Kitchen lithography
  • Sugar etching
  • Scraperboard
Progress by Assignment 5 March 2021

My ability to sketch from life and work with painting and printmaking media for this Advanced Practice module was severely restricted by the COVID pandemic. My partner and I were mostly self-isolating from March 2020 to March 2021 for health reasons. I also lost access to my art and printmaking studios that had to be given to my daughter so she could live separately from us.

I developed skills in:

Assuming that COVID-19 restrictions are eased from summer 2021, I intend to develop skills in natural media further in ‘Sustaining Your Practice’. Planned in Summer 2021 in completion of projects in Assignment 5 if COVID restrictions permit:

  • Painting in oils/acrylic/gouche and Corel Painter based on photographs and collage for Assignment 5 Aldeburgh Great Escape.
  • Monoprinting, linocut and collagraph for Assignment 5 Lake Reflections???
  • Scraperboard and ink styles for Assignment 5 Dark Peak.
  • Graphite, solarplate printing and drypoint for Assignment 5 Shifting Edges.

Use of digital software

In terms of workflow, I generally need to alternate between digital and physical methods because I have had to manage RSI since 1994. This is particularly the case when I have a lot of computer work for my professional consultancy work. I cannot therefore aim – nor do I wish – to be a purely digital illustrator doing a substantial amount of digital drawing and painting.

I am aiming for greater proficiency in combining and layering physical drawings, paintings and printmaking on my iPad and/or Photoshop. I do quite a lot of drawing and painting on the iPad (See Illustration 2: Critical Review: iPad explorations)  but it is still not as fluid as real pencil and paint.

I understand how a wide range of  software works, use all of the software below to varying degrees and for different purposes, and easily learn new software.


Expert (I am fully aware of the limitations of the tools)

  • Pc: Lightroom, InDesign, Microsoft Office.
  • IPad: Procreate.

Proficient (I have a very good working knowledge of what the tools can do)

  • Pc: Photoshop, Illustrator,  Premiere Pro, Acrobat.
  • IPad: Pixelmator.

Competent (I have a good idea how to do most things and could learn to do anything else without help):

  • Pc: Corel Painter, Animate, Audition,  NikFX.
  • IPad: Artrage, Sketchclub, Sketchbook Pro, Adobe iPad Aps.Advanced beginner (I can do some tasks, but need support for anything else):
  • After Effects, Medibang Paint

Novice (I’m not sure what the tools can do; I need to follow instructions for most tasks)

  • There is a continual flow of new Aps on iPad. 
Short-term improvements I wanted to see in my use of software in 2019

In general it is my design/illustration expertise coupled with RSI that limit what I can do, rather than difficulties with software per se. Skills also need to be continually updated as the software itself is upgraded to do new things. I make substantial use of training videos on You Tube and and other internet sources to resolve any questions I have.

  • Continuing to improve my proficiency in iPad drawing and painting in Procreate, Art Studio and Artrage, setting up brushes, to reduce my dependence on pc
  • Significantly improving my image editing and photomontage skills in Photoshop and NikFX, building up assets, brushes and action automation features so that I work more efficiently.
Progress by 2021

I developed my skills in:

Contemporary practice I wanted to explore in 2019

I would like to develop the following aspects of contemporary practice:

  • Understanding of textless visual communication and use of humour and surrealism like the work of David Shrigley and Alessandro Gottardo
  • Caricature, cartooning and animation design for political events and documentary like the work of  Gerald Scarfe
  • Collaged documentary books like Dan Eldon
  • Development of a multi-layering style –  something similar to that of Tim Marrs, but based on physical as well as digital media.
  • Information graphics – there are on-line courses

I need to improve the following skills:

  • Basic graphic design skills in layout etc. My approach is still pretty clunky.
  • Better understanding of typefaces and different ways of visually integrating text and image

I would like to develop the following skills over time without overloading my RSI:

  • Javascript and update html5
  • Animation with adobe animate – practice and watching and analysing more flash animation (explored to some extent in Visual Research Module)
  • Video integration – I need to update my skills with video filming and Adobe Premiere, then integration with Animate and/or After Effects
  • E-books with Animate and/or InDesign and/or Acrobate – my skills here are currently very clunky. Partly because of limitations with the software itself in what they will do, and limits to the degree to which the most interesting animation is accurately replicated across different platforms and devices.
  • Online web experiences  in Dreamweaver (WordPress is much too limited). I understand coding using html and css and designed several websites in Dreamweaver about 5 years ago, but I need to update my knowledge of Dreamweaver, learn javascript and improve basic design skills.
Progress by 2021

Graphic Design and InDesign: Assignment 3 and 4

Moving Image and animation skills developed that were not foreseen in 2019

Visual Research module on animation:

Moving Image 1: Animation personal development module:

1.3 Creative process

This third exercise starts to look at my working process and how I can communicate with a wider audience. It used a series of creative prompts to aiming to short-circuit my existing creative process by suggesting a range of new non-linear prompts to respond to and learn from, each taking 5-10 minutes of creative activity. Aiming to fail and learn through the process rather than trying to create something I knew I could achieve.

1.4 What’s Next: Planning My Work 

This fourth exercise outlines the types of political and visual communications discussions I want to explore in developing my ‘Zemni voice’ from OCA courses and my professional work.

My plans for the division of work between this module and Visual Research Module changed a little since my original statement of intent – issues in political illustration are now central to Advanced Practice module and the questions about textless illustration are not the topic for visual research.

Statement of intent for Level 3 updated

For my current thinking on how I might approach the different assignments in this Advanced Practice module see:

For some ways of how I develop linkages between my visual communications practice and my professional consultancy work see my proposed research on textless narratives on my blog for the parallel Visual Research Module:

However, as noted above my body of work for this module changed significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic from February/March 2021. This is discussed in more detail in the relevant posts and portfolios.Many of the ideas are however being followed up in Sustaining Your Practice. Though plans for this may also change over take, depending on COVID-related events over the winter of 2021-2022. Other ideas will be further developed either as personal projects and/or a possible Graphic Design or Fine Art MA after completion of my BA degree. See my SYP blog: